Defiance, on Syfy
Amazon; A.V. Club; IMDb; official (game) website; TV.com; TV Tango; TV Tropes; TWoP; Universal; Wikia; Wikipedia
This show premiered in April 2013, the same month as the release of a video game of the same name, which takes place in the same fictional futuristic Earth, but in a different city. I don't know that I'll ever be interested in playing the game, but the show is pretty awesome. It's set in the city of Defiance (formerly St. Louis, Missouri), 33 years after aliens collectively called Votans (comprised of seven different species from different worlds in a single star system) arrived on Earth. (The arrival happened in 2013, so the show is set in 2046.) Fifteen years before the series starts, the Pale Wars ended (having begun ten years after the Votans' arrival, and lasted seven years). Near the end of the war, the fleet of Ark ships in orbit around Earth (on which the Votans had fled from their star system when it was destroyed in a natural disaster) mysteriously exploded, and debris began raining down on the Earth. This released uncontrolled terraforming technology, which drastically altered the Earth's terrain, as well as releasing alien plants and animals into the wild. So now the planet isn't quite like any race's idea of home. (An artificial belt of damaged Ark ships remains in orbit, and occasionally ships or debris still fall to Earth.) Of course, the political makeup of the world has also radically changed, with six alien races (the Castithan, Indogene, Irathient, Liberata, Sensoth, and Gulanee) having to coexist with each other as well as with humans. A seventh Votan race, the Volge, are basically just machines, who were never meant to be on the Ark ships in the first place. They are a threat to humans and Votans alike. (This is mostly information I read online, not stuff I specifically remember ever being explained on the show in any detail.)
Anyway, the story begins with a human named Joshua Nolan (Grant Bowler) traveling through the Badlands with a young Irathient woman named Irisa Nyira (Stephanie Leonidas). We soon learn that she's his adopted daughter, whom he had rescued as a child. They're scavengers who come across a recently fallen Ark ship, where they obtain an extremely valuable piece of technology. However, they're immediately accosted by a band of "Spirit Riders," a gang of outlaw Irathients. Nolan and Irisa manage to escape, and find refuge in Defiance. The fifteenth anniversary of Armistice Day is being presided over by the new mayor, Amanda Rosewater (Julie Benz), who has recently replaced the former mayor, Nicolette "Nicky" Riordon (Fionnula Flanagan). Nolan and Irisa just want to earn enough money to buy a new vehicle, after theirs was stolen by the Spirit Riders, so they can retrieve the thingamajig from the Ark ship, which Nolan had hidden in the woods. Ultimately, they want to make their way to Antarctica, which has supposedly become a tropical paradise.
But of course, they end up getting caught up in the stuff going on in Defiance. There are two very rich and powerful men in town: a human named Rafe McCawley (Graham Greene), who owns some gulanite mines, and a Castithan named Datak Tarr (Tony Curran), who runs most of the criminal operations in Defiance. McCawley and Tarr hate each other about as much as Montagues and Capulets, so it's fitting that McCawley's daughter, Christie, is secretly in love with Tarr's son, Alak. Things get more complicated when Christie's brother, Luke, is murdered, and Alak is suspected of the crime. (Christie has another brother, Quentin.) Nolan stops McCawley from killing Alak in revenge, but in the process, Defiance's lawkeeper (basically a sheriff), Garrett Clancy, gets killed. So Nolan takes the job of tracking down whoever really killed Luke. The investigation leads to the discovery that an army of Volge is about to attack Defiance. So of course, Nolan and Irisa help the townsfolk defeat the army. (They also get some assistance from the Spirit Riders.) However, the question remains who was actually behind the invasion, and why. This is answered, for viewers at least, at the end of the pilot, but there are still plenty of mysteries surrounding the plot. Meanwhile, Nolan becomes the new lawkeeper of Defiance. Which means Irisa sticks around as well, though she doesn't like towns in general, and is not fond of staying in one place for long.
Um... there are other characters I should mention, like Datak Tarr's wife, Stahma (Jaime Murray). She clearly is a lot smarter than her husband, and does a good job of manipulating him (which he usually appreciates, because her plans benefit him; they actually make a pretty good team). And there's Amanda's sister, Kenya (Mia Kirshner, whom I must have seen in something before this), who runs NeedWant, a local bar and brothel. And there's an Indogene doctor named Yewll, who becomes important to the plot in a way I don't want to spoil just yet. And a guy named Tommy LaSalle, who was Clancy's deputy lawkeeper (and apparently their relationship was similar to that of Nolan and Irisa). Tommy and Irisa now become Nolan's deputies, and they start a relationship, sort of. (It's complicated because of Irisa's antisocial tendencies.) The first season is just 12 episodes long, but a lot happens. Though Nicky is no longer mayor, we still see her occasionally, as she and a man named Mr. Birch are deeply involved in the big mystery underlying the show's plot. And Quentin gets caught up in that mystery, which eventually leads him to leave Defiance. And Christie eventually marries Alak, in spite of opposition from their parents (with the exception of Stahma, who sees the relationship as a means to further Datak's goals). And eventually Datak gets a seat on the city council, and at the end of the season runs for mayor against Amanda. And the leader of the Spirit Riders, Sukar, gives Irisa a name in their native language, which means "Little Wolf." It turns out Irisa gets some kind of psychic visions sometimes, which Sukar believes are given to her by their god, Irzu. (This all ties into the larger mystery.) And... Defiance itself is basically independent, but there are larger external groups that have an interest in the city, including the Earth Republic (E-Rep) and the Votanis Collective (VC), both of which would like to get their hands on Rafe's mines. (And the mines themselves tie into the show's mystery.)
