Defiance episode 5: The Serpent’s Egg

Billy wonders how many names one character can have, in this week's Defiance...

This review contains spoilers.

1.5 The Serpent’s Egg

As a reviewer it’s worth appreciating that not all shows can hit the road running, and that greater story arcs need to be fed in once the ground rules have been created. That’s where Defiance is now, and in that respect The Serpent’s Egg is essentially a spur for some story development down the line.

The framework for hatching of these plots was a storyline as old as the hills themselves, best used in Stagecoach (1939). Except in Defiance it’s a coach that travels between outposts, and delivers the mail, among other things. Anyone who has watched that classic movie, or the many dozens of reworkings of that concept will know that there are always two threats; the obvious one, and the other not so obvious. Having Rynn on board heading to prison is the distraction, while the viper in their midst is Republic’s Ambassador Olfin Tennety (Jane McLean).

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The mix of cross and double-cross, sprinkled with the dusting of redemption for Rynn wasn’t entirely satisfying, but it served its purpose on a number of levels. First, it outlined well that Amanda’s enemies aren’t restricted to those in Defiance, as there’s clearly a highly corrupt officialdom outside that’s got her number too. But it also got Nolan out of town so Irisa and Tommy could explore a dark chapter in her history, when she first met Nolan.

What I liked most about that story section was the performance of Ben Cotton as Diago, Irisa’s nemesis. He was subtle and interesting in a way that may TV actors just can’t manage, and it made this by far the most engaging part of proceedings. 

This was the means by which Irisa’s curious statement about being saved by Nolan by murdering her parents was entirely explained, and added some new descriptions for her. Lots of shows have ‘the chosen one’, but fewer primetime ones also offer a “devouring mother”, do they? She had a bunch of other titles too, but these where the more memorable ones, and sounded less like they’d been previously attributed to Zuul in Ghostbusters.

I can understand why they didn’t give her an actual venomous snake to torture Diago with, instead providing her a more affable constricting variety, though this was technically a mistake that they repeated in the flashback.How this all relates to the artefact that McCawley found, the cave paintings and the machinations of Nicky and Birch isn’t clear, but I’d give good money that some exists to be revealed at a later date.

What these two plots boiled down to was the formation of two stronger relationships, one between Nolan and Amanda, and the other between Irisa and Tommy. It’s the latter of those that I have the biggest issue with, because the chemistry that supposedly existed there was missing in action for me.

I was also stuck that almost nothing that happened this week needed the science fiction context, it would have translated wholesale into the Wild West without much modification. While I accept that Star Trek well demonstrated that it’s really about the human story, not the tech, surely there’s more of a point to the future theme than to elevate the budget above that for making a straight western?

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Those thoughts aside, an episode that didn’t feature the Tarrs or McCawleys to any great extent was probably overdue, and will make them seem fresher when we do return to them. Defiance hasn’t yet really got going, but it’s not yet headed in an entirely dumb direction, so I’ll keep faith for the moment that it’s got a story worth telling.

Read Billy’s review of the previous episode of Defiance, A Well Respected Man, here.

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