by DICK CHENEY
creators Rockne S. O'Bannon, Kevin Murphy, and Michael Taylor
Thrones. Defiance. If you are an enterprising young actress and your agent asks you to consider a role of a madam in a brothel in St. Louis, do you politely decline or is there violence involved? This exact situation happened, to Mia Kirshner. She portrays a war torn orphan who decides to sell women's bodies to the strangers of terraformed Earth on Defiance. Sometimes, if the customer is attractive enough, she refuses payment and handles the sale personally.
This is sadly not the most hard to believe thing about the SyFy channel's costly original project. Despite having enough adaptable material in GRRM's garage (what about a Tuf Voyaging with Steven Wright?), it was important that the channel create its own original series so they could financially benefit from marketing it.
Defiance largely feels like the back end of a trend, only it's unclear who exactly was asking to see aliens on Earth at all. Putting creatures from another planet on this one is the most boring of premises, or maybe it's second after "make the aliens slightly paler/darker than the humans, and cosmetically alter their brows so we know they aren't us." Sadly Defiance features both of these clichés as part of its rich mythology. Aliens on Earth fails because it's obvious the person with the idea wanted to save money on sets by shooting in Vancouver.
The premise of Defiance is that the Votans came to Earth in order to negotiate a resettlement of their people. The humans offered the Alaska area, but the Democrats saw a moose there and decided it would not be environmentally sound.
The war between the humans and the Votans was termed the Pale Wars, even though it really only was one war. (Stop trying to make Pale Wars happen.) Earth's surface was destroyed, including Kristen Stewart and at least half of One Direction.
In Defiance, which is set in St. Louis because no other American city has any distinguishing landmark whatsoever, a veteran of these armed conflicts becomes the sheriff. The mayor of the camp (Julie Benz) was murdered by John Lithgow during the fifth season of Dexter, brought back to life through Votan technology, which is called Arkfall, and cast as the disapproving sister of the brothel madam.
Benz and the sheriff (Grant Bowler) routinely compete to see which of them has the most limited range as an actor. The show's supporting cast is a bit better, but the writers seem to have no idea what to do with them. The parallels to Battlestar Galactica get old quickly, from the way Defiance handles its alien language (subtitles and curse words that are borderline anti-Semitic), to the camera-shaking, to the insulting Edward James Olmos clone.
In private, I call Battlestar Galactica "Baby's First Television Show." I really hate how seriously it took itself, and I found the concept of the Cylons terribly dull. Reducing all the wonder of space to a machine-projection of humanity goes against everything that makes up good science fiction: saying the word spice a lot in a desert setting. The only thing I have to admit was done well on the show were the performances and the sound design. The cast was great to make you believe anything on Battlestar Galactica was real, and the right sound is better than the right set.
Defiance lacks both. This new terraformed Earth, constructed on top of the old one, is largely silent and dull. I guess the aesthetic they were going for was, copy Firefly almost completely. The Western aspects of the town and the people are so pathetically overdone at this point that having them as subtle parts of the background is somehow worse than if everyone talked like Tommy Lee Jones in Lonesome Dove.
Whenever Defiance rubs up against something original, if almost by accident, it quickly turns away from that so that you immediately remember you're watching something you've seen before.
In one long scene, the married Votan couple Datak and Stahma Tarr (Tony Curran and Dexter's Jaime Murray) lounge in elaborate baths. All around them is white, their arms and legs, the walls, the servants who assist their relaxation. Their teenage son enters the refuge to relay pressing news, and Stahma rises, nude, to embrace her son. It is the only time so far we could conceivably imagine we are witnessing an alien culture rather than human actors portraying one.
Grey/white moments like this are few and far between. Defiance is a show badly in need of a protagonist; the type of mysterious individual whose actions at any given moment are impossible to predict. Instead Grant Bowler's Joshua is less Picard than Riker, and if you know anything about the world of interplanetary travel, you know Jonathan Frakes is boring as dogshit.
I just looked up how old Mia Kirschner is, she looks amazing for her age.
The overarching plot of the show involves a well-meaning former leader of the town, Nicolette (Fionnula Flanagan), bringing destruction to it in secret. She is portrayed by the old woman Carlton Cuse forced to portray Eloise Hawking. You really didn't think there would be a Lost connection here? I'm honestly surprised Hurley was not the embattled pharmacist of this town. Along with her junior agent, Nicolette lives in a train designed to give her scenes a steampunk flavor, as if the drama required one more additional cliche.
So much of what we consume seems conveniently designed not to offend our senses. Of course this is the easiest way to accomplish the opposite. Creativity only begins at the level of the personal; it cannot take its marching orders from anything else. Having character motivation at the level of "I want to live in a peaceful town" makes Defiance more like Andy Griffith than Rio Bravo.
Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. He only watches the SyFy channel at gunpoint except for when Smackdown is on. His next review will appear when Mary Tyler Moore finally returns to series television.
"Breath" - Sweet Random (mp3)
"Digital War" - Sweet Random (mp3)