It's been a dismal spring for networks trying to launch new television shows, but SyFy appears to have scored a success with Defiance, a mashup between the aftermath of an alien invasion and a Western. The show scored a cable-respectable 2.7 million viewers, 1.3 million of them in the coveted 18-49 demographic, in its debut on Monday night.
Defiance has a somewhat lighter tone than SyFy's last serious critical hit, the remake of Battlestar Galactica. But it has one thing in common with Ronald D. Moore's epic throwdown between humans and their genocidal creations: promising female characters. On the human side of the ledger, there's Julie Benz, who's most famous for her turns as vampire Darla on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and as serial killer Dexter Morgan's unknowing wife Rita on Dexter. Defiance has given her an intriguing role as Amanda Rosewater, the newly-inaugurated mayor—a part that could turn her into Laura Roslin, but with fewer snake-filled visions and more comedic potential. Her sister Kenya (Mia Kirshner), runs Defiance's brothel, a setup that's a bit of a frontier cliche. But showrunner Kevin Murphy promised at the Television Critics Association press tour in January that the brothel shakes up the Old West narrative by including among its wares "men and aliens and different races,” rather than just women.
And there are good roles for female alien characters, too. Stahma (Jaime Murray) is kind of an elite alien Cersei Lannister, the wife of a powerful member of Defiance's ruling class. And as Irisa, the adopted daughter of Grant Bowler's Jed, a former Marine who accepts a job as Defiance's sheriff, Stephanie Leonidas gets to play a rather rare thing: a sulky alien teenager.
In other words, Defiance is about aliens and catastrophes and big space battles, but it's also more about day-to-day life than Battlestar Galactica, set in the midst of an ongoing crisis, was ever going to be. And it's got big, intergenerational lanes for women to play in. I'll be tuning in to see how Amanda handles a brewing dispute between human and alien families, what Stahma's real agenda is, and how Irisa's adopted dad reacts to the prospect of her dating. It's nice to see a genre show offer its fans good female characters as well as good alien design.