The 2-hour pilot laid some great groundwork, the first regular episode of that skimmed the surface of the delicacy and `damned if you do / damned if you don’t’ situations involving customs and respect of other cultures, not to mention the attempt at humanizing the seemingly hard-hearted Rafe McCawley – this week we got hellbugs and here’s your “In Case You Missed It” recap of the episode “Devil in the Dark”.
The `previously on’ scenes seemed to focus a lot on the Spirit Riders so we know they’re going to be important, but the episode doesn’t start out with them. Instead, we have a man by a vehicle in the middle of nowhere taking some brand-new looking running shoes out of a box (with something else underneath) in his boot. Some folks on dirt bikes come riding along, but the man is undeterred. Putting white earphones in, a flute and piano concerto becomes audible and to that lively music we watch the man run through the woods. There’s something in the brush though – the music doesn’t change, is it a danger or a cute little critter – and it follows him as the camera watches the man from behind jog further into the woods. When the man stops, we hear a growl and we watch the brush move/part as the critter appears to move in for a strike. He nips the man, who decides his run is done, – concerto time is definitely over – and he makes a break for safety. He is eventually nabbed by the as-yet-unseen critter that is no higher than 2 feet, yet is strong enough to grab and drag a fully grown (and not unfit) man actively resisting the previously mentioned dragging to points unknown.
Moving along, we’re in Defiance now, Irisa looks like she’s doing Tai Chi mixed with weapons work as the previously seen dirtbike-posse arrive in town. It is the Spirit Riders who appear to just be out for a visit. One Irathient wanders into a market and is informed by the human stallkeeper that since she touched a round fruity thing she had to buy it. He says he lost a brother to the `plague you people brought’ (a-ha, the disease Nikki and Amanda briefly talked about last episode can jump species). Wordlessly, she picks up the fruit and licks it from top to bottom. Stallkeeper pulls out a dagger, Irisa throws one of hers and it lands on a cutting board in front of the stallkeeper telling him `the next one finds an eye’, and the top-hat wearing leader of the Spirit Riders plunks down some bills. Right, so no love lost between these folks. Top Hat (whose forehead prosthetic make him look like a vamped-out leftover from Buffy The Vampire Slayer), the other Irathient, and Irisa leave the market. Top Hat calls Irisa “Little Wolf” and reiterates an offer of a place with the Spirit Riders, her own kind. The other female Irathient draws attention to Irisa’s Lawkeeper badge. Irisa says she wears it for Nolan (her loyalty still to him, not the town), cue Lawkeeper business: Nolan contacts her via walkie-talkie/phone and asks her to come to a location because they’ve found a dead body.
Location of dead body. Some blood-red entrails scenically placed on a tree, Nolan, Tommy and Irisa are looking in the brush, picking up body parts, with marrow sucked clean from the bone (eewwww). Irisa has a bit of a hallucination, but she shakes it off. When they find the shoes, Tommy can identify the man, not that he knew much about him. And we’re done.
Top Hat is in Amanda’s office looking over some artefacts and he lists every piece’s origin by race. His is missing, but he declines the offer to contribute. They speak in English and his is heavily accented (a resistance to assimilation? The other races we’ve met so far all speak with a generic American accent). Amanda clues him into why he’s there. People have been complaining about the Spirit Riders’ visits. She confirms her support for as long as she’s mayor, but Top Hat counters that he hears she’s up for re-election soon. What? Last week she was three weeks on the job. How much time has passed in Defiance between last week and this? She asks him to assimilate, be more like them, in order to keep people pacified, he agrees but lays no store by this strategy. And he’s right: if people are bound and determined to hate another person or race for whatever reason, then there’s not a lot they can do to change those minds. Race relations 101 – something important for our day and age as well, yet will viewers pick up on that and will it inform the way they might treat their own fellow man/woman in future? So Top Hat informs Amanda that when the townspeople do turn on them, they will at least know where the food and weapons stores are. And his contribution to the case of artefacts will be a handful of soil, to represent the Irathient blood already within it. Right, so, not bitter. The past seems to be very important to him.
In the NeedWant, Kenya and a punter are having a `food porn’ encounter, he’s into it, she not so much (clock watcher) when he suddenly spasms, blood spurts out his chest and there’s a low shot from the side of the bed at an angle where it looks like jaws from a mouth appear from the cavity (or maybe they’re supposed to be his ribs, except the exposed bone is way too short for that). Another ewwwww. Can this episode get any more viscerally unappealing?
