This may just be the show you’ve been waiting for from Syfy. Aliens. Spaceships. Frontier justice. Interesting characters. Monster bugs. Bullets. Energy weapons. An alien world – that just happens to be Earth in 30 years.
Let me set the stage for you…in April 2013, gigantic alien ships appear in the skies above Earth. on board are the refugees of the Votanis star system – binary star system that gave rise to a number of intelligent races that was destroyed 5,000 years ago. These Votans, as they are collectively called, escaped their system aboard these Arks – giant ships on board which they slept for thousands of years en route to a suitable planet on which they could terraform and live – which they did not expect to be inhabited.
For years, negotiations between the Votans and humans dragged on, with distrust of both sides. Eventually some 10 years later, the U.N. grants a large amount of land in Brazil to the Votans, but when a human assassin kills a Votan representative, everything falls apart and the Pale Wars begin – a series of global conflicts that lasted for 9 more years.
Towards the end of the war, all of the Votan Arks are mysteriously destroyed in orbit. But this results in not only debris from the Arks crashing to Earth, but also the terra-spires – giant terraforming devices that wreak havoc and forever change the the landscape, flora and fauna of the Earth.
The Battle of Defiance, fought in the San Francisco area, was one of the last battles of the Pale Wars, where humans and Votans who have grown sick of the fighting actually worked together to rescue survivors.
The Votans consist of 7 known races:
Castithans are pale white in appearance with white hair, they otherwise appear human. They originally had a very rigid caste system, but that has broken down somewhat since escaping their system. They appear to be very spiritual and sensual.
Irathients are aggressive, with flat nose bridges. Some have psychic abilities.
Indogenes are the intellectuals. They are hairless and have a white-gray skin with a repeating hexagonal pattern. The pupils of their eyes also have a hexagonal shape.
Sensoths are very tall ape-like beings, often used as bodyguards.
Liberata are short humanoids with beards who act as servants to the other races.
Volge are a race of automatons and are generally not friendly to any of the other races.
Not much is known of the seventh race at the current time.
The Town of Defiance is named after the battle. Built on top of the ruins of St. Louis, it is now a frontier town. Most “buildings” are built out of shipping containers. The town’s economy revolves a very lucrative mining operation, owned by the human McCawley family. But Defiance also has its seedy side: gambling, etc., controlled by Datak Tarr, a Castithan.
Joshua Nolan (Grant Bowler, Liz & Dick, Ugly Betty) and his adopted Irathient daughter Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas, Mirror Mask) are hoping to travel to the fabled “paradise of Antarctica” while trying to make money as “ark hunters” – people who look for Arkfalls – the falling debris from the destruction of the Arks that still rains down on Earth – and hoping to find treasures within. After their “roller” (vehicle) is stolen, they stumble in to the town of Defiance – and wind up helping out far more than they planned.
Defiance is ostensibly controlled by the mayor, Amanda Rosewater (Julie Benz, Dexter), who has just recently taken over for the retiring mayor Nicolette Riordon (Fionnula Flanagan, Lost), and needs to get the town to believe in her – or at least prove she’s got the “shtako” (which means, well…excrement) to run the town.
The real power in town seems to revolve around the McCawleys, who own the mine and are led by Rafe McCawley (Graham Greene, Dances With Wolves), and the Tarr family, Datak (Tony Curran, Pillars of the Earth, Doctor Who) and Stahma (Jaime Murray, Warehouse 13), who are Castithans. Rafe and Datak severely distrust each other (with cause), and a lot of the tension in town seems to be because of them. It is further aggravated by the Romeo and Juliet situation – Datak and Stahma’s son Alak (Jesse Rath, ) and Rafe’s daughter Christie (Nicole Muñoz, Defying Gravity) are in love.
In the middle is the Need/Want – the town bar/meeting place/brothel, where all manners of “business” take place. It’s run by Kenya Rosewater (Mia Kirshner, The L Word), so she has her nose in everyone’s business…and she’s the mayor’s sister.
The team of Nolan and Irisa might be somewhat cliche – the hard anti-hero and the spirited sidekick – but they seem to work very well together. Bowler can play what appears to be the “bad cop” – only to find out he’s really the good cop to Irisa’s knife-wielding badder cop.
I’ve been a fan of Tony Curran since his appearance on Doctor Who as Vincent van Gogh, and he does a great job here. He is TOTALLY in to the Castithan language, and can rattle it off like it’s his native tongue. Datak comes from a lower Castithan caste, but managed to get passage on an Ark due to a gambling debt, while his wife Stahma is of a higher caste but find that doesn’t mean much on Earth – but you can see the seeds of a scheme being planted to make sure she and Datak are at the top.
The character that so far is really stealing the show for me, despite limited screen time in the first few episodes, is Doc Yewll (Trenna Keating, Combat Hospital), the Indogene doctor in Defiance. I originally described her on Twitter as “Bedside manner of a computer, but with attitude.” A computer isn’t quite right, but certainly indifferent as to the emotions of who she is talking to. But she has a way of describing a situation pretty directly yet simply, and in such a way that I can’t help but chuckle.
Visually, at least what I’ve seen so far which isn’t necessarily the finished product, is quite striking. Having seen the town from the inside (see photos and more from the set from our visit in October), it’s interesting to see it on screen, with all the elements like the damaged arch, the mountainous terrain, etc. There is some handheld camera action, ala Battlestar Galactica, but perhaps not as extreme.
Perhaps the one thing that at least this early was confusing was the Votans shifting from their native language to English at times where it didn’t make sense. When they were on their own, you’d expect them to speak in their native tongues, but they’d slip back and forth pretty easily. In some shows, like Babylon 5, they’d start out in their native language with subtitles, then switch to English for the viewer’s convenience. Here, it it seems arbitrarily interchanged. It may be because they are absorbing the language as their own, but I’m not sure. But the amount of work done to develop the several languages in use is simply amazing (see the aforementioned set visit for a video on the creation of the languages).
And the hellbugs…and the Hellbug Queen…let’s just say, that grin isn’t getting out of my head any time soon.
Now I’m sure there will be comparisons against other shows. I think Firefly will be a likely target, with comparisons being drawn between Captain Mal and Nolan as the reluctant hero, etc., plus the frontier feel, but I’m actually not feeling that the shows share too much. But would it be a bad thing to share some DNA with such a loved show? It certainly doesn’t feel like any sort of ripoff at least.
Anyways, with all the advertising and buildup Syfy has done with this show, I’d be afraid is being let down – but from what I’ve seen so far, it’s got 100% of my attention. And with me, that is a HUGE feat as of late. I can’t wait to see more – and hope Syfy doesn’t wait to long to announce Season 2…
Added bonus: Here is a short featurette about the relationship between Nolan and Irisa: