Defiance pilot episode review

Review Billy Grifter 16 Apr 2013 - 13:00

Billy checks out new Syfy post-alien invasion series Defiance, and likes some of what he sees...

This review contains spoilers. Our spoiler-free review is here.

1.1 Pilot

What's fascinating about sci-fi shows is that they're invariably influenced by others in the genre. Right from the start of Defiance we're bombarded with references to many things, like a buffet where the host couldn't decide if they wanted to serve Chinese or pizza, and so threw it, along with curry and sushi all on the same plate. Defiance gives us Mad Max over Firefly, with a side order of Shakespeare and the general ambience of a thousand cowboy movies rolled into one.

As with any overly ambitious cuisine there are parts that work well, and others you'd push to the edge of the plate. But, it all starts well enough. After watching the whole thing, the strongest part for me was the introduction of the main characters, Nolan and Irisa. There is a definite chemistry here, and the way that their relationship isn't initially revealed gives them an element of mystery and dynamism.

After being ambushed scavenging a crashed ship, the pair is rescued by the good people of Defiance, a town with a complete range of misplaced aliens and hapless humans. At this point the writers start throwing new characters at the screen at a rate of one every thirty seconds or so, with little time offered to absorb their personas or allegiances. That's a shame because some of the acting talent there is decent, and very few of the characters get much scene space to inhabit for long.

Of these the strongest are Datak and Stahma Tarr, played by Tony Curran and the lovely Jaime Murray respectively. They're presented as Machiavellian aliens plotting their revenge on those that have slighted them. They're the Montagues in this reworking of Romeo & Juliet, and the Capulet house is the numerous McCawley clan.

That's one part, and another involves referencing town hall politics, with Julie Benz's Major Amanda Rosewater, the soccer mom she does so well. In watching her, I was trying to forget her role in No Ordinary Family, but it was difficult because this isn't a radical departure.

The problem that the pilot wrestles with is that for all the characters to be introduced - and there are at least ten - they're forced to be firmly caricatures, with quickly identifiable traits and personalities. In some cases the characters are obvious clichés, like the whore with a heart, the doctor with no bedside manner, the son living in the shadow of his father, and the manipulative mother. The hope is that they'll get more interesting, but they're pretty much blank sheets from the outset, and possibly intentionally so.

The plot is the same cowboy classic that sci-fi used themselves with Eureka, where the stranger comes to town, the Sheriff is killed, and he takes the job because he's the only person who can. This is always a story about redemption, where he's not trusted, and even people are working against him until they realise his real worth.

Exactly who the alien creatures are that intend to occupy Defiance are is kept pretty vague, as is exactly what it is that they wanted to acquire there, but they do look pretty threatening even in CGI.

I need to comment about effects in Defiance, because in this show they range from being really quite excellent to diabolically bad. The city scenes are the most impressive, and give a strong impression of the sprawling and labyrinthine nature of the environment. I'm still not sure how the St. Louis Gateway Arch could have survived geological upheavals that put five hundred foot hills on what was once a flat plain, but it all looks rather impressive.

When the effects were used for back-projection in vehicles however, it just didn't work at all. Some of the final battle also looked remarkably false, and their choice to stage it in the dark seemed creatively tactical. This pilot was effects-heavy, possibly too much so, and I hope they don't expose their limited budget the same extent in normal running episodes. As with all opening episode, resolution is never what it seems, it's only the opening gambit in a wider game.

My overall reaction is that I liked some characters, and relationships, but that Defiance has some work to do in convincing us that this isn't another genre dressed up as science-fiction. What we've been presented so far is unashamedly Deadwood set in the future, where aliens replace the dregs of society, and everyone has their own special imperative.

It's far too early to call Defiance. I've seen some great pilot episodes that then spawned abysmal shows, and conversely poor starts that eventually delivered. Unless they blew the show's whole budget on the first episode, it has promise. Let's leave it there for the time being.

Read our interview with Defiance producer and director, Michael Nankin, here.

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Disqus - noscript

I agree that the show has some promise, and I think Defiance has a lot of potential to keep viewers hooked on it for quite some time. Because I work at DISH, I was thrilled to get my hands on a Hopper DVR when it was released, and I’ve been blown away by it as a DVR ever since. I like how I can use my Hopper DVR from DISH to record up to 6 shows at once during primetime hours. I use this technology to help minimize DVR conflicts so that I won’t miss episodes of Defiance.

I think I read somewhere (or did I dream it?) that it wasn't the original Arch, but was rebuilt. Though how and why they could do that and not make paved roads is another story...

Dude shut up, no one cares about your stupid Hopper advertisement.

Watched it, loved it, looking forward to more!

Thanks for the review, please let me say;

Your review is well written and clever enough to make me chuckle aloud a couple times at your observations. You nailed the collaboration of story elements in your opening paragraph, aptly described some of the shows special effects and described the roles of the main characters (as cliches) justifiably enough.

I do have a caveat though,

You really went a whole level deeper with your critique of the show, as a good critic should I suppose. However it seems that you didn't appreciate some elements of the show based on an almost mathematical assessment.

The roles as cliches, the story elements, the comparability of plot devices to other shows, I didn't notice them while watching, I was simply enjoying as I think most viewers do, and nothing else out there compares with the hard core sci-fi elements and sci-fi action.

The only times I found the special effects detrimental were the fully CGI'd car chase scene and driving scenes. A real vehichle should have been green screened or whatever those cats do to add in a real object to a digital environment. I thought the rest was great, final battle included.

