Saturday, July 12, 2014

Defiance, Season 2, Episode 4: Beasts of Burden

We have a convoy bringing mining equipment through the badlands to Defiance and, for some reason, Niles himself has decided to go with them as has Berlin – is that Berlin?

They’re ambushed and everyone is killed except Niles and Berlin – though the raiders seem shocked that the E-Rep guards fired back and 2 of their own were killed. When Niles and Berlin try to get free it goes badly wrong. Berlin is knocked out and Niles is tripped to his underwear and pissed on by one of the raiders. The raiders leave with the stolen equipment

Well, someone has a beef with the E-Rep. Personally I’m on the side of leaving your enemies dead rather than humiliating them and leaving them to plot revenge.

In the town of Defiance, Datak is telling the clearly furious and frightened Stahma what a good guy he is because he “left her face unmarked” and didn’t carve her open like his dad did his first wife on Casti. But he’s on a new world so he’s so damn loving to let her live. Stahma hits back that on this new world a man and woman can be equal, adding that she actually raised profits while he was gone (by a lot) – she has earned the right to be partners. Of course, Datak doesn’t accept that

To further endear himself with his family, Datak insists that Alak follow him around to follow the family business. He didn’t originally expect Alak to follow in his footsteps, but now Alak has actually killed someone he’s all proud and ready to accept Alak in his criminal ventures. Alak looks less than thrilled.

As they go out in the street, E-Rep soldiers harass Datak over his killing of their general – calling him “haint” and spitting in his face. Despite the crowd watching, Datak manages to restrain his temper and remains polite, even when they knock him to the floor.

It turns out the two soldiers were actually being paid by Stahma to provoke him; she’s extremely annoyed that he’s finally learned self-control.

At the Need/Want Amanda and Nolan are getting up close and intimate before being interrupted by her having to work (though they appreciate the irony of them not having sex because she has to work in a “whorehouse) and Irisa interrupting with a message from Niles (Amanda: “anyone teach you to knock?” Irisa “I was raised by him”. 10 points, Irisa).

A very agitated Niles passes on all the information to Nolan who doubts very much they could possibly catch the raiders in the badlands. Amanda also has sensible advice for how to track down the raiders without just driving randomly in the badlands and hoping to come across them. Niles cuts her dead with a “know your place” line and she leaves, most massively pissed.

Berlin tries to repair her camera while Tommy tries to get her to rest since she was injured: she also objects to being called “Jessica” rather than “Berlin” which follows lots of jealousy over Irisa. Tommy is clear he wants nothing to do with Irisa and wishes she and Nolan would get out of town.

At Rafe’s house there’s a problem. Josef, the son of the man who died in the pilot, has dropped in with a raider mask and a lot of stolen mining equipment. Rafe is not pleased, not at all. Josef tries to justify himself explaining that the equipment could be used to increase the danger in the mines. Rafe thinks that’s a stretch nor did he expect the guy to take his talk of “blood having to be spilled” and do something so daft in response (oh Rafe, humanity needs so little excuse to be daft). He’s further disgusted to hear that 2 of Josef’s cronies died in the raid and absolutely blazing to hear that Josef killed E-Rep men then brought the gear into his home!

Realising he’s burned some bridges with his stalker crush, Niles goes to Amanda in the Need/Want to make a non-pology, explaining what the Raiders did to him and how it brought up bad memories (see, this is where so many people fail at an apology. It doesn’t matter how many times or how eloquently you explain WHY you did something, it’s not an apology if you throw out excuses without actually apologising). When it’s clear Amanda isn’t exactly embracing his nonpology, Niles expands on his experiences when he was 15 in boarding school and when the Votans attacked, keeping the students imprisoned in a room for days with no toilet facilities – he goes on to describe further abuse, possibly rape, when Amanda has him stop due to his very obvious distress.

Irisa and Nolan go to see Yewl about autopsies on Niles’s guards. Nolan is suspicious about how Yewl got parole (Yewl: “rampant sex appeal” totally deadpanned. This is why I love her) and she assures him, in her snarky way, that she hasn’t told anyone about Irisa. As he examines the bodies, he removes a gulanite handprint which Tommy sees, accusing Nolan of protecting Rafe by covering up evidence of miners being involved. Irisa makes Tommy back off but he’s not happy and Nolan ignores his complaints

Nolan goes to question Rafe who denies all knowledge until Josef puts a gun to the back of his head. Nolan is not impressed, Rafe, being not a fool, asks Nolan to go easy on his godson. Nolan easily takes the gun off Josef and pins him. Rafe tries to speak on Josef’s behalf, blaming himself for “running his mouth” and pointing out he lost his mines because he fought E-Rep soldiers to protect Irisa and appeals to Nolan’s sense of right. Nolan lets Josef go and tells Rafe he needs to get him out of town before Berlin rebuilds her camera.

Nolan hands over the gear to Niles with a lie about where he found it. Niles brings up the gulanite dust and Nolan challenges him – if he’s taking Tommy’s word over Nolan’s then give Tommy the badge.

Datak drags Alak to a meeting of his lieutenants where he says they all failed because they listened to a woman. Since they all “betrayed” him, he calls on a Casti custom of having one of them punished for all – and he wants Alak to choose. Alak chooses himself, since he was “too weak” to stop Stahma; Datak kills one of his underlings instead; he’s not killing his legacy.

