It’s fairy clear at this point in the game that “Terra Nova
” really isn’t interested in big questions concerning the human condition, man’s right to exist, or the ways in which large corporations use technology as a means of control. Those topics are all inherently threaded in the show’s DNA, but usually pushed aside so characters can ask more pressing questions, such as, “When will there be pie?” The joy in reviewing individual episodes of television often lies in teasing out the subtext of a given week. But “Terra Nova” is all surface, so there’s not much meat on the subtextual bone.
So with that in mind, I thought I’d take a page from Dan Fienberg’s coverage of “The X Factor” and bring that running diary style over to tonight’s episode, “Vs.
” Then again, if this entire episode is in fact an exploration of Pearl Jam’s seminal second album via the prism of dinosaurs, I reserve the right to revert back to my usual prose stylings in this part of the HitFix jungle.
8:01 p.m. ET: If it’s the start of an episode of “Terra Nova,” it must mean an aerial tracking shot! We follow a large prehistoric mosquito, which flies from the colony straight into Mira’s waiting arms. Man, that act would kill on “Prehistoric America’s Got Talent!”
8:02 p.m.: Taylor is questioning Boylan about his involvement with the Sixers inside what looks like a prison room inside the virtual world of “Tron.”
8:03 p.m.: There are moles in the colony, danger around every corner, so what are the Taylors doing? Painting masks for a Harvard Festival, naturally. And there’s the show’s central problem in convenient arts and crafts form. I like the idea that people celebrate the day Taylor originally came through the portal, but I wish said celebration was laced with either more danger or distrust for the man in charge.
8:04 p.m.: Apparently Zoe is playing Taylor in the Harvest Festival play. I guess her “SONIC WAAAAAVE” wowed the director.
8:05 p.m.: After a quick chat with Josh, Jim checks in on Boylan. He’s slightly cuckoo for cocoa puffs at this point, thanks to Taylor’s sonic assault and some spiked food. And yet, he’s no closer to figuring out how Boylan communicates with the Sixers. Oh fun, “Terra Nova” is going to teach about the ethics of interrogation this week.
8:06 p.m.: With Taylor gone to attend to a problem with the power grid, Boylan calls Jim “Taylor” and mentions something cryptic about a Pilgrim’s Tree, claiming it will be “all over” once he reveals what’s there.
8:08 p.m.: Malcolm tells Jim that Pilgrim’s Tree was Taylor’s home upon first arriving through the portal. But…but…I hadn’t had a chance to guess what it was yet! No fair, show! And what’s buried beneath there? A script for a better show? Nope: a skull. Well, that was my second guess.
8:12 p.m.: Now “Terra Nova” has turned into “Bones,” with Jim and Elisabeth examination a full skeleton. God, I WISH this pair had Brennan/Booth chemistry.
8:14 p.m.: Thanks to the Magic Mosquito, The Sixers ambush Reynolds’ convoy on the way to the outpost. It’s nice to see humans do something quickly and competently on this show.
8:17 p.m.: Of course Maddie is directing the Harvest Festival play. Of course. During a quick break from the thrilling theatrical action, a guard knocks over the Magic Mosquito which happens to be flying by. Maddie sees a microchip attached to its belly. Her detective skills know no bounds. Also, I like the idea that The Sixers are using available animals to their advantage. Last week, they used a huge dinosaur as a distraction. This week, a small insect for infiltration. It’s smart stuff. I think I’m “Team Sixers” at this point.
8:18 p.m.: New drinking game: every time Washington comes into a scene for the sole purpose of telling Taylor there’s a problem, take a sip. (If you take any more, you’ll be in the emergency room before the end of the episode.) We learn that the convoy was organized after Boylan’s incarceration, potentially eliminating him as the mole. Or, The Mole, assuming Anderson Cooper’s involved in all this somehow.
8:19 p.m.: Turns out our Mystery Skeleton somehow came through the portal between pilgrimages, which can mean only one thing: Taylor must have killed Doctor Who. Damnit, Taylor!
8:24 p.m.: Exposition Download Alert: In his destroyed bar, Boylan tells Jim that he merely helped Taylor bury the body five years ago. Taylor used to call him “Tommy Boy,” and blamed the Mystery Skeleton’s presence on Lucas’ interference. For his cooperation and continued quiet, Taylor gave Boylan the bar to run. Everybody got that? There’s gonna be a quiz later.
