Jeb Nolan (Grant Bowler) is a drifter who passes through Defiance, built on the ruins of St Louis, with his Irathient daughter Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas). The city is occupied by human and Voltan survivors of the wars and is run by Mayor Amanda Rosewater (Julie Benz) but is constantly on the verge of breaking out into another war. Following the murder of the town’s lawkeeper, Jeb and Irisa are tasked with finding the killer and soon find themselves assuming the position of the new lawkeeper and deputy. Trying to keep the peace in the city, Jeb and Irisa come up against the shadowy but powerful Castithan’s Datak Tarr (Tony Curran) and his wife Stahma (Jaime Murray). Jeb is also drawn to bar-owner and prostitute Kenya (Mia Kirshner) who is intertwined with the entire town in one way or another.
Defiance is the first original series to air on Syfy since Battlestar Galactica. The ambitious series was launched as the first-ever convergence of television and online gaming. In parallel to the show debuting on air an open-world online game was launched focusing on the new frontier of San Francisco Bay. You don’t really need to engage with both to understand what’s going on as they are only linked not reliant on each other.
It’s clear from the opening episode that Defiance has had a lot of money pumped into it and is a bold creative vision. Once you stop marvelling at the special effects, which are very impressive for a TV show, you start to realise that Defiance is similar to a variety of other sci-fi shows such as Joss Whedon’s short-lived Firefly. Essentially it’s a futuristic cowboy Western with multiple plot-lines running simultaneously. The main focus is on Jeb and Irisa as they solve crimes from episode-to-episode but the more interesting plot is based around the deceitful Datak and Stahma as they manipulate their family, friends and enemies to get what they want.
Grant Bowler is charismatic as Jeb, despite his dodgy American accent which changes to his native Australian accent throughout the season. It’s good to see him getting a meatier role after winning fans with smaller roles in Ugly Betty and True Blood. Stephanie Leonidas puts in a very strong performance as Jeb’s daughter Irisa and she creates a believable chemistry with Bowler. Tony Curran and Jaime Murray are also worthy of note for their performances. The two characters are the most manipulative in the show and both actors play them perfectly.
Julie Benz’s Mayor gives her a chance to show off her acting skills once again after being relegated to a whining woman role in Dexter for several years. She’s back to her butt-kicking best as she tries to keep a handle on her city and prevent herself from being ousted as Mayor. She forms an alliance with Jeb that is refreshingly not based on romance and the two characters work well together on screen. The show’s secret weapon is the always incredible Mia Kirshner as the Mayor’s sister Kenya. She’s had a career of playing strong, feisty women (24, The L Word, The Vampire Diaries) and the role of Kenya suits her to the ground. Kirshner is a very sensual actress that commands your attention every time she’s on screen.
Defiance spends time revealing backstory too so you can understand how the characters have come to be in the situations they are in. This is revealed carefully and strategically to keep you watching the show week-on-week.
Visually the show is a complete feast for the eyes. The costumes and make-up are incredible whilst the special effects are amongst the best we’ve seen on a TV show. There are some ropey effects throughout the season but for the most part they are incredibly effedtive.
Extra features on the release include deleted scenes and a gag reel.
Defiance: Season One is a little bumpy but for the most part it’s an enjoyable sci-fi show. With a strong cast and plenty of creative vision, the show will hopefully iron out some of the problems from the first season. The show is at its strongest when it’s exploring the battle between Jeb and Amanda with Datak and Stahma. With a bit of tighter story control the second season should be must-watch TV and will easily be a huge hit for Syfy. As it stands season one is worthy of your time but by no means perfect.