Defiance Season 1 Review “Pilot”

In the latest offering from the Syfy channel, “Defiance,” the network is staking a claim to one of its most ambitious projects ever, complete with the neat idea of releasing a videogame that is tied-in with the events of the show. Indeed, as you might guess from such an approach, it’s a pretty densely-packed undertaking, with more wacky-named characters than you can shake a photon at and a decidedly elaborate plot.

Indeed, there’s so much going on here that it would take a ridiculous amount of time to recap it all, so here’s what we’re going to do instead. If you want a recap, I’m sure that you can readily find one elsewhere, so if that’s what you’re looking for, you’ve come to the wrong place. Instead, I will seek to address the quality of the show itself- or lack thereof, as the case may be.

Don’t get me wrong, there will be some summarizing involved, as need be, but my main focus will be on reviewing the show, not recapping it, because that’s what we do here at the website. We on the same page now? Good, let’s get started.

First, a little about myself and what brought me to review the show. I am not traditionally a huge sci-fi fan, I was actually more of a horror fan growing up, but I do enjoy a good genre mash-up, and for the last decade or so, the Syfy channel has consistently delivered some good shows on that front. I loved the dearly-departed “Eureka,” and am an avid fan of “Warehouse 13,” “Lost Girl” and “Being Human,” all of which I’ve followed from the start. (I also review the latter two for this website, if you’re interested!)

What impresses me about the Syfy channel in particular is their ability to reinvent the genre for a new generation. One of the things that I found a bit of a turn-off about the genre in the past was the lack of a sense of humor, the dearth of strong female characters, and the complete and utter lack of sex appeal. Syfy has gone a long way towards rectifying that, adding all of the above, as well as strong writing and solid acting across the board, their more tongue-in-cheek creature features notwithstanding. It’s safe to say that, at this point, if a show of their’s piques my interest, as “Defiance” did, then it will, at the very least, deliver on most, if not all of those fronts.

The other main thing that brought me to this show in particular, and this sort of goes to prove one of my points, is the female cast. I’m a longtime fan of Jaime Murray, from her role on “Warehouse 13” as a redefined H.G. Wells to her supporting turn on the “Spartacus” series, in which she did things with “Xena” that we all hoped the latter did with Gabrielle but couldn’t be shown, as it was more a family-oriented show. (Not to suggest that there’s anything untoward about lesbians, mind you, but I digress.)

There’s also Mia Kirshner, whose career I’ve followed since the cult hit “Exotica,” into more genre-oriented material on “Wolf Lake,” “24,” and “The Vampire Diaries.” And last, but not least, there’s Julie Benz, arguably best-known for her work as Darla on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (she was the vampire that sired Angel) and as Dexter’s love interest on the show of the same name. One thing these actresses all have in common is an attraction to smartly-written genre material that features a strong female presence, particularly Murray.

I’m happy to say that that is indeed the case here on “Defiance,” as each of these ladies has an engaging role in the proceedings, and, I might add, in wholly different ways. Murray plays a pale blonde alien with striking eyes by the name of Stahma, who isn’t too far removed from the scheming characters she’s known for in the aforementioned shows. She’s basically the strong woman behind the man, with Lady Macbeth-type qualities and a bit of Machiavellian finesse to offset her husband Datak’s (Tony Curran) more violent tendencies. It’s a great character, and totally in her wheelhouse, and I look forward to seeing how things develop on her end.

Meanwhile, Benz and Kirshner play sisters of a decidedly different stripe, Amanda and Kenya. The former is the newly-elected Mayor of the titular town Defiance, which is actually the city formerly known as St. Louis. Meanwhile, Kenya is the madam of the local brothel, the aptly-titled Need Want, as in anything you could possibly need or want can be found there. It would have been easy to have the two be at odds with one another, given their potentially polarizing opposite paths in life, but the writers wisely chose to go a different way with it, making the two quite supportive of one another- at least so far.

