Defiance, Season 1: Episode 7 – “Brothers in Arms”
Directed by Andy Wolk
Written by Todd Slavkin and Darren Swimmer
Airs Monday nights at 9 of SyFy
This was the episode of Defiance I was waiting for. For a while now, this series has been hanging its hat on world-building, which hasn’t exactly been disengaging or uninteresting. But there have only been the occasional scenes in which I felt invested in the main characters. “Brothers in Arms” does a great job of using a common trope and subverting it in a way that draws out some legitimately interesting material from Nolan, and that development spreads to other parts and characters in the episode as well. The trope is the old friend of a character, Eddie (an old war buddy of Nolan’s), who comes in and turns out not be the person we think they are. Even sitcoms like Archer used this in the most recent season as a way of digging into a character’s back story. I usually try to not watch the sneak peeks at the end of episodes that compile a montage of events for the following week, but I ended up sticking around for last week’s preview. That preview set up this episode to bring in Eddie and show us that he is actually working against Nolan in some way. By the end of “Brothers in Arms,” though, Eddie turns out to be the guy we expect him to be and, more importantly, he reminds Nolan of his own genesis in a way that actually affects and changes this character who we have grown to know over the course of the last few episodes.
Eddie is essentially a bounty hunter, and he’s after Pol (shown above), who is an arms developer with a high price tag if brought in alive. Nolan picks up on Eddie’s motivations because of their history and time spent together, so it’s no surprise when we find out that Eddie is trying to bring in Pol to a competing party to help develop weapons of mass destruction, because that’s where the money is. It’s a typical “this person is not who you expected” twist, but instead of that being the extent of the character, Eddie avoids being one-dimensional by having believable and sympathetic goals that are in opposition to the character we are supposed to be rooting for. Nolan knows he would be doing the same thing if he were in Eddie’s position, and after he kills Pol, he tells Eddie that he can bring Nolan in for a smaller bounty if he promises to leave Irisa out of it. That move wouldn’t have been made by the Nolan of last week or several weeks ago. Having Eddie come in and remind him who he was – the nickname “No Man” wasn’t given because of falling behind enemy lines, but because Nolan left no man alive – gives him the chance to become something else (more on that shortly). Eddie, in turn, chooses to take the fall for Nolan, because he sees how his old friend has been able to carve out a place for himself in Defiance – a place that has purpose outside of being a gun-toting ex-soldier.
How these developments filter into the other parts of “Brothers in Arms” is more surprising and interesting because of that. For a while, Nolan has had a non-emotional relationship with Kenya, and at some point we expect our main man to develop something with one of the women on the show. After last week, it seemed like Nolan was being pulled between both sisters, Kenya and Amanda. But this episode was very concerned with the nature of Nolan and Kenya’s relationship, the first significant action being Kenya bowing out of sleeping with Eddie out of some inexplicable loyalty to Nolan. Kenya sits down with Amanda afterwards to talk it out, because she doesn’t understand why she made that decision, and, unlike Amanda, Kenya runs away from any kind of human connection and makes the decision to not pursue things with Nolan. Nolan’s reaction to Kenya’s aversion when he comes back to Defiance is appropriately confused, and even though his final scene in the episode has to do with explaining his and “Uncle” Eddie’s past to Irisa, the big development going forward is that Nolan went out on a limb to express his feelings and was denied. Depending on the character and the TV series, this either makes the character retreat much more strongly into their former selves or else it lights a fire under them to make them want to chase after that thing or person with more fervor. Given what we’ve seen of Nolan so far, it makes more sense that he would stay away from emotional connection outside of his fatherly relationship with Irisa more aggressively, but the fact that we weren’t given the aftermath of that is interesting and lets us, like Nolan, stew over what that rejection means for this person.
We’re now halfway though the first season of Defiance (which has received a renewal, in case you were wondering), so it’s a good time to examine where we’re at and anticipating what’s to come. My first and major reservation has been completely addressed. That whole Romeo and Juliet love story between the Tarr and McCawley families has not taken precedence, and Stahma hasn’t sucked up minutes each episode to do poorly executed scheming. Each episode has tackled a different idea, and although great character beats have been few and far between, it has at least left doors open to explore characters in the future rather than making certain characters too one-note. Even Datak gets an interesting scene in “Brothers in Arms” where someone who should be his “brother” is denied that agency because of the kind of person Datak is trying to be within the context of both Defiance the town and Defiance the show. We’ve also been given several scenes that have been visually impressive (most notably the battle at the end of the pilot), which has satisfied the action parts of our expectations for a sci-fi series like this. So, going forward, I kind of just hope that that stuff gets expanded on – that we get more great, creepy scenes like those descents into the mines with the creatures that live there. Now, both Nolan and Irisa – our two main characters – have had episodes that have really drawn out interesting backstory material. Hopefully, those developments inform where these characters and their ideals are going leading up to the season finale.