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Terra Nova Episodes 3 and 4: “What Remains” and “The Runaway”

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A busy few weeks have happened, so here’s me catching up on Terra Nova.

Episode 3, the one about the virus that erased people’s memories? Actually wasn’t as terrible as I anticipated. Now, I’m not sure how accurate the science of this virus is (my guess, not very!), but here’s how it went: a scientist with not-Alzheimer’s (because why use a perfectly real disease that’s universally recognized as tragic and whose symptoms are very well known when you can make up one just like and give it a fake name?) is tampering with gene therapy to cure his condition at an outpost. It doesn’t work–the virus he creates regresses a person to a previous time in their life and then starts bringing them further and further back from there until they’re hysterical and then catatonic. Or something. I just realized they kept saying it affected short term memory first, but then how was everyone not acting like they were in Memento?

Doctor Wife gets whammied, as does her old college boyfriend Malcolm (let’s just call him Old Flame, shall we?), and General Toughguy. Cop Dad (who, FYI, has a cold, and in case you forget that when he shows no symptoms at all, he’ll remind you with horribly fake sneezes when the plot demands it) goes to find them when they don’t return from inspecting this outpost. Long story short, his cold is somehow incubating him from getting this virus, and they can then manufacture a cure for not-Alzheimer’s.

Gee, if only the common cold could cure regular Alzheimer’s, maybe science isn’t trying hard enough! Ugh.

"See, we're totally married!" "I want a restraining order."

So, I asked Brandon (my boyfriend, and a science guy) if this was likely to really work. In theory, he said, yes, because if you’ve got a cold then your body is primed to fight off sickness with T-cells and white blood cells riding high. I’m pretty sure the disease itself was still a load of bullshit, and how does one reverse brain damage like that anyways? But, I give them points for it kinda sorta being true, and also for NOT letting Doctor Wife magically get her memories back when Cop Dad returned her wedding ring to her. Smaller bonus points for Toughguy going Apocalypse Now on Terra Nova itself, thinking he was back in the ‘Nam (or future equivalent).

There was a side story about Rebellious Teen kissing Troublemaker Orphan then telling he really wanted to get his future girlfriend to Terra Nova. Since conflict doesn’t exist on this show, she was totally okay with all of this and hooked him up with a sketchy dude who claims to know how to get people here. No one seems interested in asking HOW. But we the audience know (a) because it’s obvious and (b) because the denoument of the episode shows Sketchy Joe (that’s his name now) taking to the Sixers about getting a girl from the future here. Because, duh, they obviously have some kind of gate of their own. This isn’t confirmed yet, but I’m pretty sure it’s true. So this storyline, which was given all of, hm, two minutes of screentime (Teen Wangst does not count towards that total), was the most interesting and lasting plot in the entire episode.

Episode 4, “The Runaway,” wasn’t great. Now, I’ve read a few reviews that are saying this episode was good because we found out more about the Sixers. We did, but we really didn’t. I personally learned their leader’s name is Mira, not Mila, and that they live in trees. Oh, and they send moppets to do their dirty work.

"Don't like pronouns."

So the Moppet is a runaway, supposedly, who wants to go back to Earth. She in truth is here to find something in Mira’s old house, some weird glass-ish looking box thing that has no discernible opening mechanism. Puzzle box time! But she’s doing this because Mira has said her Moppet Brother will be harmed if she doesn’t. Cop Dad hunts down the unfindable Sixers somehow, gets caught in a trap, and wakes up in a big treehouse. Mira says some cryptic stuff but never actually tells him anything. All we do is get more confirmation that Sixers don’t like the General, and that Terra Nova’s purpose is something other than what everyone’s been told. WELL, DUH. Thanks for restating what we already learned in the pilot, jackass. Cop Dad asks what this is and because the plot requires he remain in the dark until sweeps, Mira only says “You’ll see.” Then lets him and Moppet Brother go free. The Moppets are adopted by some other nameless woman which means we’ll never see them again.

Obviously, I find it an irritating problem that we learned nothing new at all. Mira and the Sixers had weird war paint on for some reason, and the Moppet’s poor excuse for “character development” was speaking with poor grammar and constantly telling us things she didn’t like. “Don’t like combs,” “don’t like chases,” “don’t like bad men,”– yeah, I “don’t like” your shitty excuses for lines! Girls her age can in fact speak in full sentences, writers! This is not making a character three-dimensional and interesting!

In the end, Cop Dad doesn’t tell Toughguy that Mira mentioned Terra Nova being a fortress lies. But why? Why doesn’t he tell him? What reason has Cop Dad got to not trust Toughguy, the man who let him live and gave him a job and has been nothing but great to him, other than a vague, unhelpful statement made by a woman who threatens kids into doing her bidding? None! He has no reason to hide anything from this man, other than that being what happens at this point in a completely predictable narrative.

