Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Defiance, Season 1, Episode 13: Everything is Broken

Nolan and Tommy search the woods for Irisa after she ran off last episode. They track her though Tommy wants to talk about how wrong it is that Nolan is being pushed out.

It’s election day and everyone is tense, including Datak making sure every Votan, no matter how dismissed, are reached out to; and Stahma has very good ways to help him relax with a special new sex trick.

At the polling station there are lots of photographers and Kenya makes a snarkly little comment to Datak about keeping an eye on his wife after he praises her for the press. This rouses Datak’s suspicions, especially because the only other person who had performed that new sex trick on him was Kenya. He threatens to kill Stahma right there – but needs her vote. She goes into the polling both with Datak making an amusingly patronising comment for the cameras, and panics.

And Yewll has a whole squad of armed men, Earth Republic by the look of them, in her clinic. She scolds them for not knocking. Because she’s Yewll and awesome. Colonel Marsh wants the Kaziri – apparently there’s a Votan ship with a powerful weapon at the bottom of that mines and Yewll and her people have been looking for it for almost 3,000 years. They threaten to kill Yewll and one of Colonel Marsh’s men is Black Jonah – an infamous torture expert. Yewll tells them that both keys are in Irisa

Ryn has taken Irisa to the Irathient Spirit Rider Camp where Sukar is preserved on life support – something Ryn continues to blame on Nolan who catches up with them. Nolan tells Irisa what Yewll told him – a crashed ship under Defiance with a weapon that could kill every human – or every Votan – on Earth. It needs 2 keys to trigger and that was what the cult who kidnapped Irisa wanted her for, to carry the keys. Irisa has some more angst about being the destroyer.

Stahma goes to Kenya to tell her that Datak intends to kill her and probably Kenya as well, urging her to leave with her since she doesn’t deserve to be killed for Castithan law when she’s not a Castithan and going to Nolan and Amanda will likely start a war. Kenya doubts her, especially since Stahma hurt Amanda with her plot. Stahma tells Kenya when and where she will be when leaving and leaves it with her.

The Earth Republic forces – who Nolan identifies as mercenaries not regular army – arrive at the Spirit Walker camp and quickly hold everyone at gun point (Nolan and Irisa hide, but Tommy is taken when he tries to protest they have no right to do what they’re doing). Jonah kills one of the Irathients when Irisa doesn’t come out, he threatens to kill the rest and Irisa gives herself up. Nolan is left behind with a guard who is ordered to “clean up” who Nolan promptly kills and steals his gun.

In Defiance, the results come in – Datak is the new mayor, by a narrow win. Kenya commiserates with Amanda over her loss and Kenya is really hammering home how much Amanda means to her and how grateful she is – it could almost be a goodbye.

Kenya meets Stahma at her rendezvous point and Stahma gives her a drink to warm her after walking so long in the cold. Kenya throws it back and points a gun at Stahma, demanding she drink it, suspecting it to be poisoned or drugged. (If she’s clever she may have a poison that affects humans but not Castithans). Stahma won’t drink it. Uh-huh, she claims it was penance, a way for Stahma to show Datak she was seeking atonement. Kenya says she’s going to use Stahma as a ransom to make Datak leave Defiance. Stahma asks if Kenya ever had feelings for her or if she were just a client – Kenya says just a client. And passes out – the poison was on the flask (and Stahma is wearing gloves).

Oh, do not try to outsmart Stahma. That’s cunning, very cunning indeed.

The mines are crawling with E-Rep soldiers and Yewll tells them they can’t remove the keys from Irisa because they have somehow become absorbed into her cells. They hope to run a charge through Irisa to being them out – Yewll says it’ll burn her, the human doctor says it’s survivable an Yewll says “so’s castration”. See, this is why I love Yewll.

Datak enters his new office and is angry at Colonel Marsh, who joins him, because he occupied the mines without telling him. He’s furious because his new mayorship has been undermined on the first day – and is smart enough to realise this is about more than the gulanite deposits. Colonel Marsh dismisses him, calling him an “uppity little Haint” (a slur for Castithans). You have to wonder what Datak expected, getting into bed with the human dominated Earth Republic?

