Warning: What follows is a frank conversation about where Defiance has been and where it might be going from here. It does not dance around major plot points, and it does not pause to worry about people who may not have watched all the episodes. Consequently, if you are not caught up to the tenth episode of Season 1, please exit this article immediately because it does contain spoilers.
We’re ten episodes into the first season of Defiance, and I’m mentally all-in. With wasteland backgrounds that may have been stolen from Wristcutters: A Love Story and story arcs that definitely were stolen from Philip K Dick’s dream journal, the show is a sci-fi explosion of big ideas, overly dramatic dialogue and impressive make-up jobs. I started watching because my wife was interested, but I’ve continued watching because I’m genuinely down, or at least, I thought I was until something extremely unexpected happened last week, something that has left me wondering whether the show’s writers are really smart or just really full of shtako.
From rivals who are often forced to work together (Datak/Rafe, Nolan/Datak, etc) to unlikely characters falling in love (Alak/Christie, Stahma/Kenya, etc) to seemingly decent and moral people secretly positioning themselves as antagonists (Nicky Riordan/Birch), Defiance entrenched itself on a path full of both possibilities and common tropes with its fascinating and popular pilot. It gave itself a chance to balance increasingly complicated character development and one-off bottle episodes about sci-fi favorites like plagues while still positioning for those secretive evildoers to create one hell of a mess to be cleaned up during the final few episodes. It gave itself a chance to balance the present satisfaction of Nolan solving cases each week with the future satisfaction of seeing Mayor Nicky plot to try and destroy the entire town with whatever sick and vicious end goal she had in mind.
Last week, with two episodes left in its first season, Defiance unceremoniously and quickly killed off Mayor Nicky, the same woman the show went out of its way to instill as the main antagonist. She didn’t really have a grand final moment. Most of her evil deeds didn’t really come to light. She just got caught doing some minor bullshit and got murdered by the doctor. With the power and intelligence of a former mayor, the deniability factor of an old, sick woman and the conviction of someone convinced she was acting for the greater good, she had the potential to be the entire series’ secretive and deadly antagonist. Worst case scenario, she had the clout to be this season’s principal menace, but like that, the show up and killed her off.
From a completely logical standpoint, what the writers did last week makes no goddamn sense. None. It’s seemingly idiotic to spend energy cultivating motivations and a backstory for an arch-villain, only to kill her off in weak and pathetic fashion. An hour-long program only has so much actual screentime to work with, and any minute spent on one character is a minute that’s not spent on the rest of the characters. Consequently, all the shots of Nicky struggling to breath and acting like a total bitch now seem like a complete waste of time. They seem like scenes that should have gone to Kenya or Stahma or Alak or any of the other characters who could use more development, or even to a completely separate villain that at least would have gone out swinging.
That being said, there are still two episodes left of Defiance, which means the writers could have already taken all of this into account and decided Nicky needed to be cast off like a Star Trek Redshirt in order to turn Doc Yewill into a mover and shaker many times more powerful than the former mayor ever could have been. They could be angling to build her into something stronger and more formidable than Nolan has ever seen. Having one villain kill another villain is a great way to create an arch-villain, but is that even what they’re trying to do here? Maybe. Dear God I hope that’s the plan because if they simply got bored of the Nicky plotline and decided viewers would respond better to the drama between Datak and Amanda, massive chunks of screentime and a huge number of possibilities were absolutely wasted.
I’m still on board. I’m still willing to see were this goes, but at this point, I have to assume the writers of Defiance are either working an advanced angle that will pay off huge, or they’re highly disorganized and setting fans up to swallow a lot of shtako.