Datak visits Alak’s business, his record manufacturing and selling business. Which he was going to destroy but now is going to keep as a front – because he’s super impressed by Alak’s “ploy” in front of the men. So he’ll chose a different punishment – forcing Alak’s hand into one of his record presses. Datak actually thinks this is reasonable.

When he goes home, Christie doctor’s Alak’s hand and rants about what a monster Datak is until Alak storms up because, indirectly, she’s insulting Castithan beliefs. Then in comes Stahma – and the ominous music starts.

She goes to see Datak and is angry and upset to see him reading the Casti holy book which he once disdained. Datak praises all the ancient customs and rules. He quotes them back to her and uses them to coerce her into hugging him, sure they’re all a happy family.

Datak, she will kill you and dance on your grave.

Unfortunately for common sense everywhere, Josef doesn’t flee the city, he goes to hold Berlin at gunpoint and claim the camera with his picture on it. Berlin fights with him, but isn’t up to Nolan’s level and ends up held at gun point – but she’s clearly seen him.

Amanda and Niles continue their happy drug meet ups and, while Niles knows Nolan is lying about who stole the equipment, he knows E-Rep only cares about the equipment so is willing to let it go despite his own personal animus. Since Niles shares his trauma, she shares hers of being raped when she worked for E-Rep; something she never told anyone because “looking weak” would have destroyed her career. But she was pregnant and her fiancĂ© believed the baby his and, since she couldn’t say different, he didn’t understand when she had an abortion. Which is when she left E-Rep and came to Defiance. She’s spilling this to Niles so he knows he’s not alone in his abuse

Then they get news of Berlin being kidnapped. Tommy angrily demands who Nolan is protecting; Nolan throws in another lie, this one plausible. Niles does threaten him with death – currently held off because he doesn’t want to upset Amanda. Nolan isn’t bothered by threats but as he contacts Rafe, both of them are concerned that if Josef hurts Berlin, they’re responsible.

Josef tries to make Berlin read a speech about the dangerous mining equipment. She refuses and tells him he should have used proper channels rather than ridiculous graffiti – she also adds that the soldiers he murdered had family. While he’s distracted, she tries to escape and he hits her. Nolan and Rafe arrive before he kills her, disarm him and restrain him. While Nolan is stunned and waiting for a doctor, Rafe takes Josef out of the hole and lets him go, telling him to run. Josef urges Rafe to lead the people against he E-Rep

As he runs, Rafe shoots him in the back, killing him instantly before breaking into tears.

Berlin and Nolan bond over wounds (Nolan took a bullet in the fight) and Tommy grudgingly thanks Nolan, which Nolan uses to throw some guilt around.

Niles is not satisfied by Josef or by Rafe being forced to kill him – against Amanda’s advice he has Rafe evicted

Datak goes to see his men – only to find them all gathered and Stahma and Alak present. The men grab Datak. He is beaten savagely by the men – Alak tries to look away but Stahma tells him not to. Afterwards the unconscious Datak is thrown out into the street and Stahma whispers to him “you should have made me a partner”.

He twitches, so he’s still not dead

So Datak is ignoring Stahma’s demand to be treated as his equal in the business where she has proven her skill and capability while at the same time pressuring Alak into it where he doesn’t want to be (and we’ve seen repeatedly that Alak is ill-suited to the role, at best). Showing that not only is Datak a misogynist, but that his misogyny prevents him making sensible decisions and even leads him to harm himself and his business (I actually like that this point is being shown because the idea that people won’t discriminate when it’s against their best interests is a pernicious one in society – and it’s blatantly untrue).

Datak is blatantly vile, but what’s interesting about him is how very unaware he is of that. He probably truly does think he is merciful, that Alak was really pulling off a ploy in front of the men; he’s so wedded to Casti customs he doesn’t realise how much everyone around him has moved past them. But because he is using Casti customs for his abuse, that drops some conflict on Alak who both hates what his dad is doing, but at the same time, doesn’t want to hear someone who isn’t Casti bad mouth it – which is why, no, she isn’t Castithan and even if he agrees with her, he doesn’t want to hear that from her. Even reasoned criticism from an outsider is not going to be welcomed.

Throw in more complexity – Datak once disdained the Casti holy book as he did Casti society. But that was when he was on the lowest li of their caste system – now he’s at the top, these institutions that justify and support his power and actions are suddenly valuable to him

And, of course, Stahma’s flexibility won out. Because she’s Stahma.

Even with Stahma being the one pulling the strings, it’s hard to miss  that a Black man was chosen to be the one throwing the “racial” slur of “haint” (a slur that is expressly based on skin colour no less). And on that note, while I’m happy Tommy is getting a larger role – that role appears to be “collaborator”. This would be far better if there were more nuance in how the E-Rep was presented and there was a good chance that we could reasonably see them as a force for good in Defiance

Amanda and Niles sharing their abuse stories is shaky but powerful. Sharing mutual horror stories can be fraught – there’s power in knowing you aren’t alone in your experiences and trauma – but, at times, when you spill a terrible thing that’s happened to you, having someone else decide to tell their story can feel like a tangent – but this one didn’t feel like that. Especially when put in the context of, as Amanda put it, “looking weak” and Niles adding that E-Rep wouldn’t care about his trauma. It’s a glimpse of E-Rep culture, being a victim is to be weak, by sharing their stories their either sharing that weakness, mutually denying that weakness and showing each other that they don’t buy into the weakness narrative.