Last week, I struggled with the unevenly baked father-daughter focus of "The Devil in the Dark," especially since the episode tried to rush the significance of it with a heavy-handed montage sequence. This week, well, the thematic heavy-handedness continued, but at least it was more evenly ladled over the episode. And, to be honest, I'm actually pretty impressed that this week's closing sequence wasn't set to a cover of Aretha Franklin's "Respect." Truth be told, I really don't mind a heavy-handed approach so long as it's also entertaining and/or interesting, and "A Well-Respected Man" was, by and large, interesting and occasionally entertaining.
So, yes, this episode was all about respect, and the privileges that it grants and the problems that not having it—or not showing it—can cause. Respect is a valuable thing in a town like Defiance, where lots of people are plotting and scheming, where working at a cross-purpose is a normal occurrence. It also has personal ramifications, though, and through those ramifications, we learned about Amanda and Kenya.
Back in the pilot, questions arose about the challenges that Amanda being mayor and Kenya being the town madame would cause, and understandably so. It would appear that the situation has caused some issues, as Amanda was accosted by an angry wife, but, hey, if prostitution is legal in Defiance, I guess there's not much that can be done about it short of the referendum process. Provided, of course, that Defiance has a referendum process.
More interesting than that encounter between Amanda and the jilted wife, however, is what that confrontation stirred up between the two sisters. Amanda and Kenya haven't spent much time together since the pilot, so their relationship has remained something of a question mark. While they initially seemed to get along well enough, it would appear that that was more due to the fact that at the time, everyone was probably going to die; their relationship was decidedly more strained this week, with Amanda being super judge-y about Kenya's occupation, and Kenya being annoyed that Amanda has a stick up her butt about, well, everything that Kenya does.
I admit that I would've liked the tension between them to have played out a bit more across a few episodes, or just to be better established prior to this episode. As it stands, their conflict is more of a one-off that's provided some character background instead of offering much in the way of character development—though Kenya did learn new things about her sister and, more importantly, about their mother, I'm not sure that counts as progress, since we barely know either of them.
At least we did get to understand their histories a bit more, which in turn helps us understand them. Amanda's dedication to helping others really came through in the flashbacks that showed her desire to protect Kenya from the truth about their abandonment-happy mother (or survivalist, if you're feeling charitable, I suppose)—and the scenes also revealed that she's not the best at ironing out the details, i.e., the Saint Finnegan's pendant. That sort of inattention to the fine print, while okay when dealing with a grieving kid who doesn't know any better, feeds back to her inability to keep the town council in line when they decided to smuggle weapons under her nose and Nolan failed to inform her about his raid of said weapons. Neither the council nor Kenya respects Amanda; they only see her as a placeholder/less-than-good replacement for a predecessor. Amanda has an inner-strength, but it needs nuturing if she's going to be a real leader.
However, Amanda's actions made a big impact on Kenya, even with their lack of finesse. Kenya cares for Kiera, the employee she was abducted alongside, like she's a sister; Kenya even offered up the pendant not once, but twice over the course of the episode, mirroring her sister's earlier actions to provide some comfort from the phantom Volge pursuit (I'll get to the maze in just a second). She wasn't even out to fire Kiera from Need/Want; instead, she provided the opportunity to clean herself up from the drugs and the stealing from customers.
Okay, the maze. Like the hellbug hive last week, it felt like a tacked-on sci-fi/action element that didn't really belong in the episode, and the presence of a Volge made it feel all the more out of place (then again, we know so little about the Volge that maybe a random one wandering around isn't out of the ordinary?). However, unlike the hive story, the maze plot was salvaged a bit by the reveal that it was all a virtual reality stimulation. It wasn't just there to add another neat sci-fi/action piece, either: The maze's "danger" would produce the chemicals needed for the synthetic adrenaline drug. It was a motivated bit of technology, and I always appreciate that sort of thing.
One other thing that was improved from the last couple of weeks was the lack of a "The Tarrs are deviously devising!" scene. Stahma and Datak didn't have a moment where we saw Stahma explain that she should go see Amanda to get Datak a seat on the council, nor was there a scene where she instructed Datak to put on that big show when Nolan and Amanda showed up at the house.
As a result, everything folded together much nicer than previous bits of their planning had in previous episodes. Datak's wounded-pride speech was motivated by the apparent snubbing by the council due to Nolan busting up the arms smuggling, but it also ended up playing into the schemes to better position the Tarrs to gain control of the town, thanks to Stahma's ability to properly manipulate the situation. So when she and Nolan shared an exchange at the end of the episode—"You know, I've had my eye on the wrong snake. You're the dangerous one." "You're very sweet."—it was actually the perfect way to end the hour: with the giving and acknowledgment of respect.
Episode 1: "Pilot": 3 stars (out of 4)
Episode 2: "Down in the Ground Where Dead Men Go": 3 stars
Episode 3: "The Devil in the Dark": 2 stars
Episode 4: "A Well-Respected Man": 2.5 stars
In other words, pretty average. I wouldn't necessarily recommend Defiance to someone without knowing their science-fiction leanings, and if I weren't reviewing it, it would probably slip into my Friday-night catch-up queue. It hasn't really made itself appointment viewing for me.
But I would still be watching it, and that's the important takeaway, I think. I find the idea of the show, this Western + sci-fi + immigrant story mash-up, interesting enough that I want to see how it goes. While I'm not interested in Nicky's plan for the town, how that golden knot figures into things, or the relationship between Christie and Alak, the rest of the show generally holds my attention week to week. There are plenty of episodes left in the season, however, so there's plenty of time to become more invested... or less so.
– Rafe and Quentin were also mixed up in the episode's thematic emphasis, with the latter was looking for it from Rafe, especially now that Luke's dead. It was fine enough, and I liked that Rafe showed his son the respect he wanted by showing up the golden knot that Luke has. It also led to them discovering all sorts of odd glyphs in the mine shaft, and so that plot marches on.
– Last week I was wondering why Amanda was up for reelection when she'd just been made mayor, but it turns out that it was by appointment due to Nicky's retirement, not an actual election. All of this means that we probably have an election episode coming soon, and I am really looking forward to political shenanigans.
– The fact that the ice cream truck's music and speaker still worked amused me to no end.
– "When you people look at me, you see a wild dog, a fierce, unpredictable beast, occasionally useful when you need to smuggle illegal weapons or find a missing person, but best kept on a short chain. He's known to bite. If you truly saw me as a citizen, you wouldn't have brought this blunt instrument to yank me from my sleep and lay hands on me in front of my family. You think you're better than me. You lack respect. And that is why I will not help you find your sister."
– "But, for the record, I had no intention of whispering in that disgusting man's ear." Nolan's breakdown of that situation with the Bioman's... partner (?) was a highlight of the episode for me.
– "I'm going to kill Ulysses."
– Speaking of Ulysses, will that many bullets kill a Bioman, or is he going to recover? I have to imagine that Datak is going to miss the big blue guy on some level.
– Montage song: Bob Dylan's "Scarlet Town."
– Tomorrow afternoon at 2pm, we're going to be hosting a "Twitterview" with Defiance EP Kevin Murphy, and we want to know what you think we should ask him. If there's anything you'd like us to address, please leave it in the comments on this page or post it here!
What'd you think of "A Well-Respected Man"?