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TV REVIEW: Defiance Is A Different Place in “The Opposite of Hallelujah”

By on June 20, 2014

Pictured: Grant Bowler as Joshua Nolan -- Photo by: Ben Mark Holzberg/Syfy

Defiance made a rather jarring return last night as the world and its inhabitants dealt with the events of last season’s finale.

The rough neck town is a different place, a reality made clear during the premiere. “The Opposite of Hallelujah” drops us back into the space western nine months after the Earth Republic took over. While a few characters benefited from the regime change, the majority have lost most of their former lives. Every man and alien — with the exception of  Stahma Tarr — are paying for Datak’s mistakes.

As the episode opens we find our main characters scrounging for new purpose and a means of survival. Nolan has ventured outside of Defiance, traveling to the dystopian equivalents of Los Angeles and Chicago. There he finds Irisa (or rather she finds him), but she’s not alone and certainly not the same. After having lost her position as Mayor to Datak, Amanda has stepped into her sister’s shoes as bartender and madam of the NeedWant. Rafe McCawley lost the mines to E-Rep and now serves as a strategically placed overseer. Working alongside his former men, McCawley’s contempt for the Republic is barely contained by a desire to remain free and see his daughter.

The Tarr’s are split up with Datak in Camp Reverie for killing General Marsh after discovering he was no more than a pawn in the Earth Republic’s chess game. Doc Yewll is there right alongside him, fairing slightly better as she has at least maintained her dignity. Back in Defiance, Alak has taken over his father’s business. It’s a role which Stahma claims he is filling well during her visit to Reverie. As we see though, he’s still got a sliver of a conscience… much to her dismay.

In the premiere we also meet new characters Mayor Niles Pottinger (James Murray) and Viceroy Mercado (William Atherton), both of whom are callous underneath their equable facades. Characters who were largely or entirely missing from the episode included Kenya (who is presumably dead), Quentin and Christie MacCawley, as well as Tommy. Their lack of presence, as we find out, plays a large role in the tonal shift between the entirety of season one and season two’s start.

The Defiance universe was never a comfortable place per se, but the new “government” and time spent outside the city’s walls has taken it from wild post-war west to borderline hunger games. The tonal change is most present in each of the characters. No one is in a real position of power as the Earth Republic maintains a stronghold over the town. There also seems to be a lack of trust even between those for whom it should come with ease, something which has the potential to create new kinds of tensions. Overall the premiere took a much darker turn, which was exacerbated by the absence of lighter characters like Tommy and Christie as characters like Amanda and Alak started to slide away from the do-gooder side of the spectrum.

This shake up, at times, left me with a slight sense of hopelessness. In a town where being a good guy or a bad guy depended on the day, the only bad guy we have room for right now is the Earth Republic — whether everyone knows it or not. Perhaps this wouldn’t be such an issue if  everyone could band together, but that remains unclear. There’s also the possibility that E-Rep will end up being the least of everyone’s worries with Irisa back in town. In addition to helping set a dire tone, this calls into question the direction of season 2. Outside of the E-Rep soldier presence, much of Defiance has remained the same. There appeared to be no uprising, no civil unrest. The premiere also saw very little action. We moved from character plot to character plot, being offered looks at where they are, but not much of what they have planned (outside of the Tarrs). The subtly of the world change and the slower pace helped ease us into the change, however, it just as loudly spoke to the potential of what’s coming.

In spite of this lack of change within the physical setting, the changes with, for and between our main characters served as strong illustrations of the social and political upheaval. It is from this that the premiere eked out its best moments, making “The Opposite of Hallelujah” a solid beginning to a season brimming with potential. Nolan had an opportunity to exercise his quip-y gunslinger attitude while on his hunt for Irisa, but it was she who offered us the most exciting glimpse into both her own and eventually their shared season two storyline. She is plagued by visions of Irzu and a near reflexive impulse to kill. When Nolan suggests they keep going farther out, Irisa directs them back to Defiance. It’s a decision we can safely assume is influenced by the Irzu, who we see on more than one occasion quietly creepin’ out around Irisa.

Rafe perhaps got less screen time than we are used to, but his scenes were still rather effective at setting up his larger season two arc. He has been allowed to keep his house and still see his daughter, and in exchange for not going to jail his job is to help suppress any inclination within the mining community to rebel or uprise. He’s not too keen on his new job, something we learn after he vocalizes his distaste for the Earth Republic when a miner is injured by a machine and dies. It’s in his conversation with Mayor Pottinger though that we see his true potential. He can be as hotheaded and stubborn as Datak, but MacCawley lacks the same level of self-importance leaving me to believe he’s biding his time, not following orders.

Datak, still arrogant and conniving, is eager to get out of jail but it’s Stahma who now and more excitingly holds the cards. Not only is her canon ball husband out of the way, but her son has retained his shred of humanity. Their culture may believe that men are to be dominant and in power, but Stahma has a business to run and not even her soft-spined son will get in the way of that. Jamie Murray does an incredible job of making what should be an unlikable character dramatically compelling. Stahma is as dangerous if not more so than her husband, and yet you often find yourself awed by her knack for quiet violence. Her changes were some of the most exciting of the episode and I’m eager to see how she fairs as the leader of her husband’s business.

Pictured: (l-r) Nicole Munoz as Christie McCawley, Jaime Murray as Stahma Tarr, Jesse Rath as Alak Tarr -- Photo by: Syfy

Pictured: (l-r) Nicole Munoz as Christie McCawley, Jaime Murray as Stahma Tarr, Jesse Rath as Alak Tarr — Photo by: Syfy

Alak has maintained much of his season one disposition, to a newly empowered Stahma’s disappointment. They of course have one of their odd Oedipus Rex moments, proving that even when everything else changes that creepy aspect of their relationship never has to. It’s her large change and his lack thereof that are why she not so subtly tells him that he’s her puppet now. How far can Alak be manipulated and pushed though? While not always capable, Tarr blood runs through him and, oh yeah, he’s a teen. They don’t like being told what to do, even ones that clam up from time to time. We’ve watched both his mother and father’s development arcs flourish with each having more than their share of surprising moments. Will Alak reach a breaking point? And if he does, will he be more like his mother or his father?

Amanda offered the quietest set up. Still determined to find Kenya, she’s taken over her establishment and picked up a nasty habit. She’s also sparked the interest of the new mayor who has bugged the NeedWant, including her bedroom. We discover this tidbit after he offers her the Chief of Staff position, a job she eventually takes. It seems like Amanda may just be on a downward spiral and now she’s positioned herself too close to the enemy. Finally, back at the camp, Datak and Doc become an unlikely duo after she shares that she knows how to get out. The idea seems good now, but how they will get back to Defiance and how do they plan on avoiding the Earth Republic?

Overall, the season two premiere was a pretty sound episode. There was not a lot of action nor were there too many physical world changes. The character interactions, however, were some of the series best written. Perhaps this season will, despite the show’s heavy mythology and universe building, rely more on its characters to propel the narrative. If that’s the way they plan to go, things should definitely be interesting.

 

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