Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Defiance, Season 1, Episode 1 & 2: Pilot

A brand new series, it starts with a voice over describing a dream. A dream that explains what happened – the Votans approach Earth on the Arcs, several large space ships.

33 years later, the Earth is surrounded by wreckage from these Arcs and Earth is now terraformed. This was the world the narrator was born into: After the vessels were destroyed and after the Arcfalls began - we see a large chunk of floating debris descend to Earth. After the terrafromers changed the planet –we see the terrain of Earth is radically different and has alien flora.

As a child the narrator’s father, Nolan says the world has no natives, so it belongs to everyone – and Antarctica will be a paradise; though she’s wary of his claim, too cynical to believe it. We finally see our narrator sat next to Nolan (a human) in a jeep, she’s an alien, one of the Votans, an Irathient and she’s writing her diary in an alien language.

And like many children through since the dawn of time, she’ giving Nolan the silent treatment. It seems he got involved with a married Votan – though he protests he didn’t know. They’re heading to a projected Arcfall, guaranteed payday– and they see the falling rubble pass overhead. He also penetrates her sulk with an impromptu karaoke duet session.

Note to parents everywhere: This is a bad bad bad bad idea and will earn you literally decades of teenaged scorn.

At the wreckage of the Arcfall, they start looking for salvage in the vast corridors and halls of the fallen space ship. Irisa, the Irathient, has a moment of sadness seeing the bodies of Votans who never made it to Earth. Moving in they find some intact Votan tech that they activate – the Earth Republic pays a lot of money for Votan tech. And this pristine sample is going to make them extremely rich – rich enough to pay off Nolan’s debt and move to Antarctica (apparently terraformed into something pleasant).

But as they leave they hear engines – Spirit Riders. And Nolan turns to find several of them – including one holding Irisa captive. They’re all Irathient, like Irisa. They mock Irisa and question her for following a human around. Outside the Spirit Riders are ransacking their Roller and the boss demands Nolan empty his pack. Nolan reaches to empty it – and Irisa stabs the man holding her and throws Nolan a gun – he uses it to shoot a flare, creating a big distraction.

Irisa and Nolan run – leaving their Roller behind. They get clear and start to move to a settlement, but Irisa is struggling and bleeding. She collapses, she’s been shot in the fight. Nolan carries her through the forest through the rest of the night. At day break he buries the sphere they found that’s worth so much money, just before ominous noises of moment in the forest cause him to draw his gun. They’re being stalked by… Sabrewolves apparently. Odd insect legged bear things. Not friendly creatures

Nolan shoots and kills one – but apparently they’re pack hunters. Killing 3 others uses up the rest of his ammo – and there’s still several left. Which are driven off by three humans with guns – after the rescue they help pick up the exhausted Nolan and injured Irisa.

They’re taken to what was once St. Louis, the arch still visible and standing though much of the city looks like a forest now – surrounded by alien animals and plants and protected by a curtain force field. The city is now called Defiance.

In Defiance there’s a little ceremony going on, and a woman tells the story of the Defiant Few that began the end of the Pale Wars (the war between the Votans and the humans). As a fortress burned down around them, warring human and Votan soldiers put down their weapons to concentrate on saving civilians. Their commanders demanded they keep fighting but the soldier’s refused and worked together. Their Defiance inspired the “8 races” (the crowd is mostly human but has the odd Votan) and soldiers around the world refused to fight. The ceremony is to celebrate the 15th anniversary of armistice day, the end of the war.

The woman is the new mayor, Amanda Rosewater  – 3 weeks new, and she takes the time to introduce other important people – the ill ex-Mayor, Nicolette Riordan. The wealthy Datak Tarr and his wife Stahma Tarr (a Votan family). He’s glared at by human Rafe McCawley, a mine owner who is cheered by the crowd, much to the apparent annoyance of the Tarr family who were greeted with silence. They exchange some snark while in the background Datak’s son and Rafe’s daughter exchange Romeo & Juliette glances.

The party gets into full swing and Amanda expresses her doubts about what a good mayor she will be to Nicolette who reassures her. They also talk about Earth Republic – R-Rep and it’s regimented way of life, Nicolette warns Amanda about letting them get their hooks into Defiance.

In the hospital, Clancy, the Law Keeper (sheriff) goes to see Nolan (who is trying to pretend to be unconscious and not fooling the unsympathetic Indogene doctor Yewll). Clancy berates his deputy, Tommy for cuffing Nolan, pointing out that, judging by Nolan’s tattoo, he was perfectly capable of hurting them even cuffed. To prove the point Nolan hands the cuff over without bothering with the key. They compare military records and note that Nolan was one of those Defiant Few Mayor Amanda was talking about. At which point Irisa wakes up and tries to stab the doctor – who’s not having any of that.

