Ambiguity. For shows that feature ongoing plots (especially involving mysteries and secrets), ambiguity is important. It keeps the audience guessing, it adds depth to the characters, it causes virulent online debates regarding morality and ethics. Terra Nova is a show that could be served well by adding this element to its pretty skimpy repertoire. Unfortunately, tonight Terra Nova continues to show its disappointing hesitancy to imbue itself with this (or any other) form of complexity.
Tonight’s plot revolves around a mysterious five-year-old, one-armed skeleton found by “Pilgrim’s Tree,” Captain Nathaniel Taylor’s home for his first few months on Terra Nova. (Note: The prior-human had been dead for five years; it’s not the skeleton of a five-year-old.) Boylan, still under arrest from last week for talking with the Sixers, leads Jim there as a result of his sleep-depriving interrogation conducted by Taylor. Although Taylor and Jim come to odds over the body’s discovery and analysis, eventually the leader confesses to his bestest friend what happened.
Sometime between the second and third pilgrimages, General Philbrook (Taylor’s superior) arrived on Terra Nova with a portal he created (presumably with the help of Lucas, Taylor’s son, who was on Terra Nova by this point). Taylor learns that the people in charge of the Terra Nova Project (and presumably the Sixers) on 2140s Earth wanted to oust him and use Lucas to create a portal that works both ways. Their scheme is to mine past-Earth for all its worth and, incidentally, bring the destruction they caused on 2149 to the new world. Taylor, unwilling to step down and witness his beloved Pandora raped, kills Philbrook, and exiles his son, who continues to work on the super portal. (Those were the markings on the rocks from the pilot episode.) He keeps the killing a secret because he doesn’t want his people, the future of the human race, to give up on creating a new world. Even at the end of the episode, the only people who know about it are Boylan (who helped Taylor bury Philbrook) and Jim.
Of course, Taylor’s story could all be a lie, but I doubt it. This show is often obvious, and we even receive flashbacks of the incident. Nevertheless, this path represents another in a line of incredibly poor decisions regarding the show’s mythology. Yes, Taylor killed a man, but not only were his actions clean-cut, they were so clean-cut that the “truth” seems fraudulent, like there has to be another twist or that his entire story was fake. Furthermore, Taylor’s willingness to do anything for the colony only means something if his decisions contain shades of grey. Protecting his people not just from a possible threat but from an actual threat that is also threatening his life at the very moment makes the decision to murder his mentor easy. (Maybe not on a personal level, but on a storytelling one.) Even his speech to Jim further emphasizes the nobility of Taylor without really giving room for a misguided nobility interpretation. Forcing us to ponder those sorts of questions is the mark of a good television show, while bad ones tend to go out of their way to so clearly delineate the good guys and bad guys as not to challenge the audience in the slightest.
The pacing on Terra Nova continues to be poor, both on an overall and episode-by-episode basis. In this, the eighth episode, we get answers to questions that could have (and probably should have) been put off, until the end of the season at the earliest. I am not advocating constantly refusing or forgetting to answer questions like in Lost, but when everything comes out so quickly and easily, without causing much of an impact on the overall series and without providing additional concepts as replacements, it’s very hard to get invested in a show. Sure, we learn that there are people in 2149 who want to essentially destroy Terra Nova, but since we a) already knew this element and b) don’t know anyone in 2149 other than Kara, it’s difficult to concern ourselves with questions that cannot begin to be answered by the current format of the show.
Elsewhere, Terra Nova celebrates the Harvest Festival. It’s a yearly celebration honoring when Taylor first stepped through the portal. It has dancing, food, folk music from the lower decks of Titanic, and a play about Nathaniel Taylor’s arrival. The play is of the “The Life of George Washington/Abraham Lincoln” Tripe genre that grade school children used to perform before we were forced to admit that national heroes were really just bloodthirsty monsters. In it, Zoey plays and Taylor, and, like most scenes involving Zoey, it is just terrible. Embarrassingly so.
• The skeleton was from five years ago. However, Skye explained in one of the first episodes that she was a young child when she arrived on the fifth pilgrimage and spent her childhood years on Terra Nova. So, even assuming that the subsequent pilgrimages happened in short order, that means she spent at most five years on Terra Nova. This does not fit her timeline. Even assuming she’s 16, “11” is not the age of a small child.
• Boylan is not the spy for the Sixers even though he talks to them and gives them supplies. Who the spy is remains a question plaguing Jim and Taylor. I have odds on Malcolm. Every other character with the slightest personality has been accounted for, and anyone else will be a one-time character and seem like a cop-out. Of course, this show is no stranger to cop-outs.
• Boylan uses his knowledge to blackmail Taylor for the right to operate the bar. This relates to a statement made several episodes ago when he mentioned his bar being outside of Taylor’s reach. I’m glad they returned to it.
• To the best of my knowledge we didn’t see any dinosaurs tonight. We got a dragonfly used as a passenger pigeon to perform recon for the Sixers, but no dinosaurs.
• So that Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas special where the animals meet Santa Claus… I think it would be weirder for the animals that they are meeting a humanoid, regardless of whether it’s Santa Claus or not. I assume the sleigh is made of some sort of metal or wood, which the animals should not know about. Also, the yellow thing says “Merry Christmas,” but this takes place millions of years before the birth of Jesus Christ. Does Santa influence the evolution of human development by introducing these concepts to animals? Do the Ice Agers tell this tale to their children who tell it to their children who tell it to their children and so on so that they eventually become the Manger Babies?