Defiance "Beasts of Burden" Review: A World That Has Such People in It

By Noel Kirkpatrick

Jul 11, 2014

Defiance S02E04: "Beasts of Burden"

How does a prideful man respond when he's belittled, diminished? How does he reassert himself, reclaim what has been lost? How should he respond when those things that keep him in power are suddenly and violently threatened? What happens when the rules of the kwon-yo gyen-do—the new world—upend everything that was once his, or even helped to make him what he is now? Well, if he's in the futuristic, Wild Wild West world of Defiance, he lacks any futuristic options.

"Beasts of Burden" had men chafing under just such conditions. Pottinger was humiliated by raiders. Datak went about restoring himself as the head of his criminal empire and his family. Josef and Rafe were both doing what they could to cling to slivers of their past lives. And how did they do this? Violence. Religion. Bureaucracy. Did it do them any good, though? Did it solve their problems, or just create more?

Only Pottinger, with his trappings of office, managed to achieve a small sense of satisfaction—but not without cost. After Josef (in a raider get-up) hijacked an E-Rep caravan, forced Pottinger to strip down to his boxers, and then urinated on him, he conscripted Nolan to find the raiders and the equipment, but mostly the raiders, so that they could answer for their offense against him. Of course, it's likely that Pottinger, being the ambitious upstart he is, would've been just as single-minded had he not been peed on, but when you add insult to injury, the desire for retribution is unsurprising.

So while Josef was shot in the back, literally, by Rafe, that wasn't enough for Pottinger. Josef's demise needed to be his doing, a way for Pottinger to make it clear to both Josef and himself that he's still the man calling the shots, instead of some hapless teenager caught in a Votanis Collective-occupied boarding school chapel in Devon, England. Denied this, Pottinger evicted Rafe from his plush house likely as easily as the E-Rep stripped Rafe of his mines after they occupied Defiance. It may not've been what Pottinger had in mind to salve his wounded ego, but it would send a clear message to everyone all the same.

And we learned about Pottinger as well. He grew up with enough privilege that his parents were able to send him someplace safe place during the Pale Wars, privilege that Amanda and Kenya lacked, and that Nolan likely wouldn't've been interested in, provided Berlin's Star Wars-related reading of Nolan was anywhere near on the money. That privilege did not help Pottinger, but it still influenced him, molded him into the Pottinger we see on the show: a man who will be humiliated again. 

Speaking of privilege and humiliation, Datak, after assaulting his son and nearly drowning his wife, spent the day making sure everyone knew he was back in town, and that there would be no more of this "things being run by a woman (who raised profits by 20 percent)" nonsense. I'm already on the record—and now I'm likely sounding like a broken record—regarding my enjoyment of the Tarrs so far this season, and Datak's wonderful attempts to resume control of his criminal empire and his family only served to reinforce that storyline as my current favorite element of Defiance

Datak did what any man in a highly patriarchal society like that of the Castithans would do to reassert himself as the patriarch: He turned to the old ways to bolster his position, completely ignoring, of course, that those old ways were also responsible for his lower caste back on the homeworld. Oh, thank goodness for Earth allowing for some wiggle room. It led to the first surprising lack of an outburst as he was harassed by E-Rep soldiers, and then became amusing as we learned that Stahma had paid said soldiers to provoke him enough to get him sent back to Reverie. Then he killed a lieutenant to punish all his lieutenants for following Stahma's orders—another idea from the motherworld—and then he severely damaged Alak's hands in his son's own record press, after complimenting him on setting up a perfect legitimate business front for the Tarrs' illegal operations.

Sadly, Datak didn't have the juice that Pottinger had, and Staham rallied the Tarr lieutenants for a formal coup, casting out Datak. It's likely that Datak just overplayed his hand, given that Stahma was perfectly happy to act indirectly at first. But it was too much, too soon, and considering how well things were working under her leadership, it would appear that the old Castithan ways just can't stand up to the power of money.

While I thought we might've gotten a more Rafe-centric episode this week, this was still the most we've really seen of him since the start of the season, and our first real look at how he's coping with the E-Rep occupation. Mostly, he's decided to stay as close to the ground as possible, even while mumbling things to impressionable young minds, like Josef's. He and Josef have the most direct beef with the E-Rep, between the condition of the mines and the loss of family members—especially compared to pretty much everybody else on the show, who either appear indifferent (the Tarrs), are acting like things haven't changed (Nolan), or are just trying to survive/make the best of it (Amanda). 

Their lives, however, have been basically demolished. Rafe's a prisoner in his own home, it seems, a home he doesn't even really own any longer (and that was even more true by episode's end). Josef lost his family and is concerned about the miner community; his attack on the E-Rep caravan, and his pissing on Pottinger, were reactions to his new existence. His identity is tied up in Defiance, and the E-Rep is not Defiance. It ended up costing Josef his life, as Rafe probably realized that Josef was never going to let it go, and that a bullet to the back was a better way for the young man to go than whatever Pottinger would've done.

It cost Rafe his home, as I mentioned above, but I didn't discuss what the eviction cost Pottinger. Rafe's daughter is in the care of the Tarrs (and I still don't have a clear sense of how Christie fits into their dynamics), he doesn't own his mines, and he doesn't have a home. Rafe has nothing left to lose, and that poses a lot of danger to Pottinger and the E-Rep forces in Defiance. It's a threat that Pottinger may not have expected to face.


