‘Defiance: Down In the Ground Where Dead Men Go’ – Review

Posted Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013 08:00 pm GMT -4 by 0

Tony Curran as Datak Tarr, Jaime Murray as Stahma Tarr, Julie Benz as Amanda Rosewater, Mia Kirshner as Kenya Rosewater, Grant Bowler as Joshua Nolan, Stephanie Leonidas as Irisa Nyira, Graham Greene as Rafe McCawley

 

There’s been two episodes of ‘Defiance’, and from watching the show, all I can really say is that it has potential. I don’t quite have the goosebumps I did when I watched ‘Battlestar Galactica‘ for the first time, but I’m far more interested in continuing this more than I ever have been in continuing the shows I now love to watch on Syfy, like ‘Warehouse 13′.

Essentially, ‘Defiance’ is not quite there, but it definitely has potential.

Defiance’ at least tries to put a real face on what it would be like to have so many alien cultures living in one place. The episode starts with a Castihan ritual for the cleansing of a coward (Bradik, who ran during the fight with the Volge in the last episode), which the humans inevitably try to break up because moral relativism is not something humans have apparently quite grasped yet. Or maybe just Lawkeeper Nolan hasn’t figured out. We know this because the mayor explains that years ago the Irathians left the city years ago because the town of Defiance had forcibly vaccinated their children against their will.This is why Bradik gets tortured.

It’s seems a bit odd that this would be the topic for debate, though, seeing as that even now, the punishment for desertion is death. Maybe things really have changed that much in the future. Although, seeing as the punishment for desertion hasn’t changed in the last two millennium, this change in opinion seems a little unlikely over the course of the around 40 years since our timeline changed when the Votans came.

But what troubles me with the A-story in this episode is summed by another reviewer:

“The sympathetic characters are all for stopping the ceremony. The villainous ones are all for preserving Castithan tradition.”

This pretty much tells us, whether wittingly or unwittingly, the problems science-fiction script writers have writing true science fiction that actually tackles the questions we have in our society today. By making characters villainous, their actions are always associated with wrong, and vice versa. It robs the plot of the moral relativism that society badly needs. I think trying to have the answers is not as important as exposing why the questions are so controversial.

My issue with the episode, though, is that the writers automatically make those who wish to preserve a certain tradition that is, quite frankly, very obviously against dominant white cultural thinking, and reinforces that theirs is the only right sort of thinking. Whether the torture and death of a deserter is right or wrong, is naturally up to you, but to depict the other side without a sympathetic point of view further entrenches the idea that there is only one right side, which, I think, is antithetical to what science fiction should promote. Sometimes there aren’t answers,  and I hope (and sort of think) that Defiance will be addressing that soon. I don’t want ‘Defiance’ to have good and bad guys. I want ‘Defiance’ to have different motivations and let problems be explored that way

But really, the best part of the episode is when it all culminates in an eerie cover of Nirvana’s “Come as You Are”, where the town of Defiance buries their dead, followed by the discovery that Luke may have died for other reasons than his father thinks, and the death of the deserter, Bradik, whom Nolan finds at the door of the Lawkeeper office after hearing a piercing scream. It ends on the chilling lyric, “No I don’t have a gun.”

It seems that though they can bury their dead together in the town of Defiance, they may not really be ready yet to live together.

The rest of the episode largely set up what is going to be happening in the future. Stahma Tarr, wife of Datek Tarr and the man who kills Bradik, continues her machinations to get her son married to Rafe McCawley’s daughter so they can take control of his mines, and Nolan and McCawley adventure down in the underground of Old Saint Louis to stop a plot by the mayor to destroy the town of Defiance. We still don’t know why she wants to kill the people she grew up with, or why people are helping her commit such an atrocity, but we know that Nolan and McCawley foiled her plans  twice now.

The gem of the episode, really, was Jaime Murray’s flawless performance as she tries to manipulate her husband and her son in order to achieve a better life for them all, which is why I hope that in future episodes, what is right and wrong won’t seem so black and white.

Things we still don’t know:

1. Why Ben betrayed Defiance and tried to have it destroyed.

2. Why the former Mayor of Defiance is so hellbent on destroying Defiance.

3. What the gold object Luke was keeping hidden away is.

Check back next week as I’ll review the next episode ‘A Well Respected Man.’

 

 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sean-Brodrick/100001562600030 Sean Brodrick

    Excellent analysis. I’ll say that while I watched the first episode the whole way through, I gave up on this one halfway through — it just wasn’t exciting or interesting. They should try breaking the comfort boundaries; it might make the show worth watching.

    • http://twitter.com/BoomComplains Boom

      I think they’re going to get there. Sometimes it takes a bit for shows to get on their feet. Besides, I think some of it is getting covered in the game, though I wouldn’t know as I can’t get a hold of it seeing as they don’t make it for macs and my xbox is Japanese…

  • Bill T.

    Yeah, no goosebumps for me either. I continue to watch it, however, because like I tell my mother,”I have no choice. I’m a lifelong scifi fan, it’s in my contract, so I have to watch it.”

  • Pingback: 'Defiance: The Devil In The Dark' - Review - ScienceFiction.com

  • Ben

    I totally agree with your thoughts on how the writers totally mishandled the culture clash between modern Western European culture and Castihan culture. One could easily argue that a ritual of public shaming and torture of a man who abandoned his fellow warriors during a fight to defend their homes from invasion is an adaptive social control. Such a ritual is necessary to reinforce the fact that the tribe needs men willing to fend off enemy assaults lest they be slaughtered, raped, and pillaged.

    The Castihian punishment ritual would seem very much necessary in a society in which several years of imprisonment is either impractical or impossible. If the society in question were to imprison the deserter for several yeras under such circumstances (as we are able to do in our postindustrial society), the deserter’s family would be without a literal breadwinner for that period of time.