Last week, it was The Birds. This week, Terra Nova becomes Star Trek. Think along the lines of The Naked Time, The Naked Now, or any episode where a mysterious disease infects the crew of Enterprise.
I know it’s hard for a show to find its voice this early in its run, but it would be nice to feel that Terra Nova was at least trying to do something to standout. As I discussed last week, the characters all lack personalities. Nothing changes this week. However, another major problem is that the show doesn’t understand that things change over time. I understand that the show’s basic concept is “what if an average, everyday family (the type that only exists on whitewashed television programs) got sent into the past?” but that is not what this show is about. They’re not a television family and they’re not a family from today- they’re from 150 years in the future.
A new culture would have most certainly developed between now and then. Most of the great sci-fi/future worlds are imbued with concepts, words, slang, and items from the future that have become part of the characters’ natural vocabulary, much like “Google” and “D’oh” have entered our lexicon. There is very little to indicate that the Shannons or Nathaniel come from 2149 and not some time between 1960 and 2011. Put another way, would you accept a show where characters from the 1860s behaved like ones from today, or if a group from 2010 acted like people from the 1860s? Because that’s what’s happening on Terra Nova. More than that, they are all from a dystopian future, which would probably warrant an even greater change to their personalities- more darkness, more cynicism, more paranoia, nightmares. We get nothing.
Similarly, these people treat Terra Nova blandly. We’re following the Shannons during their first weeks in a new world and it already seems like they’re bored. I’m not saying they need to “oooh” and “aaah” over every little thing, but they act as though they moved to a nearby commune. Unlike a show like Star Trek where we can accept the characters’ lackadaisical attitude towards fantastic technology because they lived with it for their entire lives, the Shannons are visitors to what amounts to a new planet. Hell, Fry from Futurama still finds cool things about the 31st century and he’s lived there for a decade.
Tonight’s episode begin with Terra Nova getting an opening narration describing the premise. Afterward, a scientist chases a beetle outside of a laboratory, stares in shocked awe at a dinosaur, and is eaten.
Back at base, the gang frets over not getting contact from a field research outpost so Nathaniel, Elizabeth, and some security people go to check it out. When they arrive, they learn that the crew has suffered severe memory loss. This isn’t amnesia, but rather, it sends the sufferer’s mind back in time about ten years or so.
With his wife and boss away, Jim, the Sheriff of Terra Nova, shows that men still cannot handle fatherhood after 150 years. His youngest daughter, Zoe, has a cold. They treat this as some everyday ailment but, considering how many new pathogens and allergens are in the atmosphere, she probably requires more attention. Anyway, Jim contracts the virus, which, as expected, turns out to be Chekhovsa Guna.
Since only about five people actually matter at Terra Nova, Malcolm and Jim realize that the first away team hasn’t made contact in about a day, so they decide to beam down on their own; they bring no other members of the security team. Terra Nova is a dangerous world where Sixers and dinosaurs are out to kill the Novans. Whatever caused the lack of communication could have conceivably killed an entire security crew, plus the settlement’s leader. Maybe they should have thought about bringing some back up.
The second away team arrives at the compound where Elizabeth doesn’t recognize Jim, but she remembers Malcolm. Her mind retreated to when she was in medical school and thus still has feelings for her former lover causing the jealousy in Jim to rise. Elsewhere, Nathaniel, who walked the perimeter, thinks past Earth is 2138 Somalia because his mind reverted to a mission he was on years prior. This means that somewhere in the future, Somalia becomes quite beautiful. Malcolm also loses his memory. And Nathaniel steals a motorcycle to drive back to Terra Nova believing it to be something he must attack for some reason.
The biggest problem with this sequence is that none of those affected show any change in their personalities. This is especially annoying with regards to Elizabeth. Her alteration is the emotional core of the episode, but she acts exactly as she normally does. This isn’t television-amnesia, where your personality is the same but you’re scared of everything around you. By virtue of this disease, your personality is supposed to be that of you 10, 15, 20 years ago. Elizabeth has the same demeanor, carries herself in the same way, and seemingly has the incredible medical knowledge despite being a relatively new medical student. She even immediately recognizes Malcolm despite him looking decades older.
Elizabeth realizes that Jim’s cold counteracts the virus so she determines that making people sick is the cure. He infects her by making out with her, which probably isn’t the most reliable way to be sure she receives the virus. It might have been worth it if he cured Nathaniel and Malcolm the same way, complete with the swelling love score.
Oldest daughter Maddie goes on an awkward first date with somebody from the camp. She claims it’s the worst first date ever, which prompts Jim to tell his daughter about the real worst first date ever. Predictably, it was his initial courtship with Elizabeth. And it didn’t even sound that horrible.
Skye still desperately, desperately, desperately, desperately wants to “get with” Josh, but Josh isn’t having any of it. He’s upset about the way he left things with his girlfriend back home. It’s supposed to make him endearing, instead it makes him seem incredibly stupid. Nevertheless, Skye knows someone who can put her name at the front of the list for people on the next pilgrimage, but it’ll cost him. Turns out to be the bartender, who hires Josh to pay off his debt. Also, he’s working with the Sixers and only hired Josh because he’s the son of the town’s newly anointed sheriff. The Sixers consider this a boon, even though Jim probably cannot stand alone against Terra Nova’s “father,” Nathaniel Taylor, and his army. I guess we’ll find out why this is important later.
• Was the opening narration done by Nathaniel or Jim? I’m pretty sure it was Stephen Lang (Nathaniel), but it could have been Jason O’Mara (Jim) hovering somewhere between his natural Irish and put-upon American accents. I only ask because it’s the type of speech generally given to the main character.
• There’s a scene when a mindless Nathaniel is traveling to camp. He sees a dinosaur and laughs to himself saying “no way.” It feels like it should elicit some sort of “I can’t believe Nathaniel’s acting like that!”response, but due to us not really knowing/caring about the character, it falls flat.
• In 2138 Somalia, the government ran a war conducted with psychological experiments. I guess I should like that they’re building a future mythology, but since the audience can’t go back there, who cares?
• I guess I was wrong the past two weeks when I thought they couldn’t communicate with the future. Or they retconned it. I’m not entirely sure, but in the first episode didn’t they mention that they were stuck in an alternate reality. Was that a lie?
• When explaining Terra Nova to Elizabeth, she snarkily asks why they couldn’t be sent to a time after the ice age. Jim responds that it’s complicated, but it’s not; the time portal only went to one place.
• The virus was produced because researchers were forming a vaccine to a neurological disease worse than Alzheimer’s. How prevalent is the disease that warrants them spending countless time, effort, and money to study it in the past? Do an exceedingly large percentage of people get it simply because of living in the ecologically collapsed future? Were they planning to send it into the future? If so, just how much can they transport there?
• Was the bartender betrayal reveal supposed to be shocking? Have we met him before tonight?
• The CGI is getting even worse.