Defiance "The Devil in the Dark" Review: Bug Hunt

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Defiance S01E03 "The Devil in the Dark"

If you weren't liking Defiance before tonight, "The Devil in the Dark" was probably the nail in the coffin. And I can't say I blame you.

Last week gave us some insight into the Castithan dynamics, and how the town attempted to reconcile the cultural differences among all its inhabitants. This week was less concerned with the bigger picture and more concerned with telling us more about the Irathients by way of Irisa. It wasn't a bad approach, especially since Irisa is one of the show's primary characters, but the episode was decidedly dull. 

Apparently, Irisa suffered from visions and hallucinations in the past, visions that Nolan had chalked up to post-traumatic stress disorder, but those visions had gotten worse since they had settled in Defiance. Irisa having PTSD was believable enough, given the hints at past abuse in her life, but why her symptoms that were actually visions from the Irathients' god or gods—I haven't been able to determine whether they're mono- or polytheistic—would grow stronger after settling in the town remain a mystery to me. In any case, she was having visions of butterflies and an attack in a field, and it was not outside the realm of possibility that they were flashbacks to her childhood. Except they weren't.

The Spirit Riders, the band of marauding Irathients we met in the season premiere, returned this week, including their top hat-wearing leader, Sukar (Noah Danby). Their return also coincided with two deaths of prominent members of the town and an attempt on Christie's life at the Tarr residence. All the attacks were perpetrated by hellbugs, which looked like the mutant offspring of a lamprey and a crustacean. It turned out that the visions Irisa was having were actually of Rynn's past; Rynn is a Spirit Rider who used to live near Defiance until the two now-dead humans killed her parents and nearly killed her. Rynn was controlling the bugs through pheromones in an effort to avenge her parents.

Any of this—Irisa's visions or Rynn's desire for vengeance—might've been more interesting if the episode had given either a bit more time to breathe. Do so would not only have expanded our understanding of Nolan and Irisa's relationship, it would've strengthened the parallels that the episode's closing montage (set, of course, to a cover of the Five Stairsteps' "O-o-h Child") attempted to drive home as three fathers, one biological (Rafe) and two surrogate (Nolan and Sukar), tried to deal with the changes in their respective daughters' lives. The episode wanted it to mean something, but there just wasn't enough space in the narrative for it to have much impact, and an appropriately heavy-handed song choice couldn't make up for that.

Instead, the episode followed a more procedural- and action-oriented path, which might've been fine, but it was never very interesting or even exciting. Datak's fight with the hellbugs was resolved almost entirely off-screen, and what we did see was mostly him goading the bugs into attacking him. The attack on the hive was likewise not very compelling (malfunctioning elevators, covering themselves in hellbug crap), the weird, quasi-unsettling design for the hellbug queen aside. Even that design though, like the Volge attack in the pilot, felt sort of game-y. Was there a hellbug-related mission launched in the video game this week?

If there was one thing duller than the hunt for the hellbugs, it was the star-crossed lovers thing still going on between Christie and Alak. When's the wedding happening? Can we speed that up a bit? It doesn't help that Nicole Munoz and Jesse Rath are probably the least interesting actors on the show, and their two characters share a similar problem because they're stuck in "petulant teenagers in love" mode; it's hard to make that very engaging without spending more time with them. What's more, I have no sense of who either of them are beyond their relationship to one another.

The only sequence of any real interest in this episode was Sukar's attempt to more fully awaken and guide Irisa through her visions. None of this was particularly original in its execution—which involved chanting, bloodletting, body-painting, and powerful drugs—and it placed the Irathients very much into our conceptions of many indigenous cultures, which in turn fed into the idea of the race as untamed Others. Even Sukar's use of the top hat and his quiet, thoughtful conversation with Amanda screamed "noble savage" at us. The theft of Rynn's parents' farm and Rafe's dodgy contracts for it were just cherries on this sundae. I might not have minded the lack of originality if the show hadn't stuffed so much of it into single episode, but since it did, it felt like a bit much.



LAWKEEPER FILES

– Rafe's servant is a Liberata, so for those keeping track at home, that's every member of the Votan accounted for except for the Gulanee.

– I don't know how much Kenya got paid to pour hot grease on that guy, but however much it was, it clearly wasn't enough. I suppose it was fitting that the hellbug devoured him from the inside, though. I just wished someone had made a "I guess he was just a glutton for punishment" joke. *Puts on his sunglasses.*

– On the upside, there wasn't a "Nicky and Birch trying to destroy the town" plot this week. That being said, I was half-convinced for a bit that Nicky and Birch had manipulated Rynn into launching the hellbug assault. 

– Amands is up for re-election? Already? Wasn't she just elected? How much time has passed since the pilot? Sheesh.


What'd you think of "The Devil in the Dark"?

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