Defiance is – well – GOOD!

Defiance_Syfy_Germany

The premier of Defiance on SyFy on April 15th was – okay, but nothing really to sing praises about.  It did set up the stage for the next three episodes that were much better by varying degrees than the premier.  Let me get this out of the way up top:  Defiance is nothing new, and it’s  a blend of Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, Babylon 5 and any old Western movie you’ve probably ever scene.  However, it took the best elements of these series and made something quite unique on its own terms.

To give you a little background about the series:

The series is set in the near future, where aliens known collectively as the Votans (seven distinct species, not a single species), have come to Earth seeking a new home after their star system was destroyed in a stellar collision. The Votans had thought Earth was uninhabited, but upon their arrival in 2013 discover that humans are living on the planet, who respond to them with hostility and suspicion.

A limited number of Votans are allowed to settle in a colony in Brazil, and eventually two other colonies, but millions of Votans remained in hypersleep aboard their ships in orbit as negotiations dragged on with Earth governments for full-scale settlement.

Tensions rose for ten years, but the Votan and human governments were on the verge of negotiating a peaceful settlement, when in 2023 the Votan ambassador to the United Nations was assassinated by a disgruntled human supremacist on live television outside of the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. This sparked a disastrous global conflict between humans and the aliens known as the “Pale Wars”.

The wars tore apart the planet for seven years, until their culmination in 2030 in the apocalyptic “Arkfall” event, when the Ark fleet in orbit mysteriously exploded. The aliens think a rogue human commander was responsible, while humans suspect it was an alien weapons experiment gone wrong. Millions of Votans died. During the Arkfall, destroyed Arks rained down on Earth and accidentally released terraformer technology.

While the Votans had intended to use their terraforming technology in a carefully planned manner, the Arkfall haphazardly unleashed chaotic and radical changes to the biosphere and even the geology of Earth, making the planet dangerous to both humans and the aliens. The earth was scorched, chasms opened in the ground, new mountain ranges were raised, and the surface of the planet was covered with dust and debris.

Animal and plant species from the Votan star system were introduced to Earth, and both native and alien animal species were horribly mutated by the uncontrolled terraformer technology, creating bizarre and dangerous hybrids and new species.

Within a few months, the Pale Wars wound down as both sides had fought to the point of mutual exhaustion, and a ceasefire was declared. Few organized governments remained for either the humans or the aliens, and both sides factionalized as their members began looking out for themselves. In several areas, local human and Votan militias began to band together when they realized that they had to cooperate if they hoped to survive on this new, almost alien planet.

The debris from the destroyed Ark fleet now forms an artificial “Ark belt” in Earth orbit, which periodically rains down in small scale “Arkfalls”, which present a hazard for survivors on the surface, but also provide valuable opportunities to salvage advanced technology aboard the Arks.

Nolan and his adopted Irathient daughter, Irisa are out trying to make ends meet by doing varies bounties and collecting rare and valuable material from fragments of the Ark fleet that hit the Earth as pieces get caught in Earth’s gravity.   On one such mission, they find a valuable power source and a particularly nasty band of Irathient riders.  In their desperate attempt to flee from the riders, they run into some nasty creatures in the woods and ultimately are saved by the Sheriff of Defiance – a town, located in the heart of what was once St. Louis, Mo.  You can see the first 14 minutes that shows all of this here.  Ultimately, after a tense battle with a very nasty and brutal species, called The Volge, Nolan and Irisa stay in the town of Defiance as it’s newest members.

Again, I wasn’t all THAT hyped about the series after the first episode, but it wasn’t bad – it just wasn’t as GREAT as I was hoping it would be.  I admit that I was a little disappointed by my own expectations.  However, the subsequent episodes have been nothing short of really, really good.  In fact, the third episode bordered on noteworthy, heartfelt and memorable.  You got to really get a sense of the various cultures, the characters and more importantly – the complexity of the history of Defiance.  A lot of things happened – some nasty things to create the town, and some of those things are coming back to bite them where it hurts.

What I’m liking about the series is that complexity.  That this isn’t simply a sci-fi Western, but a story-driven series with flushed out characters and a distinct back story that is fairly compelling and begs to be exposed over time.  Now, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t aspects of the series that need to be developed more.  For instance, outside of the main characters, the town itself seems rather bland and devoid of much interest.  However, it’s a great surprise when you get to meet some of the side characters and see how well they are flushed out and how they fit into the story line very well.  Specifically, the Irathient riders in the first episode come back later – in the most unexpected and surprisingly emotionally empathetic way.

Irisa is an interesting character.  We only know for now that her parents were killed and Nolan found her when she was young and raised her like his own daughter.  The great thing about this is that you don’t feel like the relationship is forced and seems extremely natural and nurturing in its own way.  You also get to really see that there is a LOT more to her than her rough, tough and stealthy demeanor.

What fans of good sci-fi will appreciate is that it really isn’t trying to make you understand everything up front.  It’s giving you pieces of a very detailed and elaborate story.  You’re discovering relationships and plots that go way back and have far-reaching consequences for the town of Defiance.  You begin to unravel a mystery about the town and how this mystery will either save or destroy this town of eight different races.  Defiance isn’t just a symbol about the best of these multiple alien species – it’s also a testament to the underbelly and dark realities of a world that was broken, went to war and what was left was ugly, strange and primal.

Enjoy – I sure am.

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