So, insofar as what brought me to the table, good stuff all around. Yes, I’ll allow that at this point in time, the characters are somewhat stock in nature: the scheming wife, the kindly Mayor that wants the best for her people, and the hooker with the heart of gold. Even so, I like what I’ve seen so far, and so long as they keep doing interesting things with the characters, I’m good with a little cliché. After all, it’s all been done before, the best you can hope for is that they do something interesting with it, and I think the quality of the actresses here should be good for something interesting, providing the writing is as good as the casting.

The rest of the cast is likewise solid, including character acting vets like Graham Greene (the “Twilight” saga) as Rafe McCawley, who runs the mines, and is the patriarch of one of the most powerful families in town, along with the aforementioned Datak and his family, who handles some of the more unsavory aspects of the town- sort of the underworld-type dealings, a la the Mob. There’s also Fionnula Flanagan, late of “Lost,” as the former Mayor, who is into some shady dealings of her own, unbeknownst to the current Mayor as of yet.

Leading the pack is Grant Bowler as Nolan, a drifter/tracker/former military man who finds himself bestowed the role of Chief Lawkeeper, after the current one meets an untimely end in the pilot. Another “Lost” vet, Bowler was also on “True Blood” and had the misfortune of having to be the Richard Burton to Lindsay Lohan’s Elizabeth Taylor in the recent bio-debacle “Liz & Dick.” Thankfully, he fares much better here, as the rough-around-the-edges Nolan, who comes off as a mix between Nathan Fillion on “Firefly/Serenity” and a “Mad Max”-type.

I should also probably mention Stephanie Leonidas, likely best known to Syfy fans from her work on the Neil Gaiman-penned “MirrorMask.” She plays Irisa, Nolan’s alien companion, who is sort of his adopted daughter figure, though she mentions- not without some glee- that he killed her parents. Not sure what the story is there, but I guess we’ll find out. As we hear her character narrating the events and often see her scribbling in her diary, she’s sort of like a feisty, deadlier Angela Chase, of “My So-Called Life,” down to the fiery red hair and snarky attitude.

The pilot itself is relatively standard stuff. Nolan and Irisa are making their way to Antarctica, which is supposedly a paradise of sorts in this post-apocalyptic world, in which warring between humans and aliens has ultimately led to everyone co-habituating on Earth, not always too happily. They end up in Defiance, only to discover that it’s actually Nolan’s hometown of St. Louis, where he lived when the aliens first invaded some thirty-odd years ago.

Bonding with the town ensues and he helps them face down the nefarious Volge with some sort of alien weapon called a terra-sphere. He also helps them to track the murderer of Luke, Rafe’s son, which leads to a plot to bring down the town’s protective force field, to make the Volge invasion that much more easier. The invasion seems to be the direct result of the former Mayor’s actions, to an as-yet-undetermined end. That’s about it, in a nutshell.

Of course, there’s a lot more going on than that, but as I mentioned, we’re not going to be doing a beat-by-beat breakdown of everything that transpired. Instead, I’ll say that what transpires is reasonably entertaining, with a solid foundation on which to build a potentially engaging series. A lot of whether they pull it off or not hinges on where they plan to go from here, in the week-to-week storylines of the series. As a one-off pilot, this was not bad, if a bit CGI-heavy at times, verging on video game territory, which I suppose makes sense given the tie-in I mentioned earlier.

However, if they want to sustain the pilot as a series, a lot will depend on the overall approach, and that remains to be seen as of yet. As such, I will hold off on any sweeping criticism on the show until I determine where they’re headed with all this, but I will say that I enjoyed the pilot overall. Yes, it has the potential to be a mess of clichés if the show doesn’t watch itself, but so far, it’s a promising start, and I really like the cast on the whole. We’ll see how it fares in the weeks to come, but for now, I will give “Defiance” the benefit of the doubt. You’ve got my attention- now let’s see if you can maintain it.

What did you think of the pilot episode of “Defiance”? Did you like the casting, too? How about the special effects? Did the plot interest you? And if you’ve played the video game, I’d love to hear from you, as I have not. Please feel free to comment below on these matters or anything else that piques your interest about the show!