Is SyFy’s ‘Defiance’ Worth Watching?

By June 3, 2013

Tonight, the second half of “Defiance”‘s first season begins. Is it worth watching?

Admittedly, “Defiance” is at times derivative; the opening sequence echoes The Terminator, and the main villain race–the Volge–resemble Transformers and come equipped with vehicles that could easily be mistaken for Star Wars Walkers. Still, the characters are a diverse bunch, and the variety of cultures encapsulated in the multi-species world is a cultural anthropologist’s dream. The overarching plot is fairly basic (so far)–a traitorous ex-mayor wants to take down the town of Defiance for what she believes to be the greater good. The subplots may not be particularly innovative, but they are intriguing: a power-hungry couple plots to take down a rival, a prostitute struggles with love, and a young woman comes to terms with her (sometimes debilitating) psychic powers.

Whether “Defiance” can truly set itself apart remains to be seen. What makes it enjoyable–and intriguing–are the dynamics between the characters, and the underlying conflicts between the different species. At its core, the show asks some hard questions: Can people with opposing cultural mores live in harmony? Are individuals a product of their genetics or upbringing? How do a society’s values change over time?

Case in point: The Castithians (an albino-esque species with a strong, religiously-based caste system) torture a man in the street for an act of cowardice. The humans in Defiance are hesitant to put an end to the practice; an interspecies conflict over childhood vaccinations once led to bloodshed, causing the Irathients (a warrior race) to flee.

In this post-war, multi-species world, values and norms have changed. Polygamy and prostitution are both legal and (mostly) accepted by the humans in Defiance. The Castithian caste system is less stringent on Earth than on the species’ homeworld. One thing that remains constant, however, is racism: it is not uncommon to hear humans make derogatory comments about Irathients, and the disdain the Castithians and humans hold for one another is palpable. It’s also highlighted by the Romeo and Juliet romance between Alak (son of prominent Castithian Datak Tarr) and Christie (daughter of human mine mogul Rafe McCawley).

And then there’s Irisa: The adopted Irathient daughter of Nolan, the town’s human Lawkeeper. Has being raised by a human had any effect on her behavior or values, or is Irathient aggression written in her DNA?

Thus, while “Defiance” may still be finding its feet–and what new show doesn’t go through a rocky period?–there is much that makes it a worthwhile watch. At the very least, the detail put into both the sets and the new alien species–culture, appearance, and language–is breathtaking.