And so Terra Nova ends it first (and possibly only) season about as well as you’d expect. Although I have complimented this show over recent weeks about its steady hold on mediocrity, tonight it once again dips below sub-average despite promises of an epic season finale.
At the end of last week, Lucas (Taylor’s wayward son) went back to the future to finish creating a portal that goes both ways. He succeeds, and, as the 11th Pilgrimage comes through, a suicide bomber obliterates the portal thus forming a new time fracture closer to the camp (how does this work exactly?). He also injuries several soldiers and kills Kara so that drawn out storyline was essentially pointless. When Jim wakes up in the Terra Nova medical area, he discovers that he has been unconscious for three days, and the Sixers/an army division called the Phoenix Group (I will call them Phoesixers) have taken over Terra Nova, made the even more obvious by the fascist-style black and red banners strung from Taylor’s Speaking Balcony. That’s right, the Battle for Terra Nova (aka the Fight for Mankind’s Survival) happens pretty much entirely off screen… and in the first 15 minutes.
What follows over the next 105 minutes is essentially what you’d expect from this show. Taylor leads guerilla fighters against the Phoesixers, complete with grab-from-behind, neck-snapping moves. The guerillas disarm a bomb at the last millisecond. We get the sacrifice scene (of Wash, in case you were wondering). Lucas and Taylor have a knockdown, drag out fight that ends with Lucas asking for forgiveness and stabbing his father in the back when they hug. However, right when it looks like he will stab Taylor to death, a character (Skye, earning her predictable redemption) comes from the shadows and shoots him. (SPOILER: After they turn their backs for less than a minute, they discover that his body is gone. Shocking.)
To close the two-sided portal, Taylor and Jim realize they need to sever the fracture and cut the link to 2149, Battlefield: Earth style. Jim volunteers himself for the mission, even though Taylor should have numerous soldiers under his command who don’t have a family or a lofty position within the camp but, more importantly, have knowledge and experience in explosives. Nevertheless, Jim goes back, brings a dinosaur with him, runs around, blows the facility to hell, and escapes as the last man through the portal. The show leaves unclear why the fireworks waited for him to be running in slow motion down the bridge to start and why no one else jumped into the portal as imminent destruction headed towards them.
After learning that the pathway was cut off, the Phoesixers abandon camp, and Taylor and crew are welcomed back with opened arms. We also get a cliffhanger where we learn that the prow of a 19th century ship was found in the Terra Nova-era Badlands. It’s not really a heart-racer.
So the Terra Novans are left alone to rebuild society, but there are still enemies out there and potentially other space-time rifts for them to be concerned about. I had kind of hoped earlier in the year that there was going to be a moment in a later season when the portal opens for the latest pilgrimage and no one comes through, indicating that the world they came from had died or devolved into such anarchy that no one could make it to the fracture. I’m kind of disappointed that that might not come to pass. However, one reason I like the 2149 cut-off is because I felt the show very much underused the concept of the Novans existing on their own, using their own wits and whatever natural supplies they could find in order to survive. However, I am perturbed by the implication that no one had comprehended this scenario before. Of course, they still have a lot of crazy technology and seeing people struggle to utilize and ration the finite resources could lead to interesting stories, but it’s hard to imagine Terra Nova taking advantage of that potential. Besides, how do they power their equipment? Maybe their gear could last for decades, save another meteor attack.
Like last week, I feel compelled to focus my attention on Lucas and Taylor or, more specifically, their respective actors- Ashley Zukerman and Stephen Lang. It’s not that the episode’s plot isn’t worth commenting on, it’s just that it’s so unspectacular and obvious that you know its problems even before the scenes begin. While it is Terra Nova‘s fault for being so cheap, it seems redundant to continue whining about its lack of creativity.
Ashley Zukerman, looking more and more like Ryan from The Office every episode, still remains all over the map with his performance. I wouldn’t be surprised if the extent of his direction was “Act crazy.” He never gets a handle on the type of crazy he’s supposed to be and will both overplay and downplay a scene seemingly depending on the take. Lucas is also far too meek to function as a quasi-supervillain, as his sudden disappearance after being shot tries to make him out to be. The main bad guy on the show should not get his ass kicked by a 16-year-old and out-conned by Skye.
