Welcome to the episode “The Serpent’s Egg,” or, as I prefer to call it, “The Bad-Mistake Express and the World’s Worst Deputy.” But while my alternate title might be snarky, I have nothing but praise for another strong episode, one that indicates that Defiance may actually live up to Syfy’s — and our — great expectations.
Now, there are only two real stories happening in “The Serpent’s Egg,” the aforementioned “The Bad-Mistake Express” and “The World’s Worst Deputy” — most of the other characters are left on the sidelines (which is infinitely more effective than sticking them in when they have nothing interesting to add [cough The Walking Dead cough]). Anyways, let’s begin — all aboard!
The Bad-Mistake Express
Although I call it The Bad-Mistake Express, it’s not a train, it’s a transport which arrives in Defiance. As the back opens up and the mail pours out, and happy townfolk crowd around to see what far-off friends and family have to say in these troubled times, one can almost hear the Defiance writers crossing The Postman off the list of scifi movies and series they want to homage, emulate or just copy. Besides mail, though, the transport also transports people — even criminals.
Case in point, the transport is taking Rynn, the Irathient who tried to murder the entire population of Defiance with giant bugs a couple of episodes ago, to Las Vegas and its more official prison. Nolan is escorting her. Nolan is also escorting a giant suitcase full of cash, which Defiance has raised to bring in the maglev trains (that the Town Council discussed last episode) without borrowing from the Earth Federation. This means Nolan is also accompanying Mayor Amanda, who has again abandoned her post and decided to hang around with Nolan even while this puts her in insane danger. Other transport passengers include the ambassador Olfin Tennety, who really wants Defiance to borrow from the Earth Federation, her two husbands (Two! Because it’s the future!), a slightly overweight priest, and some cannon fodder.
The first danger is Rynn, who manages to grab and pen and free herself while everyone’s asleep — well, almost everyone. Nolan has a gun to her head before she ever reaches another weapon. It’s a good way to remind us that while Nolan might not be the brightest star in Defiance’s sky, and he has absolutely no ability to suss out the politics of a situation, he is good at shooting people and keeping other people from being shot.
The second problem is a bit more significant; the driver’s head explodes, and the transport comes to a stop. The problem is compounded when the priest onboard the transport pulls out his guns and demands everyone’s money. Needless to say, this doesn’t sit well with Nolan, and after a brief firefight the priest has taken the Ambassador hostage, Nolan has kept Defiance’s money, the priest has been shot through the leg, and the transport is dead and there’s no water. It’s a stalemate, but one that won’t last long.
Even though the Ambassador is pretty slimy, Amanda won’t let her die, and neither will Nolan. He trades Defiance’s money for the Ambassador, while sending Amanda to kill the goon the priest almost certain has stashed on the hill, waiting for an ambush. Amanda gets her man, Nolan gets the priest, the Ambassador is saved, and all is well! Or is it?!
It’s not. After being rescued, the Ambassador pulls a gun on Amanda and Nolan, revealing she’s been determined to sabotage Defiance’s deal all along — she was in it with the priest, and was even prepared to kill her gigolo husbands. Luckily, Rynn — yes, the Irathient who nearly turned Defiance into Earth’s greatest ant farm — stops the Ambassador for (Irathient) reasons and runs off with the remaining gigolo. Amanda commutes her sentence to “time served,” and Nolan and Amanda bring the treacherous Tennety back to Defiance… with their money. Of course, Nolan puts the handcuffed Tennety on the next transport out of town… and the minute the doors are closed her new captor frees her. The Earth Federation is clearly powerful, and they’re not done with Defiance yet.
I’m not going to pretend this is Masterpiece Theatre here, folks. The train/transport is a pretty standard plot device, and getting the prisoner and Amanda and the money is pretty damn contrived. But once you accept the set-up, the story plays well, thanks to good plotting, good writing, and solid performances. The twist with the Ambassador is a wonderful touch, which not only hints at a new enemy for Defiance, but of the rest of the world. Now, couple that with the B-story…
The World’s Worst Deputy
Irisa is puttering around Defiance when she sees a sharp-dressed Irathient. After a quick flash of the recog hoohah from last episode, she follows the man around town, eventually finding him in a secluded alley, knocking him unconscious, and then tying him to a chair in a dark basement somewhere and fucking him up.
Has Irisia gone mad? Yes, but not necessarily without reason. Remember how Irisa told Tommy that the reason she’s hanging out with Nolan is because Nolan did her the solid of killing her parents? Well, as a variety of Irisa’s flashback shows, her parents were crazy, and gave her to some kind of snake cult in which was certain she was some kind of Messiah/Chosen One/Creator/Destroyer/You get the idea. The real point is that Irisa’s parents giver her over to a Castithan to be tortured (and probably sexually abused, if you can read about half an inch under the surface). Irisa has all the reason in the world to hate those who did that to her, but is this really him? Is Irisa’s sense of smell and her memory correct, is this the man who tortured her? Was her “vision” perhaps lying?
