Defiance: Review: Season 1 Ep 1 [90 minute pilot]

DefianceS01E01E02Syfy, 15 April 2013

Over 30 years after the alien Arks arrived, Earth has been partially terraformed and humanity is living in uneasy co-existence with a variety of alien life-forms…

This is a star-studded (at least in the world of TV SF) and ambitious series that Syfy have been hyping for many months. While the show looks good (mostly), in terms of its concepts and script it is a Frankenstein creation, made up from bits and pieces of many other (and many better) shows.

The anti-hero is Joshua Nolan (Grant Bowler), very much an Indiana Jones-Han Solo-Mal Reynolds type (who dresses the part, and talks the part too), who arrives in the town of Defiance (what was once St. Louis) with his adopted alien daughter Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas from MirrorMask). There Amanda Rosewater (Julie Benz from Buffy/Angel) has just taken over a mayor—and guess what, there’s a sudden vacancy for Sheriff (or Lawmaker, as they have it). Wonder who’ll get that gig…? So far, this is shaping up to be Deadwood meets Star Trek, with an echo of Eureka in its set-up.

There’s a heavy back story to this, sketchily delivered. The Votans is the collective name for the aliens, but there are six or seven different races. Their Arks arrived at Earth expecting an uninhabited world. Naturally, following failed negotiations a war broke out—known as the Pale War—between the aliens and humans. This ended when the Arks mysteriously exploded, and fell to Earth—no-one knows why. The remains of the alien fleet is still in orbit, and occasionally bits fall to the planet. Before taking up residence in Defiance, Nolan was trying to make a living from the Ark salvage business.

In Defiance we meet some key alien and human figures (including Tony Curran—Doctor Who‘s Vincent van Gogh; Warehouse 13‘s Jaime Murray; Lost‘s Fionnula Flanagan; and The Vampire Diaries’ Mia Kirshner), who are politicking for influence in the town and beyond. The double-length pilot lays the groundwork for much intrigue to come, including the involvement of ex-Mayor Nicky Riordon (Flanagan) in some murky business. Unfortunately, there’s something of Cloud Atlas in some of these famous faces being disguised under a variety of alien make-ups.

That some of this should be reminiscent of Farscape should come as no surprise, as the series has been co-created by Rockne S. O’Bannon (whose Cult has just been cancelled by The CW after just seven episodes aired). There’s some of Star Trek, a whole lot of Star Wars (check out that Cantina), a dash of Firefly, and a hint of Terra Nova (the troublesome teens) here. Unfortunately, it seems the series has nothing new of its own to offer. While it builds to a visually amazing climax, with the Volge attack aiming to be like a massed Orc onslaught from The Lord of the Rings movies, unfortunately it ultimately feels too much like watching someone else playing a videogame. Again, no surprise there, as Definace is a ‘cross platform’ series that is tie-in with an equally heavily-hyped videogame of its own.

While it looks good, and has some potential, the script is fairly awful, with a host of cliched lines and rote dialogue, much of it given to stock characters—the actors do their best with some truly awful lines and tiresome situations. A lot of work is going to have to be done here if the series is to have any longevity beyond the initial 13 episodes Syfy have committed to. It could be a grower, but Defiance will quite quickly have to become compelling television beyond its impressive spectacle if it is to survive the current brutal television environment.

Verdict: A visually impressive space Western with promise, but the writing needs to improve dramatically.

Episode 1 ‘Pilot’: 6/10

Brian J. Robb


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