Defiance, Season 2: TV review

In its second season, SyFy's drama continues to make a post-apocalyptic St. Louis more appealing than the contemporary version

Photograph: Syfy
Tony Curran as Datak Tarr, Grant Bowler as Joshua Nolan, Stephanie Leonidas as Irisa, Graham Greene as Rafe McCawley, Julie Benz as Amanda Rosewater, Jaime Murray as Stahma Tarr and Jesse Rath as Alak Tarr in Defiance

Premieres Thursday, June 18 at 7pm on SyFy.

When Defiance premiered last year, it seemed as if it could herald the dawn of a new type of programming, as SyFy launched the series alongside a video game of the same name. Outside of the richly designed futuristic world—that finds humans living alongside several alien races on an Earth ravaged by the destruction of spaceships—the show did little to define itself amongst other high-concept sci-fi series. Still, some impressive performances and a strong commitment to developing its rich world made for an entertaining first season.

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Beginning nine months after the events of the last episode, the second season of Defiance takes some time to recover from the explosive plot developments of the finale. There's a lot of rubble to clean up and some storylines tidy up better and more quickly than others. The city of Defiance is now under the control of the Earth Republic, appointing Niles Pottinger (Jim Murray) as the mayor. The E-Rep has also taken charge of the city's mining operation from Rafe (Graham Greene) and is driving its workers into drug usage by demanding extra work hours. Pottinger is trying to get Amanda (Julie Benz) to join him in running the town, but she has chosen to take up her sister's old post managing the Need/Want, hoping for her return, though we know better.

One of the true delights of Defiance has been watching the Machiavellian brilliance of seemingly meek housewife Stahma (Jamie Murray). Now that her husband, Datak (Tony Curran), is in a prison camp, she's seizing the opportunity to take control of his business interests. Watching Murray transition between submissive smiles and severe stares as the situation requires is continuously joyful. The new season fares worse with Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas), another season one MVP, as she struggles against the murderous desires of Irzu, the god-like entity she pledged her service to in order to bring Nolan (Grant Bowler) back to life. It's never helps that she's frequently paired with Bowler's drip of a leading man—even if his role as her adoptive father is the most interesting thing about him—and her pseudo possession is an unforgiving solo plotline that reduces a formerly strong warrior into a helpless pawn.

The weaker elements of Defiance's inaugural season still remain. While he continues to be a main focus of the show, Nolan is easily one of the most boring characters in an otherwise rich and interesting ensemble, doling out justice in the bland procedural pieces of the series. The show even takes a moment to mock his blatantly Han Solo–esque roots in an odd but amusing moment. Without Datak around to pick fights with, Rafe is given little to do other than intimidate his son-in-law and complain about poor conditions in the mines, a fry cry from the upstart we met last year. And now that they're married and no longer serving as the Castithan/human version of Romeo and Juliet, Alak (Jesse Tarth) and Christie (Nicole Muñoz) have lost what little interest they had.

Outside of its impressive world-building, Defiance's greatest strength is its female characters, lead by Stahma, Amanda and Irisa. All three are adjusting to a new relationship with power, giving them new and mostly interesting things to do. Anna Hopkins has also introduced a new character with Berlin, an E-Rep law enforcement agent who is initially very abrupt, but quickly evolves beyond first impressions to become a more interesting addition to the show.

Defiance may not break the mold of high-concept sci-fi, but with so few shows like it on television today, its commitment to a compelling new world continues to make it a refreshing and entertaining watch.

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