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Defiance “Down in the Ground where the Dead Men Go” Recap & Review

Episode 2Developments since pilot: we now have an opening sequence. We no longer have Irisa voiceovers, this one has music as `bookends’.

The episode starts with a series of flashbacks, no real dialogue. We see a Castithan frantically running through a forest – we flash back to 24 hours in the past when he deserted his post during the battle with the Volge, in full view of Datak Tarr. Just before the opening titles, he is caught by Castithans who drag him back to Defiance.

We next see the deserter strung up against an apparatus in the shape of an X – each of the deserter’s limbs is tied to the apparatus and it works with pulleys and levers. There’s a basket behind it that Castithans place rocks into, exerting pressure on the restraints keeping the deserter trussed up and it looks a little like he’s being drawn and quartered. It looks like torture to Nolan and Irisa who come upon the scene, but they are informed by Datak Tarr that it is a cleansing ritual, as prescribed by the Castithans’ faith. The man has shamed his caste by running from battle, taken their honor, and unless the ritual is performed, the man could never pass to the Afterlife. Even the man himself protests, he is going through the ritual because “they have no choice. I must do this for my family.” Nolan continues to try and free the man, a Castithan resists, Nolan draws his gun and threatens to arrest every one of them unless they stop. Mayor Amanda, her arm in a sling, enters the fray at this point. How did she know? Tommy, the former Lawkeeper’s Deputy, had snuck off and brought her. Datak Tarr immediately asks her to put a muzzle on her new Lawkeeper (ding ding: Nolan accepted the job) and rather patronisingly reminds Amanda that religious understanding was negotiated with her predecessor at the time of the founding of Defiance, and did she really want to cause a fuss in only her 3rd week on the job. Her response is in the Castithan language to the effect that she respects their traditions just like Nikki did. In an undertone and in English, she tells him to keep this ceremonies in the Hollows. When Datak responds and uses her first name, she corrects Datak that she is to be called “Mayor” and takes Nolan with her as she leaves. The ceremony continues without a change in location. Irisa has a concerned expression on her face that the Deputy tries to put his hand on her shoulder to comfort her. She goes into a defensive move and stops him in his tracks by pinning his arm and his shoulder. He apologises, looks down and sees a wide scar around her wrists. She snatches her arm back and goes back to watching the ceremony.

Cut to Nolan and Amanda. He gets a “you’re not from around here, so I’m going to ‘splain to you why and how things are how they are” speech from her. Defiance was founded only 8 years previously. When the town instituted a mandatory vaccination policy for all children, the well over 1,000 Irathients living in Defiance at the time refused. The vaccination policy was written into the town charter as law and children were vaccinated by force when Deputies went house to house to enforce the law. There was an uprising. It didn’t go well for the Irathients as they were outgunned and outnumbered. The ones who weren’t killed left the town. Amanda says the town council then informally decided (my note: did not amend the charter) to allow the 8 races to practice their religious beliefs and traditions without human interference. Nolan questions the ‘rightness’ (he is moral compass guy, things are black and white to him – like Dean Winchester for the first 6 seasons of Supernatural) of it – Amanda responds “It’s necessary” (so she’s shades of grey girl, a Sam Winchester to Nolan’s Dean).

The ceremony continues, Nolan returns to Irisa. She is almost near tears and expresses disappointment when Nolan won’t stop it. He doesn’t like it but tells Irisa that Amanda promised to do something about it. Iris doesn’t put a lot of faith into promises, but Nolan tells her he’s going to “take a beat” and give Amanda a chance to essentially prove how much her word is worth. It’s a trust exercise, but considering the man didn’t want to be saved, Nolan’s willing to let it play out.

The hospital: Mister Birch incapacitates a guard just outside the door. He enters, tells an apparently undead Ben it’s time to wake up and injects something into his brain causing him to wake up. We find out Ben’s cooperation was under duress to protect his family and that they would bear the consequences if Ben failed Birch again. He reminds Ben of ‘the old plan’ which apparently involved the mines possibly jeopardising what Birch is trying to find. Ben tries to back out, Birch doesn’t care and leaves, Ben makes his escape.

The mines were mentioned, cue a visit to the McCawleys where we learn about the family dynamic. Their mother is long dead, Christie, according to Quentin, is the one who kept the family together while Luke could do no wrong in his father’s eyes. Quentin accuses Rafe of turning on Christie the one time she does something he doesn’t like (falling in love and making preparations to marry Alak Tarr) after he issues the ‘if you walk out that door, don’t ever come back’ ultimatum. Quentin asks his father if Luke was such a good man, why was he meeting Ben – a traitor – alone in the woods? Cut to Rafe walking into Luke’s room where he gets a phone call that there’s been an explosion in the mine.

Blip of a scene in the hospital: Indogene doctor examines the guard while Nolan and Amanda look on. Deputy arrives to say Quentin has just called to let them know what’s happened at the mine. They need to get there somehow.

