By now, I'm sure my overall ambivalence about Defiance is clear. Some weeks it's up, some week it's down, but each week, it seems like a different section of the show's viewers come forward and wonder whether I'm drinking too much while reviewing the show or not drinking enough, with their opinion of the episode in question being the deciding factor in whether my level of intoxication was optimal. The joke being, of course, that I never drink when I write my reviews; I just take decongestants instead.
Unluckily for all of you, there were no intoxicating substances involved in my viewing of "The Bride Wore Black," nor in the writing of this review. So please believe me when I tell you that I did indeed like the episode, even if I wish that a great deal of it had happened a lot sooner in the season. I'm referring, of course, to the wedding of Alak and Christie—thank goodness it finally happened!—but even more so to the flashbacks that peppered the episode. "The Bride Wore Black" was by no means perfect or without frustrations, but I'll take a likable episode when I can get it.
One of the show's key problems for me—and for some of you, based on the comments I've seen over the course of the season—is that it's very difficult to really care about anyone in Defiance. We may have some affection for Nolan and Irisa, but that feels like a given due to the amount of time we spend with them. The McCawleys as a whole are something of a mess; Kenya flits around the narrative as needed, but is pretty much always sultry; Amanda more often feels like a sidekick to Nolan than his boss; and while the scheming of the Tarrs is entertaining and bolstered by strong performances, it often just feels like antagonism for the sake of antagonism, and the show's attempts to nuance them (see: Staham) feel inconsistent at best, sudden at worst.
A good deal of this can be blamed on Defiance's refusal to consistently provide a sense of history between its characters for Nolan and Irisa—our audience surrogates—to experience. What do we know about the bad blood between Rafe and Datak? Datak wants power, and sees Rafe's mines as the way to get it. Oh, and he hates humans. Rafe is stubborn and proud, and he hates Datak, but not for xenophobic reasons. What caused all this ill will, though? Who the hell knows, but we're just supposed to roll with it since it's a big rivalry that motivates a lot of the show's plot.
Way back at the start of the season, Datak pointed out to Nolan that Nolan needed to learn about the town and how it operated if he was going to be an effective lawkeeper. There's still an immense amount of truth to that, not only with regard to Nolan's standing as the lawkeeper, but to our understanding of Defiance as a place, with people who lived there and who had lives and histories before the show started.
As a result, I wish that the search for the murderer of Hunter Bell (such an awesome name) had been a season-long arc for the series to explore, or heck, that his murder had happened shortly after the events of the show started. The case needn't have surfaced in every episode, but unlike Nicky's vague MacGuffin-hunting, it would have provided ways for us to learn about the town and its inhabitants in organic ways. A season full of flashbacks like this would've cast light on the past so as to illuminate the present. The very notion that Rafe and Datak were once on friendly-ish terms thrilled me, and it enriched their interactions in retrospect, but I found myself wishing it had happened sooner rather than later so it could've been a season-long process.
It's even a little more frustrating when you think about how many of the show's various standalone plots deal with portions of the characters' past coming back to haunt them: Nolan's old war buddy, Irisa's childhood torturer, the Castithan scientist who recognized Yewll and the human/Indogene astronaut, Connor's history with Amanda, the stolen Irathient lands that Rafe's mines were built on, and so forth. Defiance is clearly interested in fleshing out these details of its characters, but has struggled to pull everything together in a way that feels completely cohesive, both on a level of character motivation and on the level of show's story world.
The reveal of Nicky as a modified Indogene, and the shared bond between her and Yewll as being the ones responsible for the death of Hunter Bell, sort of demonstrates how the flashback paid off a character dividend in a short amount of time. It explained their history and Yewll's cold attitude toward Nicky, added an extra layer of pathos to Yewll's desire to start over and be an anonymous Indogene doctor in a backwater town, and, most importantly for this episode, provided weight to Yewll's murder of Nicky. It wasn't just a shocking twist for the sake of a shocking twist: It meant something, and that made all the difference.
It probably feels like I'm ragging on Defiance for doing something right, and I suppose I am. But instances like this one, where glimmers of potential peak through, hint at a show that could be more engaging than what is sometimes presented week-to-week, at a show with the capacity to create a more unified narrative universe, and a stronger ongoing story to better complement the standalone plots. It'd be one thing if Defiance was consistently middle-of-the-road, but when it hints at these little riches, it only seems to call attention to its other flaws.
– Irisa's formal wear? AMAZING. Still not over it. Don't think I will ever be over it. Also: I'm officially on board the Irisa/Tommy 'ship. It's cute. I want more of it. Their interactions this week only strengthened my earlier notion about them having the potential for some screwball-esque antics.
– I enjoyed the look of the flashbacks. Black and white, chiaroscuro lighting, dutch angles! The genre nerd in me salivated ever so slightly at the notion of a western sci-fi noir.
– I like Jaime Murray a lot, and I think she's good on this show show, but her transition from angry mother and wife dealing with a narrow-minded husband unable to see the bigger picture for his own vanity to coy, submissive—but still leading—mate was a thing of beauty. That shock of realization on Stahma's part that she had slipped, and her recovery with a shift in vocal tone and facial expression, was probably the most wonderfully honest moment we've seen on the show so far. More of that, please.
– "Call me old-fashioned, but I believe in a fair fight." "You are old-fashioned, right down to your choice of antique weapons." "I like to hit what I'm aiming at, and my aim isn't always too good."
– "If I can't trust you with a simple walking stick, how am I supposed to trust you with a genocidal weapon?"
What'd you think of "The Bride Wore Black"?