Defiance just got one hell of a lot betterS

So when I told the Defiance showrunners to focus on characters instead of CG in last week’s recap? Clearly, they listened. And then went back in time and wrote and filmed “ A Well-Respected Man,” which was one hell of a good episode where every character featured got a moment to really, truly develop. You’re welcome, everybody!

Let’s start with the plot, which was easily the least interesting part of the episode — and indeed, even the episode barely focused on it. Short version (although even the long-version is still pretty short): Kendra, NeedWant’s owner/proprietor/head prostitute chases one of her girls who stole her john's scrip into Defiance’s slums, where she accidently sees Datak Tarr’s Bioman (the blue bodybuilder from the pilot) with a truck full of clearly kidnapped bums and drug addicts. The Bioman knocks out both Kenya and her employee, and takes the whole lot of them to a spot out of town, where the Bioman's friend has a factory where he sucks all the adrenalin out of people to make a drug, using what is essentially The Matrix Jr. Seriously, I can’t tell you how little time the episode focus on this, and it’s awesome, because here’s the stuff that really happens:

Nolan, who is still pissed at Datak Tarr for killing that Casthitan after the Mayor pardoned him, intercepts a secret shipment of weapons Datak is importing. Except Datak actually bought the weapons for the town, secretly, on behalf of the Town Council, because Defiance’s shield is down and the town needs protecting; Datak is the guy with the connections ot weapons dealers. Unfortunately, the Town Council didn’t tell this plan to the mayor, probably because she knew they’d freak, which means the Mayor was unable to tell Nolan. Which means Nolan just cost Defiance the massive deposit the town paid for the rest of the weapons.

Next, Amanda has a scene with her sister Kenya where she gives her shit for being a prostitute, and Kenya just completely blows it off. It’s pretty great. Although to be fair, Amanda was pretty half-hearted about the criticism and it seemed more like she needed to blow off some steam after the weapons snafu and a crazy woman accosted her on the street (see “Assorted Musings” below) than she actually disapproved ofKenya’s profession. Besides, the scene is nothing but a contrivance for Amanda to feel extra bad after Kenya’s kidnapped anyways.

So Nolan and Amanda (who seems to spend a large part of her job tagging along with the sheriff) start hunting for Kenya. The first clue? A young boy who picked up Kenya’s locket, which she dropped when she kidnapped. This kid is awesome. He’s standing in front of the town mayor and the sheriff with stolen property, and he does not give a shit. In fact, when questioned by Nolan, the kid demands money before he tells them anything — and then, after he’s paid, he tries to run off! He’s got balls bigger than he is! I mention this because this is absolutely a one-note expository character, designed solely to give the protagonists information, but Defiance imbues him with an actual personality. It’s a big step for the show, not just in terms of making sure its characters have personality, but making the world of Defiance seem more real.

The kid tells them about the Bioman, and since Datak Tarr has the only Bioman in town, Nolan and Amanda rouse Datak from his slumber in the middle of the night, where Nolan immediately accosts him. Not only is this the exact wrong way to get information about someone as touchy about respect as Datak is, the episode doesn’t let Nolan off the hook for being wrong — the entire investigation effectively breaks down because of his hotheadedness (albeit it just for a little bit).

Datak, who’s been trying to achieve a level of respect equal to his power and wealth, would almost certainly have been willing to help the mayor, if only to be the town hero for a bit. But Nolan’s fuck-up, along with a lot of long-simmering resentments — most notably being excluded from the town council, despite being a major player and the dude the town calls any time they need anything slightly illicit done — boils over, and he gives a massive speech about how the town is happy to use him, but not recognize him, and that’s why he won’t help Amanda find her sister. You know what’s most amazing about this? Every single word Datak says is true.

Defiance just got one hell of a lot betterS

And here’s where things start to get extra awesome. Stahma slips out after everybody leaves, and tracks down Amanda. She gives two very important bits of information about Kenya: 1) she calls her girls “night potrders,” which Stahma seems to think is a sign of pride in her work. I find the name odd, but I appreciate the sentiment. 2) Stahma likes Kenya, because when the first time they ran into each other on the street, Kenya runs up to her and hugs her and says, “Datak is an amazing man; thank you for sharing him with me.”

