How many times can something be "unexpectedly touching" before it's just expectedly touching? As much as this was a by-the-numbers outing -- half Train Robbery/half Leoben story -- it was, as usual, upgraded and transcended by the performances and larger framework at hand. In fact I would say the trademark of the show is a sort of cocksure willingness to play with not just any tropes but the hoariest ones -- and then jack so much awesome stuff up on top of it that it becomes something new.
And while I'm usually wary of Weddle/Thompson stories (without Nankin especially; about women especially) -- which is totally a personal thing, not a question of quality -- their classic Starbuck work was very present tonight, particularly in the way every scene seems to touch off a spark in the next even when they're taking place in such tremendously different places. The bombastic "special destiny" stuff in particular seemed so tawdry and futile here, after we've seen what a true Special Destiny looks like, that speaks volumes of the story's, and show's, subtlety. Sad in a whole new way, without seeming unrealistic.
Up front we have Irisa and Tommy debating the fate of a man she takes prisoner while Sheriff Dad's out of town: The Casti snakehandler whom she believes fooled her Irath parents into letting him torture her in order to create a messiah. In so doing, we learn that it was her final act as a mortal -- ritually killing a willing Castithan sacrifice, which would have pushed her to the next level, in the preacher's gross little apocalyptic apotheosis narrative -- that Nolan interrupted with his squadron, killing the whole cult, including her parents, and saving her while the preacher went free.
As is the way of these things, the man -- now in human drag, with a Casti wife and child back home -- holds out until the last second, which means maximum drama but also means that when Tommy finally comes around to Irisa's side about the guy, we also know as viewers that killing him actually could, maybe, turn her into God... So when she refuses, it's more than your standard "saving my own soul" thing and more about, as Tommy says, whether or not she's God it's a good thing she's a God of mercy. (As important as the Chthonic "Devouring Mother" archetype is, for both human and Irath -- and any bisexual race's -- mental development, I'm left wondering just how far down it goes, in a post-apocalyptic but not post-nuclear world. Think about that for it second, it goes crazy places on you.)
Then they fuck to a Cure song.*
But what's fascinating about it is that, for all the linkups and callbacks to things you're thinking of, there's something so tinker-dirty and little-folky about the show that you don't take the crazy man at his word -- there are no Gods after Arkfall -- but at the same time, you've seen a sci-fi show before, and there's no telling where this will go. Pretty much every race has now had at least one person acknowledge Irisa's spiritual gifts, and put her through various wringers -- how crazy does participating in that Spirit Rider ritual seem in hindsight, knowing her history? -- so I'm thinking we will hear much more from Irisa's destiny before too long. Possibly a whole cave painting's worth.
Meanwhile, Nolan and Amanda take a caravan to another town, for several kinds of business: They've got Defiance money for the maglev spur -- basically putting Defiance on the map, highspeed-railwise, without taking Earth Republic money -- as well as the Spirit Rider terrorist girl from a couple weeks back. On the train are a bitchy ER rep, her two husbands, and a Christian preacher who is obviously a plant and who blows up their traincar almost immediately so it can be attacked by a Benetton raiding party.
But the conspiracy, thankfully, goes a lot farther than that: The whole thing, including the preacher and all, was actually a plan by the ER rep, who was willing to sacrifice both husbands in order to make a shitload of money and deprive Defiance of both Mayor and Sheriff in one fell swoop. The long and the short of it: They let the Irath terrorist go, along with the surviving husband, and put the ER rep in what they think is jail, but in fact is just another level of corruption. So in this case, mercy was the wrong call, and they have let loose a powerful enemy operating within the one entity they can't afford to piss off.
*(Things of note: Amanda and Nolan are falling in love and don't even seem to be that worried about it; Irisa doesn't close her eyes the entire time she's fucking Tommy, which means she's still thinking about her powers as a woman etc.; Alak Tarr runs a Pump Up The Volume radio station out of the St. Louis arch above Defiance, to which everybody listens and which gives us even more opportunity for touching and "you feel me" moments moving forward. Also, Alak Tarr is awesome.)
The two kinds of episodes that give you a feeling of slowed momentum are the origin episode and the bottle episode. But by twining them around each other -- and several shared philosophical jumping-off points, from gender and power to politics and relationships -- the show manages to feel quite forward-moving this week. It's an accomplishment, especially when you consider the majority of the cast barely shows up in either storyline, if at all.
Next week: An old war-buddy of Nolan's shows up in town looking for a Casti serial killer, threatening his masculinity on seemingly every level. Including the Kenya one?
Nolan killed Irisa's birth-parents during the Pale Wars, and that's all we know about that. Rafe and presumably the entire town are very excited about getting a "maglev spur" -- which is to say a railway station -- but Amanda isn't interested in doing that if it means becoming indebted to Earth Republic, which everybody agrees would be crummy, but not everybody agrees is inevitable once you start down the slippery slope. A couple of Spirit Riders proved there are many sides to the town's painful history with the Irath, the adoptive father proved an adept shaman and the adoptive daughter proved a terrorist.
Alak Tarr's "Raider Radio" -- which broadcasts from the top of the St. Louis arch -- blares "Ride Captain Ride" in a very excitedly multicultural fashion, until such time as the biweekly Land Coach arrives from points east, dropping off several of this week's storylines and picking up a couple more. In a whirlwind of exposition, the board is set:
Amanda will be accompanying Nolan -- for reasons unknown -- as he accompanies Rynn the Irath Terrorist to jail in Vegas, for reasons of she is a terrorist. He will also be accompanying a suitcase full of cash from the people of Defiant for the maglev spur, which they've apparently raised independently after all. Also on the train -- which is like a Brinks truck with an airport shuttle or half-sized charter bus inside -- are a preacherman (so obviously watch out for that guy) and Olfin Tennety, the amusingly named ambassador from Earth Republic who's been lobbying Amanda aggressively for weeks.
She's humorless, very PR, very faux-friendly, mercenary, beautiful and soulless, like Nan Flanagan crossed with Paul Reiser from Aliens. I've said before that I love the E-Rep presence on the show, because of the particular chapter in the prototype reconstruction narrative that it represents: Bodies growing, consuming territory, storing up power, sucking away resources in order to grow the empire, but always in the pursuit of restoring civilization.
So you could be a part of the Republic and be a great person, or a shitty person, or whatever: We've moved past the complexifying numbers where Defiance works -- where socialism or whatever silly experiment would work -- and into the kind of (I'd say inevitable) bureaucracy that becomes its own sovereign state and self-sustaining corporation. In Fallout, I love the NCR because it's important to believe in something larger than yourself -- in this show we can hate the analogue, because that something larger is Defiance herself.