Stephen Lang, the biggest actor on the show due to his turn in Avatar, turned out to be remarkably unimpressive. While he was ridiculously over-the-top in the Cameron film, at least that allowed him to come across as a crazy, dangerous leader who could inspire crazy, dangerous men. Throughout the entire series, he was shockingly subdued. Even his response when Jim tells him that Wash surrendered was along the lines of “Tell her it’s cool, whatever.” I don’t doubt that he understood and supported her decision, but he seemed so lackadaisical after hearing it.
At the end, I guess there are two questions that need to be asked. 1) Is Terra Nova worth watching (e.g., if you have it saved up on DVR and are waiting to marathon it)?, and 2) is Terra Nova worth saving? The answer to both questions is ‘No.’ While we probably shouldn’t judge a show by its first season, we should at least be able to point out a couple of elements that explains why we should stick with it. An interesting character or characters, a good cast, a unique voice from the showrunner, a mystery worth solving, a theme we want to see played through. Terra Nova offers none of those things. While I’ve grown to not hate a couple of characters (secondary ones like Malcolm and Boylan), I’m pretty far from truly caring about the fates of anyone on this show.
As one of the most expensive shows on television (and it’s a wonder where that cash went since dinosaur action is paltry and horrible looking; tonight we only saw two creatures), Terra Nova itself had two possible reasons to warrant its survival. One, it got incredible ratings from the general public- it didn’t, and for a supposedly epic two-part finale, there was very little buzz surrounding it, at least from what I saw. Or two, it got an incredibly loyal cult following- it certainly didn’t, and I can’t imagine any significant “Save Terra Nova” campaigns spreading across the Internet. While it’s easy to complain about FOX never giving its shows a chance, it still serves as the most likely network to provide us with a unique drama (though ABC has made some ground). Despite the exotic temporal and physical locale, Terra Nova was not one of those shows that audiences will remember, and, without massive changes, it cannot be that show. The timeslot should be given to a series that can produce an episode greater than a C-.
• When Wash tells Jim to tell Taylor “Cu Lao Cham,” Jim replies that he doesn’t know what it means. Of course you don’t Jim, it’s pretty obvious that she’s speaking a code only the two of them would understand. Also, I think the show used the “Tell Taylor [X],” and the messenger explaining that they don’t know what [X] means earlier in the series. (Between Skye and Lucas, perhaps?)
• Jim runs into Malcolm after the camp’s occupation and accuses him of working with the enemy. After Malcolm explains that the Phoesixers killed his assistant (he had an assistant?) because he wouldn’t work for them, he also admits that he had been working extra slowly at finishing their portal. In response, Jim tells him to slow down work. Good leader that Jim is, telling your subordinates to do exactly what they had decided to do without your approval or guidance.
• I found it annoying how the Phoesixers said “Employers.” They were trying too hard to make them sound mysterious and fascinating, and it just didn’t work.
• So in the future there are both sonic guns and bullet guns?
• Annoying Zoe Moment of the Night. To Taylor: “If you need a hug, just ask.” Second place, also to Taylor: “Lieutenant Washington was a nice lady.”
• Tonight’s movie ripoff moment- in addition to Battlefield: Earth, we had Children of Men as Jim raced around with his ears ringing following an explosion. Speaking of which, would he still have that symptom after three days?
• There are 1,000 people at Terra Nova? That many? Because at most it looks like there’s 100, 150 tops.
• For that matter, we never got to see how anyone besides the usual characters reacted to the takeover of the camp. Terra Nova should give us a sense of community, whereas right now it feels as though it consists of about 10 people and a bunch of extras. The concept of resistance loses its impact when it just seems to come from Taylor and the Shannons.
• Did I mention that there were only about two dinosaurs tonight? And they both looked terrible.
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