Since Warehouse 13 has gone off the air and Continuum is on its last season and Lost Girl’s last season is coming up, I’ve been looking for new SyFy channel shows to watch. I know the channel has its critics (and rightly so given how mind numbingly bad some of their “here’s-an-80’s-star-reacting-to-bad-CGI” monster movies can be) but I’ve found many of their ongoing series to be entertaining even if they’re not always challenging. Actually, that may be why I’ve enjoyed them. I find a show where every episode is a big deal and required watching exhausting. I much prefer shows that I can drop into and out of casually.
While I’ve binge watched a lot of 12 Monkeys, and I’m impressed with how seriously they take time travel and how closely they’re following the rules from the movie, time travel doesn’t interest me, generally (I know, I know, Continuum is about time travel, but only in a tertiary way. It is a plot device, not the plot.) Defiance looks interesting but I never got into it and I can’t find the first season on demand to get caught up. Dominion doesn’t quite catch my interest either, much as I’ve enjoyed movies like the Prophecy.
I was pretty excited to see 2 new shows coming into the SyFy Friday (dare I call it SyFri?) lineup. And I have not been disappointed by either of them. Both Killjoys and Dark Matter had short first seasons but they’ve both done a good job of creating a universe (one similar enough that they could almost be the same universe) and getting me hooked on their stories.
The basic premise of Killjoys is a classic trope of science fiction. The heroes of the piece are bounty hunters who operate, in true bounty hunter fashion, on the very edge of the law. In fact, as is often true of science fiction, the Killjoys are freer and have far more power than the regular law enforcement agencies. This, of course, leads to conflicts with said regular law enforcement agencies.
They are not completely without bonds, however and work for an organization called the Recovery and Apprehension Coalition or R.A.C. The R.A.C. puts out warrants and the Killjoys go carry them out and the shadowy companies and other powers that be in the “Quad” don’t interfere with them, largely because they are a neutral party that they can all use. This is where things stop being very well defined, though. It’s never indicated exactly what is necessary to get a legitimate warrant. Granted, some of the people they’re after are murders and thieves but others seem to be nothing more than wayward husbands. In the end, it seems that if someone has the money they can put a bounty out on anyone for any reason. While this makes for an interesting story, it is no way to run a justice system.
But the bad blood between the Killjoys and regular police is a minor part of the conflict in the story. Like all good Science Fiction, Killjoys is philosophy and social commentary cloaked in pseudo-science so that the mirror does not reflect reality too precisely. It lets us learn lessons without our reflex to draw away when things get too close. In this case, the social commentary is about the ever present power struggle between the haves and have-nots. Yes, even in the poorly defined future, there are still rich people and poor people. And predictably, the difference between the rich people and poor people has grown even larger. In fact, it has become so distinct that the very rich live on a sort of Utopia and the very poor live on a planet where they have to hide inside for hours at a time or be painfully killed by acid rain storms periodically.
It is this latter world where our cast of Killjoys lives and works and by the end of the 1st season, they have been drawn into the class struggle, despite themselves. And that class struggle has gone from being philosophical to physical.
But this overarching plot is not even the most interesting conflict in the series. In the modern science fiction…and fiction in general…method of writing drama, most of the main characters come with an intricately complex backstory. What follows will include mild spoilers so…stop here if you care about such things.
The first of the Killjoy, is Dutch, the lethal, yet beautiful leader of the group. She’s the highest ranking Killjoy in the crew and early on demonstrates her willingness to use every tool at her disposal, including her melee and ranged combat skills, cunning and appearance, to complete the warrants that she’s given. She also quickly demonstrates her impressive skill with these tools. In much the same vein as Black Widow of the Avengers and several other examples in modern times (Buffy comes to mind), Dutch is a powerful female protagonist. In fact, Dutch is almost a prototypical strong female protagonist. Her only real weakness is her complex backstory. That backstory includes having been part of a harem where she was trained as an assassin since before she hit puberty. It is this story that takes much of the first season and Dutch is definitely the focus.
Possessing almost as complex a backstory is D’avin (apparently we’re far enough in the future that there are weird names and names that sound normal but are spelled weird like “Pawter” instead of “Potter”.) A former soldier who’s on the run because of a dark secret, he’s the newest of the Killjoys. His secret proves to be part of a larger conspiracy with the classic trope of a remote controlled “perfect” mindless soldier that goes wrong. The threads of this conspiracy are woven throughout the story and pop up in several episodes and end up being intertwined with Dutch’s story, as well. D’avin is also something of a prototypical character. He’s the guilt ridden guy with the dark past that he’s not responsible for but also can’t forgive himself for.
The last member of the main Killjoys trio is Jon. He actually begins the story as Dutch’s partner and is D’avin’s brother making him the tie that binds. He is also the most straightforward of the characters. Both Dutch and D’avin have dark backstories that complicate their lives. The only complication in Jon’s life is that he’s got a brother who he’s having to save and a partner whose past is coming back to haunt her. Oh, and that those two people in his life are attracted to each other. In many ways Jon is the anchor the story. He’s played by the only familiar face in the cast (though Amanda Tapping makes a cameo,) Aaron Ashmore. That’s the Ashmore who played Jinx in Warehouse 13, not the Ashmore who played Iceman in the X-Men movies. Despite, or perhaps because of his lack of complex backstory, Ashmore does a good job of making Jon an interesting character. Many times, we are seeing the plot unfold through his eyes and his reactions help inform ours and often add an additional layer when we’re shown how these problems keep popping up to complicate Jon’s otherwise straightforward life. And we’re reminded that it is his loyalty to his partner and brother that keeps him around instead of just washing his hands of both of them as their pasts come back to haunt them.
There is a wide cast of lesser characters as well, and each adds to the story or rounds out the setting in his or her own way, from the gay bartender and drug addicted doctor to the religious leader who is more than he appears.
The pacing of the the first season was nice, with a good mix of “monster of the week” style threats and pieces of the overarching plot falling into place. The former becomes less prominent as the season continues while the latter grows so that the pace slowly picks up and, in the last few episodes, it’s all about the bigger plot. There is even a time or two when what seemed like a monster of the week actually ended up being part of that bigger plot.
As you can tell from the description of the characters above, there are a lot of clichés in Killjoys, the sexy assassin trying to escape her former life, the victim of an out of control super soldier program, the other brother who can never seem to escape his brother’s shadow no matter how smart or good he is, the physician who needs to heal thyself, the religious leader with the ulterior motive, the craggy peace officer with a heart of gold, the haves are tricking and oppressing the have-nots, bounty hunters…
But clichés don’t have to be bad. In fact, when they are properly done, they are called tropes and make for good stories. Killjoys bridges this gap and takes what could be cheesy clichés and make them into interesting plots. Dutch’s story is more than just about escaping her former life, it’s about coming to terms with her history. D’avin isn’t just a remorseful killer, he’s trying to find a way to make a new life for himself and deal with what he’s done. Jon isn’t particularly bitter that his brother always seems to one up him, and it is clear that he respects D’avin even as his older brother frustrates him. He’s not driven by jealousy, he’s driven by how much he cares about his partners.
The writers and cast of Killjoys do a good job of taking these familiar tropes and giving them just enough of a twist to make them interesting and just enough pathos to make them seem believable. And they still find time to do some good old ass kicking. I’m looking forward to how they continue the story next season.