Defiance "The Cord and the Ax" Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Godly

By Noel Kirkpatrick

Jul 04, 2014

Defiance S02E03: "The Cord and the Ax"

Ah, here's the Defiance I know and sometimes struggle to tolerate!

After a solid season premiere and a second episode that set about establishing (and re-establishing) a few more characters and their places in Defiance, "The Cord and the Ax" started getting down to business—with Pottinger wanting Yewll to do whatever's in her big journal, with Christie being pregnant, with Amanda dealing with her addiction, with plenty of Tarr family drama, and with Irisa and Irzu's... plan, I guess. Let's talk about that last item first, because it's the big carryover plot from Season 1, and it's where we'll likely find the most to discuss.

As I've said in my last two Defiance reviews, I've tried not to be unjustifiably harsh toward whatever's been going on with Irisa, the Kelavar inside of her, and Irzu, who manifests as young Irisa. This episode didn't help much on that front, and I'm more than a little skittish about Irisa's arc based on where things currently stand. A lot of my trepidation has to do with Irzu and its abilities that basically exist to do whatever the narrative requires. Oh, your Chosen One doesn't want to cooperate with your plans? Easily fixed! Need to blow up a surveillance database so your Chosen One doesn't get caught? Done! Need to make a rifle heavy so your Chosen One can't kill herself? No problem! Need to heal your Chosen One so she can continue to spread your Kelavar message via tendrils in the mouth? Irzu has you covered!

I'm not a fan of gods/deities/entities/characters that operate without many apparent limits. Irzu can't manifest itself physically (yet, of course), so it needs Irisa to carry out some of its bidding, even though it seems perfectly able to influence what happens in the physical world without any apparent effort (by, say, messing with the aforementioned surveillance database). Such powers eliminate narrative tension, and can devolve into an endless stream of "Get out of a story jam for free!" cards. An thus it was likely the pile-up of conveniences in this episode that frustrated me more than anything else—and I'll note that I'm fine with the Kelavar healing trick, since all of its objects, as well as Irisa and Irzu, are connected—because if all the Irisa/Irzu stuff had been spread across a few different episodes, I might not have zeroed in on it as much as I did.

At least there are still some potentially interesting developments to come out of all this. The reason why Irzu wants to implant Kelavar-esque tendrils in folks like the Castithan female from the premiere and Bertie and Sukar from this episode remains a mystery, though Irzu claims to be protecting them. But what is it protecting them from? I'm naturally suspicious of god-like beings in any story, so who can know for sure. The visions/flashbacks that Irisa experiences when Irzu assumes control of her are interesting thing, though I'm not entirely sure what to make of them just yet. I'm also intrigued that the Votanis Collective has been planning their arrival on Earth for some time, and that an Irathient woman who looks an awful lot like Irisa is hesitant with regard to their selection of Earth but also ready to take over their scouting ship. Questions, questions, questions.

If the Irzu stuff wasn't enough of a concern, "The Cord and the Ax" also had a Yewll and Datak plot that spurred me to type in my notes: "This is sort of dumb." I don't have an issue with Pottinger springing Yewll from Camp Reverie to do whatever he thinks she can do based on the research journal he found in her safe; he's an ambitious guy, and if he sees an opportunity to make himself stand out from his peers, he's going to take it. And if that means seeing more of Yewll, than I'll take it, too. But what made it "sort of dumb" was the fact that A.) Yewll wanted Datak to be her assistant/bodyguard because he's such a stable and loyal guy, and B.) Pottinger just allowed Datak to leave Camp Reverie. Yewll might've made Datak's release a condition of her agreeing to work with Pottinger, but that wasn't said on screen, and so I found myself staring blankly at the TV, wondering why in the world this arrangement made sense beyond the fact that Defiance wanted Datak back in Defiance to stir things up.

Or, really, to attempt to drown things, as it were. Datak's return to the house, and his subsequent attempt to drown Stahma at the end of the episode was probably the high point of the hour for me. Between the song choice for the closing montage (Portishead's "Roads") and my legitimate concern that Defiance would kill off Stahma, it was an intense sequence. The show hadn't done much with Datak's prison stint, but that's for the best, as Datak's response to the notion that Stahma had usurped him and was actively working to keep him in Camp Reverie didn't need any extra oomph. We already know he's vain and insecure; when you add all the Castithan cultural baggage, the fact that Datak is from a lower caste than Stahma, and his realization that a woman is beating him and his son is rejecting him, Datak's violent and horrifying outburst is the heavy hammer of that old Castithan patriarchy reasserting itself against the changing tide brought about by being on Earth.

Elsewhere, along the same lines as Tommy in last week's episode (as well as this week's, for that matter), Alak has benefited from a personality and narrative adjustment. While Season 1 took small steps to draw Alak into the family business, Season 2 has dealt with him as a both a figurehead for the Tarr operations and as a young man who's struggling with the tug between what it means to be a good Castithan back on Casti and what it means to live in a new place where all the rules are changing. It's the classic immigrants' child story, and so far, it's really working in this context—and well enough that if you'd told me last year that I'd ever type that sentence in Season 2, I might've laughed a little bit.

I've severely neglected to discuss Amanda the past two weeks, especially last week when she had a larger role in making sure Nolan stuck around, but it's time to check in on her as she deals with the lack of Blue Devil in Defiance. As expected, Pottinger shutting down the Tarrs' manufacture of the drug was indeed an attempt to draw Amanda closer to him, ratcheting up Pottinger's skeezy factor yet another notch. I'm pleased with this development from a story-momentum perspective, but I'm still not sure how I feel about the "Amanda is adrift" aspect just yet. 

On the one hand, I think Julie Benz is doing a fine job of ensuring that Amanda's shifts—from needing drugs to coping with the Kenya-related grief to being Pottinger's chief of staff to having the confidence to get Nolan re-hired to kicking the crap out of a client harassing a woman in the NeedWant—make sense and feel like a consistent thread for the character. On the other hand, I'm not crazy about the potential trajectories, most of which I fear could end up with Nolan and Pottinger getting into a big fight over her (just like high school!) and, well, yawn to that. 

I'm not saying it will happen, and there is, of course, the possibility that Amanda will find a way out of her grief and out of Pottinger's creepy clutches on her own, but I'm not feeling too optimistic at the moment. Or maybe I'm just not a fan of seeing Amanda in a position that lacks agency and power. Could be both.


– The realization that we could possibly see Bertie attack and tendrilize someone at some point almost makes it all worth it.

– I... do not want to know why Pottinger saved Yewll's finger. Or does he always think this far ahead?

– I've decided I'm tired of the sexpot characters on TV who get turned on by excessive violence against them, including the prostitute-turned-DJ Alak hired for the radio station. No more of that, please.

– "How's the finger?" "Feels like someone cut it off."

What did you think of "The Cord and the Ax"?

  • Comments (43)
Add a Comment
In reply to :
  • anthem47 Jul 10, 2014

    I was pretty hard on this show last year but I have to admit it's starting to grow on me. Suddenly Amanda has something a bit interesting going on (I love Julie Benz but her character was a bit bland last season). Tommy is a smidgeon less blank. Irisa's plot got way more interesting (and I was actually taken aback by her waking up with that bullet trail up the side of her face). I still find Christie and her father to be dead television but they're a means to an end I suppose, and we've seen far less of them this year. Alak used to be really insufferable but being torn between new father husband and head of Tarr empire was great to watch (though that appears to have ended this episode, which is a shame, feels like they could have milked more out of that). And Pottinger, who could have been a real failure as a character, is actually really fascinating.

    I feel like the writers took the time to look at who and what wasn't working and specifically addressed those things, and I'm much happier. It's not amazing,'s better.

    Can we turf Tommy though? If Nolan had come back and Berlin was the new sheriff, I'd be even happier. And if Berlin was a bit less vanilla and invisible (I mean for a character that could be a source of great drama, she's a bit...amicable.)

