Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Idiot Box: Defiance 1x08/1x09 - "I Just Wasn't Made For These Times" and "If I Ever Leave This World Alive" Reviews.

Watching the last two episodes of Defiance in succession for the purposes of this belated review almost makes me want to continue skipping a week to be able to see how this show plays out across multiple installments. I've complained occasionally, mostly in regards to this season's earlier episodes, that the potential inherent to this show sometimes isn't expressed as fully as I would like, and characters, mythology elements, and story lines that should be at the forefront sometimes take a backseat to things that either re-iterate points we already know, or are just not interesting enough to merit focus. The two most recent episodes were two of the best by contrast, showing what this show can do when it puts its mind to it.

First up, “I Just Wasn't Made For These Times” an honest to goodness straight up sci-fi episode that even for a show on the Syfy Channel with futuristic technology and aliens is kind of a rare thing. In this case, we follow an astronaut from our time (explicitly 2013, confirming this to be an alternate history as well as an alternate future) seemingly kept in suspended animation on the ship that crashed down in the previous episode. His presence creates political tensions that threaten the peace between humans and aliens, being living proof that aliens were abducting humans before first contact, until a final reveal makes the situation even more complicated. The episode is carried by its guest star, Brian J. Smith from the criminally underrated Stargate Universe, it while the following episode is still good in its own right, this is easily the best of the series so far.

In short, this episode made me cry. Now, to be fair, I do that a lot. Kind of a little bitch actually, but rarely can a TV show elicit this sort of reaction. There's a moment at the end when the astronaut decides what to do with his new life, and its set to Elvis Costello's “Man Out Of Time,” with the chorus kicking in at just the right moment, and it had me balling. And this was in an episode that started with a freaky big-boobed Orangutan alien (also a plus, as I've always said we need to see more of them, but not necessarily like that). Add to that, we get so many great mythology beats, most notably confirmation of something hinted at in a previous episode concerning the mysterious town doctor and her involvement in illicit activities before and during the wars. All around, a perfect episode with nothing to complain about.

The next week we get “If I Ever Leave This World Alive,” back to more of a Western plot as a plague hits the town and interracial animosity boils over when the Irathients are found to be carriers of the disease. The main point of this episode seems to be to get Nolan and Irisa back together after the Razor Rain/Sukar debacle without the latter losing her new found connection with her people, and it works, even if I suspect the whole Irathient internment thing might be forgotten too quickly for narrative convenience, when it would normally change the status quo more than I imagine the producers probably want to. We also get some much needed movement on the storyline involving the McCawley's and the weird golden artifact, whereupon we find out there are apparently more of them, and that once again the town doctor is in even deeper than once thought.

Easily, the best part of the episode is the final minutes with Datak. Like the sob-inducing coda to the previous episode, this is one of those moments that shows why I instantly loved this show from the very beginning and still pull for it even through the lazier efforts. His merciless handling of a hostage negotiation finds his backstabbing political machinations coming to a head as he just straight up murders multiple people just to protect his image while at the same time setting himself up as a mayoral candidate now beloved by the people for resolving a crisis. Its easy to forget what a bad ass he is when his wife is always in the background established as the more accomplished manipulator, but here he gets to unleash the beast in a way that made him instantly jump up a few rungs on my list of favorite characters.

Defiance is a rare hit for this network that like its parent NBC often struggles to find quality shows that actually snare viewers. I would argue that their reliance on reality shows and their distinct lack of actual science fiction in the majority of their programming is to blame, as they seem to want to shoot for the mainstream audience of a network instead of catering to the niche audience more suited to cable, and I think the one great original sci-fi show garnering as high a ratings share as it has is validation for this theory. Not that this will stop what I assume will be the flood of more reality shows and fantasy shows passed off as sci fi in the seasons to come, but at least having this one to cling to for the next few years is enough for me, and who knows, maybe it will pave the way for a few more. In the meantime, I'm sticking with it for as long as it goes.  

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