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Terra Nova: “Vs.”

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Terra Nova

“Vs.”

Season 1, Episode 8

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It's November sweeps, which for a show like Terra Nova means using the traditional mechanism of doing its big reveals this month. So that's what we should be thanking for the explanation of the mythology that was developed and explained oh-so-awkwardly on tonight's episode. With only a few episodes to go in the season, I think it's fair to say that we should expect a continuation of the higher-paced serialization going on in tonight's episode.

But while the pace was an improvement, and I'm glad the writers got some of these reveals out of the way fairly quickly, I'd still be hard-pressed to call the episode good. The first reason is that the reveals weren't actually any good from a qualitative fashion. They came mostly from an extended monologue by Commander Taylor, which, well, Stephen Lang gives it his all, but the MST3K guys would be singing “Ex-po-si-tion!” at him. The sad thing is that Lang's largely interminable monologue is the better half of the reveal, with the other portion taken up by a flashback so awkwardly staged as to make the children's play from the other part of the episode look competent.

The bigger problem is that the sequence of events that led to this point are as dumb as ever. At the macro level, Terra Nova just hasn't created enough goodwill to pull off interesting twists. The reveal isn't about significant character development except a bit for Taylor; it's just a thing that happened. The plot cart has been placed before the character horse, to butcher a relevant phrase. At the micro level, the sequence of events is ridiculous in Terra Nova's normal special way, which is so common as to resist mockery... oh, who am I kidding, it doesn't resist mockery at all!

First, we discover that the Sixers are sending messages via bug, which we discover because we meet the bug, and then it's promptly whacked by a Terra Nova guard, then examined (by Exposition Maddy, of course) to reveal a microchip. Because nobody else in the past several... weeks? Months? Years? saw a giant fucking dragonfly and took a swipe at it. Meanwhile, Jim Shannon goes off to a tree and discovers a dead body thanks to Boylan apparently cracking under pressure. Jim does this in the middle of the night, which the pilot established was the most dangerous time to be outside the gate... but I think someone's done it without being threatened in every single episode since. Then Elisabeth Shannon learns the most important thing there is to know about the skeleton because “Time displacement leaves a molecular signature” which is awfully damn convenient! But the idiotic icing on the cake of dumb comes when the big breakthrough in the investigation occurs through the children's play about the founding of Terra Nova because of course it does! From the mouths of babes and all that. Nothing else could have happened once it was established that Zoe was doing a play (that Maddy was inexplicably in charge of, possibly because who better to deliver the exposition, right?).

Although I must say, despite the plot holes and the competence issues, the episode did do a few important things right. First of all, it was actually tense, because there was enough ambiguity to create some stakes. Just who is Commander Taylor, and how much of a good guy is he? Examining that and examining it well, is probably the surest route for Terra Nova to get good. This episode laid the groundwork for that to happen.

Second, while I'm not a fan of the idea that we had to get this point via Lost-like mythology, the actual reveal was... pretty much the best possible one for the creation of human drama. There's nothing shocking or magical going on here. People in the future want to exploit the resources of the past. The big news is that they believe it's possible. So this sets up a conflict between, essentially, ruthless conservationists and ruthless capitalists. This is something I can get behind, even if I still don't have a reason to give a damn about Taylor's son.

But enough about that. Let's get to the fun bit. It's time for the...

Terra Nova Kill Ranking!

Someone either in comments or on Twitter mentioned that they saw a quote from one of Terra Nova's producers saying “By the end of a the season a beloved character will die.” Leaving aside the hubris of calling any of these characters “beloved,” this has served as motivation for me to launch the Terra Nova Kill Ranking I've been considering for a while.

So here's how it works – each character will be rated from 0-5 on two scales. First, likelihood of death. Second, whether their death would be awesome, and by awesome, I mean serve the narrative structure in a good way. So, from lowest combined to highest combined score:

Jim Shannon (1,1) – As the main character, Jim's extremely unlikely to die, unless Terra Nova has George R.R. Martin levels of guts, which seems slightly unlikely. And while every member of the Shannon family has had problems, Jason O'Mara's occasional moments of relaxation have made him occasionally downright watchable.

Maddy Shannon (0,2) – The show is far too family-oriented to take out an underaged kid, so Maddy and Zoe are out. Exposition Maddy is often a drag, and her relationship with Hunky Soldier Guy seems like the worst possible thing to do with her character, but she's salvageable.

Zoe Shannon (0,3) – Symbolism Zoe brings virtually nothing to the table, so she wouldn't be missed. But it's not gonna happen.

Commander Taylor (3,0) – The only character worth calling a character on the show really doesn't deserve to be killed off, but part of the whole “having a personality” thing involves having a history, and Taylor's history is just dangerous enough that it could happen. (also, Game Of Thrones is a crossover hit, etc., etc.)

Skye (4,0) – Allison Miller's been ill-used after a strong start, completely subsumed as a potential love interest. This, combined with the impending arrival of Personality-Free Girlfriend makes her far too expendable, and that's just no good.

Mira (4,1) – Can a villain be “beloved”? Well, she has fantastic hair, and that's good enough for me to not want her dead. But as a villain, there's a good chance of it happening.

Elisabeth Shannon (1,5) – You know, Josh gets all the ire, and he deserves a lot of it, it's true, but Elisabeth Shannon may be even worse. The writers are trying to do something with Josh, Elisabeth is just DOCTORMOTHER, with her stereotypical mothering instincts standing in the way of character development. But I can't believe this show would do it, though I'll grant a tiny, tiny, tiny possibility that it could happen.

Josh Shannon (2,5) – Everybody hates Josh. And for pretty good reason. His role in the pilot was to be the most annoying character he could be, and whatever improvements showed up afterwards were quickly destroyed by his obsession with bringing Personality-Free Girlfriend to Terra Nova. He's also an adult, I think, so there's a small possibility it could happen.

Lt. Washington (5,2) – Poor Wash. She's got a bad name for science fiction survival. She's completely, utterly expendable. She's done what she's needed to on the show, but pretty much the only thing stopping me from giving her a 6 in likeliness is that I can't imagine even this show's writers thinking she's “beloved”.

Andrew Malcolm (5,2) – Malcolm's antagonism towards Jim and creepy relationship with Elisabeth puts him in an “Easily killable on network TV” zone. I kinda like him, or at least the actor, but if someone's gotta go, I wouldn't complain too loudly. Could also see him being given a redemption arc.

Kara The Personality-Free Girlfriend (3,5) – How hilarious would it be if this girl shows up and then immediately keels over from some random immune system disorder? I would praise the show to the heavens for that. I doubt it would be so simple, and it would probably be really annoying to see her death treated as some big deep event we should care about so Josh can hook up with Skye, but hey, a critic can dream of the death of fictional characters.

Boylan (4,4) – No idea if anyone could call Boylan “beloved,” but he's certainly expendable and deserving.

Hunky-Lunky Soldier Love Interest Guy (4,5) – Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner! Hunky Soldier Guy may be the dullest character on a show that's turning “dull characterization” into an art form. I can see his attachment to a teen romance making producers think he's “beloved,” but I can't imagine anyone actually thinking this is a character with anything special going for him. His death would also free Maddy from the terrible stories she's usually been saddled with. This, friends, is a winning combination.

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