Defiance Season 3 Retrospective
Defiance moved into its third season by making some huge changes to the status quo. Some turned out way better than expected, while others were more of a letdown. With the finale feeling like it may very well be the end of the series, how did Defiance shape up overall? New storylines, new characters, even a new race of Votans… but was it well executed, or did many things end up being rushed to fit this apparent finale?
New Characters and Races
The biggest change in season 3 was the introduction of the Omec, yet another race of Votans who were deliberately left behind by the others for their literal predatory ways. With only a single ship full of sleeping Omec that survived, they’re forced to make deals with Defiance in order to save their species. This is primarily done through 2 characters: the wise, tough, and respectable T’Evgin, and his less-than-trustworthy daughter Kindzi. As is typically the case with Defiance, the characters are well acted and their makeup looks great (although I would’ve liked to see more variation in the Omec appearances. Males with hair, for example) but the way they’re written is kind of an issue. The number one problem that emerges is the details of their relationship: apparently, it’s not uncommon for Omec fathers to have romantic relationships with their daughters!
So the whole season has gone by now and I still can’t explain to you why this was necessary. She could have been his daughter, or his lover, but nothing came of making her both. I feel the story would’ve been better served by more Freudian undertones, Kindzi’s jealousy of Stahma motivated by an alien equivalent of the Electra complex more than direct competition for her father’s romantic interest. Thankfully it didn’t become a huge gross thing like I feared, but all that really does is emphasize how pointless its inclusion was entirely. Keeping it down to subtext requires subtlety, though, and that’s never been Defiance‘s strong suit. Making Kindzi the real villain in the end was surprising, and I really loved watching T’Evgin throughout the season so I was sad to see him go. While adding yet another race of aliens to the already crowded list in Defiance could have been a dangerous prospect, ultimately it was pulled off well with a few glaring exceptions (like above).
Samir also showed up early on, but he was in so few episodes and got so little development he came across as a vehicle for talking up Nolan after all the crap he’d been responsible for. Didn’t work. There’s nothing wrong with his character, but since he existed to be a prisoner there just wasn’t much to it.
The other major new character was Rahm Tak, the leader of a VC army who was set up as the big bad of the season. Of course, he ended up dying about halfway through, which felt like a complete waste. Rahm Tak was both clearly insane and charismatic, winning sympathy from even a few named characters in Defiance. It felt like they weren’t sure what to do with him, though; as a renegade general, he wasn’t officially representing the VC, who we’d been told was very bad and dangerous. Rather, what little we saw of the actual VC was surprisingly reasonable. So if Rahm Tak wasn’t representing the real VC, what was his purpose? He threatened the town, forcing them to work with the Omec, and he threatened the Tarrs, forcing them to behave in an evil manner that their character development last season had moved them past. In the end, Rahm Tak was little more than a plot device to set up the scenario the writers wanted Defiance to be in at the start of season 3, which is pretty disappointing.
Lastly I’d like to touch on the improved use of some characters from season 2. Berlin was one of my favorites last season, and her focus here, including a whole spotlight episode for herself, only solidified that opinion. Personally, with Nolan gone, I like to think she’s gotten together with Amanda after the finale, but that’s just me. The other is Andina, who was introduced at the tail end of season 2 and became the Tarrs’ most loyal servant. It looked like she was shaping up to be a very interesting character, with her developing crush on Alak and picking up as Stahma’s new protege in deception, but unfortunately that was cut short by killing her off in the buildup to the season’s end. I guess if that’s the series finale, it doesn’t matter too much, but I was disappointed all the same to see her go; she had a lot of potential to be interesting. Pilar? Well, we don’t even know her fate for sure. It was completely left open and unresolved, so I don’t see much point to her, either.
Defiance‘s third season had almost too much going on as far as plots go. There was the Omec, and the drama over whether they would be invaders or new friends; Rahm Tak and his army parked outside the gate; Datak and Stahma being manipulated by Rahm; Alak and the loss of his new family, along with the baby; Nolan and Irisa’s return, and the latter’s newfound pacifism as a means of atonement; Berlin and Amanda struggling to hold the city (and themselves) together; and leftover plots from season 2, like Pottinger’s fate and Pilar’s kidnapping. That’s not even everything! Things getting so densely packed ultimately led to a lot of WHAM moments, and a lot of character deaths… which meant that some of these weren’t very satisfactorily resolved.