Walking through the streets, Datak complains to his wife about Rafe filling the crowd with his miners to ensure support (she says he’s only sorry he didn’t think of it first, making them both laugh). He’s also worried about their son, Alak, running wild with a gang and cheapening their family name which Datak has worked hard to improve (Stahma puts it down to the nature of youth). Yet as they walk a much poorer dressed man (another Castithan like Datak and Stahma) appears to make excuses about apparently criminal business. While Stahma distracts the man’s children while Datak has his bodyguard break the man’s hand for approaching him in public. He hopes his son won’t have to follow in his footsteps.

In Mayor Amanda’s office, she tells her Indogene assistant to rebuff the Earth Republic and worries that Nolan kidnapped Irisa since it could cause problems with the Spirit Riders. She knows of Nolan’s military record – but that was a long time ago and she’s worried more about what he has been doing lately. Of course the unexpected answer is that Irisa is Nolan’s daughter. Amanda is thrilled that they’re just passing through – but won’t give his weapon back until they leave. Nolan points out they had all their stuff taken, to move on Nolan needs to earn some money and to do that he needs his weapon. Amanda isn’t that sympathetic and lets him know the brothel probably has a job for him.

At a club in town, the Romeo & Juliette story plays out with Alak dancing with (Catithan dancing seems to involve slow motion) Rafe’s daughter Christie – and her brother Luke objecting. The fight escalates when both sides draw weapons and they have to be pulled apart. As Quentin, another Rafe kid drags his brother away, he warns him about how dangerous Alak’s family is and we learn Luke is apparently involved in something.

Nolan goes to collect Irisa and Dr. Yewll (who is rapidly becoming one of my favourite characters) asks about payment – Nolan looks for money after being robbed by Yewel tells him to buy Irisa a meal and pay her when he can.

Nolan tells Irisa about earning money for a new roller before leaving town and that they can’t sell the sphere in Defiance since it’s so dangerous they could be killed for having it. They go to talk in Need Want, the brothel, where proprietor Kenya does an awesome job of introducing herself, working up her clients and demanding some basic standards from them. Nolan asks Kenya where he can earn some fast money – she points him towards the Hollows.

The Hollows where there’s a bare fist fighting match going on, overseen by Datak on a throne, an actual throne. Nolan things the whole scene looks like a great idea. He joins the fight, encouraging Irisa to get some side bets going, planning to drag it out as long as possible. In response, Datak puts in a new champion – a giant bio-man (synethetically made?)

The fight begins and Irisa takes bets while Nolan doesn’t do very well. His punches don’t do anything, not even straight to the groin – until he manages to punch the creature in the backside – which topples it. Winning the match for Nolan. Apparently there’s an offswitch. But as Nolan and Irisa leave, Datak claims deactivating the bio-man amounts to a low blow and is banned, taking most of the money off them. They can’t afford a roller, but they can afford a bed, bath and new clothes

To Need Want, where Nolan gets to know Kenya a little better. Or a lot better. Intimately in fact.

While they’re earning money, a Sensoth walking his dog finds a body after hearing a struggle. Law Keeper Clancy thinks something needs Amanda’s attention, urgently

To the wealthy Rafe residence where Rafe notices Luke’s absence while they all sit down to dinner (served by their Liberata servant who is most sarcastic); their meal is interrupted by Clancy and Amanda. The body they’ve found was Luke.

To the morgue and Dr. Yewll. Luke died to a stab wound and cold fire burns – a Voltan weapon. Clancy promises Rafe they’ll find whoever did it, but Rafe says he’ll find them. Quentin tells his father about Luke’s fight with Atak Tarr and Rafe barges out of the room, ignoring the mayor and the Law keeper. Amanda tells Clancy to find Atak first

In the bar, Irisa is sketching Atak at a different table while Nolan completes his business with Kenya. Rafe barges in and starts accusing Atak with his friends –Kenya quickly rushing down. Atak is pretty shocked that Luke is dead. Rafe won’t listen to Atak’s protests that he’s been gambling with his gang all night and he won’t listen to Kenya, knocking her aside and starts to drag Atak from the room. And Nolan removes one of Atak’s crew and sits in his seat, pretending he’s been gambling with them. Rafe sets one of his miners on Nolan – who unleashes another groin punch and slams his head on the floor – Nolan doesn’t waste time. Rafe tries to assure Nolan he’s not going to lynch Atak, but Nolan is very not convinced. On the next table Irisa closes her book, irritated at Nolan getting in another scrape. And she arrives to put a blade at another man’s throat

And then in comes Christie with Clancy to tell the truth – Alak couldn’t have hurt Luke because he was with her all night. At which point Rafe tries to shoot Atak – but Nolan disarms him. Another miner pulls a gun and fires before Irisa nails his hand to the table and throws his knife at another. Nolan grabs a gun and Rafe puts his hand up – but Clancy is dead, shot by one of the miners.

