In the not too distant future, Earth is struggling to recover from a near-apocalypse. A gruff, wise-cracking loner and his young daughter reluctantly find themselves shouldering the responsibility of humanity's survival in the face of impossible odds.
On the surface, Defiance might seem like any other genre show, but the Syfy drama has pushed the boundaries of media consumption by becoming the first cross-platform narrative in television and online gaming.
Before Defiance even premieres (Monday at 9/8c), devoted players will have already spent two weeks following the adventures of Nolan (Grant Bowler) and his alien daughter Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas) in the game as they head East toward the ruins of St. Louis. Their in-game arrival to the city, which has been renamed Defiance, is perfectly timed to coincide with their arrival in the series premiere.
But for those fans who aren't video game-savvy, executive producer Kevin Murphy (Caprica) ensures that the narrative is satisfying for both those who only play the game or only watch the show. Of course, fans who partake in both will have access to a much deeper understanding of the highly complex world.
Set 30 years in the future, the Earth we know has been drastically transformed after the invasion of seven separate alien races. Humans and aliens are now struggling to coexist and rebuild society together, but tensions still run high among the species. Throughout the pilot, vague references are made to the various aliens and the war that devastated the planet, but don't expect a typical sci-fi info-dump to ease you into the mythology.
"This is really a cannonball jump into craziness," Murphy says. "It's also like we made a deliberate choice to not explain too much, not to do a history lesson about how the world came to be, but we mention it. Because you know what? This is a show that you're going to enjoy, you don't need that much explanation because you're going to want to learn about it as it goes along. Its not like we don't know the answers."
To make sure the series isn't too foreign for viewers, Murphy based the characters on well-known archetypes. "It's something to kind of wrap your arms around. You may not understand ... what the big funny Chewbacca-looking thing is ... but you understand, oh, that's Vito Coroleone. That's Bill from Gangs of New York. You have recognizable archetypes and then over the course of the 13 hours we then start deconstructing those archetypes and complicating them," he says.
Probably the most obvious character inspiration is Defiance's reluctant hero Nolan, who's based on Han Solo (Nolan even says "sweetheart" like his Star Wars predecessor). But simply because Han gets his happy ending, don't expect everything to go nearly as well for Nolan. "Whereas Han Solo never actually has to pay the piper for his previous misdeeds in a serious way, Nolan gets really dark because Nolan did some really, really, toxic, terrible things to other people during the Pale Wars that we get into," Murphy reveals.
The darkest parts of the series are one of Defiance's greatest strengths, as they use the potentials of science-fiction to highlight the very real issues of immigration and cultural shock.
"I think what makes this world different right from the get-go, you're sort of immersed in something that's completely completely alien," Murphy says. "In a show like Revolution, it's a very recognizable world ... Again, I'm not making a qualitative comparison, but like in Lost, everybody was very recognizable. Here you're learning about new races. Because you add aliens, you're able to really tell much broader stories about the immigrant experiences than you can on other science fiction shows."
Murphy does add that no matter how dark Defiance gets down the road, there is hope. "It's always an optimistic science fiction show, because I really believe it's a melting pot; it's people coming together," he says.
Defiance's two-hour premiere airs Monday at 9/8c on Syfy. Will you tune in?