Review: Defiance Episode 1

A TV show which gets an MMO before release is certainly interesting, especially as events in the MMO will supposedly influence events in season 2 of Defiance. SyFy also seem pretty confident that Defiance will succeed, and it’s very nice to see them get excited about a science fiction show for a change.

First, a quick word about the game. Before the show was released, I had no interest in the game. It looked rather poor and the MMO aspect really put me off – MMOs can suffer lag from the usual controls, let alone being a third person MMO. Still, it’s nice to see another MMO with no subscription fee and, based on feedback I’ve heard, the controls and gameplay are actually really good, although the story in the MMO is rather bland and the characters uninteresting.

So, I went into the show not expecting much from it. I’ve been craving a new sci-fi for a while and, while this isn’t exactly what I want (a space-based one), it still has aliens and technology. So what’s the premise of Defiance?

In a nutshell: a group of alien races (known collectively as the Voltans), came to Earth to find a new home. Details are currently fuzzy on what exactly happened, but a war broke out between the humans and voltans. Throughout this war Earth got terraformed, the voltan ships were decimated. Eventually, the war got so bad that a group of defiant soldiers (both human and voltan) decided that enough was enough – civilians were in desperate need of help and the world couldn’t handle a sustained battle for much longer. So they decided to stop shooting and help people. Word of this spread and eventually a peace was formed. The town where the “defiant few” stopped the war was renamed Defiance, and is where the most of the TV series will be based.

Years later and the alien races and humans live together in small towns surrounded by badlands. These badlands are filled with monstrous creatures, savage raiders and an all manner of unpleasant things. It’s a bit like Fallout with aliens – there are various groups, towns, governments and collectives all working for power while outside of towns and cities are very dangerous.

I really like the love of Defiance. The “not quite Earth” look is wonderful (despite some really bad CGI) and it does feel like an alien places. We haven’t had a proper introduction to all the species yet, and we’ve only met a few of the ones we have encountered. I think they’ve done a really good job of them. While some of the more common species (like the Irathient and Castithan) look very close to human, it does allow them to create diverse groups without spending too much on the make up effects. On top of this, there are still unique alien races – both sentient ones and savage creatures like the Hellbugs. It also seem that, while each race has their own strengths and weaknesses, they are not confined to stereotypes. We’ve already seem the same species in vastly different roles, which makes it look like a much more realistic society.

The characters are also quite important, naturally. The main character Nolan, I’m not convinced about so far. He seems like a mix between various roguish sci-fi characters (such as Mal Reynolds and Han Solo) but it’s hard to tell if he’ll be anywhere near as interesting just yet. His adopted daughter – an Irathien called Irisa – is a “silent but deadly” type and gets annoyed pretty easily. So far, she is much more interesting than Nolan and I look forward to finding out more about her past. Next are two sisters with prominent roles in the city of Defiance – one is the mayor while one is head of the largest establishment in the city, which happens to be a brothel. A brothel with aliens. Nolan seems to be interested in both, so that could lead to some interesting situations (and a high probability of making Nolan seem like a complete dick).

Next up are two prominent families in the city. One is an honest owner of a mine, which provides many jobs. The other family is hungry for power and is full of schemes and plots. The youngest children of both families are in love with each other, which creates a kind of mix between Romeo and Juliet and Game of Thrones (especially the Lannisters, minus the incest).

The final main character so far is the city’s main doctor, an Indogene called Meh Yewll. The Indogene are a very interesting species. There are a mix of organic and technology, but not in a borg/cyborg kind of way. They have some kind of silicone skin and are the only race that can use some of the most powerful technology. Meh is a sarcastic doctor who looks down on everyone, while also being very perspective. Some of her lines are brilliant (“good human”) and she is currently my favourite character.

The culture of the show is also shown of very well, especially thanks to the music. Composer Bear McCreary has created some wonderful alien music and songs, while also inserting some human songs and alien covers of human songs. This extra background depth with the music really helps Defiance feel like a real society, and I really hope they release an album of this alien music. The main soundtrack, also done by Bear McCreary is a wonderful mix of orchestra and, of all things, dubstep. It works immensely well and the dubstep is a bit more subtle in the show than in the music for the game (I recommend getting the soundtrack). The themes are immense and a wonderfully unique sound – which is expected from such a great composer.

So, on to the plot of the pilot. I’ll keep things simple: It starts of with Nolan and his daughter chasing an “arkfall”, which is when technology from the destroyed ships in orbit falls down to Earth. They find some impressive technology, but run into trouble, narrowly escaping with their lives – they bury the technology to protect it. They get rescued by the town of Defiance and Nolan gets roped into a murder investigation, before uncovering a much bigger plot. One battle later and Nolen gets made the sheriff, in a scene straight from Terra Nova.

Overall, it was a very impressive pilot. It serves as a good introduction of the setting, lets us know the main characters and starts to build up the town of Defiance. My main problem is I’m not sure where the plot is heading, and the Terra Nova vibe of the ending is really not a good sign. I really hope it can pull through and be something special. If they rest of the series is of the same level as the pilot, then we have nothing to worry about.

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