Paul Asay

TV Series Review

The United States has always liked to think of itself as a grand, glorious melting pot. But the town of Defiance shows that even the best of melting pots can sometimes start to boil a bit.

Defiance may well be the most multicultural city to ever arise on the shores of the ol’ Mississip. Built sometime in the not-too-distant future on the ruins of St. Louis, the township is populated by indigenous humans right alongside a whole host of aliens collectively known as Votans—mostly humanoid beings who were forced to evacuate from their home system many moons ago. Seven wholly separate species once called the Votanis system home, from the pale (and often patronizing) Castithans to the graceful (but feisty) Irathients to the orangutan-like Sensoths. They all found their way to our terra firma, hoping to settle down on what they thought was an uninhabited planet.

Imagine their surprise, then, when they found us already living here. What, no one Googled Earth before packing up the spaceship wagon and journeying across the galaxy?

Naturally, there were some serious tensions early on (resulting in world war and mass extermination and some nifty-but-lethal planetary remodeling), but humans and Votans alike eventually decided hostilities were too much trouble to maintain. Now, at least in Defiance, most everybody’s just trying to get along with their neighbors as best they can, and trying to rebuild some semblance of civilization while they’re at it.

But as our own history with just one species has shown us, that’s sometimes trickier to do than it sounds.

Mayor Amanda Rosewater ostensibly runs the show in Defiance—backed up by the town’s Chief Lawkeeper Joshua Nolan. He’s a rough-and-ready hombre who has adopted an Irathient named Irisa, a girl with a troubled past and the ability to sometimes see the future. It’s a nifty little ability, pretty rare even among the Irathients, and she’s been told she’s “special.” But you get the feeling that Irisa would rather be a more “normal” teenager.

Likewise, many folks in Defiance would probably like their community to be a more normal, untroubled town, but the Syfy channel has other plans. It is, after all, hard to craft a compelling yet conflict-free science-fiction television show.

Defiance is, as a result, teeming with conflict: everything from forbidden love to political power plays. Nasty, man-eating critters roam the countryside, right along with a nefarious race of 8-foot-tall, warlike aliens called the Volge (whom the rest of the Votans actually tried to leave behind). And underneath all these more obvious issues we see a frothing brew of subtext. The show clearly has aspirations of being the next Battlestar Galactica, using the setting of a strange, kinda-new world to grapple with contemporary issues like race, religion, politics and economic justice.

On one level, that’s great. We certainly can’t say the makers of Defiance lack ambition. Most episodes give viewers plenty to think about. Some offer edifying lessons. But the interstellar setup opens the door to a bewildering array of religious practices, some of which seem all too familiar. In an early episode, for instance, a shaman-initiated and hallucinogenic drug-enhanced ritual leads to clairvoyant visions of the past and present. Christianity shows up too, but not always in the best of light.

More concretely, it’s not uncommon for someone to get shot or stabbed or killed or eaten, sometimes with gore “decorating” the scene. Aliens seem prone to hooking up sexually (sometimes graphically) with any humanoid who might wander along. And while English-language profanity is mild and sporadic at its worst, we hear alien stand-ins clearly meant to echo certain strong swears—again, an echo of Battlestar Galactica. “Shtako,” a substitute for another s-word, is a particular favorite.

Episode Reviews

Defiance: 5-13-2013

“The Serpent’s Egg”

A land coach bearing Nolan, Amanda and other passengers is hijacked, leading to a standoff with a crooked Christian priest (or facsimile thereof) and his lackeys. The priest asks Amanda if she’d like a Bible. “Frankly, Reverend, I prefer Scotch,” she says. And when the man quotes Bible verses, Nolan quotes one right back before shooting him. Still, Nolan and Amanda both agree that the true mastermind behind the crime deserves to die but cart the perp back to town to be properly tried nonetheless.

Irisa, meanwhile, abducts a jewelry salesman she thinks tortured her as a child as part of a religious ritual. She eventually lets her tormenter go, saying, “He wanted to create a messiah. Now he has to go back to selling rocks. That’s the worst punishment for him.”

Irisa and a guy strip and kiss passionately, and the two eventually have sex on the floor. (We see their naked movements; a piece of furniture obscures the couple from the waist down, but the side of Irisa’s breast is visible.) An ambassador introduces Amanda to her two husbands, and the pros and cons of polygamy are discussed. Men have their genitals grasped to determine their value, and several allusions are made to private body parts. A prostitute squeezes the inner thigh of a would-be customer, propositioning him with an oil massage.

A number of people are shot or beaten. We see two people bitten by snakes. An explosion rocks a vehicle and leaves behind a gory mess. We hear about children being tortured and abused. People drink and talk about being drunk. Characters say “b‑‑ch” and “h‑‑‑” once each and “shtako” twice.

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Paul Asay
Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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