Defiance has been about the town of Defiance. Almost everything it's done so far has been so intensely focused on the former St. Louis or the characters it chooses to follow from the city that it can seem somewhat narrow. This isn't a bad thing at all, indeed, it may be a necessary one. A complex science fiction setting has to be able to maintain focus, especially when there are many different concepts being introduced. Yet I've seen some complaints that I don't entirely disagree with saying that Defiance hasn't done a good enough job of showing much of anything about its setting, especially given the complexity you can find about it on other media, like Wikipedia or in the video game.
“I Just Wasn't Made For These Times” takes the biggest step away from the show simply being about Defiance in the present, and expands the show's scope through time and space. It does this via one of the most obvious methods available—a stranger out of time shows up and requires explanation—but that doesn't mean it's not well done, or welcome.
The stranger in this case is Gregory McClintock, the commander of the International Space Station when the Votans arrived, and an international hero for attempting some kind of dangerous rescue/escape attempt—the precise story is unclear though not entirely relevant. McClintock's arrival is fascinating because it means the characters of Defiance have to explain and justify their world to him, and more importantly, because he brings back memories of—and reveals more about—the first contact between the Humans and Votans.
Defiance the show has given a rather saccharine view of the Pale Wars which have apparently totally reshaped the world. We know that something happened with that name, and that the “Defiant Few” who give the town and show its name ended the wars when humans and aliens came together to save civilians instead of killing each other. And we know from an episode a few weeks ago that they were nasty enough to at least include one war criminal. But I think the show's focus on the town of Defiance as some kind of (relatively) wonderful multicultural paradise has glazed over the idea that there was a near-apocalyptic war within recent memory.
McClintock's story brings up those wounds. While he's initially sweet and heroic, he has flashbacks to torture by Indogene doctors when Doc Yewll examines him. He follows this up by attempting to assassinate Mayor Rosewater while under some kind of mind control, and then bleeding silver, like an Indogene. Yewll reveals that the Indogenes captured several humans during the Pale Wars and attempted experiments on them and fellow Indogenes to create sleeper agents that would target high-level Human politicians. “President. Prime Minister. Defense Secretary. Or a Mayor…apparently,” says Yewll, still at least partially annoyed that her handiwork had misfired.
And McClintock is clearly Yewll's handiwork. She says “we” and “our” while describing the abductions of and experiments on humans. (The visual depictions of the experiments, interestingly, are framed as X-Files-style traditional abduction experiments.) Nolan notices this and ends the episode attempting to confront Yewll about her possible crimes, although she and we both know that “No Man” is hardly an innocent himself.
It's not just detailing the show's grand mythology, though. McClintock's arrival also triggers a character-based examination of the way the world has changed. In one of the odder, and, I think, better scenes of the episode, Amanda, Nolan, and Rafe talk about McClintock's portrayal in popular culture. They try to remember who played him in the movie—Robert Pattinson!—and then which character he played in Twilight. Graham Greene, who was in Twilight, says dismissively that he never watched those movies. In just a quick conversation, Defiance attaches itself to the real world for the first time, and then it winks to the audience about that connection (did Ben Edlund write this bit?). But I think Defiance manages to pull it off; I ended up having more sympathy toward each of the characters when it was done.
This episode of Defiance the show also tied more directly into Defiance the game than any I've seen before. The view of the Pale Wars as a titanic struggle filled with unethical experiments and war crimes is immediately on display in the game, as one of the first places you explore is a community advertised as a multicultural paradise, but actually a cover for Earth's military forces to have access to a variety of different Votan races, especially children, to experiment upon. And then while playing a few days ago, I came across a recording of one of the characters who gives you quests, Rosa, just after her father was murdered by an acquaintance of hers. She's being interrogated by an Indogene “therapist” who first attempts to emotionally torture Rosa by convincing her that her father's murder is her own fault, and then physically tortures her when Rosa refuses. Then there's the episode's cliffhanger, a Bay Area traveler bringing a plague to Defiance, which happens to be a plague I've been fighting all week in the game.
On its own, “I Just Wasn't Made For These Times” is a perfectly solid hour of television, neither recommendable as fantastic nor worthy of disdain. But I don't think that's the purpose it serves. It's an effective expansion of Defiance's world, connecting the overt story of the show to the background material that only some viewers have. And that material fits well with the show and adds to the storytelling potential of what we might watch, in addition to being interesting on its own.
- “Stop reading Moby Dick.” Was this the best bit of quippery on Defiance yet? I'm leaning yes.
- Another fun addition: Irisa's head popping up out of nowhere. Both amusing and it fits the character, I think.
- Defiance the game report: I played regularly again this week and managed to do several of the events and quests in the Rynn storyline I mentioned a few weeks ago and the plague storyline that's apparently showing up next week. The Rynn bits are just a few quests and rather disappointing, but the plague events add an entirely different large group battle called a Siege that can be a lot of fun. And both of these add new enemies to the game, which was one of its biggest weaknesses, I think. I still haven't seen anything that indicates that the game/show synergy is necessary, but this week is the first that I've seen notable benefits.