Recap: 'Terra Nova' - 'Within'
A familiar friend helps us break down why this show was such a missed opportunity
To call tonight’s penultimate episode of “Terra Nova” an exercise in stalling would imply that the rest of the season has been chock full o’ narrative momentum. That clearly isn’t the case, as it’s pretty obvious by now that this series has, at best, a 4-hour mini-series worth of story. Why else would the second to last episode of the season (and maybe series) devote 10 minutes on Maddy trying to find a battery for her prehistoric iPad? Sure, education’s important, but I’d wager there are slightly bigger concerns at this moment in the colony’s history. “Within” set up the fireworks for next week, but it will more than likely be sound and fury, signifying nothing.
After all, this is Shakespearean stuff, right? Just ask Lucas about his relationship with his father: “The two of us suffer from a Shakespearean relationship that borders on Greek tragedy.” That’s something an actual human being said on a television program. I’m not making it up. That’s simple transcription right there. Nevermind that it isn’t applicable: I’m not even quite sure that it makes sense. But that’s “Terra Nova” for you: things happen left and right, and you’re never quite sure why it’s happening, but you’re pretty sure you want a dinosaur to come along and eat whoever is participating in the latest head-scratching event.
Nyko here! Sorry, guys, it’s been a while since last we spoke. I’ve been trying to get Ryan more updates through the portal for a while now. But frankly, me and the other dinosaurs are getting bored ourselves. We send a few of our flying brethren through the air at the start of each episode, just to remind you that dinosaurs exist on this show, but notice how we never re-appear? That’s because they fly back to us, report on the latest plot developments, and then we all go back to learning how to Dougie.
Looking at how the show treats the discovery of Skye-as-spy is instructive in terms of seeing how small the stakes are on this show. Ostensibly, the fit is about to hit the shan here: whomever has funded Lucas and the Sixers is about to unleash hell upon the landscape of Terra Nova, mining it for resources that will go to ostensibly the highest bidder in the future. Set aside for a moment that luxury living might best happen in a pristine past than in a dystopian future. We have to set that aside because other than a few images in the pilot and a few mentions of the “domes” that certain affluent people can afford to live inside, we know absolutely nothing about the future itself. So really, all of Lucas’ proclamations sounds like Charles Widmore sending a mercenary crew to the Island in “Lost.” The only difference? These guys would break down The Swan Station for scraps, apparently.
But why should we care about any potential onslaught? This is a show that refuses to punish Skye for her treachery. Are her actions understandable? Sure, in a basic, cheesy sense. She snuck out her mother Deb three years ago to Mira to keep her alive in exchange for colony intelligence. But while Skye’s reasons are clear, they are still reasons that have enabled a potential genocide. Were this a show that demonstrated consequences to anyone’s actions, then we’d be rightly afraid of the impending violence. Were this a show that had developed any compelling characters in its season-long run, then we’d fear for their lives. But the biggest consequence of Skye’s betrayal? Taylor is so upset with her that…he orders Curran to rescue her mother. Also, he glowers at her a bit. Even Josh got grounded for his part in the cover-up, which is still next to nothing but tantamount to something in this world’s view of crime and punishment.
Nyko here again: I hear ya, Ryan. Know why we haven’t killed more people so far? There’s no fire, no spark, no energy. They would be sad, empty calories at this point. They are the Pringles of people.
What forward progress, if any, came from Lucas. A heretofore mysterious character, seen in occasional bite-sized glimpses, apparently has spent too much time in The 100 Acre Exposition Forest lately. He fell prey to the same tendency as his father has recently: evading concrete answers for most of the season and then vomiting out exposition at an alarming rate once the show needed him to do so. Why would he confess everything to Skye like he was a Bond villain? Why tip his hat so blatantly? Why wait literally hours for his father to show up at the portal? Arrogance is one thing, and it’s clearly his driving motivation here. But there’s arrogance and there’s whatever the heck he did in “Within.”
Still, if I’m being, Lucas’ campiness was semi-refreshing, because at least someone seemed to be having fun with this ridiculous premise. The dude either killed or knocked out many of Taylor’s men with a portal-induced SOOONNNIIICCC WAAAAAAVVVVEEE, so that was kinda cool I suppose. (He is like Alan Rickman in “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,” who was clearly in a different version of that film than anyone else, and a vastly more entertaining one at that.) But it doesn’t work emotionally because too little of this season has been about the schism between Taylor and his son. We’ve had the Shannons as our ostensible emotional anchors, but there’s been no attempt to even use Jim/Josh as a foil for Nathaniel/Lucas. Lucas drives the plot, but he doesn’t drive our emotional investment. Stephen Lang does what he can with this material, but it’s too vague to truly work. The same goes for his relationship with Skye: why did he take her in over others whose parents died from sincyllic fever? What was so special about her? Did she replace the void left by Lucas? None of these questions were ever explored, and so her betrayal of the camp couldn’t specifically cut Taylor any deeper than anyone else. Sure, we’re told it did. But the show also told us how much Skye loved her mother. At this point, I believe Maddy loves her tablet more than any of these other people love one another.
If any of these relationships were more strongly developed, I wouldn’t have to keeping writing down notes like, “Can’t Curran just tell Taylor who the spy is, in that he’s embedded into the Sixers camp? And wouldn’t it have been nice for the program to show him infiltrate the camp at some point? Is this like when they used to go on epic hunts for dinosaurs off-screen because they didn’t have the budget to actually show it? Or is this just lazy writing?” A good show makes these questions irrelevant, because you’re willing to let things slide off-screen if you’re invested in what’s actually happening onscreen. Instead, tonight we got a series of parent/child scenes that had little context in between a whole lot of set-up for the finale. Case in point: the “Skye in The Eye” scene, which didn’t need to actually exist. We know about The Eye. We know what it does. We know that the colony has the worst security in the history of either worlds. We can take Skye’s infiltration of it as a given. Give us a good scene between a parent and child instead, please.
Nyko here again, guys. Last interruption, I swear. I just wanted to point out that Ryan just advocated the show spend more time on character development, the show’s singular failing this Fall. I vote for two hours of things that go BOOM in the night next week. Also, we had a sit down with the dino that didn’t eat the Shannons after they gave back her baby last week. And we’ve talked to the herbivores as well. We’re all eating meat next week. We’re fasting starting tomorrow to ensure maximum hunger.
Nyko has a good point, people. We’ve crossed the Rubicon in terms of developing this people into three-dimensional figures. They are meatsacks that say stuff at this point. All my hopes about Taylor lying to Jim about his true intentions with “Terra Nova” back in “Vs.”? Forget about it. All true. There’s no depth here, even in the more interesting character on the show. It’s all surface. This show had a myriad of ways to use its concept to dramatize interesting moral and philosophical concerns. were chances to deal with ecological concerns. The nature of despotic rule. The formation of societies. All this PLUS DINOSAURS was inherently possible within its premise. Yet “Terra Nova” sidestepped all of that in favor of the blandest form of four-quadrant entertainment possible. And that’s a damn shame.
If you’ve made it this far, what’s kept you watching? Do you have any hopes for the show to save itself in the final two hours? Has the vague nature of the future threat made it more ominous or simply impenetrable? Sound off below!