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Defiance 1.01 "Pilot" Review: Welcome to the Neighbourhood

     There has been a lot of hype and a flurry of press leading up to the premiere of Defiance. I’ve been anticipating the show’s first episode since I had the opportunity to tour the set in October. The extensive work that went into creating the world of the show paid off in big ratings for SYFY and a satisfying start to what promises to be a long running series.
Grant Nolan and Julie Benz
      Defiance’s premiere episode was written by creator Rockne S O’Bannon and executive producers Kevin Murphy and Michael Taylor and directed by Scott Stewart. O’Bannon is perhaps best known is Sci Fi circles for Farscape, the long-running and much beloved series. Murphy’s Sci Fi credentials include Battlestar Galactica and Caprica which Taylor also worked on. Taylor’s other credits include Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Stewart’s directing credits include Legion and Priest, but he’s actually got more visual effects credits, giving him a unique perspective on directing an effects heavy production like Defiance.
    The special effects were generally very good. I did find at times that I felt like I was looking at a video game, however. I have to wonder, given the shows close ties to the video game, whether that was deliberate as a way to create another connection to the game for those who are enjoying both the game and the show: so that the two worlds are linked in effect by their very landscapes. It’s likely inevitable with effects on such a huge scale that there might be a few that didn’t quite convince me, but overall, the effects are spectacular for television. More impressive to me was the make-up for the alien races. The Castithans, Irathients, and Indogenes are all particularly well done.
Grant Nolan and Stephanie Leonidas
    The detail that’s gone into the show, from the sets to the clothing to the languages is simply staggering and paid off in a world that felt very real. However, it also meant that the first episode was packed with a lot of information that was mostly just mentioned in passing. I liked that we were just thrown into the action without a lot of explanations. Any lengthy exposition about what exactly “Ark-fall” was or what the “Pale Wars” were would have felt clunky and would have slowed down the action. As it was, using the somewhat tried and true trope of the newcomers to town, allowed the viewers to see the dynamic of Defiance through the eyes of Nolan (Grant Bowler) and Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas) as we also got to know them. Leonidas does an amazing job behind a fair bit of prosthetic make-up to convey Irisa’s fiery temper, humor, and love for her adopted father. The chemistry between the two is wonderful and rings very true right from them singing Johnny Cash’s “Jackson” to the fight over whether to help the people of Defiance to Irisa coming back with the Spirit Riders to help.
Tony Curran and Jaime Murray
    In the end, what I think will set Defiance apart from the other apocalypse shows currently on television is the characters. They are varied and eclectic with interesting dynamics between them, and the entire cast is solid. Rather than a band of people running and surviving, Defiance is focused on the town and that sets up a great dynamic in itself. While there is a threat from outside the town, most of the drama is going to come from within the town itself. In many of the interviews, it was pointed out that this was a drama about relationships on a Shakespearean scale. The parallels with many of Shakespeare’s plays is clear. Datak Tarr (Tony Curran) and his wife Stahma Tarr (Jaime Murray) are clearly meant to evoke Macbeth. Murray is both gorgeously beautiful and cunningly manipulative as the woman behind the man. Their son Alak (Jesse Rath) is in love with Christie McCawley (Nicole Munoz), and their relationship is Romeo and Juliet as the Tarrs hate the McCawleys – who are lead by Rafe McCawley, played by wonderful Canadian actor Graham Greene.
Julie Benz and Mia Krishner
    The first episode also introduces new mayor Amanda Rosewater played by the ever popular Julie Benz. This is yet another different role for this versatile actor. I’m really looking forward to her playing this smart, tough, very intelligent woman who is still very likeable and relatable. Mia Krishner plays her sister Kenya who runs and works in the Need/Want which is the local brothel. Yet another strong, complex woman in this rugged new world. In fact, there are few other shows on the air with so many interesting female characters.
    All of the characters have a past that is only hinted at in the first episode. Again, having new characters arrive in town opens up lots of possibilities for each character to relate their history at some point in the coming episodes. As this episode begins, it seems that the story behind Nolan is clear – he’s a scavenger out to make a quick buck, but by the end of the episode, his humanity is front and center, and Irisa points out that he’s always managing to give away their big score. It’s clearly not really something she’s annoyed about, but is just another indication that Nolan is one of the good ones; he is, in fact, one of the “Defiant Few.” By the end of the episode, Nolan has taken on the mantle of Lawkeeper. Of course, Nolan coming to Alak’s defense when Rafe wanted to kill him was also an indication that he’ll always fight to protect those who are weaker.
Nicole Munoz and Jesse Rath
    By the end of the episode, Stahma has convinced Datak that Alak marrying Christie is a good idea because it will allow them to take over the mine once Rafe is safely out of the way. While Stahma seems to be the brains behind this duo and is chillingly evil as she seduces her husband in all ways in their bath, Datak is supposed to be the bad guy about town, ruthlessly extorting money and running games of chance and the local fight club. The scene with Nolan fighting the Bioman is a great one. Nolan is willing to fight “dirty”, but Datak is willing to change the rules to insure that he still wins. However, when Defiance is threatened, Datak relieves everyone of their debt to encourage them to fight. It wasn’t clear in the scene how Stahma felt about that, but it might be an interesting twist if he turned out not to be quite so ruthless as his beautiful wife. The most chilling development, however, may be the revelation that the attack on Defiance was actually orchestrated by former mayor Nicky (Fionnula Flanagan), and there’s obviously a lot of a of story to be explored here. How the revelation will affect Amanda is only one element.
    I’ll definitely be tuning in to see how these stories play out. What did you think of Defiance? What was your favorite part – the effects? The action? The characters? Have you played the game yet? Let me know in the comments below.
Tony Curran, Julie Benz, and Graham Greene