Defiance "The Cord and the Ax" Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Godly
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.
CLASSIFIED E-REP FILES
– 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"?
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