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It seems almost fitting that Defiance would premiere so shortly after the cancellation of another Rockne S. O’Bannon created show, Cult. While Cult was a fun, if dumb, foray into meta-mystery, Defiance is much more in line with the dark sci-fi of O’Bannon’s past shows seaQuest DSV and Farscape. Defiance has a complex concept and a host of interesting characters, but those looking deeper might find something a tad more shallow than advertised.
Defiance takes place 33 years after the sudden appearance of aliens known as the Votans, a collection of seven different alien races who fled their dying star system and eventually found Earth. Years of tension and paranoia between Earthlings and the Votans eventually led to the “Pale Wars,” a seven year conflict that ended after hundreds of Votan spaceships mysteriously were destroyed and came crashing down to Earth. This unleashed a terra-forming technology created by the Votans on the Earth, ruining much of the Earth’s ecosystems and completely changing the geography of the planet.
A large part of the lore of Defiance comes from the tie-in with the massively-multiplayer-online video game of the same name. The multiple alien races and heavy amount of action should translate well to an MMO video game, although it remains to be seen how necessary it is to play the game to get the full Defiance experience. Interestingly enough the show reminds me more of the Fallout series of video games than anything else, with its brutal depiction of an Earth torn apart by war and the attempts of the populace to maintain some semblance of the world it once knew.
The show follows the exploits of Joshua Nolan (Grant Bowler), a veteran of the Pale Wars who travels with Irisa Nyira (Stephanie Leonidas), his adopted daughter from the Irathient race. After scavenging the ravaged Earth for years they come upon the titular town of Defiance, built on the ruins of what used to be St. Louis. The town posits itself as a peaceful bastion from the raiders and murderers of the wasteland, yet has its own seedy underbelly full of lowlifes and villainy.
Despite the high concept of the overall plot of the show, several of the subplots of the show come off as rather cliché. A murder mystery, a Romeo and Juliet type romance, a shady business deal from the higher-ups in town; these are stories you’ve seen before but this time with a few extra layers of alien makeup. A large scale battle scene towards the end of the 90 minute premiere seems to take more than a few cues from The Terminator franchise. It’s weird that a show with such an intricate setting would ape so much from existing sci-fi franchises, and moments meant to wow the audience fail to enthrall at all.
Luckily, the predictable plotting is saved by fun performances and highly enjoyable dialogue. Bowler plays the gruff and cocky smart-ass role perfectly, and Julie Benz does a good job in a supporting role as mayor of Defiance, Amanda Rosewater. The only performance that irked me was Leonidas’ role as Irisa. Played with such a cold and stubborn demeanor, it’s difficult to feel much sympathy for her when the script calls on the viewer to suddenly care.
SyFy hasn’t exactly had the best track record for quality programming for the past five or so years, and luckily Defiance is a step in the right direction for them. However, those looking for the next Battlestar Galactica won’t find much here. Even though the cast is varied and the actors seem to be having a lot of fun with these parts, the story lines just don’t pack that much of a punch. The pacing of the show drags its feet at times and if the writers aren’t careful they can easily lose anyone watching with an itchy-remote finger. Fans of Farscape and other alien race-based dramas will find a lot to like in Defiance, but anyone looking for a more hard-boiled type of show should probably keep looking.
All Photos Credit: SyFy