  • Sugar2U Jul 08, 2014

    I did find it interesting that the people that "died" are not dead... but are now going to become some kind of army?? but for good or evil is the question.. kinda hope good but that's just me... I think Irisa really did not want to kill but now that she know those she kills come back..wonder if she will kill daddy?
    Anyone else notice in the bath scene the WHITE was coming off all of the actors... At first I thought maybe that is what happens when they are in the water but we have seen them in water before and they all look freakishly white but Alec for sure had a BIG makeup line around his neck and so did they all...
    I would love to see more of the trip in the ships.. Love to see the old world where they came from etc.

  • ILoveTVandDDsBB Jul 07, 2014

    It was good to see Sukar again and that bath escalated quick! and how the shtak is Bernie alive?

  • ReallyNow Jul 06, 2014

    Datak not knowing Stahma and Kenya were screwing was a major plot fail/writer fail. Datak is portrayed as having eyes and ears everywhere. His spies would have reported back to him on Stahma's visits. Note that it's always girl and girl, never boy and boy.

    It occurs to me that their will be no serious attempt to follow through on character nor plot portrayals. Some suit is probably going to say to the writers that girl on girl sex is required. Next we will all be treated to Amanda and Stahma between the sheets. Funny, they will never recommend that Nolan find his inner "Brokeback Mountain".

    Defiance is trending to total garbage.

  • shocker713 Jul 06, 2014

    You think this is a beneficial personality adjustment for Tommy? All I see is a pissy attitude.

  • EllaPreuss Jul 05, 2014

    Wow, really? I really liked this episode, I think it was the best so far! So many things happened, and so many questions arose!
    I agree that the whole Amanda thing is getting a little old, but I have hopes for her character. She's been stronger before, so I expect a full 180 from her.

    And Irzu, well... I wouldn't call it a deus ex machina (although it kinda is) because it does make sense that Irisa would want to be free from her binds and that Irzu would not let her. I don't think the surveillance room scene was wildly unjustified. It created a space for these two women in Tommy's life to talk about him and at the same time, moved the plot along (of course Irzu would protect Irisa). So long as they don't use Irzu to save Irisa from EEEEEEEVERYTHING, I'm down with it.

    And those flashbacks? WHOA! Maybe Irisa was a captain coming to Earth to colonise (I have no doubts it was her), knowing that her people would have no qualms about terraforming the planet, and thus killing everyone and everything in it. And she was, as we saw ("Irzu values all life" or sth like that), against the terraforming plan. Perhaps those who wanted to do it are coming back and Irzu is protecting them from that? I dunno, we'll see, but it's definitely a great story arc, and I can't wait to see more of it.

    And the whole Tarr plot... it was dumb to let Datak go, and it has no other explanation than the show needs him out of prison. BUT, I loved the final scene, and I sense some major changes happening in that family. Stahma is so creepy, I love her. I also get the feeling that they threw a baby into the mix so that Alak would have no other choice but to be with his family, effectively removing him out of Stahma's and Datak's way, so they can have an all out battle for control. Love that, even if it's plain stupid.

    I just wish Nolan would lay off Irisa's back and try to understand her better. He's doing nothing to gain her trust. And he's not really doing anything interesting in town, other than gaining an enemy in Pottinger right after he told him he fancies her. He's the least developed character for me. So far.

  • bluemorphotat Jul 05, 2014

    Wow this ep reeeeeally clicked for me at an emotional level... (blame Portishead LOL) but yes the plot is suspect at best... so contradictory and for a better word halfcooked ... but that is a good start I guess.

  • MarlboroMagpi Jul 05, 2014

    I totally agree. After two episodes which was better than last year, this one feels the show has gone back to terrible again.

    The whole thing with Irisa just seems so confusing and pointless. I am not sure if there is a good payoff at the end of it all.