This is fucking amazing, and let me tell you why: This, as Stahma herself points, is exactly what she needed. Sure, prostitution is legal and it seems like Casthithans aren’t as prudish about sex as even future humans are. But no spouse would feel good about her/his partner seeking physical pleasure elsewhere, even if society was cool with it. What Kenya does is turn this act of exclusion into an act of inclusion; by thanking her, Kenya shows Stahma the respect she needs in an awkward situation, and praising Datak she appeals not just to her honor but the whole family’s honor, and by calling it sharing, Kenya acknowledges she is only a small factor in the broader scope of Datak and Stahma’s relationship. It’s brilliant, not just an act in the story, but also in thet writing. Kenya is a woman who knows what everyone needs, and this revelation not only instantly makes her fascinating to me, but does more for her character than any scene she’s actually been in.

And that’s not all. Stahma also turns the situation to Datak’s — and he family’s — advantage, by pointing out that Datak’s immense pride has been hurt (again, justly so). To get his help, to save her own sister’s life, Amanda will have to show Datak respect — and what could afford more respect than finally awarding Datak his own seat on the town council? It’s great plotting by Stahma, and equally great plotting by Defiance. After last week’s dull affair, I wasn’t sure if Defiance had this level of storytelling in it, but it does, and when it does the show is genuinely excellent.

Obviously, the next scene is Nolan and Datak tracking down leads. Datak brings Nolan to a Castithan associate of the Bioman (possibly a lover?). Again, I was expecting simple information-relating, but the scene is so much more: Nolan sees a fresh cut on the informant’s face, and immediately susses out that Datak’s goons got there earlier, roughed the Castithan up, got the information, then forced him to stage this whole elaborate scene so Nolan’s thuggery would look worthless while Datak swoops in at the end to break the guy and be the hero. Better yet, Nolan totally calls Datak on this. Best of all, Datak just admits it — respecting Nolan enough to at least cut out the bullshit. Turns out the Bioman hangs out with that skuzzy adrenalin drug user/maker a few clicks out of town, and then Nolan — and Amanda, because what else does she have to do other than go to armed conflicts — rescue Kenya with no problem whatsoever.

But the episode isn’t over! Kenya gets her necklace back — which apparently features St. Finnegan, protector of lost children, on it — and tries to give it to the wayward, drug-addicted prostitute she was kidnapped with. I was dead certain Defiance would make this a completely unearned, schmaltzy moment, but instead the girl looks at the pendant, tells Kenya St. Finnegan is bullshit, which she knows because she was raised by nuns, and then walks off with a “Thanks anyways!”

As it turns out — as we see in a flashback, bits of which have been popping up throughut the episode, just like Irisa’s visions in last week’s episode — Amanda made up the saint when she gave the necklace to Kenya as a kid, right after their mother had abandoned both of them in a war zone. First of all, a mom leaving her children while bombs are dropping all around is fucking dark. Second, the reveal that St. Finnegan was made up actually got me; I was surprised, and it made the resulting schmaltzy scene where Amanda admits her deception to Kenya work for me.

And last but not least, Quentin McCawley sees his dad has closed off his murdered brother Luke’s mine, which he was supposed to have. Viewers know that Rafe found that gold thingie hidden in Luke’s desk last week, and it's easy to surmise that Luke must have found it in his mine — which is obviously why Rafe closed the mine. Quentin doesn’t know any of this, and assumes it's because his dad doesn’t trust him or like him, which isn’t implausible but is pretty standard family drama. What I like is that the show trusts the audience to figure all this out before Rafe hands Quentin the gold thingie and explains what the deal is. Honestly, as simple a thing as this is, the fact that the show no longer feels the need to spell out every single detail might be the best sign of all that Defiance has found its footing.

I’m a little less enthused when Rafe and Quentin go down into the mind together, and see cave drawings of of the gold thingie and some other thingies; this is obviously related to what the Evil Ex-Mayor wants to kill Defiance for, but cave drawings are Twist at the End of the Episode 101. I’ll need more before I’m invested in this as the overall plot, but after this week’s episode, I’m more than happy to come along for the ride.