The bodies are removed and Amanda tries to stand between a furious Datak and Rafe. Nolan snarks about Amanda letting Datak and Rafe carry weapons. She blames Nolan as well (what? For not letting Rafe take a boy out the bar to be killed?) before returning to focusing on finding Luke’s killer before the trail goes cold. Rafe doesn’t see how that will happen since Clancy is dead (and whose fault is that, Rafe?) and Tommy speaks up, Clancy’s deputy; Rafe has no faith in him, he’s too young and inexperienced. He says again he’ll do it himself but Amanda protests that his methods already nearly got a kid murdered, they need a professional. Which they don’t have – at least until Nolan speaks up. He’s a tracker by trade and he presents his resume of criminals he’s found (which may or may not be fictional by what Irisa says). Amanda agrees – but only if they can keep Irisa as hostage.

Ok, what the hell is wrong with Amanda – with the murderous Rafe, the criminal Datak, why is NOLAN the one she can’t trust when he did far more than her own ineptitude to try and sort any of this out?

At Datak’s house, Datak plots vengeance against Rafe’s entire family, but Stahma speaks up for Christie, an innocent. And adds that she stuck her neck out to protect Alak. Stahma points out there are many roads to justice – and Alak and Christie actually marrying and then Christie could come to them for anything. Of course, Rafe can give her anything too – but he works in a dangerous job, so does Quinten. Why Christie would be allll alone then and have to take over those mines!

Am I supposed to see these two as sinister and evil? Sure, they kind of are – but at the same time a man tried to murder their son, in public and what passes for law enforcement and government in this city has handwaved it? They’ve been presented with a law enforcement system and government which doesn’t give a damn whether they live or die – should they play by the rules?

At the law keeper’s office, Irisa works to well and truly freak poor deputy Tommy out, first with silence and then with her detailed plan for how she could kill him and escape if she really had to. She opens up and says Nolan saved her. Tommy can relate, Clancy saved him, giving him a second chance, a new direction. Irisa’s story is that Nolan killed her parents, something she couldn’t do.

Nolan takes Amanda and Rafe to the crime scene and reads the prints and blood spatter of how Luke came to meet someone, they thought, there’s non-human blood – and someone who had their leg damaged but it didn’t leave a trail of blood, pointing to a cybernetic implant. Which points to an Indogene since they make a habit of cybernetics. Amanda remembers that her Indogene assistant, Ben, was limping.

Ben is out at the stasis net – shooting one of the guards.

From there we go to the Spirit Riders who are tracking a potential Arkfall but find something bigger – far bigger. An army on the move – of big scary aliens, that the Spirit Riders quickly run away from.

Amanda calls Ben and after much pretence he realises she knows. He says he didn’t have a choice, the town’s finished, all you can do now is run. He sets a device up at the stasis net and leaves. Nolan and Amanda chase his car in a roller – when Ben’s vehicle is knocked off the road by a weapon’s blast. Rafe with a rifle. Nolan quickly stops Rafe finishing Ben off so they can question him. Because Nolan recognises the gun – it’s only used by one alien race, and it’s not the Indogene. He asks if it’s them – and the bomb Ben planted goes off, bringing down the stasis net.

Nolan reveals the aliens are the Volge. He fought them during the Pale Wars and Defiance doesn’t have a chance.

Back to town and people are evacuating. Kenya takes a moment to encourage Nolan to visit her again – for a discount even – before bringing a sandwich to Amanda and a pep talk as Amanda doubts herself and whether she can encourage a town to fight an enemy bred to wipe out planets. She doesn’t think she can make an inspirational speech, we also learn Kenya and Amanda are sisters.

The speech begins with people asking for Mayor Nikki rather than Amanda before she pulls out a personal and inspiring speech to rally everyone round. It’s not a bad speech, but it’s pretty cookie-cutter for speeches of this type. But it inspires Rafe to say he and his back her – and so does the House of Tarr, with Datak throwing in debt forgiveness for everyone who fights.

As they pack to leave, Nolan comments on the town’s courage to Irisa, who shrugs it off as them dying with honour. Amanda arrives to remind Nolan about his heroic past (if I were Nolan I’d throw back how little that mattered to her before she was blatantly trying to manipulate him) and he sees children being evacuated.

