Defiance: I Just Wasnt Made for These Times Review (Mania.com)
Review Date: Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Full spoilers begin below
I am an absolute sucker for man out of time stories. Time travel or cryonics, there's something about a character trying to adapt to our present as history and technology that's unfamiliar which I find compellingly appealing. The previews at the end of last week's episode had already goosed my excitement, but this week's Defiance took that level and uppercut it into the clouds. I was so enthralled by Captain McClintock's story that I almost missed the more nuanced side plots. Luckily episode director Allen Kroeker smartly kept the secondary plot points evenly spaced and provocatively enticing.
Jaime Murray and Mia Kirshner are both lovely creatures with compelling on screen chemistry as secret lovers Stahma and Kenya, but I've got serious concerns about the future of their relationship. Kenya has taken one step too far beyond professional and into romantic longing, which dangerously complicates the situation. In an incredible miscalculation, she spurns Datak in a fruitless attempt manipulate him into being a better husband to her lover. She's playing with a lit stick of dynamite over a woman who may not even lover her in return. This is going to end badly, likely more so the longer the charade continues. Datak is not, after all, renowned for his mercy.
The Indogenes, as a species, have long fascinated me. Technologically the most advanced of the Votan races, each has a number of artificial modifications implanted. They're long lived, possessed of genius level intellect, and visually interesting. As the primary scientists among the Votans, it was the Indogenes aboard scout ships who conducted brutal medical research on humans. The insinuation is made that this was being done before open hostilities broke out, which would prove that the Votans were offering peace with one hand while hiding a club behind their back in the other (a fact which does not escape slimy E-Rep ambassador Connor).
The hints were dropped a few episodes back by Pol Madis that Doc Yewll's hands were incredibly dirty, but the extent of that wouldn't really hit home until Captain McClintock leaked silver Indogene blood. In a devious plot straight out of The Manchurian Candidate, McClintock is actually one of the aliens. He was physically altered to appear human and then implanted with the real McClintock's memories (the extraction process is lethal). There are a number of fascinating angles to this.
The first being that the Indogenes made it appear that McClintock's vessel exploded on reentry. The cultural impact this had on Earth is startling to learn about in retrospect. The crew of the ISS Bravery were hailed as heroes with books and films written about them. A generation of children grow up idolizing him, every bit of his life is studied and made public knowledge. The scene at Rafe's house, as the three older townsfolk recount all of the events McClintock has missed over drinks, is a lot of fun. He asks the question I think everyone of us would: who played me in the movie? I found the handling of the Twilight jokes hysterical; they hit just the right notes and the Amanda's pause was spot on. Side note: I'd never noticed that Rafe's house is practically the only one which is classically appointed before Nolan mentioned it.
The other, more compelling question McClintock's existence brings up is "What decides the nature of a man?". Addressed in plenty of science fiction before it, Defiance leans on a heavily humanistic approach to make the decision a squarely internal one. Graham Greene is let loose to really drive the scene above the cavernous underground lake, and it's his beat moment in the series to date. Rafe is a very compelling character when he's given more to do than snarl and menace others. Here he brings deep, measured introspection. The music works strongly in concert to score the conversation and I was generally moved. I'll admit to being fooled by both McClintock's aiming of Nolan's pistol and of his decision to carry on. His reunion with his aged wife was very touching and pulled at the heart strings much stronger in the wake of the scene with Rafe.
This is a great dose of science fiction, which blends cool technology with exploration of the human soul (what it means to be a man). One of these alone is enough to prove interesting, and so combining them ups the ante. If that weren't enough, there's also political intrigue by way of Connor and the E-Rep, world building through the eyes of McClintock (for whom all of this is new, like us), and father daughter drama as Nolan works to salvage his relationship with Irisa. This show continues to give me reasons to return. If you've read all this and aren't watching the show, I strongly urge you to reconsider.
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Wednesday's Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.
Mania Grade: B+
Episode: I Just Wasnt Made for These Times (Season 1, Episode 9)
Starring: Grant Bowler, Julie Benz, Tony Curran, Jaime Murray, Stephanie Leonidas, Mia Kirshner
Written By: Clark Perry
Directed by: Allan Kroeker
Network: SyFy Channel