This episode of Terra Nova wasn't terribly good. It wasn't bad, necessarily, and I did enjoy it more than last week's episode, but I wouldn't qualify it as good. With that said, I think there were some clear moments when Terra Nova demonstrated qualities that indicate that it's building a structure that could become a good show. As I've mentioned since the pilot, the best way to do that is by building its characters and their relationships and using that to create conflict.
The key relationship built here is the one between Jim Shannon and Malcolm Wallace. The introduction of this relationship last week ranged somewhere between awkward (getting into a pissing contest while preparing an attempt to save to colony) and horrifying (the realization that Elisabeth Shannon was only brought to the colony so Malcolm could get in her pants). But as with the angsty son in the pilot, Terra Nova seems to have used that primarily as a storytelling mechanism, to introduce the new character and the tension of the episode. Because while the rivalry between Jim and Malcolm still exists, other than one quick scene, it's treated as background for the characters as they have other work to do. And, more to the point, it gives their relationship a flavor and tension that makes it the most fun in the episode.
My partner, who is more academic than I, has introduced me to the idea of “homosocial bonding” based on the works of Eve Sedgwick. The recent concepts of “bromance” or “frenemies” also fit the idea somewhat, expressed here, that men have certain desires and interactions with one another where rivalry masks a deeper bond. In this case, the rivalry between Jim and Malcolm adds a certain metaphorical chemistry that helps them work together (and helps the viewer understand them) in solving the episode's chief problem, an amnesia virus at a science station.
It's not the only nice touch. I've poked a little fun at Jason O'Mara (Jim Shannon), but when he relaxes and has some decent writing (both of which are too rare), he seems to actually be able to work with scenes more than his initial impressions indicated. And Commander Taylor finally had some interactions with his second-in-command, Lt. Washington, that added depth to their relationship and also gave him the best-delivered line of the night, “You shot me!? Good job.” The dinosaurs also seemed better-integrated into the show, although a few of them still showed fairly awkward CGI. It was still nice to see a straight-up dinosaur attack in the cold open, though. Been waiting for that.
But while there were things that Terra Nova can build on in the future, there was also the present of the episode to consider, which still shows plenty of problems. The biggest one is the episode's premise: amnesia. Now, this is a common trope in genre television. It's a good one, often, because it allows you to show characters' essential personalities and relationships but also play with those in interesting fashion. For example, Angel's similarly premised amnesia episode, “Spin The Bottle,” took place in the fourth season of the show and was expressly intended to call to mind the less competent, more comedic versions of two of the show's most dynamic characters, Wesley and Cordelia, both of whom had progressed dramatically from their bumbling, ditzy origins. Terra Nova doesn't have that kind of history, so it can't reap the same kinds of rewards. I don't know why the producers chose to do an amnesia episode, other than maybe that's the kind of thing that genre shows do.
Likewise, the kids' subplots were pretty thin. Both Josh and Maddy now have romantic interests, and both of them are very dull. At least Josh and Skye attached to a plot external to boring teen romance. Josh promised to bring his girl over, and Skye says she knows a guy. The guy turns out to be the bar owner, who hires Josh, and at the end, is revealed to be working with the Sixers, telling them that he's got Josh because he's the sheriff’s son. This is given a big dramatic ending, as if it's something horrible, but given that we still don't know why the Sixers are doing what they're doing, it's not really that scary. Unless we're supposed to read the fact that they're all black and imposing as evil... which would be unfortunate, but given what we've seen of Terra Nova so far, unsurprising.
- In the middle of the amnesia story, Josh is asking Skye a question, then instantly forgets it. What was that about? Was it supposed to be a red herring about the forgetful virus spreading? A deleted scene that made it into the final cut? Josh being evasive?
- And I'm no scientist, but pretty much everything about the amnesia virus, and its cure, sounded like utter bullshit to me. I can't imagine colds traveling in the same fashion through a self-contained, time-traveled colony like Terra Nova, let alone the rest of it.