The mine: we are at an abandoned shaft that Ben collapsed behind him after stealing 20 kgs of guanite. Amanda estimates 2 kg were used to blow the shaft, still leaving him in possession of enough to make a big bomb, but not enough to hurt Defiance any was the first assessment. The shaft leads to “Old St Louis” – parts of the city had apparently stayed intact during the terraforming, which unlike most other cities hardened on top of it instead of obliterating it (still doesn’t explain why the Arch is still standing tall). Following Ben is impossible, they must go another way, through a maze of tunnels with steep drops and razor sharp rocks (ooooooh) called the Rat’s Nest, discovered by Rafe, so naturally he is part of the party. Nolan is too (handily producing the appropriate underground experience from his CV to justify he won’t hold Rafe back) and a couple of miners (expandables) form the crew. Irisa asks Nolan not to risk his life for these people, he tells her to help Deputy Tommy to figure out who’s behind Ben’s escape and to stay far away from the man who was tortured/ceremonially cleansed. The look she has on her face as soon as Nolan is far enough away doesn’t give the impression she’s going to do what he asks.

In a white chamber, the Tarrs are getting some grooming done while they discuss the ceremony. Stahma questions why Datak is so hung up on the old traditions since back on Casti, he was part of the lowest caste, poor and degraded. This new world gave him the opportunity to rise up so high, so why hang on to a way of life that was keeping him so low? Firstly, though, if the town were to be against them, they could not successfully take over the mines, jeopardising their son’s future. When Alak enters the bath chamber to have a tantrum about how the wedding might have to be cancelled because of Rafe and Christie, the virtually naked Stahma embraces her son and soothingly assures him that Mother will take care of everything. She always seems very calm and in control of not only her emotions but also the important things around her. I wonder what it takes for her to lose that carefully constructed facade we know it to be. Even Mister Spock eventually showed a chink in his armour.

Rat’s Nest: the party of 6 headlamps arrives in “Old St Louis”, an aerial pan to a cavernous chunk of the city. No purpose here, it’s just a “you are here” signpost. The Arch officially makes zero sense; its only purpose seeming to be a symbolic one and therefore not subject to any laws of physics (unless we have to learn some weird terraforming physics – and until such time or until it actually becomes significant, that’s the last I’ll say about it.).

Mayor Nikki, haven’t seen her all episode. She’s in Mentor Nikki mode packing up her stuff out of the Mayor’s office. Amanda sits on a window seat and gazes out at the man being tortured. Turns out only 3 hours have passed since he was strung up. Nikki and Amanda talk how similar humans and Castithans are, despite the apparent differences. “They build their lives around ancient traditions that may once have had a purpose. None of them can agree on what it was.” Except they lost their past when their planet blew up, so the rituals are all they have left, so Nikki cautions Amanda that if she were to take that from them, it would be “like the Iraths all over again” – referring to the Irathient rebellion Amanda told Nolan about in the first half of the episode (isn’t it nice how information loops close?) Amanda disagrees: she believes a bigger identity than the superficial racial one is being forged in Defiance (if she’s right, that’s something Nikki can use against her in her scheming). They look at each other warmly. All warmth disappears on the street where Nikki hands a small trunk to Mister Birch. He’s there to give her a status update (Ben should be at the target in 2 hours) and drive her around so she can say goodbye to some people. Mister Birch questions the point of it, Nikki seems to have a genuine attachments to them. But, her next words are not unlike those uttered by political and religious fanatics  / fundamentalists in justification of their often horrific actions: “What I do is for the benefit of all, and because it must be done. I take no pleasure in this…”

In “Old St Louis” – the purpose of the scene: primarily back story and the ‘finding of common ground’ for Nolan and Rafe. We find out that Nolan and Rafe both grew up in St Louis – Nolan left when he was 9, Rafe stayed. Rafe’s family was in the dog food manufacturing business (Nolan even remembers their jingle) but Rafe wanted to become a photographer. He gave it up when photographing terraformed landscapes depressed him too much. The only thing that furthers the plot in this scene is that although Nolan promised to bring Ben back alive, Rafe did not. The inkling of a showdown looms.

Speaking of promises, Irisa is at the ritual site, where one Castithan after another puts a stone in the basket. When a child is next to put a rock in it, Irisa stops him and starts cutting the deserter down. The Castithans then turn on Irisa but before she can be in any real danger, Tommy fires a shot from his rifle into the air stopping everyone in their tracks. He decides to arrest him, loitering is the first thing that comes to mind when he’s verbally challenged.

After that blip of a scene, some not-to-scale nuclear reactors come into the frame. From being ground level at Jefferson Park, the group have now climbed another great height for another painted / CG aerial shot, this time of a nuclear power plant that is showing signs of coming back to life (Ben’s target). A bomb detonated there would pose a definite threat to Defiance. So much for the first assessment of the bomb not posing a threat. Episode climax scenes coming up, right after Stahma visits her future daughter-in-law at work: a subway car repurposed to a cafe where Christie is a server. They don’t have a heart-to-heart as much as Stahma tells her the (a?) story  of how she and Datak got together. Shockingly, their situation was not dissimilar to Alak and Christie’s. Stahma’s parents had her betrothed to a man of honour and of the highest caste, Datak was a “scruffy nobody”. The men challenged each other to a ‘Castithan Blood Duel’, but en route, Stahma’s betrothed was accidentally flushed out of an airlock…Christie is given to understand that Datak is a survivor and there is nothing he won’t do to keep them, his family, safe…even if/especially if up against Christie’s father…just not in those words.