    I liked the politics and scheming of the Datak family. I also feel for Alak. I do agree that releasing Datak back to Defiance seems so unrealistic. We all know he will be back but it was not a clever way to get him there.

    I have very low expectations for the show so it helps me to continue to watch.

  • ReallyNow Jul 05, 2014

    The edgiest woman is a strong toughminded, savvy, sexy, smart as hell bitch.

    This episode portrays Amanda as a dug addict/dealer/pimp/crackhead hooker who gives sex/bjobs in exchange for drugs. The fact is she went to the E-rep for a drug hit. This is the writer's idea of edgy. The writer's idea of a strong woman is a drug crazed Amanda having a hooker fight with a brothel customer.

    Why all the negative portrayals of women. If they are smart as hell they have to be conniving criminal, and sheming (Stahma). If they are strong they have to be drug crazed. If women are savvy and discerning then they have to be hooker/pimp drug addicts. Let us call the writer's on this crap.

    Amanda and Nolan together with Kenya knew that a client set up Nolan to kill. Specifically Kenya knew it was Stahma. They knew that it benefitted Datak. Kenya said to Amanda that the client is confidential.

    Amanda portrayed as smart, tough, independent, savvy mayor now is portrayed as witless village idiot. As the new madam she could easily have asked who was Kenya seeing, and put two and two together. She makes no attempt to investigate Kenya's dissapearance. This just does not fit with the Amanda character at all.

    Unless the writer's decided that Julie Benz would be more appealing than Mia Kirshner as hooker/pimp ... drug dealer and a drug addict!! We should call them on this crap!

    I am willing to bet these writers are all men who can't stand strong, smart, independent women. Sex in exchange for drugs, come on writers.

  • Canucklehead_31 Jul 07, 2014

    Flawed characters are FAR more interesting then perfect heroes.

    You want some ass kicking virtuous never-do-wrong female character in the show? Sorry but those don't exist as a male or a female. And anytime they show up in any show/movie, they really ruin it for me.

    I think it's far more realistic that Amanda has fallen due to the circumstances surrounding the last 9 months.

    I haven't looked into it, but I figured the lack of Mia Kirshner has more to do with the actor's contracts or commitments than a writer's decision to write Kenya out of the show.

    I think you're stretching really far for some sort of sexism outrage.

    Defiance has more interesting female characters that get a ton of screen time than most Sci Fi shows.

  • ReallyNow Jul 08, 2014

    A flaw is someone being too impulsive. Nolan has that flaw. A flaw is someone being too aggressive. A flaw is someone who is tempted to pre-judge others.

    Being a crackhead/hooker drug-dealer doing sex for drugs is not flawed. It is simply a portrayal of a low-life. It is a total character change for Amanda. This show is sexist.

  • Canucklehead_31 Jul 10, 2014

    Your saying a former mayor that has just been kicked out of office, has no job, and just lost her friend/love interest, her sister left town, and the big bad E-Rep she hated so much has taken over her town, and what is she supposed to do? Be homeless? Join the group she hates? Or take over the one true prospect she has, in her sisters bar?

    There's nothing sexist about it, it's a logical path for the character, male or female.

    Drug addiction in the face of strive is a story as old as time and doesn't pre-suppose a gender.

    And I haven't seen anything to suggest she's a prostitute, only the madam running the business her sister left.

    It's a living.

  • kanniballl Jul 05, 2014

    Her "fall" probably has a lot to do with Kenya disappearing.

    Whether she admits it or not, she probably assumes Kenya is dead. But the "not knowing" is tearing her up from the inside out. So she turned to drugs, and now is dealing with all of the cr@p that comes with getting hooked on drugs.

  • cokestar Jul 05, 2014

    While those are valid points, I still think it's a still contrived for many of the reasons ReallyNow pointed out. It just doesn't align with what the character would've done in season 1. S1 Amanda would've easily realized Datak/Stahma's role in what happened to Nolan AND Kenya and do something about it.

  • Gislef Jul 05, 2014

    And the text recap is up, or should be shortly.

  • See More Comments (17)