It’s a great set-up to see the theoretically sympathetic protagonist Irisa do some horrible shit to someone who appears for all the world to have no idea what she’s talking about. When Deputy Tommy follows her after an errand and discovered her little torture HQ, Irisa is mad enough to lock up Tommy, too.
It culminates with Irisa unleashing a snake on her victim; as Tommy scream, you’d think that Irisa has lost her kind… until the victim admits this snakebite has given him clarity, and he remembers everything. He was indeed the priest who Irisa remember, who, after running from Nolan and his fellow soldiers (Nolan having shot Irisa’s parents to save her) became a normal jewelry merchant. He doesn’t even remember Irisa until the snakebite, at which point he begs to be killed — the final act needed for Irisa to turn into whatever the hell the snake cult thought she’s supposed to be.
Realizing how much the guy really wants her to kill him — not in a cruel way, he really thinks its an important step on her way to becoming whatever the hell she’s supposed to be — Irisa refuses to give him the satisfaction and releases him to his life of drudgery as a traveling jewelry salesman. It’s probably a bad idea, but Irisa has more important things on her mind and in her pants — Tommy, who kicked the crap out of the dude the minute he was freed for torturing the young Irisa, is rewarded with some hot Irathient sex on the sheriff’s office floor.
While the “good guy torturing somebody” scene is depressing familiar nowadays, I feel like I can trust Defiance’s intentions to make it layered. First of all, Irisa locks up this guy mostly based on a vision, and her visions are way too new to trust entirely. I like that the guy seems completely innocent and confused — ands when he finally reveals himself, he isn’t diabolically evil, but an enthusiastic — almost happy — cultist. I like that the only thing that stops Irisa from killing this dude is how much he genuinely wants her to kill him, and not some kind of moral code. I like how Irisa is revealed not as a spunky heroine who’s good with knife, but extremely damaged goods.
The main story is less revelatory, but it’s a good time, and look how much it sets up for future Defiance episode, even in just in terms of enemies: The Earth Federation in general. Tennety in particular. Rynn, who could come back to wreak vengeance. The snake cult dude. who may come back to finish the job he started when Irisa was a kid. And that’s not counting all the threats the show has shown us in previous episodes, like the Evil ex-Mayor, the Volge, various monsters, and more.
Defiance is now expanding its world while simultaneously raising the stakes, bringing nuance to its characters, and simply telling stories better. These last two episodes have been strong, and more importantly they’ve felt fundamentally strong — like we can reasonably expect this level of quality going forward. I don’t want to be a moron, I’m sure there will be some awful episodes in the weeks to come. But I think those will be fewer and farther between, the exception rather than the rule.
If you gave up on Defiance during the early rougher episodes, I don’t blame you, and if you are still cautious, I also understand that. But another episode or two like these last few and I think you’ll be officially missing out on the most promising scifi series of recent memory.
• I both love and hate Alak Tarr being Defiance’s DJ who plays in the St. Louis Arch. The location is ludicrous, obviously, and it’s a douchey thing to do, but 1) it shows how successful Datak has been in keeping Alak out of his criminal enterprises, and 2) while every other vesion of this trope would be for the hard-edged Datak to be disappointed in his sensitive, music-loving son, we’ve had zero indication that’s the case. Either way, Fuck Yeah Datak.
• I don’t want to tell the post-apocalypse how to run its business, but many you could pick one specific vehicle to cart dangerous prisoners to jail, and another to carry diplomats holding large briefcases full of cash. I think you’d be surprise at how many problems you’ll avoid.
• Since my favorite part of Defiance is how insidiously progressive it is, let me tell you my favorite instance in this episode: Ambassador Tennety’s evil has absolutely nothing to do with her polygamy.
• Second place: The priest’s goons checking the Ambassador’s husbands’ “usefuless” by grabbing their crotch. Sexual objectification — it's not just for women any more!
• So that very last scene, where Tommy and Irisa are fucking — well, Tommy’s kind of laying there, and Irisa’s kind of shuddering, and then she collapses and gets all glassy-eyed. Is this something to do with her visions, or… did Tommy just fuck her into unconsciousness? Does Game of Thrones’ Podrick Payne have a challenger for the Greatest Lover of Cable TV?
• Also: So that’s how much sideboob the FCC allows on basic cable. Good to know!
• I’m not sure how well Irisa is selling her interest in Tommy, but holy shit does Tommy have some chemistry with Irisa. Yow.
• Here’s what I want to know: What’s the deal with the Earth Federation? Who makes the ranks? What do they do? I may be saying this for the first time, but I full trust Defiance to give me these answers at some point, and
• Irisa has some serious issues regarding people who kill/beat up people for her.
• Whether you’ve been enjoying it or not, Defiance has been doing pretty well for Syfy, and they’ve renewed it for season 2. After tonight, I have zero qualms about that at all… unless Syfy decides they need to start slashing the budget. Although since the episode with the least CG have invariably been the best episodes so far, maybe Defiance can afford to lose a few bucks.