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