Defiance "In My Secret Life" Review: The More Things Change
"In My Secret Life" kept up some of the place-setting of Defiance's Season 2 premiere, continuing to establish Pottinger as a force to be reckoned with, and more fully introducing Jessica "Berlin" Rainier (Anna Hopkins)—a character who existed on the fringes of a few scenes in last week's episode but received her showcase this week. It also returned the show to its case-of-the-week plotting within a more serialized framework as Nolan and Irisa made their way back to the frontier town.
Cases of the week were never Defiance's most consistent strength in Season 1, and episode quality often rode rather heavily on whether or not the case was interesting. While some of the ongoing storylines—Nicky and the Kelavar and Irisa and the cult—never really grabbed hold of me, it was easy enough to anticipate them and temper my expectations accordingly; whatever standalone story an episode had in store was always more of a question mark, which may explain why my opinion of show varied as much as it did.
Much like the break between seasons triggered a soft reset of my feelings toward Defiance, the case of the week in "In My Secret Life," which centered on the "search" for a bomber and a bomb-maker, also served as a bit of a reset. While Defiance can't just do away with the E-Rep presence—and nor should it, because Pottinger is already adding a lot to the show, as I'll discuss in just a few moments—it needs to make sure Nolan has something to do in Defiance. In this episode, that meant making him the Lawkeeper again and ensuring that the citizenry doesn't still really hate him for killing a Castithan kid with a paintball gun.
And that's why I put "search" in quotation marks up above, because there wasn't much of a search. Nolan visited the mines, got the name of a suspect out of Joseph (the survivor of the hellbug set-up from last week), went to the NeedWant and waited for the possible perpetrator while getting his flirt on with Amanda, teamed up with Berlin to do some video scanning, beat up the perpetrator and Skevur, saved Stahma and a crowded street form another bomb, and that was it—case closed and reputation salvaged. Outside of knocking Skevur around, Nolan hardly broke a sweat. And for all his ballyhooed tracker skills, this case was likely one that Tommy could've handled once he knew where those little bugs originated. Well, except for maybe the bomb-disarming part, which might make all the difference.
The mechanics of the bombing plot essentially served to ensure that Nolan got to be Lawkeeper again, and that Berlin got some screen time. Yes, the story also primed some of the rebellious feelings from the miners, but the bombs seemed to be more about the Tarrs than the E-Rep, and, well, who in Defiance doesn't want to kill the Tarrs? That line has to be fairly long. So, narratively, the arc ended up being a halfhearted attempt to do what needed to be done to keep the show moving.
The big upside of it all was Berlin—who, like Pottinger, is nice addition to the show's cast of characters. Her political bent already gives her more personality than Tommy was ever really granted last season, and the generational gap between her and most of the rest of Defiance's human denizens provides a unique perspective on the post-Pale Wars Earth, as it seems likely that it's the only Earth she's ever really known. She provided a jaded reading of Nolan with the whole Han Solo and Star Wars diatribe, one that incorporated criticism of the character into the show's internal perception of Nolan, which is something I kind of love. While Defiance had long focused on culture clashes between the different species, it has yet to explore an internal culture clash between generations, and I hope it's something the show continues to do with Berlin.
The other, smaller upside of the bombing plot was that we got Nolan and Amanda flirty times, flirty times that I do generally enjoy. That they were followed by Pottinger creepy times as he watched the two reunited love birds start to get it on via his spy camera in Amanda's room adds more of an ick factor to Pottinger, but two scenes in the episode really helped to solidify Pottinger for me, and they both involved the Tarrs.
Having Pottinger essentially outwit and call out Stahma and Datak—Defiance's primary schemers—provided the necessary oomph to make him a proper antagonist. He blackmailed Stahma into shutting down her drug operation by threatening to let Datak out of prison, preying on her ambition and distaste for having to manipulate Datak into doing things her way. In doing so, he acquired all the Blue Devil he needed to presumably lure Amanda into something later on while also making sure Stahma was unable to assume too much power in Defiance. Clever boy.
Yewll and Datak's escape attempt went awry after Pottinger cut off one of Yewll's fingers for failing to disclose why, exactly, Marsh was so interested in Irisa—leaving Datak to take matters into his own hands. The pair motivated a religious fanatic in the camp to try to assassinate Pottinger, allowing Datak to intervene and save Pottinger's life in an obvious attempt to get his sentence commuted. But while Datak spun a nice, indirect tale about his potential value as Pottinger's lackey and/or advisor, Pottinger's response essentially boiled down to "Don't bullshit a bullshitter," and he left Datak to continue to rot. Plus, he needs Datak locked up, or he loses his leverage against Stahma.
So Pottinger can co-opt Amanda by sending two boys to be killed and maintaining his deniability in the matter, he can outmaneuver Stahma, and he can see Datak's flimsier schemes for what they are. In a matter of two episodes, Defiance has crafted a very worthy foe, one who poses an actual threat to other characters (even if it's not in a violent way), and that's something I can really get behind, especially after seeing how long the whole Nicky thing was drawn out last season.
With Pottinger and Berlin established and Nolan back in the Lawkeeper headquarters, I expect that the story may begin to speed up a bit, though I'm not quite sure of its direction quite yet. I suspect we'll get a Rafe episode sooner rather than later, since he's the last main regular who hasn't had much screen time, and I have to imagine it'll have something to do with his conflicting impulses regarding not wanting to end up in Camp Reverie while also loathing the E-Rep.
CLASSIFIED E-REP FILES
– I love the E-Rep propaganda posters in the market square, and that they're even printed in different versions. "A piece of POW in every pot!" is in English, with a human woman, and then it's redone for a Castithan audience; that's just the kind of world-building through production design that I really respond to.
– Along those lines, Defiance Season 2 feels more visually interesting, at least as of these first two episodes, than the show ever was in Season 1. There were a couple of nice shots in the premiere, and then this episode contained some interesting blocking, like in the picture above with Amanda, Tommy, and Pottinger, that gave scenes some visual depth. While I don't care for an over-abundance of Dutch angles (Fay Grim being the exception), they generally worked for me this week.
– Tommy has moved on from Irisa and her fierce formal wear, and is now involved with Berlin, which... okay? I mean, I liked Irisa and Tommy as a couple, but we never spent a lot of time with them, so I'm not too broken up about their split. I'm honestly more interested in Tommy's wounded professionalism, and how that that'll play out as the season progresses, as well as how he'll pick sides when the time comes.
– Oh! Christie! Right! Gosh, I almost forgot about her. She's dealing with awkward communal bathing with her husband and mother-in-law in traditional Castithan garb while also needling Alak about the Tarrs' criminal activities (activities he's still under the impression he can handle, but not so much). It's almost as if she didn't understand the family she was marrying into. I'm shocked.
– Closing montage song: "On Every Street" from Dire Straits, and it didn't sound like a cover to me, but I admit to having a lousy ear.
What did you think of "In My Secret Life"?
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