[This is a review of the Defiance season 2 premiere. There will be SPOILERS.]
Whether you're an avid viewer of Syfy's Defiance or not, it is almost impossible not to appreciate the series for being the kind of all-in sci-fi drama that's something of a rarity these days (even on a network that's based its entire identity around the genre). The show takes an unabashed stance on constantly drawing up such a mind-bogglingly assorted set of characters and alien species that the average episode might just trump happy hour at a Mos Eisley cantina in terms of diversity. And that level of dedication and unblinking devotion to a concept is what makes the series such a charming and energetic summer television destination.
There's a clear sense of that same energy coursing through the season 2 premiere, 'The Opposite of Hallelujah,' which sees the eponymous town of Defiance (built atop the ruins of St. Louis, for you newcomers) having been taken over by the Earth Republic and now run by the delightfully menacing villainy of Mayor Niles Pottinger, played by recent addition James Murray. Last season, the E-Rep was an omnipresent threat, a storm cloud on the horizon that desperately wanted to gain control of the Wild West-like town and nationalize its mineral-rich mines that were formerly controlled by Rafe McCawley (Graham Greene). After a season's worth of deflections and near misses, headed up by then Mayor Amanda Rosewater (Julie Benz), the E-Reps were finally let in the front door by the scheming of ruthless alien businessman Datak Tarr (Tony Curran), who was then promptly sent to prison for murdering an E-Rep military officer in a fit of rage.
Needless to say, season 1 was busy. There was a handful of story arcs and plotlines that went well beyond the series' ostensible protagonist, Joshua Nolan (Grant Bowler) and the trials and tribulations of his adopted daughter Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas) – who was busy living out the common sci-fi trope of being the "chosen one" in relation to an alien mystery buried deep beneath the city of Defiance itself. And that busyness, that sense of togetherness shared amongst the cast and the diverse collection of characters they portray helped to make Defiance a far more involving show than perhaps any program with a video game tie-in would seem likely to have.
And now, as season 2 gets underway, nearly all of those characters have seen their story lines thrown into disarray, allowing the series an opportunity to get its ducks neatly in a row and to begin with a new, possibly even more engaging set of circumstances. That brings us to the first, most obvious difference between seasons 1 and 2, and the factor that helps 'The Opposite of Hallelujah' kick things off so quickly. That difference, of course, is the fact that season 2 is relatively unburdened by a need to explain itself or provide some lengthy exposition in order to establish how things work in not just Defiance, but also the newly-terraformed Earth as well.
To that end, the premiere's only requirements are to fill the viewer in on what happened in the nine months since the Earth Republic took over. And that means welcoming William Atherton into the fray as Viceroy Berto Mercado, a sneering villain who's as much fun to watch as the Mayor he loathes and hopes to one day see fail. To that end, Pottinger's presence is felt everywhere in episode, as he manages to sway Amanda from merely running her sister's bar to becoming his chief of staff. But he's also in control of Rafe McCawley, who has gone from wealthy mine owner to lowly and overworked miner, indebted to the mayor for keeping him out of the prison that currently counts Datak Tarr and Doc Yewll (Trenna Keating) among its guests.
Perhaps the only two currently unaffected by Pottinger's control of Defiance are Nolan and Irisa, and that's only because Nolan's been searching for his adopted daughter after she disappeared by jumping into a mysterious device in order to save her father from the gunshot wound he has since miraculously recovered from. While it makes sense to have Nolan search for Irisa's wrapped up as quickly as possible, the speed with which it was resolved sapped any sense of urgency from his quest. The same can be said for Stahma Tarr (Jaime Murray) sweeping her good-natured son Alak (Jesse Rath) aside, to ruthlessly take control of the Tarr family business. Sure, on one hand having both of those story lines off and running helps put the season's narrative in more immediate perspective, but there may have been emotional, character-driven advantages to milking Nolan's search for Irisa for an episode or two longer, not the least of which would be to build some exigency around their return to Defiance. Similarly, Alak's somewhat passive approach to running the family business is relegated to expository statements made mostly by Stahma. Actually seeing how Alak's meekness affected the family business – beyond maddening his mother – could have yielded something positive about the character's development and his familial relationships as well. This is made especially true since Alak's interaction with his wife Christie (Nicole Muñoz) is relegated to a single scene with her preparing a meal that was the absolute antithesis of appetizing.
Still, swiftness of the plot is only a minor thing to object to, since it all clearly seems to be leading to bigger (and hopefully better) story elements to come. 'The Opposite of Hallelujah' benefits greatly from the additions to the cast, as Mayor Pottinger and Viceroy Mercado help break up the tenuous peace that defined the town of Defiance all last season, by drawing a clear line in the sand between the oppressors and the oppressed. That offers a different kind of dynamic than has been seen, and it opens the door for even more interesting and unlikely pairings that began here with Doc Yewll's deadpan response to Datak's untoward and unwelcome use of her hand.
That kind of droll sensibility helps keep a show that's as out-there as Defiance firmly grounded in the humanity of its characters – even when there's nothing human about them. With luck, the series will continue to maintain those unique characteristics while remaining committed to the extreme sci-fi premise at its core.
Defiance airs Thursday nights @8pm on Syfy. Check out a preview for the next episode below: