Defiance Season 2 Retrospective
The second season of Syfy’s Defiance has ended, with a pretty good two episode finale. While I tend to focus on small moments in my reviews of each episode, I’d like to stop and look back now at the season as a whole. I feel this is the best way to gauge the quality of it, as things that didn’t really seem to contribute much before may have more to offer in hindsight. So, let’s take a look at some of the running storylines of the season and the new things that were added to try to see what worked and what didn’t.
Needless to say, this is 100% spoilers. Proceed only if you’ve finished the season!
The most obvious and probably most significant change in season 2 was the new characters it brought. With Kenya and the former mayor dead, there were some openings in the main cast. Seeing as how the E-Rep had just taken over the day-to-day running of the town, it made sense to introduce some new characters to the mix from this faction. This first brought us Pottinger, who started out very promising. He wasn’t a completely evil obstructive bureaucrat; he was willing to listen to Amanda’s recommendations when it came to Nolan, and held up his end of the bargain. He also made it clear that he was no coward, going out to hunt down the escaped Gulanee and then continuing until finally taking it down after much sacrifice. Pottinger even had his Bioman Churchill, whose relationship was supposed to act as a parallel to Nolan and Irisa’s. He was also a master manipulator, setting things up from behind the scenes to try to make events swing in his favor such as closing off the Adreno supply.
The real problem with his character, however, is down to the big reveal. Pottinger was working on a plan for months; he sprung Doc Yewll from jail, implanted Amanda with an ego chip, and created a fake sister just for her. But why? Why go to all this trouble? There’s no good reason for it. He’s already gotten close with Amanda, and the plan as Yewll laid it out was ridiculously simplistic. As I said before, it’s the kind of overly convoluted plot that would typically be better suited to Scooby Doo villains. The way it was set up to be so important, you’d almost have thought it was a mission from the E-Rep, some means of tightening their grasp on the city. But no, and that made for a massive disappointment. Instead of coming across as Machiavellian and clever, if needy and desperate for love, he turned into a pathetic mess in that episode.
Then we have Mercado, who really didn’t do as much as we were told he would. He visited occasionally and acted like a jerk. Then there was the whole Casti Cosplay thing… ugh. But we’ll get to that later. It’s clear he was supposed to be a more conventional face of the E-Rep than Pottinger was, but in reality he wasn’t allowed to be much more than that: a face to give out E-Rep orders.
Berlin, on the other hand, was a welcome addition to the show, if under utilized. She gave the E-Rep a softer, more human side, without compromising her beliefs or the E-Rep’s fascist overtones. Having a sympathetic character who is also the master of propaganda for such an organization gave the whole thing some badly needed depth. Her relationship with Tommy was fine, and it helped to give him a little more to do than be everyone’s punching bag, but I really could have done without all the love triangles. At least her reasons for hooking up with Nolan became clear soon enough, and the season ended with her in a position to really recognize how immature her reaction was. She doesn’t just lose the one thing, though… she loses Tommy, Nolan, and the entirety of New York, and that’s before being pushed in front of a firing squad for trying to do the right thing. Who can blame her for drowning her sorrows the last time we see her?
Treasure Doll and Mordecai are the last few new characters. I could seriously have done without that whole Treasure Doll love triangle, too; it was just stupid. That’s nothing against her actress Kristina Pesic, who did as well as she could with what she was given. She didn’t come across as important to me until fairly late, at which point I just had to keep asking, why? And while it seemed like she might have some layers to her, in the end she was little more than a psycho prostitute stalker, which is sad, really. Mordecai, on the other hand, just did not show up soon enough. The season is half over before we see him for the first time, and then he’s gone for 5 episodes before he becomes relevant again. It didn’t help that his introduction was in episode 7, which was one of the least popular in the entire season. I’ve had a lot of people coming here specifically to try to figure out who he was, which is never good. He’s pretty interesting, too, as another Irathient raised by humans, so it’s a real shame he didn’t get better developed. He turned out to be just a plot device that got picked on.
New Plot Threads
There are a few main plots running throughout the season: Pottinger’s manipulations of Amanda, Datak reclaiming his position as Stahma rose to power, Irisa and the Kaziri, and the Alak/Christie/Treasure Doll mess. There are others, such as the E-Rep occupation and rumblings of rebellion through Rafe’s miners, that seemed like they were going to be important before dying off unceremoniously. What happened to all those weapons Rafe got from the VC? Do you even remember? It was just a throwaway line. The E-Rep occupation also stops being important, as once everyone’s returned to town life more or less goes back to the way it was in season 1, with the exception of the new characters. That really didn’t strike me as a good choice; if you want us to see both the E-Rep and VC as evil, you gotta make sure they’re doing evil things, like unnecessary curfews, invasive security cameras (where did those go, by the way? Berlin seemed surprised to find one still working in episode 11), sudden and unlawful seizure of private property. They didn’t do much on screen to come across as evil.
Pottinger’s manipulations of Amanda I covered above, mostly. The other aspect of it that needs to be addressed is Yewll’s role. She seemed to go along with it a little too easy, and while I know the survival of Doc Yewll is #1 priority on her list, things like “I’ve done worse” when asked to poison knockoff Kenya seem weirdly blase about the whole deal. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there was something about her behavior in the scenes dealing with this plot that irritated me. Probably just that Yewll’s response to a plan this stupid seems like it would be outright saying “this plan is stupid, you are stupid.” I will, however, give this plot credit for tackling big issues that typically get glossed over in dystopian sci-fi, and treating it with a decent amount of respect.
Datak and Stahma were, of course, the highlight of the show. Watching Stahma reach up into a position of power so directly was very interesting, in comparison to the behind-the-scenes we got last season. We also got to see her in a compromised state, where her queenly mask was broken, such as seeing Kenya alive or figuring out how Christie pulled it all off in episode 11. And it’s always fascinating to see when she’s displaying earnest feelings, like during her attempt at a Casti feminist movement. She’s not just evil for evil’s sake. Datak, on the other hand, still couldn’t learn to rein in his temper, and had to live with being humbled for most of the season. I’m actually really glad that this was a lasting consequence for him, and he wasn’t just back on top by the end of the third episode. Better still, he was able to learn something from it and experienced character growth by the finale as a result. Imagine that!
The Kaziri is what should have been the focus of the season, since it was clear from the beginning that it would be the main event of the finale. And yet, it doesn’t factor in much at all until episode 3, and remains a “one scene per episode” thing up to episode 8, until it finally starts to step into the spotlight in the last third of the season. It’s not like it was a huge surprise, either; it had become apparent almost from episode 3 that the ship wanted to eradicate the humans and create a truly Votan world. So did they just reveal that too soon and have no where left to go, or what? The fact that Nolan wasn’t allowed to know for so long what was happening is probably what’s responsible for this being held back, which is a shame. Getting a little more insight into how this was affecting Irisa’s victims would have been handy; the red hair Castithan lady that Irisa infected “first,” for example, claimed to hear from the AI in the form of Rayetso, the Casti god. But why? Why appear to her at all? Did this girl have visions of being aboard the Kaziri and destroying it like Irisa and Mordecai did? Episode 8 seems to imply she did, and yet later it’s made to look as if Irisa and Mordecai were literally the same people, due to the keys entering their bodies. They even had a perfect vessel for looking into this, too, in Sukar, since we already knew him. And that’s on top of not giving Mordecai enough screen time. But no, we barely got a glimpse of that, unfortunately.
Which brings us to the plot thread that contained most of the stupidest moments of the season. What can I even say about the Treasure Doll plotline? They clearly had more important things they could have been focusing on, like literally any of these other plots. It was through this that we run into the Casti Cosplay Club, which is far and away the worst thing to ever happen in the show. Seriously, how did Christie not see this was bad advice? If someone walked up to an interracial couple and suggested that the white partner wear blackface to “try to learn about the culture” of the black partner, that wouldn’t even have made it on TV. It just sounds malicious. Now granted, Castithans are fictional, but for a sci-fi show, you can’t use that as an excuse to do things that your characters would find insensitive. And at least Alak does find it absurd. Then there’s the whole Mercado aspect of that, and the stealing body parts for cosplay… ugh. It managed to make real cosplay somehow look bad by proxy. I’m not even sure how that’s possible. The only good thing to come out of this was Christie developing some kind of usefulness by turning into Stahma Jr. Alak’s reactions to all this madness are probably its saving grace, as they tend to be quite funny, but even that’s not enough to actually salvage it.
The other major plot development that really left me a bit confused was this whole Pilar thing across the end of the season. We knew it was coming from Comic Con, but why? And why bring Quentin back? I don’t think anyone was clamoring to know what he was up to. Hell, it was only towards the end that Christie got interesting. Both McCawley kids were utterly worthless in season 1. My feeling is that this storyline was set up in such a way that should the show get cancelled, it would be possible to conclude it in the video game. By having all the key players in cars driving away from Defiance, it wouldn’t be hard for them to end up in the bay area. But setting it up like this just made it frustrating for the TV viewers. Linda Hamilton plays the role pretty well, however, which helps out, and it’s really only in episode 13 that it starts detracting from the other plots, so I’m a lot more forgiving towards it than the Treasure Doll plot.
So that pretty much sums it up, I think. It’s almost like Defiance has some kind of weird balancing act going on, where every time something good happens somewhere, something stupid has to happen elsewhere to cancel it out. On the whole, I’d say this season was a substantial improvement over the last, and there is more good than bad to it when you add it all up. Irisa and Nolan are less insufferable than in season 1. Amanda’s struggles, from losing her sister to her position and so much else, were a lot more compelling, which made good use of Kenya’s death. Datak and Stahma were able to grow while still maintaining the qualities about them that made them entertaining. Christie and Alak received characterization that turned them from fairly blank slate second tier characters to having equal footing with the rest of the cast. Rafe’s struggles with Joseph and the other miners, and finally his own son, proved far more interesting than I’d have thought possible. Yewll got a nice spotlight episode and a fresh side of her revealed with Lev. New characters like Berlin and Pottinger added some much needed elements to the show. Tommy, whose character seemed rather aimless and contrarian this season, was given a purpose in death, at least.
There’s definitely good sci-fi to be found here. Just be sure to warn anyone who asks for a Defiance recommendation that they may beat their head against the wall a few times.