Defiance Season 2 Finale Review: The Best and Worst of Both Worlds

By Noel Kirkpatrick

Aug 29, 2014

Defiance S02E12 and S02E13: "All Things Must Pass" and "I Almost Prayed"

As the first half of Defiance's two-episode finale, "All Things Must Pass," drew to a close, it dawned on me that if the hour we'd just seen was all character goodness—and it most certainly was—then the second half, "I Almost Prayed," was going to be monopolized by Votan mythology nonsense... and it largely was. With this pair of very differently focused episodes, Defiance wrapped up its second season with a perfect encapsulation of its best and worst tendencies.

Defiance is likely of two minds regarding what kind of show it thinks it is, and that was clear in both "All Things Must Pass" and "I Almost Prayed." That the series actually delivered on elements like the Tarrs' slow reconciliation and actually attempted a payoff on the tensions between Tommy and Nolan demonstrates that, when it wants to, Defiance can be a strong, character-driven show that makes the most of its actors' talents, and also that they can step up and make the most of their material, even if they aren't as well-developed as they should be (looking at you, Tommy). In fact, that's the version of the show that I prefer: Human and Votan in conflict with one another because of culture and personality, not because of some spaceship that crashed sometime in 800 B.C.

But then Defiance also thinks it's a space opera—or that it's expected to be a space opera due to network requirements and branding and whatnot—with all kinds of convoluted mythology. The show didn't exactly excel on that front in Season 1, and Season 2 kept the bad times rolling, especially toward the end once the Kaziri's Arkbrain had managed to turn Irisa into its puppet. The personal stakes and responsibilities—saving Irisa, feeling guilt for killing Tommy—were pushed aside because a terraforming sphere of purple doom needed to be stopped... and then delayed until a potential third season. The Kaziri plot was never going to end in a way that satisfied or interested me as I'd pretty much given up on it, and as a result, "I Almost Prayed" was something of a slog.

These split impulses have caused Defiance to grapple with its identity, and the show often makes lousy choices when refining its focus. The E-Rep was set up as a major threat, a potential rallying point for the series's more disparate elements, including Rafe and Datak teaming up to form a rebellion. That idea withered and died on the vine. Pottinger as an ambitious E-Rep ladder-climber and antagonist for everyone else (remember when he managed to threaten and blackmail even Stahma? What happened to that Pottinger?) was scuttled in favor of Pottinger as a creeper who would do just about anything to make Amanda love him, including making an Indogene replicant of Kenya or offering Amanda the chance to kill the Tarrs as retribution for killing Kenya. Christie's struggle to make sense of Castithan society and her eventual murder of Diedre—a.k.a. Treasure Doll—was an odd detour from everything else, made even odder since Christie and Alak, for all the show's attempts to rehabilitate its characters this season, are still the weakest links, even if Alak was many times more interesting this season than he ever was in Season 1.

The issue here is that they didn't have to be the weakest links, and the E-Rep presence in Defiance didn't have to suddenly become a non-issue for its residents. All of these storylines are ripe with potential for plot and character serialization, with plenty of dramatic conflict to go around. Except, there was no time to go further with them because of the Kaziri and the Votan Rapture hogging all the oxygen. It's like when all those Lost clones hit broadcast TV in mid-2000s: The copycats believed that Lost's big mysteries were the key to the show's popularity and success, and not, as was actually the case, the way its expansive and diverse cast of characters interacted with those big mysteries. They prioritized plot over character, and thus missed the point. Defiance managed to get it right and to get it wrong, on both a series-level and an episode-level.

So if the big two-seasons-long plot was something of a waste—and I truly do not care about the Kaziri nonsense—what DID work? Well, the Tarrs, most obviously. I've been raving about Stahma all season, and while I felt that Datak seemed a bit adrift after Stahma kicked him out of the house, their reconciliation still completely worked. They do love each other, in their own marvelously twisted ways, and Jaime Murray and Tony Curran just relish playing this power couple. Their bickering and sniping as they were chained together in the silo was the perfect way for them to continue to fight for dominance and clear the air (Amanda pointing a gun at Stahma also helped, of course). And their united front in going after Pilar with Rafe in tow is pretty much the only thing I'm even remotely interested in should Season 3 become a reality.