Stahma goes to see Datak and tells him that she’s done what he asks – and finds that Datak has killed Colonel Marsh. Oh dear, what was that about Castithans and pride and how even the appearance of an insult had to be answers – seeming is being? Guess the Colonel didn’t do his research. He tells her that the Earth Republic will come for them and they both say how they will miss home.

At the mines, Yewll whispers to Irisa to do what she did in her office again. Jonah criticises her for going soft, since the rumour is that Yewll used to dissect humans while they were still alive. Yewll, in a gloriously bored tone says “yeah yeah yeah, I was a monster. I regret my past and I’m trying to do better, you should be taking notes.” See, this is why I love Yewll.

Nolan and the Irathients move on the mines and free Rafe who the Earth Republic imprisoned (he owns the mines afterall).  They attack and there’s gun fire while inside Irisa or the Kaziri did what it did before, what Yewll told her to – and shoots out its tendrils. Yewll throws in some extra meddling with the equipment to help matters – when Nolan arrives, everyone in the tent is unconscious.

Rafe is injured in the arm. Tommy stays to guard him while Irisa and Nolan go looking for a roller, killing more mercenaries until Jonah arrives. Nolan shoots Jonah – but he hits Nolan as well; severely enough to cause him to bleed from the mouth. Irisa tries to get him to get up, hitting him, pushing him – but Nolan dies.

She sees Sukar, walking around and talking, and they both go to the mines. He says Nolan had to die because he couldn’t be allowed to take her from this place; she’s the Devouring Mother. She goes into the mine – along the way she sees a running figure and drops her gun and gives chase. She catches up to an Irathient who says she is Irzu (an Irathient god – of everyone’s path). Irisa denies believing her, believing in her, but Irzu knows Irisa wants what she can give – Nolan back. Irisa asks what it will cost, Irzu says “everything” – and calls her the Devouring Mother, the Destroyer. She must become Irzu’s weapon

The first step, Irisa stands among the cave paintings. The Kaziri shoot out their tendrils and reform in her hands, allowing her to pass through the wall, revealing a churning chasm into which she drops them. Something huge and golden moves as she relives her life with Nolan. She says his name and jumps down onto the giant glowing, broken sphere, when she hits more energy is emitted and it shoots out golden light

Outside, Nolan wakes up, alive again. He walks onto a ridge calling for Irisa – and sees a column of Earth Republic soldiers moving into the town.

Well damn that was a season finale… who’s alive and who’s dead? Irisa? Kenya? Datak? Stahma? So many cliffhangers!

3,000 years looking for a very powerful weapon system that the Indogenes have been looking for? Yeah, I want some explanation as to why this system was lost for 3,000 years but is still more advanced than both current Votan technology and Votan technology as it was before leaving their home system (especially with the Indogenes being a culture that constantly pursues science and research, it beggars belief that such a culture couldn’t match what their ancestors produced millennia ago) and how this “lost” artefact was moved to a ship (complete with cave paintings!) and moved to Earth. And how humans have even the slightest clue about it? But then it is a thing of magic and religion and science and at least 3 Votan races and who knows what else?

There remains just so much unknown, so many questions to ask and a whole lot of storyline hooks for the next season

Which is one of the things that I have loved about Defiance – it does have so many hooks. The battle for Defiance to be independent, the conflicts between humans and Votans and the different cultures, the Votans living on a new planet, the still echoing effects of the Pale wars, Amanda as the nervous and growing in confidence new mayor, Datak’s quest for power and legitimacy, Christie and Alak’s Romeo and Juliet relationship, Rafe trying to hold his family together, Yewll and her path for redemption – and that’s before we get into the woo-woo buried under the town.

