We’re sure there’s some spider web metaphor going on here…
Writers: Craig Gore, Tim Walsh Director: Michael Nankin
THE ONE WHERE Nolan, Irisa and Tommy bust an illegal arms ring that isn’t; Quentin clashes with his father; Amanda and Kenya confront the different ways they approach life just in time for Kenya’s to be put in mortal danger; and Datak Tarr goes up in the world…
VERDICT Looking at the title of this episode, it’s easy to assume that the episode will focus on Datak Tarr and it does, sort of. Every incident we see is wrapped up in Tarr’s dealings, from the opening arms deal, to the ongoing mystery surrounding the murder of Rafe’s son, to the final discovery that Quentin and Rafe make in Shaft L7. However, while everyone’s favourite Castithan underworld boss is front and centre, the episode is actually about Stahma Tarr, Amanda Rosewater and her sister Kenya, and the impact they have on the lives of everyone in town. Especially Datak.
To begin with, this is the episode I’ve been waiting as regards Mayor Amanda Rosewater. She’s come across as dangerously ineffectual at a couple of points earlier in the season, but here Julie Benz has an opportunity to show exactly how tough a Mayor she is, even though she’s feeling out of her depth. The casual reveal that the council went behind her back to Datak for arms (and that Rafe knew about it, further confirming his new-found – well we won’t call it fondness, how about lack of blistering hatred? – for Datak) makes both her and Nolan look bad, and she spends much of the episode with that realisation clearly sinking in. Instead of getting angry, though, Amanda does exactly what the council did and goes to Datak when she needs help.
Which he refuses.
That scene, and Datak’s blisteringly accurate dismissal of how the town sees him, is arguably the strongest moment in the series so far, and in this episode that’s saying something. In order, this episode features:
• An arms deal gone slightly bad
• Kenya and one of her Night Porters (which is surely the most poetic name for sex worker we’ve seen in genre fiction) being kidnapped by Ulysses, the Bio Man from the first episode to have their adrenalin farmed for use in an illegal variant of a combat drug Nolan may have taken
• Quentin and Rafe McCawley clashing over the new family dynamic and discovering something very odd in Shaft L7 at the mine.
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first; there’s barely any screen time for Irisa and Tommy, and none at all for Doc Yewll.
Then again, all that’s balanced up by sex. A lot of it. And not just in the NeedWant, the function of which in the town is put under the spotlight for the first time. Sex is notoriously difficult to handle well in genre fiction, but this episode manages no less than four different, subtle examinations of it.
Kenya’s suggestion that Nolan stop paying her for his visits is as sweet as it is worrying to her, and signals a pretty serious step in their relationship that neither of them want to look in the eye. It’s to the show’s credit as well that the threatened love triangle between Nolan and the Rosewater sisters has yet to appear. It may still, and there’s a good chance it’ll be interesting to watch but having a show like this not go down that route is actually a refreshing change.
As is the completely offhand, open way, Defiance deals with sexuality. Not only is the A-plot instigated by a female resident complaining that the female prostitute she was with stole from her, but it also gives the Bio-Man from the pilot a name (Ulysses!), a personality (meek and a little child-like) and a sexual preference (men, especially older Castithan ones).
Defiance deals with sex – paid for or free, heterosexual or homosexual – exactly the same way; with intelligence and honesty. Given how little TV SF is this progressive, the show deserves flat out applause for this element of the episode. The sexual politics and preferences of Defiance’s lead residents are central to the episode and arguably its other highlight is the scene between Stahma and Amanda. Stahma’s spirited, sincere defence of Kenya is genuine and real, showing Kenya, Stahma and Datak all in very different lights. Suddenly, you see the Tarrs as people who are genuinely alien but fundamentally have the same needs and wants as the rest of us.
Then Stahma twists the knife. Datak will help in return for a seat on the council. Lady Macbeth gets out her terrifying triangular Castithan knitting and patiently waits for Amanda to realise she’s been completely outmanoeuvred.
This constant jockeying for power leads to all the main characters having moments of absolute clarity. For Nolan, it’s realising that Datak has set him up to look like an ineffectual thug during an interrogation, and carefully stepping away from the trap. That level of gamesmanship is made all the more fascinating by Datak openly admitting to it, and clearly reassessing the new Defiance lawkeeper as he does so.
For Kenya, the moment of clarity comes when she realises that the increasingly terrifying situation she’s in can’t possibly be real. The St Christopher (or St Finnegan, as she thinks of it) she got from Amanda grounds her, literally, as she realises that she lost the necklace and so nothing that’s happening is real. Mia Kirshner has been one of the least utilised cast members to date but here she’s given a real chance to shine, and in doing so, strengthens the relationship between Nolan and herself. Both are survivors, both have had to make tough choices and both recognise, if not love, then peace in the other. It’s a complex, crumpled basis for a relationship and this episode puts it front and centre in the show’s make up. Crucially, it makes it interesting as well and hopefully we’ll be spending more time in the NeedWant.
Kenya’s tenacity really comes to the fore in the episode’s final scenes. Discovering that the St Finnegan is actually a St Christopher she confronts her sister who tells her the truth; that their mother abandoned them and Amanda chose to tell Kenya a polite, loving lie, cobbled together from the nametag and last belongings of a dead soldier. St Finnegan is born in the ruins of the old world but the role he plays in the sisters’ lives is clearly still vital, holding them together. Things between the Rosewaters may be different now and they’ll certainly be on a lot more even footing.
