The pilot episode of new TV show Defiance launched last night (April 15th) in the US and makes its UK debut tonight (April 16th) at 9pm on Syfy with an hour and a half pilot episode. We were lucky enough to check out the Defiance pilot in advance so here’s my review which we’ve tried to keep as spoiler free as possible. However we advise you read the review after you’ve watched the show if you don’t want to spoil anything.
We imagine that creating a new TV show must be incredibly difficult, involve a lot of money and a great deal of risk. We also imagine the same can be said for the creation of a video game. However Trion Worlds (Rift) and SyFy obviously think they are more than up for the challenge as they are creating both in tandem. What makes things really interesting is that the developers are promising that the events of the TV show will impact the game and vice versa.
To further complicate things they’ve decided to launch both this month. The video game was released worldwide on the 2nd April. The game is not simply an action tie-in but a third-person shooter MMO. To make sure they are really pushing themselves they have also opted to simultaneously release the game on PS3 and Xbox 360 as well as PC which is a first for an MMO. The game is set at the same time as the series but in a different location – the San Francisco Bay Area. EF have previously taken part in beta tests for the game and are now working towards a review which should hit the site later this month.
The show begins in 2013 and opens with some impressive special effects as a large fleet of alien spacecraft known as Arks approach Earth. These contain seven different alien species that are collectively known as Votans. As the ships enter the Earth’s atmosphere, the humans on the ground look to the skies and then the timeline is moved forward 33 years.
An intelligent alien race arriving on Earth is likely to bring massive changes and after the timeshift some of these are immediately apparent. The Earth has been transformed into a very different place thanks to years of human-alien conflict (the Pale Wars) and terraforming. Humans still exist but are living alongside the various alien species, cities lie in ruin and the landscape is home to all manner of weird and wonderful creatures and plant life. The surface isn’t the only place that has changed though as floating above the Earth in orbit is the remains of the destroyed Ark fleet.
The story in 2046 focuses on Joshua Nolan (Grant Bowler), a former lieutenant in the Earth Military Coalition, and his adopted Irathient daughter Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas). They go well on screen together with some great banter between the two characters. The character of Nolan is a likeable rogue who feels like a blend of Han Solo (Star Wars) and Mal Reynolds (Firefly). He makes a living from salvaging alien technology from Arkfalls – this is the name for when orbiting debris falls to Earth.
After racing to the latest Arkfall, Nolan and Irisa are ambushed while trying to make off with their haul of loot. A series of events leads them to a town called Defiance which exists where the town of St. Louis once stood. The populace of Defiance stands at over 6000 and is a mix of human and alien species.
The setup of the show is quite exciting but a little confusing at first. After reaching the town of Defiance it bombards the viewer with new characters and plotlines. As Nolan and Irisa begin to settle and try to make money you are introduced to Mayor Amanda Rosewater (Julie Benz), the Castithan Tarr family – Datak (Tony Curran) and Stahma (Jaime Murray) and their son, Rafe McCawley (Graham Greene) and also the local madam, Kenya (Mia Kirshner) who owns the town’s bar and brothel called the NeedWant.
There’s a lot to absorb and a lot of new faces to learn which is a little overwhelming in such a short space of time. In its eagerness to introduce the secondary characters the pilot adds in some extra plotlines. There seems to be a bit too much going on and the conclusion of these feels a bit rushed in order to setup the rest of the series. There’s a random and unnecessary sex scene that feels completely out of place which makes it unsuitable for younger viewers and will probably be off-putting to some. The pilot also fails to give much background on the events of 2013 or what has happened since. The viewer is left to piece together a few scraps of information during the pilot but there’s so much unexplained. Hopefully the show will go into a lot more detail during the rest of the season.
Despite going for an epic feel the show isn’t afraid to introduce humour and Nolan and Irisa in particular are fun to watch. However the most intriguing aspect is the mix of alien species and the show has opted to go for a Star Trek like approach by keeping the species looking mostly humanoid. I was particularly fond of the Sensoth which look like tall orang-utans and invoke memories of Chewbacca. It will be interesting to learn more about the various species as the series progresses.
A puzzling part of the pilot episode is the varying quality of special effects. Things like the Ark spacecraft at the start and various creatures are very well done. However one particular car chase scene was quite laughable with very poor CGI.
At this stage it’s hard to really understand much about the plans to crossover with the game. In the game I’ve seen the main characters of the show crop up occasionally and I presume the game will see more influence from the show until next season. There’s certainly no real need to play the game in order to enjoy the show but those that do will get more out of it.
Defiance is certainly very ambitious and although there are some problems and weak points the pilot gets the show off to a solid start. It’s a complex universe with fantastic potential and I’m interested to see what happens next.
For more information on the TV show or game visit the Defiance website. If you have a tablet computer you should also consider picking up the new Syfy Sync app which presents you with additional information while you watch.
Defiance starts tonight at 9pm on Syfy.