I think a lot has gone into the world building as well. There has been a real effort to build not just entire languages, but real, strong cultures for the aliens – particularly the Irathient and the Castithans. While they’re more human than I would expect of aliens, their cultures are still very distinct, internally consistent and maintained so well that Datak killing Colonel Marsh, despite it being almost suicidal, made perfect sense according to his culture and its mores. This helped make the world an incredibly rich and very very real feeling despite it having a truly imaginative and new concept, bringing both Dystopian and peaceful Sci-fi together.

My complaint about the alien issues is one I’ve had from the beginning – their issues are often used as a stand in for the Other which is an annoying element of appropriation we’ve covered before. They’ve been used to explore colonisation, land theft, cultural assimilation, forced loss of culture, internment camps, police prejudice and violence and many more. All of these are real world issues facing marginalised groups – but not only have they been appropriated but they’ve been appropriated poorly. Each of them have been a one week plot, rapidly forgotten as the story went on, there’s no depth or ramifications, no long term consequences and no presentation of the oppression these acts represent. They’re one off issues, covered, resolved and ignored in one episode – not presented as ongoing problems.

As to actual marginalised people, we do have some POC – firstly we have Rafe and his family. He’s an interesting, deep character, hard working, gruff, ultimately good if rather reactionary, deeply loyal to his family but slow to change and prone to being dictatorial. He’s a complicated character and I generally think I like him. The main problem I have with Rafe is that while I quite like him in a position of power this often casts him as the intolerant oppressor when the aliens are being used as a stand in for the other. Having a man of colour – and a Native American man at that – be the coloniser who stole Irathient land and is intolerant of the alien’s native cultures is… hard to swallow.

The second is Tommy – I like Tommy, he has some history and development and I like his budding relationship with Irisa. I don’t like that the old law maker died and he was instantly dismissed as a possible replacement, nor the frequent way he is presented as childlike and na├»ve (aside from anything else, that doesn’t really fit his past). But I do like that he is, perhaps more than anyone else on the cast, the one with firm principles. I do think he’s underused again – usually just silent back up, a complete background character.

While these characters are here, we have to remember that Defiance is St. Louis which is a “minority majority” city – with less than 43% of the population being non-Latino White and with 49% of the population being Black which isn’t really reflected even in crowd scenes or with recurring minor characters

One thing that I do like is that the writers have taken an opportunity to change Earth culture and not be so bound by current mores – Kenya is a prostitute, runs a legalised brothel and while she gets some contempt for it, she proudly fights against it and has a sister who is the mayor. We see with Olfin that polyamorous marriages are not only allowed but are not even considered noteworthy (though it’s a shame that was undermined by having Olfin be willing to kill her husbands so casually). It’s a shame that, with this cultural shift, the same-sex relationship we see still has to be kept hidden and illicit. It’s also deeply undermined with both Stahma’s plotting (up to seeming to murder Kenya) and Kenya being paid for her services (unlike Nolan, whom she was with for free) and feeling so much pity for Stahma. At the end of it, we don’t even know if either of them were actually attracted to each other or pursuing their own agendas or both. The representation is really undermined

In terms of women though we have a number of excellent characters. We have the intelligent, ethical, repentant Yewll (who is awesome). The conniving, evil, but crafty Nicky. We have Kenya, sexual, sensual but caring and compassionate. We have Irisa, finding her way between cultures, young but growing and learning and passionate, even if impulsive, a skilled and dangerous fighter. Christie, unsure, kind, fairly passive but still determined to get what she wants and set her own path. Stahma – often seen to be under Datak’s thumb in a deeply misogynist culture, yet still wielding considerable power with her brilliant manipulations. Amanda, the town’s leader, uncertain, growing in confidence with firm principles. The women are very different from each other in many ways but they are all very good characters partly because of their diversity and the diverse ways in which they are strong.

All in all this series has been very good – complex and involved with a lot of issues, a lot of separate storylines that are woven together. I worried about the large cast but it has handled it well, kept them together and kept them all real without distracting from the core of Defiance. It’s good writing to keep both all the storylines open without having them running off all over the place, soap-style. And it all stands on a very solid base of some excellent world building

I look forward to season 2. If you have missed any of season 1, you can catch up here.