First impressions: “Defiance”

The cast of “Defiance”, syfy’s most watched telecast since “Warehouse 13 since 2009, and top scripted drama premiere since “Eureka” in 2006 (source: insidetv.ew.com / image via venturebeat.com)

 

Once more to the apocalypse, dear friends, once more!

I am not sure that Shakespeare had an alien-terraformed Earth in mind when he penned almost those words in Henry V all those centuries ago, but they seem apt in the face of another TV series set in a not-too-distant future where the reassuring bonds of civilisation have broken down and mankind is, yet again, left to its own, not always altruistic, devices.

Defiance, a strikingly-imaginative undertaking with intertwined narratives flowing between syfy’s TV show and Trion Worlds’ MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) game, is a big, bold space opera of the kind favoured by science-fiction writers like Peter F Hamilton and Kevin J Anderson, where humanity is reduced to just one of the players in a tale of galactic proportions.

And on their own planet too.

Set on a barely-recognisable Earth, which has been transformed by the arrival of a loose collective of seven alien races fleeing the death of their shared home system, it introduces us, with only the barest of nods to the cataclysmic arrival of the aliens themselves sometime in the present day and the disastrously inconclusive war that followed, to a world we barely recognise.

 

As emblematic of the new order as you could hope for, Datak Tar (Tony Curran, a Castithan of upper class bearing and outlook with an eye for business of a distinctly shady variety and a love of power playing), Amanda Rosewater (Julie Benz, the pragmatic but fair-minded and occasionally idealistic brand spanking new mayor of Defiance) and Rafe McCawley (Graham Greene, owner and operator of the largest mine in the area and as close to landed gentry as you’ll get in the new order) all do their best to get along in a world stripped of any of its old certainties

 

With much of the planet reduced to desert, or peppered with alien flora and fauna brought by the Votan as they are known, and human civilisation a mere shadow of what it once was, life is hard, and humanity and their new alien neighbours must either band together in some sort of new age multicultural melange and get by as best they can, or adopt a “every man for themselves” ethos and hope for the best.

The hardy inhabitants of Defiance, a town set on the site of what was St. Louis, Missouri – the old iconic arch still towers over the settlement, looking surprisingly only slightly the worse for wear – have opted, mostly successfully, for the former approach.

But while there is unity, and almost as importantly, safety in some measure, there are also tensions and conspiracies of almost Biblical dimensions.

The latter, in a somewhat Ostrich-in-the-sand strategy, are largely subsumed beneath hopeful talk of shared purpose and common need, but the reality is that potentially destructive fault lines lie under this veneer of inter-species oneness and they’re about to bust wide open, heartwarming mom-and-pop platitudes or no.

 

Both Joshua Nolan (Grant Bowler), who we first see as a young teenager watching the imposing alien fleets arrive in 2013, and his adopted daughter Irisa Nyira (Stephanie Leonidas) could be forgiven for wondering what they got themselves into when they first arrive in Defiance (image via ign.com (c) syfy)

 

Into this faltering but largely working template for the future for human and Votan civilisation, comes Joshua Nolan (Grant Bowler), all wise quips, and Han Solo-esque devil-may-care bravado and his adopted, suspicious-of-strangers Irathient warrior daughter Irisa, right when everything does go to hell.

Or rather, even further to hell.

Plunged into the almost-Machiavellian plotting running rife in the freewheeling town, they surprise themselves when they band together with the inhabitants of Defiance, led by newly installed but green around the edges mayor Amanda Rosewater (Julie Benz), local business titans (though of decidedly different capitalist undertakings) alien Datak Tar (Tony Curran), and human Rafe McCawley (Graham Greene) to thwart an attempt to take it over by powers unknown (although we get a small idea who they may be in the dying minutes of the pilot).

 

 

Amanda Rosewater, Rafe McCawley and Joshua Nolan discover that you can never get too comfy in the new world that Defiance occupies (image via poptower.com (c) syfy)

 

So far, so predictable.

But the key here is what Defiance makes of it all.

While the story line may be somewhat been-there-done-that, it uses it very effectively to give us a sense of this brand new fractured world and the dynamics and relationships that underpin it.

So effectively in fact that in very short order, you are fully immersed in the world in which the series will be taking place, which springs forth as fully-formed, living-and-breathing entity all in the space of the two hour pilot.

That’s quite some accomplishment.

 

 

While most pilots bulge rather inelegantly at the seams with the sheer volume of character-building, world-establishing and narrative-initiating they try to cram into their oh-so-infinite minutes of broadcast time, Defiance effortlessly races along with almost giddy glee, giving us a superbly-constructed sense of time and place, characters that, though they may seem to be off-the-shelf cliches at first definitely have room to grow and develop, and and a storyline that bristles with conspiracies, soap operatic drama and the potential for larger-than-life arcs.

All in two mind-blowingly good hours.

And not once did I feel like they were over reaching or risking an Icarus-like fall from grace by flying too close to the storytelling sun.

I could barely contain my excitement as I watched the world of Defiance spring to life.

Here at last is a series that, from the get-go, surges forth with a definite sense of its own identity and that can only bode well for what awaits us down the line.

 

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