Our crack team of Nolan, Irisa, and Tommy appear on scene, with the Indogene doctor and a rather uncomfortable looking Kenya in the room. The doctor comes to the conclusion that it’s `insert Latin-sounding name here’, which Nolan immediately translates to Hellbugs – the penny drops, “they eat marrow and line their nests with flesh” (yup, just got grosser). Irisa has another hallucination/flashback while Nolan answers Kenya’s question as to how to get rid of them. Nolan again notices her zoning out and doesn’t believe her when she lies about what’s going on with her. Does Irisa even know? He follows her out of the room and asks if it was one of her `episodes’ because he thought she didn’t have them anymore. He’s definitely ahead of us, it’s the first time we’ve seen a proper chink in her armour (not liking seeing people getting tortured doesn’t count) because she confesses she only stopped talking about them and that they’ve been getting stronger since they got to Defiance. He tells her that what she’s seeing isn’t real, post-tramautic stress, Irisa says she knows. Tommy approaches with the doctor bearing a plastic bag of narsty-looking bits held high. Nolan, ever the explainer, “that’s an empty Hellbug egg purse. You don’t find them outside the nest.” Great, now we know. The doctor poses a question that it may have been planted. Even better: murder by devouring Hellbugs from the inside! Yum. Doctor pipes up with a further clue of substances found at both locations. More ding-ding-ding information from Nolan when Tommy, in his function as viewership-proxy, asks what the presence of attack pheromones means. Nolan in the know explains that “they’re chemical markers that the bugs spray to guide the hive”. They come to an agreement that it can only mean someone’s intentionally killing people with Hellbugs.
At the Tarrs’ house, Christie has made dinner as a thank you for the family letting her stay. Stahma compliments her on how lovely she’s made the table look, Datak isn’t all that hopeful that it’s going to be any good saying that Votan River Otter was a difficult dish to cook. Wide-eyed Christie had wanted her father to be there too, but assumes his excuse was that he was too busy at the mines. Grumpy Gus Datak says something in Castithan about how he’d be busy too if he knew he was going to have to choke down the meal…Christie, not missing a beat excuses herself. Alak tells him she’s been learning Castithan and understood what he said and goes after her. Time for Stahma to do her thing. Datak wonders if Alak will be able to control her (Christie? Docile, butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-her-mouth Christie? Control her? Has he met his own wife?). Anyway, Stahma reminds him that they need Rafe’s agreement to the marriage and that means making sure that Christie and Rafe reconcile. Good point. My question is timing … so enough time has passed that Amanda is up for re-election but the wedding hasn’t happened yet? This is Frontier-land, it’s not like they have wedding planners, elaborate colour schemes, menus, invitations, flower arrangements, venue hunting, cake drama, horse-drawn carriage versus limousine discussions and the usual rigmarole we go through.
Alak has found Christie and apologises for him. They don’t have much opportunity to debate it because it’s time to meet the Hellbugs: CG crab-looking things but where you see a head, all you see is a Leviathan-looking mouth a la Supernatural. Christie screams, mommy and daddy Tarr come a-running, Datak tells everyone to get to safety, pulls out a handy-dandy blue glowy knife that extends to a sword when you shake it and prepares to do battle with the toothy critters, muttering in Castithan. After the obligatory commercial break, we see one critter jump and skitter along the walls and up the ceiling where Datak stabs it straight up whilst another one is just behind him. Oooh, the tension as the scene now follows the fleeing Tarrs, Stahma and Alak, with Christie as they run out of the house. Alak stops and wants to go back in, Stahma starts to argue and as they all look back at the house, a dripping Datak appears in the doorframe blithely suggesting they should dine out. Oh, Datak, you’re such a joker. Emotional family moment, but Christie is standing off to the side. She’s not part of this family yet. As if to remind us who her family actually is, the very next scene has the Tarrs and Christie walking into Rafe’s house and Christie rushes into his arms. They must have explained it all, revising some of it, because the next scene has them all sitting at a table and Datak is finishing a story about Alak risking his life to save Christie’s and true love and all that. Stahma suggests Christie stay with her father for a bit (that’ll get them closer to reconciliation). Our detecting foursome of Nolan, Irisa, Tommy, and the doctor arrive and the latter runs a scanner up and down every person in the room. Christie is revealed to be the one with the attack pheromones on her and she and Stahma leave with Datak’s insistence so she can wash them off and burn her clothes. Rafe demands to know “why my daughter?” – Nolan, without a shred of sarcasm, counter-questions with “maybe because she is your daughter”. Turns out Rafe knows the dead men, but the last time he’d had any dealings with him was over a dozen years ago over a property deal. Nolan asks for documentation, Rafe orders coffee.
