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Defiance, Ep. 1.06: “The Serpent’s Egg” – “You make me feel like I am whole again”

Defiance, Ep. 1.06: “The Serpent’s Egg” – “You make me feel like I am whole again”

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Defiance, Season 1: Episode 6 – “The Serpent’s Egg”
Directed by Omar Madha
Written by David Weddle and Bradley Thompson
Airs Monday nights at 9 on SyFy

Since Defiance is content to draw a lot of attention to its soundtrack, I am content to talk about that. In “The Serpent’s Egg,” we find out that Alak Tarr is the Defiance DJ, broadcasting from the top of St. Louis’ Gateway Arch. Why the hell not, right? If you’re compiling a list at home, the song that opens this episode is “Ride Captain Ride,” which doesn’t serve as much of a purpose as the closing song that Alak dedicates to Christie (who can apparently see Alak all the way up at the top of the arch, because her vision is amazing!) – “Lovesong” by The Cure. Connecting soundtrack lyrics to the written content of TV episodes might be a tired exercise, but I’m a big fan of doing just that. It makes opening lyrics like “Whenever I’m alone with you / You make me feel like I am home again / Whenever I’m alone with you / You make me feel like I am whole again” feel more deliberate. We’re given a montage at the end that maybe makes that deliberateness much less subtle, but it’s interesting to think about nonetheless. Who is at home in this show? Who feels alone? And who has the ability to make someone else feel whole?

If you remember last week’s episode, Stahma says that Kenya has the “rare gift for knowing exactly what people need.” And in spite of Stahma always scheming, that statement rings true. Kenya is a prostitute and it’s kind of her job to know what people want or need – I think the point was that she’s particularly good at reading people. It’s odd, then, that Kenya doesn’t show up this week, but there are plenty of characters who feed off that energy of completion. We get a little bit of Nolan and Irisa’s backstory in proper flashback fashion, in which he rescues her from a torturer (would these torture scenes have any more impact if Game of Thrones hadn’t decided to numb us to torture this entire season?). Nolan and Irisa are characters who function much better when they’re together. Left to their own devices, Irisa kidnaps people and Nolan’s vehicles gets hijacked. Their relationship is at the heart of Defiance, and parceling it out over successive episodes feels about right even if some of that information is very surface-level. We know there are certain complexities that can’t be shared between them – Irisa’s nature and the messianic role that’s been thrust on her are things she can’t talk to him about – but that disconnect fits in with the whole completion idea. “You make me feel like I am whole again.” There are unbridgeable gaps in each person, but feeling whole because of someone else is just as good as actually being whole.

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Irisa avoids being alone in another way when Tommy, who beats the crap out of her ex-torturer, runs his hand along her face in a gesture that puts to shame all the material about Alak and Christie so far. That’s all he needs to say and that’s all she needs to hear to give them an excuse to physically express their connection (shout out to Dewshane Williams for making the most of this character with so few lines per episode). This is obviously another way that Irisa and Nolan can’t connect, and that she is able to find that kind of complement at all almost excuses that half of “The Serpent’s Egg” for being a bit repetitive and not all that interesting. Nolan, ever the ladies’ man, is moving in that direction with Mayor Rosewater. I’m assuming we’re building to some kind of love triangle drama with Nolan, Amanda and Kenya at some point (after all, even though Amanda says she’d be up for some legal polygamy, I would hope incest is still frowned upon in the world of Defiance). Nolan can read people, too, and is right on the money when he suggests Amanda has been in love and got burned, which would give credence to the skepticism that many of those who have had their hearts broken share. And that’s all fine, but then we immediately cut to an image of the handcuffed Rynn hiding the pen she was able to grab off another passenger.

Which brings me to my main issue with “The Serpent’s Egg” and how it informs the first half of this season: Defiance has yet to do as much character-building as it has world-building. If you go back and watch those first few episodes of Battlestar Galactica, you’ll see that the balance there is struck beautifully. Scenes that are meant to drive the plot more than build on the people involved are in much smaller numbers than Defiance has shown. That can’t just automatically be a bad thing, of course. All shows shouldn’t have to go one way or the other; it’s a choice that writers make. But what it means for Defiance so far is that we, the viewers, have an okay sense of what Defiance is like – what kind of races occupy it, how do its politics function, what creatures scavenge outside and underneath it – and that’s great. We don’t, though, have enough information to really feel invested in these characters’ lives. We could just as easily root for another group of misfits somewhere else in the town and Nolan could be that pesky Lawkeeper that keeps being an obstacle to those theoretical other people. There has to be a reason that these are our viewpoint characters and that their lives and successes and failures mean something to us. It’s fine having plot-based episodes (although, this one got a bit silly in terms of the several twists of “Oh, no! That person you thought was a good guy is…a bad guy!”), but the results of those plots should shed some light on who these people are and how they’ve been affected by the drama. I feel like we got bits of that with Irisa, but Nolan and Amanda didn’t reach that kind of level.

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What does “The Serpent’s Egg” accomplish, then? Not much, really. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Not every episode of a given season of TV has to pile on important material – you really only get a few big episodes per season, even in a great series. Sometimes you just need episodes that move the pieces around. We at least get some things that might payoff for Irisa later, especially since Daigo (I could be wrong with that spelling; also, did he look and sound like Cillian Murphy to anyone else?) is left alive. And obviously we have another conniver joining the cast, although Amanda knows that about this woman as opposed to ex-Mayor Nicky (who hasn’t appeared in a while). I’m fine waiting for those future episodes that will really get into the hearts and minds of these people. But to bring this discussion back to music, Tom Petty will be the first to tell you what the waiting is like.

– Sean Colletti