Defiance is a bit of a hodgepodge of disparate parts, including Star Wars, Farscape, Firefly, Babylon 5, and a touch of Eureka. Wild aliens, fun but clichéd characters, and occasionally good but predicable plots comprise this lavishly over-produced two hour pilot that makes some of those elements work, but not all of them.
We are introduced to two of our leads right away (Nolan and Irisa), and the scene where they were introduced was probably my favorite part in the entire two hours. Not that there weren't good moments throughout, but there was just so much going on that for the most part it was hard to have a quiet moment between two characters like that first scene.
With at least fifteen primary and secondary roles, all with complicated interpersonal connections, it was a lot to sort out. I liked the performances, which were pretty good all around. Though no one stood out as great, no one stood out as outright bad, either. There were several instances of cringe-worthy dialogue, but for the most part, the writing wasn't bad at all.
Nolan (Grant Bowler) and his adopted daughter Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas) were my favorite characters right away. I also liked Brothel Matron Kenya (Mia Kirshner) and Mayor Amanda (Julie Benz), and the sarcastic Doctor Yewll (Trenna Keating) was a hoot. The rest, well, we'll see. It was clear that all of the characters were well defined, and their back stories were obviously fleshed out. A lot of time was spent figuring out how this town and world worked, and it showed, even though most of the characters were just slightly divergent versions of classic western and scifi archetypes.
Occasionally, some of the CGI was jarringly bad. The giant furry alien guys (Sensoth) were so clearly prosthetics that I doubt I will ever be able take them seriously. There were also some creature effects that were just poorly designed, like the bug wolf things at the beginning, that looked very fake even though their animations weren't horrible. All of it had a wild alien feel without falling into the wackiness of Farscape (although it was clear Rockne S. O'Bannon was in charge).
As for the plot, it was all over the place. The first half was all set up. The second half was all resolution. Except, did they need to resolve so much? Not only did we get stingers for all the big plot elements, we had a massive battle sequence, the breakdown and reunion of our primary duo, and a the reveal of an overarching plot that doesn't make a lick of sense yet.
I keep coming back to the old adage, 'less is more'. I think the right words to describe the major problems with this pilot are: too much. Too many aliens, too many plots, too many characters, and too many things that pulled me out of my immersion. Sure, it was grand, but what was the cost of that grandness? Did we lose some meaty character interactions because of all the plot and action sequences? We have all these good actors and they are inhabiting characters that could be very interesting, but unfortunately, I think they were a bit lost under the weight of excess.
Arkfall was an event in the past that destroyed/terraformed the Earth.
33 years have passed since the Aliens have arrived. 15 years have passed since the end of the Pale Wars, which ended when a group of soldiers laid down their arms and helped refugees instead of continuing to fight. These soldiers are called the 'Defiant Few'. Nolan is one of them.
Antarctica is rumored to be a paradise.
The Romeo and Juliet plot feels a bit forced, but at least it wasn't cringe-worthy. I did like Stahma (Jamie Murray) convincing Datak (Tony Curran) that the marriage could be used to take down their competitor Rafe (Graham Greene).
The book-ended songs were really nice. I particularly loved the final moment, even if the reveal was a bit out of left field.
Further shades of Farscape with the introduction of our first Alien swear word in the first few minutes of the show.
I guess what it boils down to is this; this was a wildly ambitious and fascinating attempt at a scifi world that tried too hard to do too much, too fast. I almost feel like I've already watched the first season. Still, it is an interesting premise, and it had a lot of good points mixed in with the bad. There was definitely enough to pique my interest, and I will be tuning in next week to see what happens next. Which I guess is exactly what a pilot is supposed to do.
2 1/2 out of 4 Giant organic robot men with off switches in their butts.
(Here is a cheat sheet of alien races that appear on the show on IMDB.)
J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related. He reviews Arrow and Farscape and cool new movies that strike his fancy.