– "If I had you sent down to Reverie or, better still, shot you in the head, it'd break Amanda’s heart, and I'm not willing to do that at the moment. If you lie to me again, Nolan, I will revise that policy."

– No Irzu nonsense this week. Praise be Irzu! @adamndirtyape offered a good read on the Irzu stuff last week, positioning it as nanotech, which makes excellent sense. Doesn't negate any of my criticisms—god-like technology still offers too many narrative outs—but at least it provides a nice potential explanation for what's going on with Irisa. Now if only I cared about it...

– I cannot remember if the information about Amanda's rape and abortion was new or not. I feel like it was, though. Can't wait to see how/if creeper Pottinger uses this bit of intel. Actually, I can wait.

– I didn't recognize the song at the end, and neither did the music identification app on my phone.

What did you think of "Beasts of Burden"?

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  • ummhaniyyah Jul 25, 2014

    There is no mention of this in the review so I wanted to add that it's strongly implied that Pottinger was raped when the Voltanis Collective descended on his prep school (where Amanda's now-dead ex was also a student).

    That's why he loses it after being asked to strip and when Josef unzips his fly. That implication is also why Amanda feels comfortable telling him about her rape.

    Of course, it was never plainly stated, so it could be that something else as ghastly happened to him on that day when he was asked to strip, such as a mutilation of his genitals -- we know for example, that he likes Amanda but we haven't seen them have sex.

    Just wanted to mention that implied violation because that's got to have played an important part in making the Pottinger that we see now.

  • lt_catscratch Jul 22, 2014

    is it me or are casti going pinkier every episode ? i guess makeup dep. ran outta whtever.

  • ILoveTVandDDsBB Jul 14, 2014

    Kinda felt bad for the mayor and Datak got shtaked!

  • Sugar2U Jul 14, 2014

    WE knew Amanda had an abortion. Her husband thought it was his and that is why the marriage ended.. ( I hate it when a person would rather lie then tell the truth especially in a rape case. I know it is actually normal reaction, however after she became pregnant she should have told her husband the truth) Anyways glad to hear she just didn't end the pregnancy because it was inconvenient which is what her husband thought.
    I think I may have cheered (not sure) when Stahma and the crew beat up Datak... I love her more and more.

  • Gislef Jul 13, 2014

    And the text recap is up.

  • raouljain Jul 12, 2014

    This show has been a pleasant surprise to me. The dynamic between the Tarrs has been so entertaining to watch. Its great to see Stahma's character taking things to another level. The Nolan Rafe dynamic is pretty cool too. At least they know they can rely on each other. I do feel a bit bad for Irisa,although I'm sure if she wanted, she could land another guy :P

  • staceyderrig7612 Jul 12, 2014

    I too, would like a little more clarity on Irisa's inner demon; or is it a demon at all? I am confused on whether the little one is good or bad. The Tarr family has been quite interesting this episode and I'm looking forward to the next one to find out what Datak will do next. I am glad you got his beating.

  • MarlboroMagpi Jul 12, 2014

    Good to know that in the future there is no internet for downloading songs. People/aliens would have to buy actual records to listen to music. I guess they have to buy a good old newspaper or magazines to read about a TV show review. Wait. Are they any TV shows in Defiance?

    My favorite thing now is also the Datak family conflict and I am so glad there is no Iruz nonsense too. No wonder this episode flows well and at least bearable to watch.

  • noelrk Staff Jul 14, 2014

    Terrific question about the TV show thing. Obviously they have monitors and screens, otherwise Pottinger and Berlin's filmic propaganda stuff wouldn't be worth anything, but are they still using the broadcast spectrum for TV? Maybe in New York, where things seems a bit more together? I'd be willing to bet that radio, given its general prominence, is the primary mass medium in the post-Pale Wars environment.

  • edge1710 Jul 12, 2014

    I always thought Datak was a reasonable intelligent person and was well aware of the influences Stahma had over him in season 1 in curtailing his more excessive violent tendencies, but I think he has been broken by his stint in jail and he couldn't be reached anymore. Season 1 Datak might have considered a partnership, but not this one.
    If Datak is evicted as well he can share a cardboard box with Rafe.

  • ummhaniyyah Jul 25, 2014

    I don't know about Season 1 Datak being more amenable to a partnership with Stahma. Remember that Stahma always couched her ideas in a mask of subservience --- many times manipulating Datak so that he thought that her ideas were his own.

    I'd say the watershed moment came when she had that conversation with Alak where he demanded "straight talk" at which point she was brutally upfront. When Datak returns she still maintains some submissive body language and phrasing but the steel inside the silk is showing.

    It was nice to hear Datak plainly (albeit in a rage) acknowledge his wife's intelligence. Before he'd only said things like "I've married well."

  • aktarian Jul 12, 2014

    "I'm not getting sex because you have to go work at a whore house?" :)

    I agree with others, this season is improving. While first one relied (too) heavily on western cliches about border towns it was OK because it established Defiance and dynamics in it. This season managed to get beyond that and with introduction of E-Rep tossed in a new player and relations between existing players are changing and evolving.

    Tommy seems to be a dick just so he can be a dick. yes, Nolan and Irissa left without saying anything and now that they are back expect things to go back to what they were. I understand he resents Nolan for taking his job but being p/o at Irissa? He has Berlin now so why is he still so hung up on her

    If promo for next ep is anything to go by things will heat up. good. :)

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