Full spoilers in the review below.
Irisa is damaged goods. She's an uncomfortable level of crazy packaged with absurd lethality. She's not like eccentric uncle Sal, who always gets the end of the bread loaf and needs to sit diagonally across the table from cousin Steffy. Instead Irisa is balls to the wall vengeance personified. She sniffs the slightest scent of a man and instantly knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that he tortured and abused her as a young girl. The crux of this story hinges on the audience not knowing if this man is guilty or not. He seems like a simple businessman, and his weak and terrified simpering bought my pity (kudos to Ben Cotton for his nuanced and convincing portrayal). The setup that Irisa is so crazy that she would kill an innocent man to sate her violent anger is compelling, so it's a pretty severe let down that she was correct all along. This is the kind of safe move that doesn't really rock the boat and thus doesn't become more than it is.
We get a lot more of the person behind the badge of deputy Tommy this week and I'm not at all sure I like what we see. He seems to stand for law and justice, but as soon as Irisa frees him he goes about beating the bound abuser. The blunt insinuation is that he'd have beat him to death if Irisa hadn't interceded. So Tommy is willing to compromise the law he upholds as long as the vengeance is well warranted? He saw enough in that basement to now that Irisa was abused as a child, he knows she's damaged inside (and unpredictably violent) and his first inclination back at the jail is to make love to her? That's a dangerous (and unfeelingly selfish) game to play and it potentially jeopardizes the safety of his manhood. Tommy's got a brass pair on him, let's hope he keeps them.
There were some really interesting design choices shown this week which serve to accentuate the town and its setting as a frontier backdrop. The Landcoach in particular, as a parallel to the mail and passenger stage coaches of the old west, tells us a great deal about Defiance. The arrival of mail and parcels is a community event, so far between in interval and so important as a connection to the outside world. So we know that as many people as there seem to be in the town, the sense of small community is not lost.
That Alak Tarr runs Defiance's radio station out of the very top of The Arch doesn't surprise me in the slightest. It's another cool nod to partial series inspiration Fallout 3, with its wasteland radio station Galaxy News Radio. While Alak is no Three Dog, he does have great taste in music and his excitement at acquiring new vinyl records is probably the most interesting character development he's gotten. Love Song by The Cure was a great choice and I'm very happy they didn't decide to go with a cover.
We learn so much more about the rest of the Defiance world this week as well. Las Vegas apparently sports the country's major prison and New York City is the Capitol of the Earth Republic; apparently the biggest player in the political landscape. I found it even more fascinating that the Earth Republic is a matriarchal society which includes multiple husband polygamy. This isn't the sort of outside the box thinking normally displayed on television. The science fiction genre is a vehicle for idea exploration, so I'm glad they're trying something. Hopefully it continues to be handled in such a solid way. Jane McLean is being setup as an ongoing antagonistic force, looking to exploit the town of Defiance for her own economic and political gain. Amanda is going to be really sorry she didn't let Nolan execute the ambassador.
The desert land coach stand off brings even more frontiersy, old west vibe to Defiance. Nolan's plan held shades of Mal Reynolds' stand off with Patience on Firefly. In this case Amanda played the role of Jayne Cobb, sneaking up on the elevated sniper to reverse the ambush. This story should have been the highlight of the episode but it doesn't feel as though it was handled as well as it should of been. It doesn't fall completely flat, but rather it is uneven.
This week's Defiance again brings interesting ideas but can't transcend above "decent to good" into "great" territory. The pieces for political intrigue between the mayor players all vying for the town's resources are still being placed on the board, but how much longer will that take? In our TV climate of half seasons, every episode must be a critical piece of the puzzle. This week's Defiance was decent entertainment containing great ideas. It has been and can be so much more.
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.