Since I brought her up, let's talk about Pilar and the McCawleys. First: Defiance is damned lucky it landed Linda Hamilton for Pilar, because considering the limited amount of screentime that Hamilton had and what little we as an audience knew about the character, the show needed an actor capable of coming in and establishing Pilar as a person who'd lived in the town but had been gone for more than a decade, and Hamilton nailed it. That scene between Hamilton and Graham Greene while Rafe was at Camp Reverie in "All Things Must Pass" was dramatic gold, and really conveyed how much of a raw nerve Pilar is for Rafe even after everything that's happened. It was easily the best work Greene's done all season, but to be fair, it was also the first time the writers really asked him to dig deep, so he was probably ready to almost-but-not-quite cry for an entire scene.

Second: While I love that the Tarrs and Rafe are chasing after Pilar, I'm already feeling hesitant about whatever it is that Pilar and Quentin have planned for Christie, Alak, and the unborn baby. It's thankfully not as overly epic-seeming as the Kaziri stuff, so I'm hopeful, and the idea that it's somehow related to the Votan Collective also has me intrigued, but I'm skittish about Defiance's big mysteries at this point—a sentiment that I feel is totally justified. If anyone can make it work, however, it'll be those four actors and characters.

I've already voiced my disappointment over the way that Pottinger's character generally collapsed, but I'll add Amanda ending up in a relationship with Pottinger to my list of "Huh. Wait. How?" developments, because I'm not sure I really buy it, or even understand it. Pottinger has provided Amanda with drugs; implanted her with an E.G.O. device to retrieve Kenya-related memories for the Kenya Indogene replicate who would then die, leaving Amanda so distraught that she'd fall into Pottinger's arms; and given her the opportunity to actually kill the Tarrs for killing Kenya... these are just very unhealthy Valentines, Amanda. 

It's a very bizarre courtship, and I can't grasp Amanda's willingness to participate beyond her being so lonely and broken in the wake of Kenya's death that any man who's so dogged in his affection toward her seems like a viable option, even if the signs of that affection are all pretty horrible. I'm happy for emotionally complex characters, and certainly that sort of a situation would speak to a woman who's a severe state of emotional crisis, but I'm not convinced that any of that has been dramatized well enough. Amanda is tough as nails and generally pretty shrewd; how would she not see any of what Pottinger did as a dealbreaker?

Where Defiance goes after this finale, I do not know. The E-Rep is likely in disarray, and while I wish I cared about the destruction of New York or the probable shattering of the E-Rep, I just can't. Again, despite having a prime opportunity to do so, the show didn't make any moves to give us a sense of the E-Rep beyond it being a military organization that had some vague interest in Defiance. Pottinger and Mercado never worked as representatives of that organization, with Mercado mostly just existing to give us a way into that humans-dressed-as-Votans club to further the Christie stuff along. So I guess this makes Defiance the new E-Rep capital... provided there's enough of it go around?

While I'm sure Nolan and Irisa won't be trapped in that little pod forever, I sort of wish they would just stay put. At this point, the only people who'd be concerned about them would be Amanda and maybe Berlin and maybe maybe Yewll, so it's difficult to justify having folks dig them out of the ruins of St. Louis beyond Mordecai being all, "There's a bunch of folks in pods down there, maybe we should do something?" But then, he doesn't seem like the type.

Of course, it could just be that Defiance has outgrown Nolan and Irisa. They were originally our gateway to Defiance, and now that the Kaziri plot has concluded and the show has filled out its ranks with other characters, does it need either or both of them to continue? Amanda proved herself to be a pretty decent Lawkeeper last week, so if the show is determined to keep its standalone plots (and it really shouldn't be), it'd be easy enough to shift Amanda into that role. It might even shake things up in interesting ways. 

I don't expect it to happen. But I hope that, if Defiance is renewed for Season 3, it'll go smaller rather than larger and keep the focus on its characters instead of on alien spaceship conspiracies.

What did you think of the finale and Season 2 as a whole?

