Full spoilers in the review below:
Reflecting back upon this week's Defiance I am overcome with the desire to reread Of Mice and Men. The Nobel Prize winning Steinbeck novel about two depression era drifters, George and Lennie, has to have heavily influenced the characters of Ulysses the bioman and his junkie lab rat partner. I can't be the only viewer startled that Ulysses had a personality at all. Call it my prejudice, but I had assumed that the genetically bred Biomen were merely mindless fighting behemoths. When Ulysses spoke I was taken aback and as he morphed into a caricature of Lennie, a mentally weak but physically hulking presence, I couldn't help but think that there should have been indications of this in the brief scene where he's introduced (the illegal fight ring from the pilot). He's an interesting idea that isn't used to the most entertaining effect.
That's fitting since this can be said about A Well Respected Man, this week's episode. There are a number of cool ideas, but there isn't enough action to propel them all forward or continually engage. It may be that there were too many ideas fighting for screen time which weren't properly juggled or that after the pilot the expectation for action is set too high, but for so many spinning plates this episode possessed an overwhelming lack of violent conflict. As a frontier set science fiction western, the hankering for bravado and badassery needs to be quenched.
Conversely, for what amounts to a weak episode, there are quite a few interesting scenes or ideas to discuss. Touching back on the bioman Ulysses for a moment: as a being genetically engineered to be humanity's answer to the technologically superior races of the Votans, shouldn't he be more resistant to firearms? If I were bringing mankind back to the drawing board with all the stops taken out, I think my first choice (before no neck, beefcake) would be thicker skin to withstand bullets and lasers. At the very least they should have genetically engineered them with redundant organs like Klingons have, that way if they're shot through the stomach there's a second one that takes over operation.
Datak is again at the center of this episode, its title working as an illusion to his struggle to attain the respect he feels entitled to. The seeds of Stahma's clever machinations are finally bearing out fruit as she reframed the game itself, getting her husband on the town's all powerful council. It doesn't seem like much of a stretch since Datak has been the council's back room scoundrel, making secret deals with the Votanous Collective for the firearms needed to defend Defiance in the absence of its shield wall.
Nolan has several great scenes this week, partially those involving Datak and Stahma. My favorite moment of the week is the almost buddy cop moment between the lawman and the mafioso. Datak created an entire sequence of events, a trail of breadcrumbs, for Nolan to mindlessly follow. The end result would serve to elevate Datak above his hated rival while making the latter look inept and the fool. Not only does Nolan not fall for it, but he bluntly dissects the entire scheme. It's a hilarious turn and Grant Bowler has a great time trying to make Tony Curran squirm (of course he departs with a sneer which could strip paint). There's some great chemistry between the two men and their interplay here is comedic gold.
Stahma, on the other hand, is completely disaffected by Nolan's brash disparagement of her character. When he calls her out as the man behind the curtain in the episode's closing moments, I expected some sort of stern "mess with me and they'll never find your body" warning from Mrs. Tarr. What Nolan got instead was far more dangerous; she presented kind pleasantry to his blunt assessment. I still love what Jaime Murray brings to Defiance, she positively oozes danger in a delicious candy wrapper.
Being forthright about it, I've grown increasingly tired of all the McCawley family drama. Could we please get one episode that doesn't include Rafe being brash and failing to understand his children, or even interacting with them without losing his temper? This isn't a soap opera and there has to be one day during the week where they aren't bickering (it's probably Tuesdays).
The interesting twist that Amanda and Mia's mother actually abandoned them (and might actually still be alive) illuminates a new part of the Mayor's personality. Amanda's appropriation of a dead soldier's name as a patron saint to keep her sister going was interesting, but overall I felt that the flashback sequences were uninteresting. The medallion's use in jogging Mia's memory, and thus enabling her escape,was clever, as was the use of a virtual mental maze of fear to drain prisoners of their adrenaline (which forms the drug Blue Devil). It was a shame to see prostitute shaming rear its head, especially at the expense of a pillar of the community like Mia but Amanda's reprisal was solid.
So chalk this up as bump in the road for what has been a solidly entertaining show. The ideas contained within are interesting, but there isn't much action to speak of. The whole affair comes off as less interesting that the proceeding episodes. Hopefully the show runners bring their A game next week, since this week felt like a low C's game.
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.