Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Terra Nova: “Now You See Me”

Illustration for article titled Terra Nova: “Now You See Me”

I think tonight is where Terra Nova lost me. As I mentioned in my review of the pilot, the show has dozens of things it can do with its premise and setting to create interesting drama. The B-plot in tonight's episode, with Commander Taylor and Mira working together to defeat a dinosaur attack? That was one of them. And that was damn cool, at least conceptually, and visually effective given the limitations of TV CGI. But that wasn't the problem.

No, the problem was the main plot, and the reveal that the Sixer spy is Skye, which is yet another example of Terra Nova putting its plot cart before its character horse. The only reason it makes sense for Skye to be the spy here is that the spy, for dramatic purposes, basically has to be a character we know. With Malcolm out of the running as of last week, that meant essentially Wash, Hunky Soldier Guy, or Skye. So why not Skye?

I liked Skye in the pilot. She was the only character I liked, really, although Commander Taylor definitely seemed interesting. Shortly thereafter, she was effectively neutered into a Generic Female Love Interest, to the point where she, the Terra Nova survival expert, was handing her gun to Josh just because he was male. Since then, pretty much all she's done is look worried about the boys she knew who were getting in danger.

Yet there was nothing in her character that gave any indication that she could be the spy. So Terra Nova has to invent one. Why not the coercion plot, used to such middling effect just a few weeks ago? Introduced as the show's strongest female character, now Skye has been reduced to having equivalent motivations as an 8-year-old runaway. All because the show's plot demands a spy… for no reason other than that Boylan was too obvious? I don't understand. Twists for twistiness' sake, and ruining an initially promising character along the way.

But that's been the way that Terra Nova has worked since the beginning, yes? The plot exists for its own sake, not because the characters or setting demand it. As long as this is the case, this will, at best, be a moderately entertaining show. But the best shows take their storylines from their settings and characters. Terra Nova could theoretically still be a great show, but unlike many of the speculative fiction shows with slow starts that I compare it to (Buffy, Angel, Babylon 5, Star Trek: TNG), I feel like Terra Nova knows what it wants and it's accomplishing that. It just wants disappointing mediocrity.

Of course, all this is structural stuff, at the meta levels. It's not as important as what's happening directly in the episode. And that might actually be worse. While Taylor and Mira trying to survive a dinosaur attack is interesting, their dialogue comes across as it was written by robots. "I had a chance to make a better life for my daughter, and I took it. I'm not gonna apologize. To you. Or anyone."is Mira's exercise in cliché, which is swiftly matched by Taylor's "We can fight each other. Or we can fight them." This was a good idea, robo-Terra Nova writers! Then you went and hit us over the head with ridiculously predictable dialogue. Calm down. Take a deep breath. Let your characters be characters. Not plot devices.


Stray observations:

  • Well, with Commander Taylor gone, it only makes sense that Lt. Washington be in charge, since she's his trusted second, and… what? A girl? In charge? She's not even an official cast member! Make it Jim!
  • For everyone like me who complained that Terra Nova wasn't doing enough with its dinosaur setting, well, there's a tertiary plot involving Symbolism Zoe letting go of her pet ankylosaurus. So there's that.
  • Next episode in two weeks looks like the show's going all out. Should have gone all out giving us a reason to care, but hey, maybe a crazy action movie will be better.