Sorry to pick at your excellent review, I just think that the average viewer may not notice things the way that a critic does, and I thought this show was excellent, and the best sci-fi out there now.
More please!! :)

Hey man, take your shi+ elsewhere

I will certainly not be recording this on my Hopper DVR. It's shite.

it was utter crap !

will never watch again ...

cheap scenario, cheap acting, boring direction....

exactly!

some promise??? lol it's just same crap as ever from syfy/usa

Bad FX, cardboard characters, forehead aliens, predictable story based on clichéed interactions in a wider setting with some room for development. It's almost like early Star Trek! I think I might like it.

Not sure if I saw the same show as you, Billy. The one I saw was the dull Terra Nova rehash with generic aliens running all over the place (at least I think they were aliens), "biomen" (WTF?), and crappy music ripped from the Fallout soundtrack. All they needed was a giant lizard and you'd never be able to tell the two shows apart. Stopped watching Terra Nova before they yanked it. I doubt I'll be sticking around to watch its feeble twin brother.

Yeah...to me it was if they tried to cram everything they saw in Sci-Fi 101 into this. Lots of Firefly homages with bizarre characters out of Mechwarrior. I mean, there are things about it that I like..but there were too many well worn themes without making a lot of sense. And the aliens looked pretty bad too. There was enough to make me at least curious, but tons to quibble with. I guess we'll see how it evolves.

Meh..... Just bring back Firefly ;-)

BORED!!!!! didnt even watch the end, removed from series link.

to be be honest, I though I was watching Bigfoot & the Hendersons meets Firefly.
shows a bit of promise though.

The average viewer doesn't notice the things that a critic does - which is why critics exist!

This wasn't the worst pilot I've ever seen, by a long chalk. But it wasn't great. Bookending voiceover infodumps are always clunky, and there was far too much box-ticking. Every woman unrealistically sexualised? Check! Han Solo-style attack of conscience before the final battle? Check! Robotic sex scene? Check! Play for break-out comic relief character (the doctor)? Check!

I think I'll watch the next one, see how it settles in, focuses on a few ideas and characters each week, and develops the arc that was hinted at in the pilot's final scene. I do like the idea of a 'frontier town' filled with competing interests, always at risk of annihilation; as the setting for a crime procedural/murder-mystery/'Gunsmoke of the future' show, it could be really engaging. Though I think it's unlikely that this is the direction the show will go in, seeing as it's supposed to tie in with an MMO game and sell lots of lovely subscriptions.

Cliched. Amateurish. Dull. Poorly written. Badly acted. Insultingly stupid with respect to the sci aspect of scifi. Absolutely one of the worst things I have ever watched; couldn't even get last the half way point of the episode. Just bad, bad, bad all the way. Ugh.

It's promising i think. Sure it's hardly original, but there's little originality in sci-fi anymore. The lead actors are likable and the writing is decent. But they need to up the CGI budget because some of the effects are so bad they even make Dr Who look good!

I think I can summarize it a bit as follows, mostly agreeing with the reviewer:

- I feel st. Louis was used as an excuse just to show an impossibly-still-standing Arch with pieces missing.
- Main character reminded me a LOT of Sheriff Jack Carter in Eureka
- Overall pace felt also like Eureka. Danger, drama, with bits of humor. SyFy TV formula?

- The alien race NAMES are a bit of a letdown:
=Castithans as in 'upper caste'
=Irathient as in 'ire, rage'
=Sensoth as in 'sloth'
=Volge as in... 'vulgar?'

- CGI looked average to weak, C to C- sadly reminiscent of so many 'made for SyFy' movies

- The plot felt a bit heavy at times. Not that I don't like substance in science fiction but it seemed a lot. I mean, the main alien Datak plotting with his wife "to encourage the romance of his kid with the human so that they would marry, then kill her father so in the end he could control the mines"? That´s a loooooong evil plan, dude.

All in all, interesting, but since it's a visual media, CGI NEEDS to improve. And skip the Sheriff Carter humor for Godsake. This project should have a formal seriousness to it, an edge.

Take a big pot,throw in every sci-fi and western scenario you can find, sprinkle liberally with cliches an - presto! Defiance. Seriously though, it was very disappointing. Not bad per se, just very dull and predictable.

I enjoyed it, although I really couldn't care less about the Romeo & Juliet storyline. I really liked the opening sing-a-long scene, and I hope that Irisa gets a chance to look like she's having fun again rather than mope and growl all the time.

Omg, the CGI for the roller in the beginning of the show was TERRIBLE. I was cringing so hard, why couldn't they just actually BUILD the darn thing? Everything else was pretty cool. My favorite was the bike scene during the battle. Loved the angles and the CGI. Other than that, the story was ok. Nothing new but then again its tough nowadays to come up with something that we haven't all seen before. At least the world's premise is original somewhat.

The MMO doesn't have a subscription model.

It was OK, but lots of cliches, I will watch again though.

Within 2 minuets the show showed it had no subtly, revealing the narrator as non human was done horrendously brutishly. within 10 the thing shows it has nothing new in story Blam Kaylee got shot in the stomach flee or Dr Tam won't save her! and within 20 it confirms there is nothing visually interesting, Sparkle vampire Emo aliens, greys with out of place accents and warewolves.

Oh and of course lightsabers, why wouldn't you have lightsaber wannabes when you are "paying homage" to so many other better shows.

I'm surprised I didn't see a sign saying good dogs.

I would rather watch the Phantom menace than see this again.s

It was enjoyable enough, a bit stereotypical at times but i suppose they've got to establish the setting and throw a bunch of characters at us and hope they make an impression.

Kinda surprised the "Romeo & Juliet" type plot gets semi-resolved so quickly.

Also i sort of felt that the movie couldn't decide if it wanted to have Defiance be some last bastion of civilization or Bartertown.

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