For the next scene we know why: it’s now daylight and the foursome are pouring over documents. Irisa is looking at photographs of the plot of land and has another set of hallucinations/flashbacks when the photos suddenly burst into flame. She asks where the photos were taken, and after Rafe tells her, she sets out for it with Nolan telling Tommy to keep an eye on her. We stay with Rafe and Nolan, paperwork found, except the person he bought it from was an Irathient homesteader who signed in English and Nolan has a bit of a problem with that. Remember the timeline? It’s 2045ish – the Votan races arrived in 2013, so this deal would’ve happened about 3 years after Arkfall (ca. 2033). I don’t see a problem. Do you see a problem? Rafe is sarcastically defensive about how it was hard for him and his Wall Street lawyers to do proper title searches without the internet when Tommy walks in with a booboo on his forehead. Irisa threw him off the roller. Nolan makes to leave.
Irisa is at the place she saw in the photo, has a succession of flashbacks whilst Nolan cautiously approaches her. Her hallucinations appear to be taking over because she starts mewling and essentially living/re-living the scene (Irathients in a pastoral setting are being attacked and killed by unknown assailants) in her mind. She eventually is just sobbing in Nolan’s lap as the camera zooms out.
After the commercial, Irisa is back in control and back in Defiance. She seeks out Top Hat in the NeedWant (Nolan is in tow after she convinces him to trust her) and she’s looking for answers. Specifically, she’s looking for the fruit-licking Irathient who now has a name, Rynn, and who, according to Irisa, is behind the killings. Top Hat is unhelpful. Irisa tells him she knows how Top Hat took Rynn in, gave her a new name, and that she knows what happened. Top Hat (Rynn’s Nolan, I guess, so, maybe not such a bad guy) is stunned, says Irisa’s been `touched’, that he doesn’t know where Rynn is, but implies that Irisa might by using whatever she’s got. Top Hat also says that Rynn told him she didn’t know who killed her parents, but allows for the fact that “sometimes when you are younger, you make yourself forget things” – so basically, coming back to Defiance and being so close to her old home must’ve triggered those repressed memories that were so strong that Irisa was forced to share them. But that would only explain the `episodes’ we, the audience, have been witness to in this instalment of the show, not the previous instances Nolan was referring to on the landing of the NeedWant. It does open the door to those episodes having possibly been unintentional psychic links with other people, doesn’t it?
Next scene, “Little Wolf” has apparently agreed. We have a shirtless and super-buff Top Hat, chanting, face painting, hand slicing (why always across the palms? Oh yes, dramatic effect. oooh.), pipe smoking – so, she’s going on some kind of `vision quest’. Boom, she’s in the field where `it’ happened and is just about to relive Rynn’s parents’ deaths. Top Hat acts as guide, asks Irisa to describe what she sees, and she does with a frowny-faced Nolan looking on. She sees the killed men Taggart (running shoe guy) and Bowen (stallkeeper, died during food porn) murdering Rynn’s parents and Rynn running away. When Irisa finds Rynn in the present, via astral planning or something, she comes back from the vision questy experience choking out a “I know where she is” as she collapses as if cuddling in Top Hat’s arms, his bulging biceps almost dwarfing Leonidas’s petite frame. In the half light Nolan looks as though he feels utterly out of place here. Well, all of Top Hat’s muscliness is a bit distracting.
Irisa, bounced back from the most recent in-someone’s-lap breakdown storms out into the street with Nolan after her apologising all the way for not believing what she was seeing was real – he was coming up with human solutions to an offworlder’s problem. Irisa has to remind him that she isn’t like him and says something really interesting: “I’m an alien and you make me afraid of that”, Nolan continuing to apologise and wanting to talk so they can come up with answers. Irisa’s having none of it, by this time they’re in the Lawkeeper office and she’s putting bullets into a gun. She’s after Rynn before she kills someone else. Heightened drama – yes, as a matter of fact, we ARE 45 minutes into this episode. You know what happens next: climax then a pseudo-resolution, and crumbs to take us into the next episode. Let’s see if I’m right.
