Recurring Cast: Grant Bowler, Stephanie Leonidas, Julie Benz, Tony Curran, Jaime Murray, Graham Greene, Jesse Rath, James Murray
Season Two of Defiance, slowly opens as it answers some of the questions we were left with, after the cliff-hanger last season. The Earth Republic have moved in and made Defiance a police state. Amanda Rosewater is forced out of the mayor’s chair and the responsibility is given to Earth Republic lackey, Niles, who doesn’t quite realise the only reason he is in this government job is because he is expendable and loyal. Amanda takes over her missing sister, Kenya’s, bar, the show still not confirming whether she was killed or not. Meanwhile, Datak was thrown into prison after murdering the Earth Republic representative, where he and slippery war criminal, Yewll, plot their escape. Datak’s business is being run by his son, who is struggling to balance family life and the expectations of his species. Stahma manipulates this, sensing an opportunity to take her husband’s business for herself. Meanwhile, Irisa is still missing, but Nolan tears across America, trying to figure out exactly what happened to her, unaware that Irisa might not even be Irisa anymore.
Defiance’s second season is a minor improvement on the first. The main strength here is that we are now familiar with the different species and universe, so when the exposition kicks in, we aren’t on Page 1, like we were last time around. When the show shoves emotional character development at us, it is easier to get swept along, because we are now fully involved in their lives and struggles. There is also a smarter way of going about the exposition this time around. Last season, we were told that the Earth Republic were bad, but when the stories kick off, the writers stop judging anyone and leave us to make our own loyalties. Yes, William Atherton (providing some much needed star power for the show), is a nasty piece of work, sacrificing his men left, right and centre, but when you are introduced to lower down the chain of command, it is hard to hate the Earth Republic too much. Berlin is a strong female figure, working her way up the ranks. She is a likeable person and when we meet her, in charge of filming propaganda for the E-Rep, a job she clearly loves, we realise that the Earth Republic just have their own way of going about things. Sure, they are short-sighted, but their hold on the town doesn’t affect too much for the background characters. The main cast are the ones who really suffer, but it is hard to make that count in an overall argument. In fact, the locals become easier to dislike. Some of the workers striking back at the E-Rep, essentially become terrorists and recklessly endanger all the wrong people.
However, Defiance is still struggling to make itself feel like a worthwhile series. We are still drowning in exposition a lot of the time and there are certain characters that feel like a waste of screen time. Irisa plays the role of ‘key to everything’, which is irritating, because her character is still the worst one to spend time with. At the very least, she gives Grant Bowler, still the star of the show, something to act off of, as his protective father figure gives us a strong narrative to follow. Some of the better characters are more likeable, but the script keeps taking them down strange roads. Is Niles a good guy or a bad guy? Why does Stahma jump from strong female to the whimpering wife that we are meant to believe she no longer is? Another thing that struck me as odd was how much sex is in this show! I hope Game of Thrones hasn’t started a pointless trend, where every show thinks being openly sexual in a series helps create cult followings and strong characters. I get that in Defiance’s universe sex isn’t too much of a big deal, but almost every episode sees a pair of characters going at it. It can get pretty embarrassing, when Julie Benz is asked to deliver a piece of dialogue explaining sexual rituals in her sister’s club. An Irathient spy is praised on his high tolerance to pain, which he mastered working as a bi-sexual prostitute in a strip club. It all gets a bit much at times and throws your concentration, when you are trying to relax into the story.
The biggest problem is still balancing storylines. Defiance has a pretty extensive cast. As well as your main stars, the supporting cast have their own vast storylines, like Tommy, Berlin and Yewll. The midway point of Defiance is helped by the fact we always have something going on. I quite like breaking away from the main story to see how Datak’s criminal scheming is coming along. The problem is that when the main story needs to hit the acceleration, we are still spending time with these other characters. The finale is restrained, because Nolan’s screen time is cut short, as we jump back to Mayor Rosewater and Rafe. The balance between plot and subplot isn’t very good, making it tricky for the tension to ramp up as high as it wants to. It doesn’t help that this season’s villains are essentially CGI lights in the sky, controlling thought waves, rather than a physical alien menace to take on. It isn’t a total waste of time. When the action ramps up in places and Nolan gets some great lines and action sequences, Defiance becomes the show you want it to be. The writers just cannot figure out how to quite make Defiance as good as it should be.
Final Verdict: An improvement, but Defiance still veers off in the wrong direction, snapping you out of your interest. Something needs to change!