Defiance: The Devil in the Dark Review -

Defiance Review

Mania Grade: B-

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  • Episode: The Devil in the Dark (Season 1, Episode 4)
  • Starring: Grant Bowler, Julie Benz, Tony Curran, Jaime Murray, Stephanie Leonidas, Mia Kirshner
  • Written By: Rockne O'Brian, Michael Taylor
  • Directed By: Omar Madha
  • Network: SyFy
  • Studio: Universal
  • Series:

Defiance: The Devil in the Dark Review

Love is a warm Hellbug

By Chuck Francisco     May 01, 2013

Full Spoilers in the Review Below!

Despite some slight pacing issues, this week's Defiance succeeds by further growing the roots of its world, strengthening the mythos surrounding the series, and introducing to the TV audience some elements that have been confined to the video game. A gripe or two aside, most of this works well in delivering a solid hours' worth of entertainment. 

The greatest strength of this episode is in its deeply woven cultural divide. We drank of this cup previously and it's certain to be a recurring theme. The Votans are made up of many very divergent species of aliens and when you sprinkle volatile humans into the mix, the cake batter is liable to explode like Mentos and Coke. Each of the sentient alien races except three have settled in great numbers at Defiance. The villainous Volge (whom you'll recall tried to wipe out the town in the first episode), the pure energy Gulanee, and the rebelliously wild Irathients (Irisa's race) have not put down roots of their own yet in the melting pot of a town.

There's a strong undercurrent of racism direct at the Irathients, some of it grounded in a plague their people accidentally spread to humanity on arrival but more of it centered around their nomad biker lifestyle. In the Irathients there is very much a 60's biker film independent streak, which is a unique flavor to mix into the scifi frontier town formula. Their impending settlement in town at the conclusion of the episode will only introduce more cultural upheaval to the situation, which offers the writers more opportunity to use Defiance as a magnifying glass of our own societal issues (an important cornerstone of the best science fiction in any medium).

The leader of these "Spirit Riders" is Sukar (Noah Danby), whose Steampunk Slash with Kermit the frog overcoat has drawn our attention in every scene he's been a part of. Who could have guessed than under those costume layers of pop culture lies Conan the Irathient. Seriously Danby's built like a frakking freight train. With a mind and the emotional fortitude to match his physique, it's little wonder he's the leader of this nomadic tribe. The reserved, respectful, yet emotionally raw exchange between Sukar and Amanda makes for one of the more poignant conversations in the series thus far. 

I'm of two mind regarding the Hellbugs, though they're a net positive to the series. As a frequent enemy in the Defiance game, it was only a matter of time before they were introduced and this serves to bring the two worlds closer together. Functionally the Hellbugs are nightmare fuel: gestating within the body, they eat bone marrow and line their nests with flesh. Using them as a directed weapon for vengeance helps reinforce the burning hatred that often motivates revenge. The bugs also give many of the ensemble characters a chance to show off their martial prowess, demonstrating how lethal each is.

This is especially the case for Datak, who's energy knife blossoms into his very own lightsaber-esk blade (my compliments to Tony Curran on his Jedi technique). Sadly the effect is muted by the poor CGI powering the Hellbugs. Their movement is odd and somehow inorganic. Their surface texture seems too glossy to be real. It's a shame because Datak is exudes awesome facing off against the bugs but they don't hold their own as his foes.

Datak is quickly become my favorite of the lead characters. Curran plays him on several levels simultaneously, at once reminiscent of Brent Spiner as Lore (Data's emotionally capable brother from Star Trek The Next Generation), Mark Sheppard's Badger from Firefly, and Giaus Baltar from Battlestar Galactica. Casting the bold, formidable Jaime Murray as his Lady Macbeth was a brilliant decision. I'm excited to see where they take their ambitions and where their ambitions take the town. 

It appears we're adding psychic ability to the stew, combining it with the meat of alien life and the potatoes of advanced technology. The potential for this to cause fan backlash is present, but I personally think it's a welcome addition. The viewpoint that high technology and unexplainable mysticism cannot walk hand in hand seems like hypocrisy to me; just as it did as Battlestar Galactica wound down. In a universe of infinite possibilities were we allow ourselves to assume aliens exist, that they can travel through space and rapidly learn the English language, but we refuse to accept that one of those aliens could possibly develop telepathic powers? I call shenanigans. 

