TV REVIEW: Defiance Pilot Episode

Syfy’s newest show Defiance comes to town. The question is does the Syfy channel have an epic hit on its hands?

Defiance kicks off with a scene the evokes memories of the final series of Fringe. If you watched that series and I say the scene in the park with observers you will know what  I mean. The scene shows the arrival of the Votans, a collection of alien races who have travelled to earth  after their own home was destroyed. Although we do not see it on screen (fingers crossed for flashbacks) we learn that there was war after the aliens arrival. We  then skip forward decades later after  war and terraforming have completely changed the planet. It is here we meet Nolan (Grant Bowler), an ex solider who fought in the war against the Votans and his daughter Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas). The pair make a living as Ark hunters, retrieving lost relics of advanced or alien origin for cash. It’s a shame that we only get a glimpse of this side of Nolan as there was definitely a bit of an Indy Jones vibe to the job and Nolan filled the hard done by adventurer role quite nicely in his intro scene.

After their latest ark hunting mission goes awry Nolan and Irisa end up in a settlement known as Defiance and that’s where things really start to go wrong for the pair.

When I first saw the trailer for Defiance I was excited to see what looked like a return to the kind of sci-fi I had not seen in a while with strange alien cultures, space ships, lasers gun, robots and bags of action. Defiance does offer some, but not all of these things, but this opening episode left me with a ‘I’ve seen this all before’ vibe which did sadden me.

With its Sci-fi meets western theme, with a scoundrel set in the central role, it’s hard not to think of shows like Firefly or a film like Stars Wars. Any familiarity with these well worn themes and situations will probably mean that you will spot most of the dialogue and plot developments in Defiance coming a mile off. The characters, in this opening episode, read like a who’s who of walking cliches’

The scoundrel who, when push comes to shove, will do the right thing.

The pair of star crossed lovers.

The shady businessman who runs all the gambling and dodgy goings on who has designs on controlling the town.

The sassy prostitute with the heart of gold who runs the local whorehouse.

The young and inexperienced Deputy.

The inexperience leader who must rally her people.

The old and experienced Sheriff…sorry Lawkeeper.

In fact in one scene with Nolan and Amanda Rosewater (Julie Benz) Mayor of Defiance ,set before the final climatic battle, you could easy replace them  for Princess Leia and Han Solo just before the attack on the Death Star.

All this may sound like I hated the show but I didn’t.  I can be forgiving of cliches if the characters are solid or at least entertaining and  the show’s two main characters Nolan and Irisa were very entertaining to watch. Nolan is both a bad ass and a likeable character, who you want to root for. There are times  feels like the writers have tried to merge a mixture of Mal Reynolds and Han Solo to create Nolan. The problem is when this is forced too much through the dialogue the effect can be jarring with some of the one liners missing their mark. However  it’s the moments where Nolan is allowed to come into his own that outweighes his cliche beginnings. There’s a small scene in which a particular relationship is revealed to Nolan. The look on his face as he works out all the possibilities is hilarious. The same can also be said  for Irisa who also gets a few of her own golden moments. One of these moments is shared by the town’s deputy who hits back with a  brilliant put down line. Also I have to give a mention of the alien Doctor who also got a few nice lines in. Primarily though it is Nolan and Irisa and their interactions with each other and the other townsfolk of Defiance that saved this first episode for me. I hope that in future episodes I will find more to like about the other characters.

Bear Mcceary provides the musical score as always excels himself and as someone who is a huge fan of his music I would keep watching just to hear what he’s got in store for the rest of the series.

There’s a very nice climatic battle at the end of the pilot although it would have been nice to get a little more background on the enemy as it felt a little rushed. I’m guessed the reason for this is the connection to the overall mystery that we are left with by the end of the pilot episode. It is intriguing (along with a nice twist) and I’ll be interested to see just how that story arc unfolds.

The effects are solid and with the opening scene and final battle being among my favourites. Also mention must be given to some of the make up on with different aliens races…one of the potential strengths of the show is getting to know the these different races and how they interact.

There’s a lot of world building going on in this episode but there’s till a lot of unanswered questions about this new earth and its inhabitants that will hopefully be revealed over the course of this first season. It’s a wise move not to give you all the answers in one episode as it could have felt like one massive information dump.

Overall this pilot episode of Defiance was an enjoyable but unsurprising opening to the series. Given the pedigree of those involved in the production t would be foolish to write this show off and this is only the first episode. There is a lot of potential in Defiance but the challenge for the creators  will be to bring that potential sooner rather than later to an audience hungry for  the return of new and innovative  sci-fi on their TV screens.

Defiance starts Tuesday 16 April at 9pm on Syfy.

Rating: 3/5

Reporter: Nuge

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