Defiance just got one hell of a lot betterS

Assorted Musings:

• Sorry for the lack of photos; SyFy just… forgot, I guess? …to release the pics for this episode. No big deal, SyFy. It’s not like you spent $100 million on this thing. Probably a waste of time to promote it at this point anyways.

• The woman who accosts Amanda is pissed that her husband keeps employing Kenya’s services, and it’s ludicrous. Not only is it legal, it’s not like Kenya’s making the dude have sex with her. That’s like me getting furious at my bourbon when I get drunk. DAMN YOU BOURBON, WHY DO YOU MAKE ME LOVE YOU SO MUCH

• Nolan, it should also be noted, has been paying Kenya for sex at the NeedWant all this time, which I like because it gives Nolan a bit of an edge.

• In the town council meeting, the council is mostly for the Earth Federation or whatever it’s called to build a mag-lev railway into town, although Amanda’s against it. Usually, this sort of progress is invariably seen as good (if a touch sad; see pretty much every Western as evidence). Does Defiance really think connecting to the outside world is a bad thing, or has Amanda been poisoned by the previous mayor, who was also opposed to it? An interesting question, and one I’m eager to find out.

• Not only does a lady hire one of Kenya’s lady “night porters,” it’s intimated that Datak’s Bioman has a thing for male Casthithans (even old and not very attractive ones), again, with absolutely no attention or comment called to either. Defiance: The most quietly progressive show on TV?

• Another nice moment: Nolan explaining what the adrenalin drug is, and that it started out synthetically made, but then had to be harvested from human’s adrenal glands. He explains he was forced to take it back when he was a soldier, and doesn’t clarify which type he took. I’m getting the feeling there’s a whole lot about the war that we don’t know, and if Defiance ever gets the chance to reveal it to us, it’s going to blow our minds. But I might just be extra optimistic after watching the episode.

• Anyone know what the hell a “hailer” is? Did I miss that somewhere?

• Could the Bioman and the drug user have been any more Of Mice and Men?

• And could “The Maze” been less scary? Of course it could, it had a Volge running around through it, chasing its captors. But it also could have been waaaaaay scarier.

• I can’t decide who the series MVP is, but it’s definitely a Tarr. I originally thought Jaime Murray as Stahma was the most clever character, but while she’s very smart and scheme-y, she pretty much stays smart and scheme-0. Meanwhile, Tony Curran as Datak is just killing it — Datak is the most layered, complex character in the show. At any rate, the Tarrs make the McCawleys look like the Beverly Hillbillies.

• I just looked Tony Curran up on IMDB and discovered he played Vincetnt Van Gogh in that awesome Doctor Who episode. Niiice.

• So I guess the Evil Ex-Mayor stepped down a few months ago, appointed Amanda to succeed her, and there just happens to be an actual election in a few more months? That makes sense, but Defiance did a kind of crappy job explaining it.

• Speaking of, if the election is just a few weeks away, shouldn’t Amanda have… an opponent?

• More good storytelling: Datak enters the town council meeting, and you can see how everybody feels about his appointment when they shake his hand. Some are disgusted, some are clearly partners or bought off. An excellent example of showing instead of telling.

• “Close enough. But for the record, I had no intention of whispering in this disgusting man’s ear.” Oh, Datak, you are a delight.

• Stupidest moment of the night: Young Kenya playing hopscotch while bombs literally fall around her. I know you want to present young Kenya as an innocent child, Defiance, but come on. That’s some Michael Bay level of symbolism right there.

• So about those cave drawings: Do you think they’re supposed to be ancient, like maybe these aliens visited us thousands of years ago, or that they’re just from a group that stopped in that cave during the war? I assumed the latter, but if anyone disagrees please let me know.

• Kenya stopped taking Nolan’s money after weeks or even months, but Podrick of Game of Thrones got four professional sex workers with a very scary pimp to refund all his money after one afternoon. Podrick > Nolan, is what I’m saying.