Anyone guess how this is going to end?

He and Irisa leave town and dig up the sphere. Looking through binoculars, Nolan and Irisa see the army moving on Defiance. Nolan cracks - they could make a difference. There are Indogene scientists in the town (Indogene are highly intelligent), they could make a weapon with the sphere. But the sphere would be burned out and leave them with nothing. Irisa is furious – every time they get ahead, Nolan ruins it. He protests there are kids in the town and she says she doesn’t care – but he says he does, he knows her better and he raised her better. Irisa drives off angry, and Nolan walks back to Defiance

He’s greeted by Amanda and they prepare the weapon. If they can hold the Volge in the pass when the sphere comes online, Dr. Yewll can focus the blast to destroy them. Dr. Yewll is still awesome. Nolan passes out tactics to the gathered fighters, they prepare on the highground to drive the Volge into the terrasphere’s killing zone. Several characters we’ve seen prepare their weapons, including Alak helping Christie which Rafe notices.

The battle begins with lots of epic CGI and shooting – particularly focused on stopping the Volge from climbing up to their positions. One of the Volge notices Dr. Yewll on the scaffold with the terrasphere and fires upon them, shaking the scaffold and knocking her over. It delays her and the longer battle starts to cost the defenders, many extras dying. Amanda is injured and Kenya runs to her. The tide is turned back by the Spirit Riders arriving – Irisa among them. Irisa is knocked off her bike during the charge and a Volge lines up to kill her – until she’s saved by Tommy.

And Yewll finishes with the Sphere, the army pulls back and boom. The Volge are destroyed. Everyone celebrates – and medical help rushes to Amanda and Irisa and Nolan reunite.

In the clinic Kenya sits by Amanda’s bedside and Dr. Yewll is awesome. Kenya leaves and Nolan joins her – 41 people died in the fight. Amanda says they need to find out who sent the Volge and why. She also gives Nolan the Law Keeper’s badge; he’s all she has available and wants him to consider the post.

Datak and Stahma watch as Christie and Atal have a romantic moment – and he gives her a ring. Stahma explains betrothal to Datak. Lots of closing scenes

And a figure in a different city, eating in a restaurant, a man tells someone that everything went to hell. The new mayor is tough, if Ben wakes up from his coma he could tell Defiance who murdered Luke and who was behind the Volge attack. Worse, they don’t know where the “Kazeri” is buried nor do they have the key. The person he’s talking to tells him to relax and not lose heart. It’s Nikki, the last mayor (and she puts down her respirator to smoke so I’m guessing her illness is probably fake). She says when the town is empty they’ll be free to search again. The man, Mr. Birch, calls her backup plan brutal but she says they’re trying to change the world, one day the survivors will thank them.

I think we perhaps have too many characters too soon. Coupled with learning the world, learning the aliens et al – well, I play the game so got a heads up but it may be too crammed.

I love the setting and how it was presented. We got to see all of the aliens, even have them named, without massive info dumps. The introduction was an excellent summation of what happened and the celebration a very realistic way to info dump (even if it was an info dump) of the movers and shakers around town. It had to lot to introduced and it did it really well. A lot of it just by showing different technology or just wide camera pans across the ruined city and changed landscape to give us a full idea of how the world has changed and why. It’s striking the balance of world building so far.

However there are already elements I’m querying. Rafe just walked into a bar and tried to murder a boy? Is there a reason why Amanda considers this irrelevant details? His actions did cause the death of 2 men, including their Law Keeper? Is this an intentional set up to show how corrupt and inept Amanda is? How much Rafe controls the Mayor’s office that he can literally try to murder people in the street with impunity? Am I supposed to look favourably on Amanda or Rafe ever again? Because I have a feeling I’m supposed to dislike Rafe – but see him as gruff and annoying rather than murderous, and somehow be rooting for Amanda.

And don’t try to present “he was sleeping with my daughter” as an excuse – that just makes him a misogynist and a murderer. Daddy killing to protect his daughter against consensual sex is pretty repellent.

I also question the line “Earth has no natives” uh – that doesn’t make even the slightest sense? It also has unpleasant real world connotations – I’m all for co-existence and peace but don’t ignore history and occupation.

We do have some POC – Rafe and his family and Tommy and it’s early yet for me to decide whether they play a large role or not. A lot of shows like this are more likely to emphasise their “diversity” with their aliens than with actual minorities. By the cast pic, Rafe is the only one who can be considered a main character

I’m intrigued, you hooked me Defiance.

With the season finale of Defiance approaching, I know there's many people trying to catch up. You can watch Defiance online here to catch any episodes you may have missed