I'm leaving out any number of plot developments, both major and minor, as well as some characters of secondary importance to the plot. But after the first season, I can say I like the show a lot. I thought all of the characters were well defined and well acted. I believe in the world they all live in, largely because of small details or things people say, the way they all think and act. And while the show seems to involve a lot of familiar tropes and premises which have been used in countless other shows, movies, video games, etc., I think they're all handled quite well here. Often there's a bit of a twist to the tropes, or at least... the characters themselves may be aware of the clichéd nature of some things that happen or things they themselves say, so they can treat these things (and themselves) a bit sardonically, which I appreciate. Which isn't surprising, considering the show has some decent people behind the scenes, including Rockne S. O'Bannon (best known to me as the creator of Farscape). Anyway, I feel the show has very solid writing, acting, humor, action, special effects, and it's all set in an intriguing world. It might be too complicated for casual viewers, but anyone who likes complicated stories should enjoy this one.
Between the first two seasons, there was a series of five webisodes called "The Lost Ones." It's not really important, but it's worth watching.
The story picks up months after season one. Defiance is now under the control of E-Rep, which has installed a provisional mayor named Niles Pottinger. E-Rep has also taken control of Rafe's mines, and Rafe himself is just another worker; Pottinger thinks he should be in prison, but has allowed him some freedom to keep his men in line. Datak is now in a prison camp outside town, along with Dr. Yewll, who has a plan to escape. Datak's criminal empire is being run by Alak, though Stahma is really calling the shots. Amanda is now running NeedWant in her sister's absence, though she expects Kenya to return. Pottinger has offered Amanda a position as his chief of staff, which she's repeatedly turned down, but by the end of the season premiere she accepts, hoping that her counsel could save lives. Meanwhile, Tommy is the new lawkeeper, since Nolan is gone. Irisa had disappeared at the end of season one, and Nolan has spent the past nine months looking for her. He finally finds her in the season premiere, living in Angel Arc (the former Los Angeles). When he asks her what happened to her, she lies. The truth is, her visions of Irzu had become clearer by the end of season one. (The Irathient god appears to her as a young girl, played by the same actress who plays Irisa in flashbacks to her own childhood.) And now Irisa has become Irzu's "weapon," a fact which she can't reveal to Nolan. Anyway, now that he's found Irisa, Nolan thinks they should go back to their original plan of heading to Antarctica, but Irisa says they have to go back to Defiance. When they get there, they learn that Tommy is now dating an E-Rep officer/propaganda filmmaker named Jessica "Berlin" Rainier.
Well, lots of stuff happens throughout the season. Datak and Yewll are eventually released from prison, and Datak tries to regain all that he'd lost, though that doesn't go so smoothly. (He does something that makes it impossible for Alak to forgive him, and lots of things that make me rethink his relationship with Stahma. I'm not sure he respected her as much as I once thought he did.) Alak has a former prostitute from the NeedWant working as a DJ at his radio station. Her name is Deirdre Lamb, but she goes by "Treasure Doll." And she causes lots of trouble between Alak and Christie (who is now pregnant; she eventually has a son named Luke, after her late brother). What else can I say? Quentin eventually returns to Defiance, and also brings his long lost mother, Pilar (Linda Hamilton). This turns out to be an unwise move, though we won't find out until season 3 exactly what she has planned. And, um, I don't think I ever mentioned the Kaziri, did I? Well, that's an ancient Votan ship buried beneath Defiance, in Rafe's mines, which is what the E-Rep and the VC wanted to get their hands on all this time, but at the end of season one its AI had taken control of Irisa (that's what her visions of Irzu actually were, which I totally called). And throughout season two, "Irzu" continues to make Irisa do things she doesn't want to do, and eventually builds a sort of army to carry out her will and ultimately enact a plan that could basically destroy the world. And... at this point I don't want to spoil any of the major plot developments. (But I will say the world doesn't get destroyed... even if at least a couple of major cities do.)
This is the final season. I saw the premiere on Hulu (which is how I watched the first two seasons), but after that, the rest of the season wasn't available to watch for free. So I didn't get to finish watching the show for a couple years or so, until I finally watched it on Amazon. So... at the end of season two, Nolan and Irisa had been sealed in stasis pods that were buried underground. They now get released by two aliens called Omec. One of them is named T'evgin, and his daughter is Kindzi. The Omec strike a deal with Amanda to share the town's gulanite. However, the Votan residents of Defiance aren't happy about this, because Omec were seen as sort of demons or whatever. For a long time, they used to hunt and either eat or "enchant" members of all the Votan races. Meanwhile, there's a VC general named Rahm Tak, whose forces are outside Defiance, planning to invade the city and kill all the humans. So, for a large part of the season, he's the main antagonist. But he's eventually defeated in a rather dramatic way. Meanwhile, Stahma becomes close to T'evgin, who comes to feel he should lead his people in a new direction, towards peaceful coexistence with humans and Votans, rather than trying to conquer them. Oh, yeah... T'evgin and Kindzi have a whole ship in orbit with lots of Omec in stasis, waiting to be revived. Unfortunately, unlike her father, Kindzi doesn't want to abandon the old ways, and she becomes the main antagonist for the remainder of the season.
Well, I am leaving out tons of details. Like, the vast majority of major plot developments that happened this season, I am not even touching on. Lots of very dark things happen. But in the end, the good guys win. And there is, I would say, a very grand conclusion to the series. I'd love to see more stories set in this universe, but... I probably never will. And I'm content with what we've gotten.