After another info dump of an ep, has the show revealed just how much it has miscalculated?
There’s little to really redeem “Terra Nova
” at this point. In a few weeks, this season will end, and unless it does incredible numbers overseas in foreign markets, this will be all we’ll see of this series. And I’m not sure too many will bemoan the loss of this show once it goes. Sure, there have been hints of an interesting show here and there. But each time a spark of interest ignites, along comes a moppet and her pet dinosaur to remind you during “Now You See Me
” just how weak the stakes are in this show.
Between the large info dump last week and this week, we now have a clear sense of the long-term story of this show: there’s a war brewing between forces in the future and forces in the distant past, and only one side will prevail. Original? Hardly. Enough to base a show upon? Sure. But here’s tonight’s study question, one that I’ve been asking on nearly a weekly basis: what on earth do the Shannons have to do with any of this? Why did “Terra Nova” decide to make them the emotional fulcrum upon which this show supposedly pivots? There’s enough here to potentially make this show at least competent, if not outright great. But the Shannons constantly drag the show down, both through their mawkish attitudes but also their lack of connection to the central narrative. These are people to whom things happen. They have little to no agency in their superstructure.
Inserting familial struggles can be both a potent yet easy way to inject drama into a narrative. Since everyone comes from some type of family, there’s little other social structure that offers such immediacy for the audience. But I’ve always preferred shows about families that form without the bond of blood keeping them together, whether they rally around a doctor on a mysterious island in the wake of a plane crash or rally around a Slayer atop a Hellmouth. That’s an equally potent way to evoke emotion in the audience, especially in one such as this in which the very notion of recreating SOCIETY ITSELF should be paramount. But “Terra Nova” doesn’t have sociology on its mind. It’s too busy writing scenes with Zoe trying to sneak a freakin’ baby dinosaur out of the prehistoric world’s least protected medical facility.
The threat from the future is still faceless. That’s OK: what’s unknown is often more powerful, and we’re early enough in the run of the show where their unspecific nature works in the show’s favor. It works less so when those in the show’s present are almost as faceless. “Terra Nova” needs to give us a reason to care if Future Militiacomes through on either the 11th Pilgrimage or through Lucas’ Timey-Wimey Machine and whups some serious colony butt. If the Shannons were meant to stand in for the other citizens of the colony in terms of audience sympathy, then the show has failed. No matter what the intention might be, “Terra Nova” has had nine episodes (and ten hours) to expand out understanding of these characters, identify their motivations, and give us reason to empathize with their hopes, wants, and fears. Instead, we’ve gotten episodes about memory loss, prehistoric birds that prevented booty calls, and Maddie playing detective while Zoe droned on about apple pie.
So that leaves us with a few episodes in the latter half of the game in which Taylor pairs off with someone and tells us the plot. Instead of using action to define character and motivation, we simply have people telling each other what they want. Now, this directness is appreciated (even if I still doubt some of Taylor’s tale.) But the show’s inability to go into 2149 (either by choice or budget) leaves it in a weird place where it has few options for giving details about the machinations on the other side of the portal. As such, we saw Taylor give his side of the story last week to Jim, and Mira giving her side to Taylor in the middle of the Hundred Acre Information Dump. None of this is dramatic, because it feels like the show is just getting this stuff out of the way rather than reveling in the reveals.
That’s too bad, since the material involving Taylor and Mira fending for themselves in the jungle is precisely the type of B-movie fun this show should be pulling off in his sleep. I’ve said for weeks that “Terra Nova” takes place in the wrong time in the colony’s history, and tonight proved that nicely. Oodles of exposition aside, the notion of two enemies putting aside their differences in order to fight a larger threat was a strong one. Strip away the comfortable beds of the colony, strip away the futuristic weapons, and strip away any other advantage, and you have…well, an interesting adventure story. Watching Taylor fashion a bow out of nearby elements was approximately 5,687,342 times* more interesting than watching Reynolds declare his intentions for Maddie. The only reason these scenes didn’t work more is that they took place in a world already established to be toothless in terms of killing off its characters.
* I checked the math on this. The numbers check out. Lucas confirmed them for me.
Still, the scenes point to the type of show this could have been, had it taken place in an era far away from the creature comforts of the colony. (They have NEW CONSTRUCTION still going up, for crying out loud. Does the 11th Pilgrimage have a host of real-estate agents lined up to come sell them?) Show Taylor trying to survive on his own. Show him desperately use later pilgrimages build defenses against the harsh landscape. Show the Sixers’ Rebellion. Show the future war in Somalia. The show’s very concept allows for these areas to be explored. And yet, we get to see the one in which children put on plays for a demi-god commander and a faceless community who could be eaten by a T. Rex without a single person shedding a tear.
Take Skye, for example. We learned weeks ago that her parents both died from sincyllic fever. Well, tonight we learned that her mother survived, albeit barely, thanks to the medicinal skills of the Sixers. She’s been the mole all along, feeding them information in exchange for them keeping her alive yet too weak to actually leave. That’s a fine idea…if it made a lick of sense given what we’ve seen thus far. Sure, Skye introduced Josh to Boylan to get Kara through the portal. But the “Terra Nova” had her pull a 180, lambasting him for agreeing to work with the group. If this were a better show, I’d say she was covering her tracks. But since it’s not, I’ll wager they decided this plot relatively late in the run and just figured no one would be tracking her character’s through line. And I bet they are right: after all, she disappears for long stretches at a time, returning occasionally to slowly pull the mother of all intestinal worms out of a friend we haven’t seen since. Having her be the mole was intended to be shocking. Instead, it’s just head-scratching.
We’re off for two weeks, since FOX will be airing the American Country Awards. After that, we head into the final stretch. I imagine Mira will rally the Sixers to the side of the colonists, much like the Elves rallied around the humans at Helm’s Deep in the film version of “The Two Towers.” And I imagine the show will end on a cliffhanger that promises TO CHANGE EVERYTHING YOU KNOW ABOUT THE SHOW. But will we actually ever see the results of that change? And will any of you come back should that ever air? Time will tell. For now, we’ll watch Jim’s investigation for the spy carry on at the speed of real-time geology and wonder what went so very wrong with this show.
Other thoughts about tonight’s episode…
*** Actual quote from Elisabeth to her husband tonight: “Jim, I’m a doctor, not a chemist.” Yes, the show actually had her invoke Leonard McCoy. That sound you heard was a million “Star Trek” fans screaming out loud at once.
*** If you squint hard enough, Reynolds looks like Justin Long after an off-season program with Victor Conte.
*** Showing just how hard he was looking for the mole, Jim took his entire family OTG to release Boxer, their would-be pet dino. Anyone else root for Mama Dino to straight-up eat the Shannons? My main man Nyko would have done that, had he been around.
To those of you still watching: what keeps you coming back? Should this be a one-and-done show, season-wise, or is there more life in this show yet to be seen? After all the info dumps, are you happy with the story as it stands or has this season just wasted time? Sound off below!