Tommy, Irisa, Top Hat, and Nolan are in an elevator dressed like miners about to go into battle. They reach the bottom, there’s a pile of gooey translucent pellets on the ground. Proxy-Tommy has to ask what it is, Nolan tells him it’s Hellbug poop and picks a gooey handful up and pelts Tommy’s back with it. No, Nolan does not have a puerile sense of humour, he tells everyone to do the same because Hellbugs see by smell. If they’re mouth-breathers, I can believe that, because I really didn’t see any other organs when Datak was fighting with them. They really get into it, putting the stuff all over themselves, including hair – okay, I admit I didn’t see another bout of narstiness coming – they go back to the lift and try to operate it, something short-circuits and it plummets down the shaft to the bottom. The four only have their legs taken out from under them (ah, elevator drops on TV – reminder to really suspend one’s disbelief). They venture out of the lift and some flying Hellbugs whiz across their (and our) line of sight and then the camera zooms in on Momma-Hellbug, one that is HUGE and gooey gross sounds appear to emanate from her. Despite the lights on helmets and on the foursome’s rifles, she doesn’t seem to see them. Tommy is tasked to fix the controls on the lift, Nolan get set to lay the charges to blow the Hellbug hive to smithereens with Irisa and Top Hat wants to find Rynn when, speak of the devil, she shoots Top Hat somewhere on his massive body and demands the others drop their weapons if they don’t want to have a glowy blue container (man, they do love their glowy blue on this show) of attack pheromones thrown at them. The Irathients now speak in the Votan language – Rynn questions Top Hat’s loyalty because he brought them to her, no, he says, it was Irisa. Time for Irisa to intercede and talk her down. It only works to a point, enough so Irisa can get a shot off with her knife before Rynn can break the container. Nolan seizes the opportunity to get rid of that threat by throwing the container at the momma so the little ones attack her. They all retreat to the lift, Tommy gets the thing working in the nick of time – when momma’s toothy face looms really close to them and Nolan fires shots below as they rise eventually hitting one of the charges.
We’re cheated out of a big explosion because next we’re in Amanda’s office and she’s filling us – and the townsfolk assembled in her office – in on the happily ever afters: ownership of the West Valley property has been given back to the Irathient settlers, they’ve leased it to the McCawley mines, clapping, Rafe and Top Hat shake hands, Christie hugs her dad and says she’s proud of him (there had to be SOME reason for her being there, she’s really rather useless otherwise), Top Hat tips his hat at Irisa, she nods back at him.
Irisa brings Top Hat to where Tommy is guarding Rynn. Top Hat and Rynn are left alone to have a convo – bit of a touching one with subtitles, they may have been spiritually united before, but it doesn’t seem like they are now. A song that sounds like it might be the Queensryche song “Silent Lucidity” begins and as a female voice sings something completely different, we have reconciliatory montages and unhappy onlookers: Rynn is seated, in chains, and prison-bound with her head down towards Top Hat’s muscular chest who tenderly touches the top of her head; Irisa and Top Hat sharing a drink at the NeedWant, Nolan sees them together and leaves them there; Christie and Rafe walking arm in arm to the Tarrs’ house where Alak opens the door and the couple hug before going inside, while Rafe is an unhappy camper to see her there/go?; Rynn alone in her cell; Irisa is in bed thrashing as if having nightmares, Nolan sits on the edge of her bed, his arm outstretched as he holds her hand in comfort. His gaze is directed at the ground, a solitary light to the right of the frame – and it’s a rather cool shot to end the episode with. No crumbs leading us to the next episode, nor is there a “next time on Defiance” bit. It’s all a bit, well, flat.
In conclusion, not my favourite episode. It doesn’t do anything with the groundwork already laid out – not that it’s a linear path that answers questions as if we were merely ticking boxes, but this doesn’t seem to have anything to do with any other anythings we’ve come across and it’s a bit too early for a stand-alone episode. We’ve not even fully established a canon and it seems like this one went off-book. And just who or what was the titular `Devil in the Dark’? Rynn’s repressed memories? The Hellbugs in their nesty hive down in the bowels of a mine? And what’s with the spontaneous combustion? Rafe and Nolan might not be the happiest of campers, but, neither am I. Frowny face.