This week on Terra Nova…Crappy CGI Dino-Birds attack the camp and Jim is jealous of one of his wife’s former flings, who also ended up at The TN. That’s pretty much it.
It’s hard to judge a show only two weeks into its existence. Kinks need to be ironed out, actors need to get into their grooves, writers need to learn how to mesh, etc. But after a lackluster pilot, Terra Nova needed to prove in its second week that it had something more than “There’s Dinosaurs! Look! Dinosaurs!”
I’ve read that producers wanted to make Terra Nova a family friendly show, which they seem to have interpreted as “let’s throw every tired family show cliché we can think of in order to create an entirely unremarkable television family.” Tonight, we even have to deal with the scene of the father unable to make dinner, get one child to do homework (homework at Terra Nova?), and answer his daughter’s question about “how can you tell if a boy likes you?” Oh those 22nd Century Dystopian Moms- I Don’t Know How They Do It.
The older daughter (Maddy) is a whiz kid able to remember obscure facts, even stuff about plants from the 1500s, which makes you wonder exactly when the world turned to hell if she was able to learn about that instead of living in perpetual fear or reading about survival and our future 200 years of history. Teenage son (Josh) is blandly angsty while pre-dating his teacher, Skye (I presume it’s her first job after earning her Master’s in Education). One of this week’s subplots involves him wanting to buy a guitar; hopefully soon we’ll see him serenade. The youngest daughter (Zoe) does the forced precocious and adorable thing. The husband (Jim) will do anything to protect his family. And the wife (Elizabeth)…doesn’t really have any discernible traits. She’s smart, a doctor, and loves her family, I presume. While I can’t fault the writers for using these stereotypes as a springboard, they (and/or the actors) need to make us believe that there’s more behind these characters than those easy definitions.
Put another way, would you want to follow the Shannons if they weren’t stuck in a dinosaur land? Hell, do you want to follow the Shannons even though they’re stuck in dinosaur land?
Admittedly, they appeared slightly more interesting in the future scenes from Genesis, but that is probably because the struggle seemed greater there. Back in the future, there was more of a sense of danger from human enemies within and unstoppable elements outside. Terra Nova, on the other hand, seems relatively peaceful. There might be dinosaur attacks, but those don’t seem particularly frequent and the compound comes across are relatively secure. Compared to what we witnessed in the future, it seems positively pleasant. Not to mention the serenity that being armed with a laser rifle must bring.
In tonight’s episode, Terra nova Chief Science Officer Dr. Malcolm Wallace (Rod Hallett) returns to the camp. A member of the fifth pilgrimage, he used to date Elisabeth when they attended medical school together. His name is Malcolm Wallace, I presume after Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) from Jurassic Park. Jim gets jealous over their flirtation and former tryst and acts hurt that his wife had a lover before him. It’s predictable and nothing new is added to the dance. Considering the bigger problems facing everyone in the future and in the altered past, this storyline only serves to make Jim seem petty and childish and really take away from the gravity of humanity’s situation.
At one point, Jim asks Group Leader Commander Nathaniel Taylor (the guy from Avatar) about the recruitment process for Terra Nova, believing that Malcolm brought Elisabeth to the past with him since he knew Jim was in prison. Taylor mentions that he receives requests from people on Terra Nova about whom they would like to see at the settlement, and that Malcolm put Elisabeth at the top of his list. However, in the first episode they established that they have an inability to communicate with the future, so how can he tell these needs to the Earth people?
These subplots bring up another question (or nitpick if you’d prefer). Elisabeth acts shocked that Malcolm is on Terra Nova, but wouldn’t the people sent to Terra Nova be Earth celebrities? A finite number of carefully chosen people get to go to the New World. I’d imagine that their identities would be spread across the old world to the point where everyone would know who was being sent on this amazing journey. That is unless the government or Time Portal Panel or whoever makes the selection prefers to keep the names of the people going through the portal a secret to protect their lives. That’s possible, I guess.
At the beginning of the A(viary)-Plot, the security detail comes across dead Novans while searching the grounds. They don’t know how they died so they bring the corpses back to base for study. The team of researchers performing this initial analysis consists of Elisabeth, Malcolm, and, for some reason, the security people Nathaniel and Jim. At first, they blame the Sixers and tree snakes, but once Jim finds a claw, they realize they it’s an animal they haven’t dealt with before.
Throughout the episode, more and more Crappy CGI Dino-Birds flock to Terra Nova. The group who decides how to handle them consists of Malcolm (who is berated for wanting to create “interaction protocols”); Nate; Jim; and Alicia Washington, Nat’s second-in-command. Shouldn’t there be most scientists than “shoot-first-ask-questions-later” security officers in such a group?
After a crappy homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, Malcolm and Elisabeth decide to develop some pheromone to lure the Crappy CGI Dino-Birds away from the compound, and the two work hard to develop a special molecule for this purpose. In the future does “doctor” mean that every practitioner knows every type of science? The show has constantly presented Elisabeth as a medical doctor, and it has given no indication that she has any training in this form of chemistry. What about Malcolm? Is he an expert at biology or chemistry? Or maybe he’s a medical doctor if he went to school with Elisabeth. Either way, shouldn’t he have an assistant more talented at this form of science? I know he wants to sleep with with Elisabeth, but Crappy CGI Dino-Birds place the entire compound at risk.
In an attempt to build suspense, the show also cuts between the molecule development and an attack by the birds on the Shannons house. It is incredibly difficult to rouse any care for the well-being of these children (or their parents). The most interesting part of this scene was the early-2000s SyFy-level graphics of a Crappy CGI Dino-Bird crawling towards Zoe.
The pheromone works, Jim and Taylor lead the birds away from the compound, the two return, and Jim goes home to have sex with his wife. Oh right, I forgot to mention, during the episode the Crappy CGI Dino-Birds’ squawking kept preventing Jim and Elizabeth from engaging in coitus. Welcome to Terra Nova.