We've had a long time to anticipate the arrival of Syfy's new drama series Defiance, and in that time, many of us have likely set our expectations high for what will hopefully be a new must-watch original sci-fi drama for the cable channel. The series premiere does not disappoint, bringing us into a story about human and alien characters who are trying to co-exist in a city that was once St. Louis and is now known as Defiance. Developed by Rockne S. O'Bannon, Kevin Murphy and Michael Taylor, Defiance's tone blends western with sci-fi and tells the story of humans and aliens as they attempt to co-exist with one another on what's left of Earth.
The history of the setting is explained throughout the premiere. Aliens showed up decades ago thinking earth was uninhabited, they were wrong, war broke out and after earth was torn apart by the battles and drastically changed by alien technology, humans and Votans (the collective term for the various alien species) eventually laid down their arms and have attempted to share what's left of the planet. There's a bit more to it than that, and we begin to learn the details as the first episode gets going.
The series premiere introduces us to former marine Joshua Nolan (Grant Bowler) and his traveling companion Irisa Nyira (Stephanie Leonidas), two drifters who make money scavenging space debris in search for valuables. Society in "the badlands" is a mess, with alien races tending to stick to their own. As Irisa is an Irathient and Nolan's a human, they make for an unusual pairing to outsiders. To us, the duo stand out immediately as survivors bound by their (adoptive) father-daughter bond. Their relationship is one of the strongest things the series has going for it from the start.
The two end up on the run from a gang of Irathients, which leads them into the town of Defiance, a mostly peaceful community populated by both humans and Votans. We're introduced to the town as Amanda Rosewater (Julie Benz) has just taken over as Mayor. It becomes clear right away that there's a feud in the town between Amanda's chief advisor Datak Tarr (Tony Curran), a powerful Castithan man, and Rafe McCawley (Graham Greene), a human and the owner of the biggest mine in the area. Their dispute plays a key role in the series premiere, and involves McCawley's daughter and Tarr's son, who happen to be having their own Romeo and Juliet love story. Jaime Murray plays Datak's beautiful and occasionally cunning wife, Stahma. And Mia Kirschner plays Kenya, the confident brothel madame, who takes a liking to Nolan.
Nolan's arrival shakes things up in Defiance, though things were on track to be shaken up regardless. Nolan's plan is to make some money and get out of town, but of course, things don't go quite as smoothly as he hopes.
The series premiere does a fine job of bringing us into the setting and the story, first introducing us to Nolan and Irisa and then slowly bringing in other characters. The special effects - particularly during the later scenes in the episode - occasionally look like something out of a video game, which isn't all that surprising, given that this show was made in conjunction with a related video game from Trion Worlds. (Rest assured, you don't need to play the game in order to follow the series.) While there are plenty of exciting visual effects used to create Earth's drastically altered landscape and some of the more thrilling moments in the series, it's the special effects make-up that's particularly impressive. The Votans are - for the most part - human looking, with some altered facial features and skin tones to differentiate them from humans and each other. So we get to see some interesting uses of special effects make-up, which should be an added draw to fans of Syfy's Face-Off.
Outside threats appear to play their part in this story, but looking at the two episodes beyond the pilot, it seems the larger emphasis will be on the character side of the story, and that's a good thing. With cultures that occasionally clash and pre-established prejudices among the various species, there's plenty of opportunity for great conflict. But these are characters living in the aftermath of a war, who recognize the value of peace. That gives them incentive to try to get along, though they don't always do. The first episode makes us want to see Defiance thrive and overcome its obstacles. That appears to be at the heart of this story, and it's a reason to keep watching.
Defiance's biggest strength lies in its characters and the development of their stories as we learn their histories and see how their backgrounds affect the relationships they have or form with one another. The first few episodes set us up for what could prove to be a very interesting and exciting story. The core ingredients are there, with a great cast, strong writing and an exciting backdrop on which to tell a thrilling story about people trying to live together in spite of their differences. The series premiere doesn't quite pack the same emotional punch we received from Battlestar Galactica's beginning, but expecting it to do so would be setting the bar very high. Defiance does offer a bit more than your typical drama series and the first three episodes begin to deliver on the potential of the show's premise. Where it goes from there, we'll have to wait and see, but from its start, I'm optimistic that Defiance will give Syfy viewers something different and thrilling to enjoy on Monday nights.
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