Defiance Season 2 Episode 4: Beasts of Burden
Original UK Airdate: 9th October 2014
My god, this was everything this series should be.
I suppose you’ve come to expect a little more by now. Very well.
Let me first of all explain that opening statement. Last week I was bored with the dime-store sci-fi living weapon plot with Irisa and bored with the slow pace. I don’t want to be misunderstood in my criticism (read last week), some excellent episodes of Defiance have been heavily based around a sci-fi concept (I Just wasn’t Made for These Times being one example from season one) but can’t they be the stand-alone exceptions not the central arc-norms? You have alien races with their own set of rituals and religions totally unfathomable to the other alien races, never mind to the humans, who are infighting themselves; either rebels from a right-wing totalitarian state sweeping to take control or as roguish types out for themselves. We have Defiance and our cast in the middle, making friends, making deals, allying with each other and backstabbing each other for power, glory, money and for love. Can’t this large melting pot of excellent characters and largely brilliant cast be the focus of the show?
In Beasts of Burden they were the focus. Now, onto the actual episode:
The Burdens of the past are the focus here, particularly traumatic events in the past for Pottinger and Amanda, and Datak’s harsh upbringing.
Pottinger and Berlin are transferring mining equipment through the badlands when they get attacked by raiders. One raider forces Pottinger to strip before pissing on him, just like how Pottinger has pissed all over the ordinary people of Defiance. Pottinger enlists Nolan to find the mining equipment – and to him more importantly – the perpetrator so he can have his revenge.
Meanwhile, fresh out of prison Datak begins to shove his weight around at home with Stahma and out on a tour of the family businesses with Alak. Stahma plots ways to make him disappear for good.
The identities of the raiders are obvious – especially since the ‘previously on Defiance’ teaser conveniently reminds us who Pottinger’s biggest enemies are – but that isn’t the point. The culprit is revealed only a few minutes in (no real spoiler at all, it’s Rafe’s stupid nephew Josef.)
Ah Rafe. The A plot finally gives him (and actor Graham Greene) some heavy lifting to do after being on the sidelines for the last three weeks and boy is it worth the wait.
Rafe has always wants to do the right thing and do as best as he can for his family and his conflict between these two ideals is the driving force of the plot as Josef takes a series of increasingly stupid decisions His reactions range from incredulation that Josef could be so stupid as to rip-off an official E-Rep caravan, his pleading with Nolan for leniency and his trauma at the ultimate outcome. It’s good to have him back.
The plot also gives chance for sparks to fly elsewhere. Nolan figures early on that either Rafe or somebody close to him must be involved but chooses to destroy some evidence so he has a chance to square everything with his friend without necessarily having to drag the law and the E-Rep into it, whereas Tommy wants to follow the book (and impress Pottinger and Berlin). Tommy’s hostility towards Nolan this series is entirely understandable. For close to a year he’s been sheriff in one of the most important towns in America and he’s dating Berlin. The last thing he wants his his old boss coming back to take the top job and bringing his ex-girlfriend along with him to boot.
Pottinger’s ordeal compels him to tell Amanda about how he was sexually abused by Votans in the pale wars. It adds a whole new layer to Pottinger, taking a good villain and making him into a compelling (still villainous), fully human character. It’d better not be a made up story to try and get into Amanda’s pants, especially since his revelations lead her to open up about her own history.
Pottinger may not have any morals or a conscience at all, but he’s a now a relateable moralless bastard with clear scars and driving motivations and I hope they don’t waste this characterisation and development of painful back stories for cheap plot elements.
In the B plot Datak takes Alak on a tour of the family businesses, it’s a guise for a crude attempt at exerting his control and resuming power over his empire as he asks Alak to choose which of their associates should die for betraying him and following Stahma’s orders while he was gone; only to kill his own choice and scar his own son instead. Datak (and Tony Curran) back to his best. Shockingly, the man with the shortest fuse on New Earth shows a modicum of self control when two E-Rep goons give him more than enough provocation to attack him.
Stahma had paid off those E-Rep guards, and when this attempt at removing him fails – and when she finds out what Datak has done to their son – she resorts to other plans. The end, where Datak’s underworld cronies beat the crap out of him and chuck him out into the dirt for Stahma to kneel below him and whisper, “you should have made me a partner,” is just a perfect ending.
Datak isn’t cast aside because he tried to seize back power but because he just couldn’t bring himself to share it with the brains behind his brawn and in harming Alak he had to be smacked back down into place. Now the two most influential men in town from last season, Rafe and Datak – sworn enemies at that – have lost everything.
On top of this, Beasts of Burden was full of great little character moments like Rafe realising how much trouble his nephew is in and asking Nolan to go easy even though Josef is the one with a gun aimed at the back of Nolan’s head. Or just how quick Irisa is to react when Tommy and Nolan look like squaring off. Or Doc Yewell’s response when Nolan asks how she got parole: “pure sex appeal.”
Whatever it is with sci-fi and belligerent doctors, I love it.
The Verdict: Full of character development that makes the residents of Defiance real, fully rounded understandable people rather than spending time on extra terrestrial super-weapons or gods with unlimited powers, Beasts of Burden also managed to be choc-full of drama, both in terms of action gunplay and in sparks flying between characters as personalities clash and rivalries develop.
Josef may be a little too stupid once too often, and some of the inspirations for the episode may be a little overt (Datak’s scenes owe a lot to many gangster films) but on the whole this is top notch stuff.