At this point, if I weren’t reviewing Terra Nova, I’d probably stop watching it. It’s not an egregiously bad show, just remarkably bland and lifeless, which in many ways is worse. By this point in similar shows, we didn’t just care about the characters and their plight but their environments as well. Whether referring to the Lost island, the Galactica, or Serenity (especially Serenity), the homes became a character too. Here, Terra Nova is as soulless as the characters who inhabit it.
Tonight’s episode, entitled The Runaway, follows one plot centered around feral orphan ex-Sixer Leah Marcos. (I call her feral because of the obvious homage to feral child from The Road Warrior. Unfortunately, no boomerang stunts.) She ran away from the Sixers (hence the title of the episode) because she was tired of eating scraps, and tries to ingratiate herself back into Nova. However, on her escape she lost her backpack, so two members of the security team scour the landscape to find it, end up captured by the Sixers, and used in a hostage exchange. Mira, the head of the Sixers, allows Leah to make the choice of where she wants to stay. She chooses Terra Nova, so Mira lets her and all her prisoners free. Since Terra Nova plots must never deviate from the formula (and, after all, the scheme is obvious from the get-go), it turns out that this was a ruse so that Leah can take some MacGuffin box from Mira’s former home and bring it back to her. And since children can’t be evil, she does this because Mira threatened to kill her brother.
Leah escapes from Terra Nova with the MacGuffin box and Jim (alone, again) goes out to find her, only to find himself trapped by Mira who takes him to Ewok village. Here, Mira tries to recruit him to overthrow Taylor. In the show’s weak attempt to give Mira a backstory, it turns out that she has a child in 2149 who cannot come over until Taylor is gone. Jim praises Taylor’s abilities as a leader and asks what’s so bad about him. No answer. He asks who wants him gone. No answer. Jim asks what’s in the box that’s so important. No answer. It’s one thing to build mystery organically, and it’s another to try to shoehorn it into the story. Guess which approach Terra Nova takes. Also, when your excuse for telling a six-year-old that you were going to kill her brother is that you were never going to kill him, you just wanted to force her to get you your magic box- that’s not a valid excuse.
At the end, Jim, Leah, Leah’s brother, and the box come home to Terra Nova. (The Sixers allowed Leah’s brother to return with Jim.)
In the closest thing this episode had to a subplot, and I hesitate to call it that because it only took up one scene, the person Maddie went on a date with last episode asks if he can begin “courting” her. Courting is old school on Terra Nova. Maddie’s potential beau, a soldier in Taylor’s army, must ask Taylor’s permission, Maddie’s father’s permission, and go through all the dating rituals of the corset era. This is Taylor’s decree.
The biggest problem is that this doesn’t feel like Taylor’s style. Taylor has never come across as a man attracted to the past, let alone the far past. A natural leader, a good soldier, sure. But not someone obsessed with the rituals of centuries before our time. This isn’t to say that military leaders cannot be fond of world history, but it takes a very special type to pull it off. This trait was believable in Patton in Patton and Kurtz in Apocalypse Now because both men were well-educated cadets who breathed war from all eras while being a bit (or more than a bit) crazy themselves. Alternatively, someone like Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation loved old stuff, but he always came across as cultured and well-mannered and he grew up in a world where intellectual pursuits were encouraged. Taylor, however, does not fit into either camp. He might have the charisma that explains why people follow him, but he lacks the outside-of-the-box brilliance present in those other characters. Furthermore, if the world was the crap heap they want us to believe it was, it’s understandable why he wouldn’t bother reading Dating Rituals of the 17th Century and Pride and Prejudice in his spare time.
While I’m on Taylor, let me add that the show really needs to give him some ambiguity if it wants to become more than Terra Novans = Good; Sixers = Bad. We should start to wonder if his heroism really is more myth than truth, if he did shady things to rise to the top of the Terra Nova hierarchy, if he’s willing to back stab his comrades. Instead he is good with kids, remembered the name of Leah and her brother, treats the Shannons exceedingly well, congratulates Jim for reuniting Leah and her brother despite not following orders, seems to believe in Terra Nova and humanity, and has never done anything to make us doubt his loyalty or command. If Jim is to be conflicted, we must be too.
• When the security team hunts for the bag, they carry a sonic handgun (a la Minority Report) and a knife. While the sonic gun seems to do well in stunning humans, the dinosaurs would probably be the bigger threat. It would be like using a stun gun against an elephant.
• Can people stop going into the forest of death alone?
• The CGI gets worse while the dinosaurs get fewer.
• When Leah comes to the camp, she moves in with The Shannons. Like I asked last week (or maybe the week before), why are the Shannons, the newest comers to Terra Nova who know less about the society than most people there, treated with such trust and faith? They’re there for a week and become the second most important people at camp.
• For that matter, Elisabeth appears to be the head (only?) medical doctor. Did they not have anyone performing medical care during the first nine pilgrimages? Did all the other doctors die? Is she just that remarkably good? You’d think there would be some “I had that position!” arguments from the person who previously held her spot.
• We never do find out what’s in the MacGuffin box, but Taylor asks Malcolm to work on opening it so I guess it will come into play later.
• Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, Jack and Jill is rated PG. I wonder if they’ll re-edit it for a higher rating after the box office catastrophe of The Big Year.
To contact me, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.