And then there’s Stahma – because there’s always Stahma – and it’s looking increasingly likely that she’s behind everything Nicolette isn’t. Jamie Murray is turning in what’s starting to look like a career best performance here, bringing absolute intelligence and dignity to the role of a trusted, respected figure in the community who has no issue killing anyone in the town to ensure her family are powerful and protected. Nolan’s right, she is the most dangerous one of the two and I suspect it may be far too late to do anything but negotiate with her, on her terms. Stahma is a real, credible power in the town and everyone, even Datak, is part of the pattern she’s weaving. I can’t wait to find out what it is.
This is one of the oddest, and best, episodes of the show to date. Everyone gets a moment in the sun, tiny characters are given surprising depth (Ulysses! Sob!) and the overall plot is advanced in a way which ties huge chunks of the town together but doesn’t feel forced. Great work from a series constantly challenging itself to improve.
What have Quentin and Rafe discovered?
MEANWHILE ON THE OTHER SIDE OF TOWN Special praise has to go to Graham Greene and Justin Rains, for taking a counterweight subplot and doing really great work with it. Rains is great as the stolid, increasingly-frustrated Quentin and Greene continues to turn in great work as Rafe. Their final scene explains one of the core issues between the two families; Rafe is both respected and respects Quentin, Datak still feels he has to fight to earn it.
DEFIANT MUSIC Bob Dylan’s “Scarlet Town” scores the closing sequence with just the right amount of swagger, jangle and foreboding.
BEST IMAGE Datak being welcomed by the council, each one making it clear just how they feel about him by how they deal with his handshake.
“Once they get their foot in the door, I…”
“Will massage their foot with scented oils.” Amanda and Rafe discuss the relative advantages of giving in to the secondary arc plot.
“I assume the she you’re seeking is the lovely Kenya Rosewater.”
“So you know.”
“Oh, you two have been bumbling around the Hollows all night asking after her. I was informed hours ago.” Datak Tarr, far cleverer than anyone else thinks he is.
“That’s not really my style. Now, if you’d found Kenya with her throat cut on someone’s doorstep… Did I say something wrong? When I choose to make a statement, I rarely leave it unsigned. It’s hubris, pure and simple, a personal flaw, but my wife seems to like it.’ Datak Tarr, giving precisely zero damns about what anyone thinks about him.
“I love exactly who you are.” Rafe McCawley, grumpy, badass, dad.
“You know I’ve had my eye on the wrong snake. You’re the dangerous one.”
“You’re very sweet.” Just the best exchange in the episode. Stahma takes it as a genuine compliment whereas Nolan’s making sure he knows where the exits are.
SMARTEST MOMENT Nolan working out just what Datak has set up almost wins, but this has to go to Kenya figuring out where she was, using the impossible necklace.
MONTAGE OF THE WEEK Quentin and Rafe open the L7 shaft and find… a pair of Mr Birch’s glasses and cave painting. Datak attends his first council meeting and he’s the happiest person in the building about it. All to the tune of “Scarlet Town” by Bob Dylan.
GAME TIME Two elements from the game step across this week: Adreno, the combat drug distilled from the human brain, and the downed Sky Carrier Niko is operating out of.
Rob Archer Ulysses the BioMan is revealed to be very sweet as well as terrifying this week, and he’s played by a man you’ll have seen in a lot of different places. He’s been a regular guest star on Lost Girl as Bruce, appeared in the movie Repo Men as No Neck, Flashpoint (AKA Polite Canadian Swat Team) as Jim the Biker, Mutant X as a sniper, and Bulletproof Monk (a film I am extremely fond of) as Buzz. He’ll next be seen in Kick-Ass 2, as Convict Number 2. Hopefully he’ll be back as other copies of that particular BioMan too, as he was rather fun.
Robin Dunne Best known for playing Doctor Will Zimmerman on Sanctuary, Robin Dunne’s twitchy turn as Niko the Adreno cooker is a mile away from that previous role. He’s proved his versatility countless times through his career, playing Robin Hood in Beyond Sherwood Forest, Lt Marsden in a 2007 NCIS episode, Thomas “Trip” Hesberg III in Dead Like Me and AJ Moller in Dawson’s Creek. He’ll shortly be seen in Scarecrow, with fellow (but less dead) Defiance resident Nicole Muñoz.
• If Nolan was one of the defiant few, why did he leave?
• What really happened at that battle?
• Why did the murder of her parents save Irisa?
• What does Nicolette want?
• Who is Mr Birch?
• Which one of them directed the Volge at Defiance?
• What does McCawley actually mine?
• What’s coming?
• Why did Ben kill himself?
• What was Luke doing?
• Why did he meet Ben in the woods?
• Where did Luke get the artefact?
• What IS the artefact?
• Who terraformed the region around St Louis?
• Did they leave Old St Louis there on purpose?
• Who was Niko selling the Adreno to outside the town?
• What benefit would a monorail have for the town?
• Was Mr Birch at the bottom of the mine?
• What startled him away, given he left his glasses?
• How old are those cave paintings?