A few weeks ago, I wrote that “Terra Nova” took place in the least interesting time possible in the show”s timeline. Tonight”s episode “Proof” reinforced that. No, tonight”s episode wasn”t about a genius female mathematician who may or may not have inherited her father”s capacity for both equations and madness. It was about a whole lot of separate plot strands unspooling at once, but only one really registered as something potentially interesting. More than over, I wish this show had been “Cast Away with Dinosaurs,” set in the time when Taylor had to fend for himself as the sole member of the first pilgrimage. Too arty for television? More than likely. But it sure would have been a compelling ratings disaster all the same.
All along, “Terra Nova” has purported to be primarily a family drama. However, that”s difficult when the members of the Shannon family barely interact. If nothing else, “Proof” sought to fix that problem by pairing up two Shannons for a significant amount of time. However, the pair they picked for this inaugural experiment? Maddy and Zoe, forged together into a prehistoric Sherlock Holmes/John Watson in order to uncover The Mystery of the Oddly Acting Scientist. When Maddy”s hero arrives back from a six-month expedition, she”s beyond elated. But his curious behavior leads her to question his identity from the outset. Her mother Elisabeth is having none of her queries, so she pairs up with Zoe in order to solve the case. Most of Zoe”s contributions to the investigation consist of, “Maybe he”s a vampire!” But Ken Horton doesn”t sparkle in the rotten apple fields, so we the audience know that”s not the answer. Too bad, because if he HAD been a vampire, then this plot might have held some interest.
Apart from being bland, this week”s A-plot had nothing to do with anything else surrounding it. Had it echoed the concerns of either this series as a whole or at least the other events in the episode, then spending this much time with Maddy would have been fine. Instead, they let her drift along, spouting theories to her baby sister while suffering the slings and arrows of a fan let down by her master. The episode teased mental instability throughout the hour, but the reveal that Horton was actually a research assistant who assumed Horton”s guise pre-pilgrimage was the only other possible outcome. “Terra Nova” isn”t interested in deploying complex mysteries at this point. That”s fine: I don”t watch this show for its mysteries of the week. But when the dialogue all but shouts, “THIS GUY IS EVIL,” it”s a little painful to watch other characters slowly come to the same conclusions we did in the first act. It”s even more painful to realize that The Eye, introduced last week, will probably be the show”s deus ex machina when it comes to gathering information. That”s right: most of the show”s exposition and problem solving will be done by Wikipedia 2.0.
Having such a black hole at the center of the hour was a disappointment, especially when other aspects of the show were fairly decent. Apart from the simply HORRENDOUS CGI on display during the Taylor/Shannon fishing trip, everything Taylor-related was pretty great tonight. Watching him track both Curran and the komodo dragon was the type of adventure I signed up for when this show was announced, and using Curran”s status to help infiltrate the Sixers was a smart plot point for the show to pivot around heading into the back stretch.
It also dovetailed with Boylan being outed as an inside man with that group tonight. Having Josh steal vital medicine for The Sixers was by-the-numbers plotting, but at least everyone involved had clearly defined goals they need to achieve. Mira is putting the screws on Josh, but she in turn has the screws put on her by the Evil Future Men. It”s perfunctory, to be sure, but it”s all there. Moreover, the show doesn”t keep Josh”s secret for long. Had Boylan”s use of in-debt customer Willie to throw Jim off the scent worked, then Jim would have been damaged as a character. Jim sees right through the ruse, Josh almost instantly fesses up to his crime, and things moved along without arbitrary delay. Josh is still pretty much king of the tools at this point, but at least he instantly regretted his choice to give the medicine to the Sixers. Baby steps, people.
On the mythology front, we got a few more teases of the big plan at work. Mira has a device in her tree fort that lets her see the future. That lets Josh have an Obi-Wan Kenobi moment with Kara. Maybe I”m just desperate for nuance here, but can we really trust the Kara that we saw in this hologram from the future? I wonder two things: 1) Was that Kara, but speaking from a script? 2) Was that actually Kara at all, or maybe simply a computerized representation of her meant to evoke future contact? Taylor”s talk with Jim near the end suggests that the capacity to talk with the future sans the portal exists, and that Lucas could have mastered such technology during his Insane Outward Board and Mathematics program after arriving in the past. But something about that scene made me wary. And it wasn”t just the CGI.
“Terra Nova” tried to have its emotional cake and mythologically eat it too by clumsily connecting Taylor/Lucas with Jim/Josh. In other words, it wants us to think that both the larger stories and the smaller ones are ultimately both familial ones. Problem is, they aren”t familial so much as familiar. We”ve seen these stories before, dressed up in different guises. No show can simply make that connection without backing it up with its own content. And honestly, even though Taylor and his son have yet to share a single frame of screen time together, they seem better developed that Jim and Josh at this point. Given the choppy nature of the show”s pilot, which cut out HUGE parts of the Shannons” backstory, this makes sense. The Shannons onscreen are a combination of what was intended and what actually aired, and that dissonance has the consequence of making everything seem slightly schizophrenic.
Had “Terra Nova” planned to parallel Taylor”s conflict with his son and Jim”s with his own, that would have been a fine way to long-term plot this first season. But that”s clearly not what the show did. They have done little besides make a procedural that occasionally features dinosaurs, interdimensional portals, and SONIC WAAAAAAVVVVEEEEESSSSS. (Capitalization for effect. Because you can”t have a small sonic wave, y”all. Just not how it works.) Strip away those extraneous elements, and you”re left with a show still in search of a direction. And the cost of the show coupled with its middling ratings means we may not see what that ultimate direction truly is.
Other thoughts on tonight”s episode:
*** Seriously, that CGI fish, you guys. Who let that on air, and will that person have a job tomorrow? Too bad, since the sweeping shot that opened the episode might have been the show”s biggest and best since the pilot.
*** Dear Skye: Getting Josh in touch with Boylan to get Kara through the portal was your idea. Not fair to chastise him for seeing things through. Go back to Intestinal Worm Boy and quit complaining.
*** It”s obvious from the Mira/Josh scene tonight that someone on “Terra Nova” is a big “Lost” fan, since that was beat-for-beat the same scene from Season 2″s “Three Minutes.”
*** Zoe”s line “Will there be pie?” would have been the creepiest line ever, had this been “Twin Peaks” and not “Terra Nova.”
What did you think of “Proof”? Are there elements that you are interested in this point, or are you watching out of habit more than love? Did Mira show Josh the truth in that holograph? Are the Shannons salvageable at this point? Sound off below!