Set 33 Years after several alien species (called Votan) arrive at Earth looking for a habitable planet after theirs was destroyed, the world is a different place. Jeb Nolan (Grant Bowler), a veteran of wars that were fought in those 33 years, is now a drifter, travelling with his adopted alien daughter Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas), searching for salvage that will make them enough money to buy travel to Antarctica, now a tropical paradise due to alien terraforming. Scavenging parts from the wreckage of an alien ship that recently fell out of orbit, Nolan and Irisa run into trouble from a group of bandits. Escaping with Irisa injured, the two travel on foot through the woods, and are saved from predators by the lawkeeper of the nearby Defiance (formerly St. Louis), a town where humans and the different races of the Votan live together.
Brought to the town, Nolan observes the townspeople as they celebrate the new mayor Amanda (Julie Benz) taking office, supported by the town’s two main community leaders, Rafe McCawley (Graham Greene) whose human family owns the local mine, and Datak Tarr (Tony Curran) an Votan whose family controls the local fighting and gambling ring. When Rafe’s son is killed, the murder escalates rivals between the two families, and he attacks Datak’s son Kupack, believing him to be the murderer. When Kupack is proven innocent, Nolan offers his services as an experienced tracker to find the killer.
Defiance is the companion series to the video-game of the same name that was released on April 2nd for PC, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Season 1 will comprise 13 episodes and the events in the series will be reflected in the game world. For this reason, the show is being shown in the U.K. and other territories on the same day that it is shown in the U.S. without the usual lengthy delays.
Unfortunately, as the series is a companion to the game, there’s a lot that is left unexplained and it’s hard to tell whether this is intentional to tie in with the game world or if it’s a sign of problems elsewhere with the show’s development and writing, that will have to be determined in future episodes as the show progresses. We have no real explanation of the different alien races that make up the Votan. Narratively speaking, for this setting up a now alien Earth for the viewer to be interested in following each week, there isn’t much at all. There’s a vague voiceover from Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas) at the beginning, but it doesn’t set up the world we’re about to see, and feels particularly lacking of detail.
In fact, the opening shots of a young Nolan in St. Louis as the alien ships appear above through the clouds is all we get to see of the aliens’ arrival. The pilot episode then jumps ahead 33 years to wreckage in orbit of Earth without ever explaining why there’s wreckage there or what actually happened other than the words “33 Years Later, Terraformed Earth” appearing on the screen, as a large piece of the wreckage drifts out of orbit and crashes down. Then we’re introduced to Nolan as the main character, driving along strange looking terrain in front of pretty poor green screen as he tracks the debris.
None of the characters are especially memorable, even the central character doesn’t particularly stand out, and there’s a sense once we get to the town of Defiance that the writers are attempting to establish a sort of narrative of the politics in the town like we’ve seen in other shows like Game Of Thrones (in particular a scene between Datak Tarr (Tony Curran) and his wife Stahma Tarr (Jaime Murray) in a bath where she manipulates him regarding the town’s events), and it just brings what little motion the pilot has going for it to a standstill.
The special effects are passable at times, but overall very distracting. Being that this is a SyFy Original Series as we’re reminded at the episode’s start, the expectations of the special effects wasn’t great, but this isn’t even as good as you’ve seen on some other SyFy series, in fact it’s even worse at times than someone of the SyFy monster movies of the week, which are usually pretty piss-poor. At times the pilot comes off feeling exactly like that. Later on in the episode, when an alien army attacks Defiance, the effects of the army are that poor that you really have difficulty believing them.
As already stated, Defiance is a companion show to the game, and the pilot seems under no illusion that it’s trying to be anything more than that, it doesn’t really have a sense of being a proper show, and as someone who hasn’t played and has no intention of playing the game, I doubt that there will be enough to keep an audience satisfied. It’s a real shame, as it’s been given a two hour pilot episode, more than shows get nowadays, and could have been a great launch of the series, but instead makes for a disappointing watch.
Defiance airs in the UK 9pm, Tusday 16th of April on SyFy.