Back underground, where Ben is holed up inside the reactor, the posse goes in search of him. Most of the expendables are quickly killed off by Ben, who is himself wounded. As he reaches to detonate the glowy blue sacks of explosive, Nolan puts a very large gun against his head. Well, if that was the climax, that was disappointing. Thankfully, it’s just a commercial and so the drama will continue unabated on the DVD version. Rafe now has a gun to Ben’s head and Nolan has to talk him down. Ben either has an urge to confess all or has a death wish, because by telling Rafe that Luke hated his guts and all he wanted was enough money to get out of Defiance and out of his father’s house (especially after what Rafe did to his mother….which was what exactly, another mystery), Rafe gets ready to pull the trigger. Nolan tells Rafe to make a choice: avenge his son’s death or find out what happened? Rafe makes ready to disarm, but Ben pretty much goes harikiri on him and dies saying “tell Amanda I’m sorry”. Awwww. Crap.

Turns out there’s more in store in this episode’s drama department: we’re in the Lawkeeper’s office / jail (just like in an old Western). The deserter, Tommy and Irisa are waiting for Amanda. Although Tommy says it’s quiet outside Irisa is sure they’ll come and Tommy was stupid to help her. 5-4-3-2-1, Tommy spots an approach, the doors open and the Castithans walk in demanding release of the `coward’. Blah-blah, Mexican stand-off. Amanda arrives to say she is pardoning the prisoner. Nolan and Rafe arrive to bring up the rear and we’re in a proper Mexican stand-off. Blah-blah. Datak seems to acquiesce and offers an opening towards dialogue and resolution before he leaves with his men, head held high.

It’s been a long day – Amanda goes to bury the 41 people who died in the battle with the Volge, Irisa explains in her minimalist way that she freed the man because she couldn’t stand him being in chains and that Amanda helped. Nolan says in an ironic-know-it-all voice “so we were right to trust her”, but Irisa is unmoved. He’s starting to put the town before their dream of going to Antarctica, and this might cause a rift between him and Irisa down the road if she does not eventually change her stance on the temporariness (or lack thereof) of their sojourn in Defiance. It looks like Defiance may have found itself a champion, but I believe Irisa thinks Nolan might be setting himself up to fight windmills, and it’s her task as a Sancho Panza to show Don Quixote what he believes to be real isn’t so they can leave.

The episode ends with a slowed-down cover of Nirvana’s “Come As You Are”. It is the score for a series of actions: Defiance commemorating the dead in the forest as a community, the lovebirds looking lovey (the wedding’s back on), the Tarrs looking pleased — followed by Rafe searching Luke’s room for clues – we know it’s Luke’s room because it’s where Rafe got his phone call, its only purpose then was to introduce this bit now. And Rafe is successful, he finds Luke’s money stash and a big decoratively worked, gold coloured, emblem-looking thing with holes spaced out along its sides and one through the centre: the key. To what? — The song continues, and the tortured man is back with his family until Datak takes him to where he can execute him (the man is grateful for Datak’s mercy, he does not resist) — a rest in the song allows a scream to pierce the melody and Irisa, Tommy, and Nolan open the Lawkeeper’s office door to find the dead man on the stoop. The shock registering on Irisa’s face might further her distance from getting involved with people of Defiance again, as if she’s thinking “that’s the last time I meddle to help one of them”.

This episode served to provide a lot more backstory in addition to what the pilot provided (and it laid some good groundwork), but failed to move the plot forward in any meaningful way. More questions arose than were answered. The ones that have come up along the way, you might have more, are:

  • Where do Irisa’s scars come from? Her parents?
  • Does Irisa’s “welcome to Antarctica” postcard have any wider significance?
  • How did Casti blow up and why?
  • Are the people Nikki says goodbye to important in any way, as we don’t actually see this tidbit progress any?
  • What happened to Rafe’s wife? What did he “do” to her?
  • Now that Rafe has the key, what will he do next?

Looks like we got ourselves a multi-layered show. I really am starting to hope we get to see it through.

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3 Comments on Defiance “Down in the Ground where the Dead Men Go” Recap & Review

  1. Thank you! Please keep doing excellent recaps of this show!

  2. allitnil // May 4, 2013 at 6:30 pm // Reply

    i think the welcome to “Antarctica” postcard is a sticker covering up California–paying homage to the postcard in a Mad Max film – (or some other post apocalyptic movie) i’d have to check further, but i think that’s it.

    • Interesting connection idea – I love comment collabos. No one can know everything and everyone knows something. I only saw one of the Mad Maxes ever, so I didn’t even think of a connection like that. Makes a bit of sense, homage to the post-apocalypse work that has gone before.

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