Full spoilers in the review below
Defiance goes a bit darker in this week's outing and is a better experience overall for having gone there. A fugitive/bounty hunter episode was as inevitable as the morning sunrise. No self respecting western genre mash up is complete without at least one such installment. The unique seasoning used here imparts flavoring of both danger and intrigue. This is, first and foremost, a Nolan episode. Learning more about our leading man is something for which we've been long overdue. The bits of knowledge we do get go a long way toward fleshing out Defiance's law keeper, deepening his on screen persona; humanizing him to the average viewer.
Before we delve into the past of one Mr. No-man Nolan, let's discuss crazy Quentin McCawley and his head apparitions. Is the younger son of Rafe off his rocker, having been unhinged by the death of his brother? Do ghosts actually exist in the world of Defiance due to some strange act of random terraforming? Has Luke McCawley been bound to "The Artifact" which Quentin has come into custody of? The show appears to be playing it in a manner would have us believe Q is mentally unstable, but I hypothesize that the vision is actually Luke's essence, his spectral energy being some how charge by whatever is buried far beneath the town.
It may interest history buffs to know that the earthquake Quentin refers to was an actual event. The New Madrid earthquake of 1811 is the largest recorded in the eastern United States, and was felt for a distance of around eight times as great as the San Francisco quake of 1906. It's interesting that whatever is below Defiance has been in place a great deal longer than the alien presence has exerted influence on our planet. Or has it? What if the New Madrid quake was cause by the impact of a Votan scout ship? Perhaps this vessel is advanced and contains valuable high tech objects; hence all the secretive plotting.
One last point before we move on from the crazy pants McCawley clan: who kills an intruder in their home under the guise of self defense, then feels compelled to lug that burglar all they way down into the earth for secret disposal? The point of this must be lost on me, since alerting the law to the situation should have caused no disciplinary action to come Quentin's way. This is probably supposed to be chalked up to him listening to crazy voices in his head.
Flipping back to Nolan: it has got to be awkward when a man familiar with your sordid past arrives at your gin joint to capture the most wanted criminal on the continent. We're privy to several reveals which never ring the itching ears of the common townsfolk. That Nolan stole his roller and something of value from a powerful cartel in the Bay Area likely comes as no surprise to players of the Defiance game, but is new info for the TV audience. That he is known as "No Man" due to his proclivity for slaughtering all enemy combatants on the field is a bit of a shock, as he currently comes off a sly but good hearted rogue. He's clearly a man with a violent and sordid past, who has worked to put that behind him in an effort to give Irisa the best life possible. This much is made clear as he prepares to surrender himself to the Earth Republic before Eddie takes the blame instead.
Eddie's an interesting spin on the war buddy turned desperate bounty hunter. He's almost a stock spaghetti western character, but he retains enough humanity to rise above being a two dimensional plot propellant. It's clear we'll see him again, while at the same time we bid bon voyage to Pol Madis. Nolan made a tough real life call in killing him to avoid his brutal weaponizing brilliance from falling into unscrupulous hands. Strange that this is the kind of decision which video gamers make all the time, despite it being largely absent from television. Madis' incredible danger as a psychotic weapons designer is best typified during his scenes with Datak. As perhaps the most cunning man in Defiance on a normal day, Datak is taken to task and all but checkmated by Madis before the timely intercession of Nolan and Eddie. Of course the argument could be made that Datak set it in motion with his out of character kindness during Nolan's visit.
This feels like one of the best Defiance episodes so far. It's helped along by solid pacing, western frontier style action, further teases to the mystery below, character centric developments, and (believe it or not) incredibly apt product placement. The dodge law keeper car is exactly the kind of vehicle I envision when imaging a modern mad max type bad ass ride. Now if we could only get subtler product placement on Warehouse 13....
If you want to check out Defiance to this point, to catch up, SyFy is rung a marathon over the upcoming holiday weekend. Set your DVRs and look forward to this solidly entertaining episode.
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.