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  • dredscott98 Nov 29, 2014

    One off the wall scenario could be having Irisa and Nolan emerge from the pod, 100+ years later, & have them enter an entirely new and different terraformed world, with a completely reset cast and series direction....

  • marykt1 Nov 10, 2014

    One of the pivotal characters in the series is the Doc. She's got a wicked bad sense of humor, is capable of poking fun at herself and others, and in the two-part finale was able to reveal more of herself that made her a much more sympathetic person. I'm definitely hoping for a third season. I think season two was head and shoulders above season one, but it's also going to be hard to follow. I'm thinking Nolan and Irisa will find their way out of the stasis pods. Linda Hamilton's nutsy character has a lot to offer, but I'm really disappointed that Madame Mayor let herself be sucked in by the Mayor. So...Like it a lot, and would like to see what they can come up with for Season 3.

  • ChicN Oct 07, 2014

    Pottinger is Single White Female and Fatal Attraction all in one. Good. Lord. Why?

    The Rosewater women are hella naive to have survived so long in this new world. I can't with their collective shit.

    I love Nolan and Irisa, so hopefully they come back soonish, but perhaps AFTER Amanda has removed Pottinger's balls and banished him to under the stairs. I don't want anymore love triangle BS in a world where everyone seems to have embraced bisexuality, polyamory, and damn near nymphomania. Also, I could do without the will they/won't they of Amanda/Nolan. IDGAF. I really do not. Amanda as a deputy was cool though. More of that.

    I understood the Kaizri storyline, but I didn't UNDERSTAND it? Like what? Irisa and the Jewish Irath are reincarnated? Clones? How did the key make it's way back to St. Louis and the mines in the first place. So Voltans have been buried under the earth for thousands of years since the original crash or did they hang out with the Native Americans? What? Did Kaizri fuck up Pilar's, dead older son's, and baby son's (name's have left me) minds? Were they susceptible due to mental illness?

    I want more interaction with people/societies outside of Defiance. They've blown up NY and The Voltan Collective. *sigh*

    I have embraced this show as a frontier soap opera with aliens. I wish the show would make up its mind already.

  • Liria Sep 26, 2014

    I liked some things this season, and most of it was related to Stahma and I liked the Kenya thing (what happened, not the reason behind it). I think one of the things that stuck with me was Stahma asking Datak not to tell her that she didn't have to kill her.

    I hope Irisa and Nolan come back if only because I love their weird relationship.

    Overall, I hope they focus more on the characters, I don't like infighting, but I would take them teaming up against a larger threat if we actually got to see them interacting and growing instead of being all over the place.
    I didn't mind some of the Christie thing, and I now think she's crazy, haha. Having said that, Stahma laughing when she figures out it was Christie was another cool moment for me.

  • albertotuican Sep 14, 2014

    Well, what can I say? The season ends in cliffhangers about, there is no renewal OR cancellation for season 3, and New York is gone (cause why not; it's clearly not "first city that gets destroyed" in so many other movies and shows).

    Honestly, I feel like it's starting to drag on, and I'd like for it not to turn into a six season show. I guess a third season would be fine, but I would've liked to see more closure at the end of this season, not additional problems that need to be resolved (e.g. what happens to Nolan and Arisa, where is Christie being taken, what is gonna happen to the E-Rep with NYC gone?). Oh, and what about Amanda's decision to sleep with Pottinger? Seems a bit weird if you ask me, especially given all that Pottinger has done; I would've rather seen some truth out of him rather than "I didn't make a clone, my totally guilty alien friend here did!"

    Oh well, guess we'll find out what happens next season, if there is one...

  • Mackdpaul Sep 10, 2014

    As there is so little proper Sci-Fi on TV (as opposed to Fantasy) I really liked Defiance. All the ways the two sides of the conflict have to find to live after the wars is fascinating and the characters all seem real. The Kaziri arc made sense to me and I liked that Doc Ewell confirmed that the Indogene programmed the ship's brain in the first place.

    By the way...does anyone know who's version of "Satan, your kingdom must come down" is playing at the end...? I assume it is Robert Plant...?