Alright let’s get Pottinger out of the way. Suffice it to say, I was not a fan of where his character went in season 2. He went from being an interesting and somewhat reasonable bureaucrat in an almost necessarily fascist regime, with he and Berlin showing how relatively normal people could get caught up in something that they might have found abhorrent had they been born 50 years earlier. But Pottinger quickly became creepy and obsessive in a way that made absolutely no sense. It took the issues I had praised them for exploring and watered them down to a simple boring stalker plot. Since Pottinger had disappeared between seasons, that had to be addressed eventually, and yet when we did finally look into it… it wasn’t worth looking into. It showed him as a coward and a madman, something that was inconsistent with his prior portrayal (the man fought a Gulanee in a crazy mech suit with a metal rod). Instead, he’s got a bizarre Amanda museum in his underground bunker where he lives with 4 Biomen and the imprisoned Samir. The whole episode hinges on the reveal that he’s the one who originally attacked Amanda so that no one can possibly like him any more and then kill him off in the most extreme way possible. Keep in mind season 2 ends with a shot of Amanda and Pottinger sitting happily as a couple in the Need/Want. In other words, this reveal cannot possibly have been the plan along, otherwise they’d have been leaving the show, facing potential cancellation, by hooking up one of the characters with her own rapist. So that tells me this reveal was an asspull to get rid of his character since the plotline about him and his stalker-ish behaviors was unpopular last season. And that’s how the writers handled problems on Defiance: if the character’s dead, problem solved!
Just ask Christy and Rafe, who are killed off immediately in the premiere. Rafe dying would’ve been okay; it was in character for him to sacrifice himself for his family, and while I grew to like him, I could respect this as an end to his character arc. Christy, on the other hand, had finally been developing into an interesting character with her emulation of Stahma and Alak’s realization that maybe his wife was a little more horrifyingly similar to his mother than he thought. That season ended with the implication that she had a big role to play in things going forward, but since the Treasure Doll arc proved rather unpopular, once again they killed off the characters involved and got it out of the way. There are new toys to play with! At least it was put to use as a motivation for Alak and a wedge driven between him and his parents, while simultaneously establishing how cruel and sadistic Rahm Tak was. Their deaths weren’t easily forgotten, which is all you can really ask for.
So here we get to the actual new stuff of season 3. I feel like the Omec were being set up as the final challenge, while Rahm Tak was supposed to be the villain of this season. That is to say, the Omec were being setup for next season, and so something must’ve happened to compress this down. First season had the looming threat of the E-Rep; season 2 had war with the VC on the horizon. So when war with the VC is at hand, it only made sense to start setting up the next now with the Omec. Instead, Rahm Tak is rushed out halfway through, just in time for Nolan to get drunk with a mind implant and ruin everything. Then again, Defiance has always been bad about this, unceremoniously killing off Mayor Nicky in season 1, and switching from E-Rep to Kaziri danger for the season 2 finale. So it’s hard to say for sure whether this was a result of rushing for a potential series ending or the plan all along, but it felt a little rushed to me.
Whether the character development over the course of this season was good or bad is going to vary from character to character and viewer to viewer, from what I’ve seen. Some people didn’t like Stahma’s loss of power, for example, but I think it worked as an arc because she had been constantly reaching for more and more power; it was inevitable that she’d get in over her head, and feeling like she could manipulate these “enchanters” who held an almost legendary status among her people really seemed like the perfect example. It’d be like a human trying to pull one over on a traditional Faery. Alak learns to stand up to his parents and really become his own man, growing into a surprisingly good father figure for little Luke. Irisa is actually somewhat traumatized by the results of her actions last season and trying to make up for it, while realizing that Nolan is probably not a good influence on her. Amanda’s idealism is shattered further until her darkest moments in the end of the season, starting with killing Pottinger until finally she’s ready to give up in the face of Kindzi’s invasion, were it not for pep talks from the unlikeliest of sources. Berlin steps up to become the new lawkeeper, and turns into one of Defiance’s most steadfast allies. T’Evgin learns to see the Votans and Humans as equals and fully intends to go all Federation-peace-style, had he gotten the chance to awaken the Omec himself. Nolan has to let Irisa grow up and become her own person, and the best way to do that was to leave her alone. And if Irisa can turn out to be a decent person, in spite of all his fuck ups, maybe he can help the Omec become decent, too.
In a lot of ways, Defiance season 3 was a retool for the show, getting rid of the things that were unpopular last season and trying to introduce new ideas that can potentially draw in new viewers. Criticisms of slow pacing last season turned things frantic this year, cramming each episode with twists after shocking twists. Characters who were criticized, for whatever the reason (boring, creepy, pointless, etc.), got killed off and their storylines cut short to make way for the new. But you can’t change the basic DNA of the show; the problems were rooted offscreen, and that remained unchanged between seasons. Season 3 was the best season yet, but it still had the same infuriating tendencies that plagued season 1 and 2, and the attempts at change may have proven to be too little, too late. The real loss is all the rich backstory elements and races that have yet to be explored; we’ve seen a handful of Biomen and Liberata, and only one Sensoth, while the Volge haven’t shown up again since the pilot. If this turns out to be the end of Defiance, in ten years time it’ll probably become the same kind of shows I feature over on the Obscure Sci-Fi Primer: short, flawed, and little known, but not without value.