Early on, there are some odd moments -- Nolan pejoratively referring to Casti smugglers as "girls," for starters -- that seem to bring up a lot of grody old playbook shit. But as the story develops, the show seems to be asking a very different question: In a world where everybody's old-world attitudes are still part of the problem, does showing remnants of sexism and misogyny and homophobia make the show more realistic, or detract from the show's mission? Prescriptive or descriptive?
By the end of the hour, I was surprised how much my initial (minor) disappointment had been undermined, although I guess it shouldn't be by now. In fact, a lot of the jokes from the pilot recap actually got turned on their heads: The Bio-Marine that was memorably shut down by a butt-punch turns out to be actually gay -- and has a few race-specific kinks of his own -- while Amanda's suddenly judgmental attitude toward her sister has very little to do with sex and sex workers, and so on. And as usual with this show, the explanations turn out to be more about establishing ideological frameworks around the questions than the questions themselves.
Plotwise, it's both more complex and more linear than most: Nolan and Irisa bust a non-local Casti gunrunner gang in the hopes of chipping away at Datak Tarr's million-headed corruption, which ends up cutting the Defiance Town Council off at the knees when he retaliates by ending arms supplies to the town altogether. Rafe urges Amanda to make ties with the Republic, but as advised by Nicky Riordan, she stays strong on that front. (Or maybe it's the framed Hole poster she's put up in her office, which: So killer.)
Meanwhile, a Need/Want employee gets caught stealing from a client, and Kenya follows her to Tarr's Bioman Ulysses, who it turns out is kidnapping people under instructions from an unrelated drug maker (the always intriguing Robyn Dunne), who plan on extracting her adrenals to make a battlefield drug Nolan's uncomfortably familiar with.
Amanda and Nolan visit the Tarrs, and while at first a quick set of ego-strokes from Amanda seems to have set him up to help them solve the kidnapping, she doubles down by appealing too hard to his sense of honor. All of a sudden he starts yelling about his caste-born insecurities -- essentially, his marriage -- and decides that Amanda's using him as a dog, rather than a hero.
Stahma later catches up with the Mayor and gives her a massive dose of the ol' Stahma magic, telling her a sweet -- and probably true -- story about exactly why and how she loves Kenya so much. Her solution, which serves her coincidental interests, of course, the most: Appeal to her husband's vanity by appointing Datak to the City Council.
Appropriately cajoled, Datak takes Nolan on a fairly amazing tour of the city, its people, and their secrets, before ending up at Ulysses's Casti boyfriend's house, who was instrumental in setting up the whole kidnapping ring. By the time they get there, Kenya -- who spends half the episode in an Iain M. Banks-inspired, Matrix-esque virtual construct intended to excite her adrenal glands for draining -- has already murdered the ringleader. Ulysses does end up shot to death, which brings our gay-character count back down to "some gross Castithan slave-runner." Ulysses, RIP. May they treat your ass better in heaven, whatever that means to you personally.
Meanwhile, Rafe's remaining son throws a fit about Rafe closing down the dead one's particular mine instead of handing it over to him, and in a last-minute grab at family unity, Rafe ends up going there with him, to uncover more secrets about the Kaziri Macguffin. Presumably they do, but all we see is a bunch of cave paintings outlining the Pale Wars and Arkfall from what I can tell, which seems about fair.
Amanda's story takes precedence over the other plots, though: While working out the tentacles of this latest Tarr outrage and being taken in by Stahma's wonderful sneakiness, she's also attacked by some cute lady, whose wife is a Need/Want customer. When she arrives to ask Nolan about the bust, she discovers him and Kenya in flagrante, which causes her to erupt in a seemingly judgmental -- but obviously just jealous -- freakout about the way Kenya conducts herself.
What we don't understand until the end of the episode is that Amanda raised her sister Kenya not because their scavenger mother died, but because she abandoned them both in full view of Amanda, which means their entire relationship is built on a much stronger foundation -- and a much stronger Amanda -- than either of them have yet acknowledged. It spins all the "my sister the town madam" stuff in a much healthier, smarter way, and in the end the sisters end up closer than ever. (Nolan notwithstanding.)
In the end, what seemed like a weirdly normative take on gender and sexuality twists itself back out into something new: Castithan homophobia is to be expected, nobody should be sleeping with Bio-Men gay or otherwise, Amanda is not kidding around when she says she respects her sister's business and life, human slavery takes on a lot of more and less humane forms no matter how bottom-line unacceptable it is... and even Nolan finally understands that Stahma is the Tarr to watch. (This last, as he watches her actually weaving a literal web, knitting outside the Council door, while a Bob Dylan song plays.)
Next week: Irisa was apparently tortured by a Castithan? And everybody gets taken hostage. And hopefully Amanda hangs onto her cute hairdo a little longer, because I gotta say both Rosewater sisters were looking even finer than usual this week.
Dead Luke McCawley was certainly a terrorist, but maybe a freedom fighter; he found a mysterious artifact in his section of the family mines and now his dad has it, with no idea that the ex-Mayor's behind all of the scary plots that keep threatening Defiance. Lawkeeper Nolan found out his nighttime girlfriend is his daytime girlfriend's sister, and Datak Tarr took violent steps to reiterate his social capital as the head of the Castithan faction.
A couple of Casti hoodlums are ridin' low through town, getting props from the underworld and making their way toward a smuggling drop, when they're surprised by Nolan and his deputies in a sudden gridlock ambush.
Nolan: "Hey, girls!"
Hoodlums: "Do you know who we work for? He leaves dead bodies places."
Nolan: "I know, it has me all riled up. I am taking all this money and guns and things and putting you in jail. That should cause zero problems in this town's infrastructure. It's a good day for justice!"
Further to this plan of screwing up the entire economy of Defiance, Nolan announces that all proceeds from his crusade will go toward taking down Datak Tarr once and for all.
In the wake of Nicky's recent clutter-clearing, Amanda has redecorated. I'm sure there are a lot of hidden set-design flourishes around the place -- because set designers are awesome, especially on this show, but also because every scene in her offices seems to point out one feature or another, like the trophy case last week with the Spirit Rider -- but the focal point this week is her framed Hole poster: It doesn't quite fit with her age bracket, but philosophically it's on point, especially this week.
Rafe pushes back against Amanda's ongoing project of not letting the Earth Republic get a toehold in Defiance politics, as Nicky strongly suggested: They're acquisitive and very into empire, and Defiance has the mines the want, but that will come at the expense of Defiance's basic principles. The fact that it's Rafe who doesn't mind selling out to the Republic makes me wonder if they don't also have a little xenophobia happening, as part of their amassing wealth and territory, but we'll see about that. It's not like their opponents on the show, Nicky and Birch's little terrorist clique, don't also seem ambivalent about the alien situation.
The ER's new plan involves linking Defiance to the larger republic with a high-speed rail system, which would benefit the town in a lot of ways, and the Council is all for it. Before Rafe can push through a vote, though, Datak Tarr comes in screaming.