8:28 p.m.: Malcolm finds the skeleton in Elisabeth’s lab, and runs right to Taylor. Taylor plays the “I’m Going to Act Really Guilty While Trying to Play This All Off Card.” Meanwhile, I’m playing the “I’d Rather Be Watching The Patriots Play The Chiefs On Monday Night Football” card.
8:32 p.m.: The drama surrounding the fitting of Zoe’s Taylor mask is more riveting than the majority of other plots in tonight’s episode. Will Maddie and Josh get it to stay on throughout the production of “How to Succeed in Prehistoric Societies Without Really Trying”?
8:34 p.m.: OK, I was wrong: it’s a dragonfly, not a mosquito, that the Sixers are using for recon. They use sonic waves to send it back and forth, which potentially means they are using that classic Pearl Jam song, “Elderly Woman behind the Counter in Boylan’s Wrecked Bar.” Malcolm has surgically repaired the dragonfly’s wing, so Taylor can follow it to the spy.
8:36 p.m.: It’s Harvest Festival Time! Hey, there are two people we don’t know, eating candy apples. There are a few more we’ve never seen, setting the stage for a play. I know we’re only eight episodes into this show, but the sheer lack of world-building is pretty astounding. More work went into the incredibly fake fish at the start of last week’s episode than has gone into 90% of the characters on this show.
8:38 p.m.: Oh God, they are actually showing the entire play. And even better, they are using it to help Jim and Elisabeth solve the case of the Mystery Skeleton: the commanding officer that sent Taylor back in the first place. “There’s a play going on!” Josh helpfully tells them. We know, Josh. We know. By the time the pair get home, they find Taylor there, ready to arrest him after the dragonfly flew straight to their home. Reynolds places him under arrest, with this great, “Oh man, I am so not getting nerdy makeouts in my near future” look on his face.
8:43 p.m.: It’s Exposition Dump Number Two, this time coming to you from the Tron Interrogation Room! Taylor admits to killing his superior, stating that he was sent by the same group that sent the Sixers. Why? In order to provide a pipeline of resources back to 2149. But isn’t the portal only one way? Not if Lucas has anything to say about it.
8:45 p.m.: We’re now in the part of the show called, “He Had to Ask.” With Jim pressing on about Lucas, we get even more backstory in the form of flashbacks: Lucas came in on the second pilgrimage, but once Taylor realized what he was up to, he destroyed all his son’s work. After that, he chased Lucas into the jungle, where General Filbrick materialized through the portal fresh off his murder of Richard Kimble’s wife. But Taylor killed Filbrick and banished Lucas into the jungle to fend for himself.
8:48 p.m.: Were this a better show, I’d love to chalk all this up to an unreliable narrator lying to either Jim, himself, or both. But I’m guessing we just saw the show’s blunt way of dropping exposition in a way it couldn’t artfully fit into the natural flow of the story. Either way, Taylor and Shannon are on the same page now, willing to fight to protect the colony from They Who Shall Not Be Named.
8:54 p.m.: Back the festival, Taylor tells Washington and Malcolm that Jim’s pistol charger gives off the same sonic emission as the one the Sixers used to send/receive the dragonfly. Damn subsonic waaaaaaaves. Then we learn why that story stinks so bad: Taylor planted such a charger in the house to get Jim in solitary. Huh. Maybe my thought in the previous paragraph isn’t so off after all. Well played, show. This round to you.
8:56 p.m.: Taylor takes center stage, and performs as Zoe. OK, not really: but he does welcome the newest baby to the colony for all to see. The idea of Taylor as a zealot who buys into his own righteousness is a strong way to go: I wish “Terra Nova” had done this from the beginning. Stephen Lang is a charismatic actor, one that could believably inspire a group of people to follow him through thick and thin. That they wouldn’t know he was leading them into hell would be all the more powerful.
8:58 p.m.: Deep in the jungle, Lucas sees the fireworks on display over the Harvard Festival. A boast on Taylor’s part? Or a message? God, now I’m trying to figure this show out. I need to stop doing that. Then again, the last ten minutes have me semi-intrigued about where the story is going. It’s too bad there are so few characters involved in this story to make me truly care about it.
What did you think of tonight’s episode? Did Taylor tell the truth to Jim, or did he turn his biggest threat into his strongest ally? Is the thought of a futuristic group plundering a prehistoric civilization a strong hook, or too generic at this point to be worthwhile? Is the show doling out its mysteries well, or are things simply too vague to attempt to parse? Sound off below!