Defiance Review: New Beginnings

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Syfy made a return to its roots with the debut of Defiance, the first true sci-fi series since the network switched its branding to broaden its show selection. What a rich and engrossing two-hour return it was too!

As the pilot opens in 2046 we are treated to a narration by Irisa, the Irathient daughter of Jeb Nolan, a human. Nolan and Irisa are ark hunters, who are like modern day treasure seekers chasing the falling debris of the ships (Arks) that brought several new races to Earth 33 years ago. 

Irisa and Nolan

Nolan and Irisa quickly go from ark hunters hitting the mother lode to being robbed by an Irathient Badlands gang. This plight is the catalyst for them to end up in Defiance, the town built on the remains of modern day St. Louis. 

In Defiance we learn that on the surface the new mayor is still trying to get her feet under her, while the two most powerful families feud: the Tarrs, who are Castithans and the McCawleys, who are human. If tensions are not stressed enough between the families, the youngest child in each family has feelings for the other. 

Both patriarchs are not crazy about their children dating and it results in a clash that ends with Nolan offering to help find the killer of Rafe McCawley’s oldest son after it comes to light that Datak Tarr’s son was not the killer.

At this point I knew Nolan would be staying in Defiance as the Lawkeeper. I’m actually more curious if he will end up deputizing his daughter Irisa, or will she continue to help “unofficially."

From the moment the series opened and Irisa and Nolan got away from the bandits by a coordinated effort that showed they knew each other really... well, I was hooked. Stephanie Leonidas does such a great job of showing emotion through the make-up she wears to become Irisa that I would actually forget that she was wearing make-up.

Nolan and Irisa had such great exchanges; it felt like they have really been together for a very long time. For example: 

Nolan: Relax; it's just like Kansas City.
Irisa: You got knifed in Kansas City.
Nolan: This is a completely different situation. | permalink

Julie Benz was great as the newly elected mayor. She clearly has a talent for politics she doesn’t see yet, but the natural way she handles will make it fun to watch her grow and realize her strength. On the flip side we had her sister, Kenya (played by Mia Kirshner), who runs the local Brothel/Bar called “Need/Want."

The name alone tells you that Kenya will get you anything you need or want, which Nolan took full advantage of. Kirshner seemed to be trying a little too hard in this episode. But I’m willing to see where she takes it. Besides, I’m more curious if Kenya is really more than a one trick pony (no pun intended). 

Can she do more than play Madame? Does she really have the connections to get anything you need or want? Or is that only related to alcohol and sex? 

And apparently society has changed a lot in 30 years, as having a sister who owns/runs a public brothel had no ill effect on Amanda getting elected mayor. Hell, maybe it helped her to that position.

The weakest portion of the show was the “Romeo/Juliet” story between the Tarr family and the McCawley family. It was all so damn predictable. I realized they needed an anchor to make Nolan and Irisa get involved, but of all the ideas they could have come up with, borrowing Mr. Shakespeare’s most tragic love story seems a bit heavy handed.

That said, if they move the plot along to a different path (i.e. the kids get married in only a few episodes), I’m willing to give it a shot, as we will be into new story telling area. How do you have a happy marriage between different species? How do you survive your parent hating each other? There are just so many options on that path; I really hope they take it. 

As for the other characters, currently I’m keeping an eye on Stahma Tarr. I suspect she is actually the brains behind Datak’s rise to the powerful man he is. There were a few small scenes - like the bathtub - where she deftly guided him to the answer she had already determined and made he feel he had thought of it on his own. 

Overall, I’m very pleased with the pilot; the show has done a good job of telling an engaging story IN the future without it being entirely about the future.  Can this continue through the rest of the season? I think so, unless the shtako hits the fan! 


Editor Rating: 4.7 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.3 / 5.0 (128 Votes)

Jim G. is a TV Fanatic Staff Writer. Follow him on Twitter.


@Jim Garner - The ex-mayor and her crony (Mr. Birch) were looking for the Magical Mystical MacGuffin, a mysterious object all people want for equally inexplicable reasons! ;-) The Magical Mystical MacGuffin is two-part, the "Kaziri" and the "key". With Luke McCawley dead, no one knows where the Kaziri is buried, nor where Luke hid the key.


@Ali S. It was the mayor's assistant that was the traitor that is in a coma, the ex-mayor was being told that he was in a coma and with Luke dead, nobody knew the location of something.


I really liked the first episode of Defiance. Like a reviewer before me, my favorite bits were by Doc Yewll. The scenes with Stahma Tarr gave me chills at times and how good of a manipulator she is, especially the bit were she distracts the children with food while Datak's enforcer nearly breaks their parent's arm.
But does anyone know how/when the ex-mayor goes into a coma? I think at the end, it is mentioned that she goes to a coma, but it was so suddenly for me. Did the episode was cut-off? Or did I simply miss a scene?


@Sozo, I agree that the driving CGI needed work, thankfully it was such a small part of the episode I was willing to let it go.


Great review.
I loved the show, Funny and exciting, I had a great time watching it. Keep it coming Syfy! Nicely done, I'm in! My only caveat is with the CGI (or whatever animation it was) during the driving/chase driving scenes.
The full CGI shots of the driving/driving chase scenes were distracting and detrimental to the nice immersiveness that you had going before/after those scenes. Either more realistic looking work or even better, use a real vehicle(s) please! What they had for those scenes really took me out of the zone for those moments. It was cartoony and this is a grown up show :)
The final battle/all other special effects were top shelf. Well done! Thoroughly enjoyed it!


★★★★☆TV Arch SyFy I think it did a lot for a pilot. Setting up Defiance as a big character in the show. Jeb Nolan and Irisa intrigued me enough to get me back for more. Although the McCawley and Tarr rivalry was contrite. What a cast, I think they got that part right. VFX needs work. Or director could settle for tighter shots. ⌚✈


I thoroughly enjoyed this debut. It did have some Farscape feel to it which will keep me engrossed to see how this series is going to play out. Nothing will ever take the place of Farscape however.


p.s. @WatchesTooMuch -- I've totally blocked Caprica from my memory. :P


@Watchestoomuch -- technically you are correct Stargate Universe came out in Oct 2009 after Syfy switched names in March of 2009. But, SG:U had been announced. I should have better clarified this is the first show fully conceptualized since switching names. :) @Serenity, I made a similar connection 1/2 through the show, I didn't circle back around to him becoming Carter becoming Sheriff and Nolan becoming Lawkeeper.. Great catch! Besides, it worked for 5 seasons on Eureka.. so maybe it will work again.

Kitanishi h mcdonald

Defiance premiere was some of the BEST stuff syfy has ever done since Caprica. That's pretty much all I can say, apart from the fact that it has a very clear farscape vibe. While start dragged on a bit, the middle part was very well written to the point that when when the giant ass battle at the end of pilot episode starts, all you can think is “HOLY SHIT THIS IS AWESOME�.

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Defiance Season 1 Episode 1 Quotes

Tommy: [To Nolan] Come on, give me your wrists.
Nolan: You took too long, I got bored [handing Tommy the handcuffs]

Garrett: Tommy, I told you to watch him, not cuff him.
Tommy: He was armed.
Garrett: Now he's unarmed. See that patch on his shoulder? If he really wanted to hurt you, those cuffs wouldn't stop him.