  • rexall Sep 06, 2014

    I loved "Defiance" and I hope there is a third season which I will watch avidly. Some elements (but only some) represent some of the best SF on teevee ever.However, "Defiance" is an imperfect, uneven effort, all the more disappointing because some of it is so damn good and has such potential. I could never quite put my finger on why at the end of each episode, I felt simultaneously frustrated and at the same time eager for the next episode.I knew it had "something" to do with plot elements that disappeared into dead ends, and characters who oddly changed personalities and motivations, and behaved inexplicably "out of character."However, Kirkpatrick's thorough analysis gets it just about right for me; the uneasy and unsatisfying relationship between the "space opera" and the "soap opera," essentially two different shows, and as Kirkpatrick notes, the soap opera is the much more interesting and compelling of the two, at least for me.I too hope that season 3, if there is one, goes smaller, not bigger.

  • davidhhamburger Sep 04, 2014

    I'm not expecting another season, despite their not having made any announcement yet. You'd think that if they were canceling it, they would have promoted it as the series finale so that they could maybe get a bit more ratings from casual viewers who might want to see how it all ends.

    But the act that throughout the episodes, they had the little ID tag in the corner that said "Defiance Finale", not season finale makes me think that the odds are pretty low of it coming back.

    Storywise, everything with Irisa was boring as hell this season, even though it was meant to be a major storyline. Nolan's and Amanda's storylines weren't much better, but they weren't. Couldn't they have done something more interesting with a character becoming a drug addict? Even Rafe's family drama was pretty boring this season.

    Luckily, the Tarr's made up for it in spades. Stahma and Datak were the main reasons to tune in, and Alak and Christie were fairly interesting this season, too. If the show goes, it's mainly the Tarr's I'll miss. Maybe they could get a spinoff? With the show's ratings, it's unlikely.

  • bluemorphotat Sep 04, 2014

    I liked both eps but I do agree the series has been rather uneven... like a teenager with an identity crisis.

    Second season has been amazing and Murray & Curran together are a blast though! Could it be than S3 (if it happens) is the best season yet?

    I liked Linda Hamilton! That scene between her and Greene was really strong, I was very pleasantly surprised! I think Green liked Hamilton a lot too LOL! (his twitter acct had very nice comments)

  • Llostris Sep 03, 2014

    I have to say I liked the two last episodes Defiance's season 2 (series finale?) - with the exception of Pilar. I love Linda Hamilton ever since I saw her in the original Terminator - but recently I just can't stand her. I didn't like her as Valkyrie in Lost Girl - and Pilar wasn't any better.

    Since Amanda chose Pottinger (WHY?!) she's lost to me. Now I only care about Stahma, Berlin, Irisa and Nolan (and Yewll as comic relief). Everyone else can die.

    I'm glad they finished Kaziri plot arc. Poor New York :(

    I think the best scene was Berlin facing the firing squad. I knew they wouldn't kill her (cause they had already killed stupid Tommy - and one death per season finale is enough) but still it was so surreal. And once Stahma and Co saved her she started to histerically laugh. Good stuff.

    Since for me Irisa and Nolan are the two main characters I can't imagine season 3 without them. However, if Syfy cancells the show I won't be very angry. If they end the series now - at least Irisa and Nolan will always be together.

    The best quote of the season finale:

    "Did you just hack my imaginary wife?"

    Yewll is like Defiance's version of Hanna from PLL - she gets the best one liners.

    Thanks for Defiance season 2 reviews Noel. Remember that Star Wars Rebels is starting October 3. I'm counting on you man - DO NOT DISAPPOINT ME.

  • gurubujenkins Sep 03, 2014

    "Since Amanda chose Pottinger (WHY?!) she's lost to me. Now I only care about Stahma, Berlin, Irisa and Nolan (and Yewll as comic relief). Everyone else can die."

    lol I laughed when I read that - good comment. Although what about Datak you can't kill the dad he has some good intentions! and he's an awesome character who doesn't take any shtako :P I wouldn't mind seeing Sukar again (he might be still alive as well as the others in those hybernation pods).

  • Llostris Sep 03, 2014

    I loved Sukar in season 1. In season 2 - not so much. If he returns in season 3 - I hope he will regain some of his former awesomness.

    As for Datak he represents everything that is wrong and oppressive in Castithan's society. I hate his guts.

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