Welcome back to Defiance, Syfy's hodgepodge of Western film tropes, immigration and culture-clash tales, alien artifact mythologizing, and uneven episodes that will cause me to like the show one week and then pretty much hate it the next! Oh, and there's still a video game tie-in that I haven't played, and probably never will. Ah, well. In any case, "The Opposite of Hallelujah" started Season 2 on the right foot for me, and for Defiance in general.
When Season 1 wrapped up, I was excited by the potential for an increased Earth Republic (E-Rep) presence in the town and on the show, and the premiere provided it right off the bat. It's been nine months since the events of the finale, and the E-Rep has established a considerable foothold in the frontier town, complete with a new interim mayor in one Niles Pottinger (James Murray).
Basically, while Defiance was on hiatus, the E-Rep was nationalizing Rafe's mines, putting up flags, and reforming the Lawkeeper office—where Tommy still works—into more of a military police. They are, to use Amanda's words, an "occupying army" that appears to have taken steps to make Defiance a profitable and important piece of the E-Rep's map. Important enough, in fact, that Pottinger's boss, Viceroy Mercado (William Atherton, who I never ever recognize without a beard these days), warned that it would be "catastrophic" if the E-Rep lost control of Defiance—and Pottinger was happy to bring down a velvet hammer on dissent after he set up two angry young miners to be eaten by hellbugs during an "escape attempt."
While I could do without the Nazi comparisons (though I've admittedly made them myself, due to how the E-Rep likes to dress some of its officers), I enjoy the character and narrative potential in Pottinger's particular brand of governance, which is all razzle-dazzle and plausible deniability. He's even a co-opter, wanting Amanda to leave her job running NeedWant (Kenya is still "missing") to serve as his chief of staff/advisor. (He's also a creeper, watching Amanda do drugs and sleep, by projecting her onto his wall.) It's good politicking to bring a recognized, generally respected face into your fold, as was the case with his decision to retain Rafe in order to keep the mines and miners in line instead of shipping him off to Camp Reverie with Datak and Yewll. An insurrection is likely brewing in Defiance, and it should make for a far more interesting battle than dealing with hellbugs, razor rain, and the Volge.
Pottinger may be new and interesting, but in terms of established and interesting, Stahma continues to reign supreme. Stahma, and Jaime Murray's performance, were the highlights of Defiance's first season for me, and if this episode is any indication, the show has recognized this particular strength as well. With Datak wasting away at Camp Reverie, waiting for Stahma to swing by with business and legal updates (and handjobs), Alak has "assumed" control of his father's criminal enterprises. While he seems to be doing okay—they're up two percent!—he's not meeting Stahma's expectations.
It shouldn't surprise you, then, that I loved Alak's hissy-fit of a confrontation with Stahma ("The man of the house is addressing you!") after his drug manufacturer made a very public display of paying back Alak's costs. It had everything I came to love about Murray's performance last season—namely perfectly timed swings from the subservient Castithan female ("It is not my place to give orders") to the force of will behind the Tarr operations ("Once again, the strong Castithan male falters, and I am left to open the airlock door myself") to doting mother ("You will have money in your pocket...")—while also supplying a wonderful example of the cultural breakdowns the Votans have experienced since arriving on Earth.
Stahma has steadily exploited fissures in the Castithan patriarchal caste system, operating as an independent agent to further the Tarr's goals, and often in secret from Datak. With him in Camp Reverie—does anyone honestly believe that Stahma has filed any appeals with the Votanis Collective? I sure don't!—she doesn't have to bother with sexy bathing times to nudge Datak to do her bidding; she can just straight-up tell Alak how it's going to be. And with the steady crumbling of the Castithan mores, she might've been able to start openly control things sooner if Yewll hadn't invited Datak to tag along in her escape. These sorts of culture clashes—both between the various species and within them—are what I like most about Defiance, and I will always want more, as the show is well-suited to exploit them.
Away from all the plots in Defiance, Nolan's been searching for Irisa—and he found her in the remains of Los Angeles, now called Angel Ark. Nolan wanted answers regarding his resurrection and his vision of Irisa interacting with the Kelavar (the Golden Pretzel) and Kaziri, and Irisa outright lied to Nolan about what'd happened: She claimed that the E-Rep had grabbed her, but she escaped and has been scrounging around in Angel Ark until she could make it back to Nolan. Couple that with Irisa's more violent than usual behavior—including imagining slicing Nolan's throat—and we're looking at quite a shift in the dynamic between the adopted father and daughter.
I'm currently treating all this with a touch of kid gloves because, while I wasn't a fan of the Golden Pretzel stuff last season, Irisa and Irzu—one of the primary Irathient deities—are somehow joined now, and I want to avoid assigning any guilt by association because of a lousy story from last season. This arc now has the potential to offer more personal drama (as opposed to the cosmic, religious, and/or conspiracy mythologizing of last season), and that has me slightly more optimistic about its potential, as it could rattle the show's characters more than prophecies and religious cults did.
And maybe I'm just more optimistic about Defiance in general, thanks to the seasonal break. That tends to happen with shows I have a lukewarm opinion toward; a hiatus kicks in, details grow a bit fuzzy, and my opinion engages in a soft reset. Of course, a show can quickly remind me of all its ups and downs—don't say I didn't warn you!—but at the moment, I'm looking forward to Defiance's second season with a mostly clean slate.
– In case you missed them (like I did), Syfy produced a handful of minisodes that fleshed out Nolan's time with a young Irisa through flashbacks during his search for her in the present day and explained how he ended up in New Chicago. The most interesting nugget to come out of them is that Nolan encouraged Irisa's interest in knives. Irisa saving Nolan in this episode functioned as a callback to a scene in the final minisode. (I hate the word minisode.)
– I didn't recognize William Atherton without a beard.
– "Want me to check you for lumps? Nope, you're good." Cute line, but decidedly icky scene, even if it was a nice illustration of Castithan patriarchy at work: They can't even be bothered to pleasure themselves.
– The episode still featured a closing montage, but it wasn't set to an awful cover of a contemporary song. It was an original, in-universe song, one I'm assuming is called "Across the Storm Divide." It's a little filk-y, but I'll take it!
What did you think of "The Opposite of Hallelujah"? What do you hope to see from Defiance in Season 2?