The CGI somewhat redeems itself on the mother Hellbug, which is like something out of Lovecraftian lore or Hellboy comics, and looks good. Its anatomy is grotesque and frightening, with any graphical short comings disguised by the shadows. Still if they're to make frequent appearances going forward the the FX department is going to need to step up their computer generated game to match the high standard set by the practical effects folk.

Defiance is trying to play to a number of audiences. Light adventure space western or post civilization cultural and political drama? It's trying to be both which is a dangerous task. So far it's succeeding on both fronts while entertaining the hell out of me. I'll be back again next week for more frontier cultural adventure. Will you?


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 famousColonial 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.


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Iridan 5/1/2013 5:27:15 AM

I'll keep watching, at least for now. I thought this episode was pretty dull.

redvector 5/1/2013 5:59:51 AM

I liked the episode myself. But I see the Irathients as an analog to to Native Americans. The nearest analog to the Castathans that I can come up with is the Japanese. They both are martial cultures ruled by a rigid cast system and put an emphasis on communal bathing. I see Datak's organization akin to the Yakusa.

ddiaz28 5/1/2013 7:01:44 AM

This was a weak episode for me overall with some bright spots.  I do love how Datak's wife Stahma is the real player in the family and it was cool to see Nolan realize that right away.  And Jaime Murrya is just so good at playing the bad girl.  One character this episode really lacked was Irisa.  She's seems like a great character and it seemed wierd that she wouldn't be helping Nolan and Amanda more actively.  She was there in the background towards the end I think. 

I'm definitely curious to find out what all those cave drawings mean and what they have to do with what Rafe's dead son was really up to.

monkeyfoot 5/1/2013 7:33:55 AM

This episode is more or less enjoyable as the last two. As you stated, this storyline is super rich in possiblities of culture, tech, and character which they've only begun to exploit. However, I do find the writing and execution of each story still very pedestrian and cliched. I am attributing that to the growing pains of a new show. Many series go through awkward stages as the producers, writers and actors feels things out.

Stargate SG-1 was one of my all time favorite sci-fi shows similar to this. But for its first couple of seasons it was also rather cliched in its stories and characters. On Defiance, for instance Stahma and Datak have the possiblitiy of being as conniving and interesting as the Lannisters on GoT but they are still sitting in the standard villain roles from any generic sci-fi show. Hopefully, they and all the show will grow.

So far alot of the newly arrived animal life from the Votans ark is on the extremely vicious side. This has to be doing horrible damage to the normal Earth biosphere. They need to do some stories about this in future episodes. Some enviornmental stories would make for great allegorical tales that references our real world problems with the enviornment.

"Your hellbugs have nearly wiped out all the cows on Earth!"

"Well, the Wiki-Wiki bird with the most beautiful songs in the universe are constantly eaten by your cats!"

redhairs99 5/1/2013 7:44:05 AM

 ddiaz, I think you are confusing last week's episode for this week's. It was last week that Irisa was in the background with her freeing the dude who was being tortured.  This week's episode was all about her and her gift of "the sight."  She was front and center right from the beginning (literally, the show opens with his doing a kata on the roof).

almostunbiased 5/1/2013 4:42:07 PM

I enjoyed this episode.

Dazzler 5/2/2013 3:55:24 AM

I don't get how the video game is going to effect the show?  Next season maybe?

CyanideRush 5/2/2013 4:52:30 AM

 Dazzler there's a contest on now in the game for a player's character to appear as a character in the show. How that's going to work when "xxXXPoopsocKXXxx" wins the contest, I have no idea. -Chuck

ddiaz28 5/2/2013 7:53:47 AM

Wow this is crazy.  So somehow I actually saw next week's episode.  I watch the show on, the channel that shows Defiance here in Canada.  I clicked on episode 3 and watched the episode which I just found out from the Defiance website is entitled "A Well Respected Man".  This was on Tuesday I think.  After reading your comment this morning redhairs, I was confused and went to the Showcase website again, and now episode 3 is correctly "Devil in the Dark".  That is strange.  The site must have made a mistake and accidentally posted next week's episode instead of the correct one.  Lucky me I guess.

So I'm sorry if I spoiled anything for anyone in my previous comment.  Luckily I was pretty vague with what I said.  It's funny that you still could relate my comment to episode 2.

No wonder when I was reading the review I kept thinking, "WTF is Chuck writing about?" LOL

redhairs99 5/2/2013 9:27:54 AM

 I was wondering about your comment, ddiaz, on the cave drawings.  I saw those in the preview for next week's episode and assumed you meant the drawings as seen in the preview.  

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