Oh, and there’s a throwaway waste of time plot about Hermione not liking blood and her military boyfriend being more outdated than any reference I can possibly make by using terms like ‘courting’ and ‘call upon’. It’s called dating, Chivalrous Dumbass, and you were already in the middle of doing that, so why are you asking now? Was that intended to be him saying let’s make it Facebook official? Chivalrous Dumbass is too long. We’ll just call him White Knight, ’cause that’s the role he’s been given.

As Brandon put it, one thing that’s wrong with Terra Nova’s storytelling is that it’s the opposite of what LOST did right (mostly). LOST would tell you just enough of the story, show you just enough of the story, and not show you what you didn’t need to see. Terra Nova does exactly the opposite of all those things.

Terra Nova, Episode 2 “Instinct”

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This isn’t getting any better.

First things first: title cards/sequences are very important. They need to be interesting, speak to the content and character of the show, and do something to hook you. The trend of the last five years or so has gone from credits sequence to title cards. Though it started prior to LOST, I believe LOST is what made this so very popular. Among the shows that do this well: LOST, Supernatural,  and Gossip Girl. Each very different (heck, Supernatural’s changes each year, and that’s one of the best things about it), but simple, to the point, and you get a pretty good idea what the show is about.

On the flipside, check out the nine seconds of suck that Terra Nova has come up with. Okay, I know you guys put most of your money into your dino CGI (and definitely not into actors, writers, directors, cinematography, etc), but this is embarrassing. This isn’t much better than what someone could’ve come up with in the mid-90’s. I actually burst out laughing when I saw this! And it’s not the family walking shot–that’s fine, if not terribly inspired. The CGI of Pangaea reforming is obviously a graphic you tossed off to some student intern to complete, and then forgot to have someone else make it look good before you threw it up on screen.

Moving on, we get into the story. Remember how I got irritated at the overused call-out to Chaos Theory and stepping on a

Our manly hero, folks. Oh no you didn't!

butterfly in the pilot? Right.

In Episode 2, we appropriately have two big ones! First up, birds aren’t scary! I admit I’ve never seen Hitchcock’s The Birds, but I have no doubt it managed to make birds terrifying in ways this episode did not. Birds, on their own, just aren’t scary. Visually-speaking, that is. If a real eagle or hawk or owl was diving for my face, yeah, I’d be scared as hell. But the things we’re shown here just aren’t hitting that note, and here’s why: they are poorly-implemented CGI. Good CGI implementation means you can’t even tell that’s what it is, because they make the interaction of CGI and humans intricate and hands-on. These birds just dive bomb at people and those people fall over. Uh…seriously? This one guy flips ass over tea kettle in a crowd scene from a bird diving at him. It’s far too ridiculous to be realistic, and I never bought into the premise that these birds killed three armed guards in the opener.

Second, the eventual fix for this situation is stolen from a number of sci-fi movies, but among them is Mega-shark vs. Giant Octopus.

Unless you're borrowing this, because this is GOLD.

Great schlock for a drinking game, but something you want to draw parralels to on your prime time network show? Nope! The trope is this, that they can lead these millions of breeding birds away by reproducing their pheromones, spraying it and getting them to follow Pied Piper-style to a new breeding ground (because Terra Nova was built on their previous breeding ground). And it freaking works. Man, I sure hope THAT spot isn’t one they decide they want to settle on later.

The pheromone science storyline is…aggravating. Whatever movie or TV show dreamed it up first may have done it well, but it’s become a laughing stock of a trope at this point, and it’s use, especially this early on, does not reassure me that this show will improve.

One of the other two biggest issues with this episode is that all of the really interesting scenes take place off-camera. Cop Dad needs to go hunt down some samples of the supposedly-killer birds so they can be studied, so he and the Colonel head on out in the rainy night and…well, I guess that went just fine, ’cause they’re back and they’ve got some birds. Okay, uh, sure. Well, back to the humdrum of the market scene with Teen Boy and Every Girl and oh noes! The birds are attacking en masse, flipping over soldiers with nary a dive bomb! Every one ducks under cover while this happen, and we cut to commercial on people huddling for safety. When we come back, there’s…oh. There are no birds of the dozens who filled the air before in sight, crisis averted, and though there were some scraps and awesome prat falls, no one is dead. Guess they found a way to clear them out pretty easily after all.

Well, now Jim & the Colonel need to start spraying the pheromones, driving off into the brush and leading a flock of instantly horny-for-this-ATV bird reptiles with them. But will it work? Where will they lead them? How will they get back, surround by such deadly avians? This is going to be some tense driving…oh. Uh, nevermind. They’re back now, I guess that was no problem at all.

Terra Nova, I don’t know if you know this, but…you’re a show about people trying to live in a world of dinosaurs. HAVE SOME ACTION SCENES ON CAMERA.

World's Worst Scientist, pictured here with Poor Man's Michelle Rodriguez.

And finally, the pseudo-science continues to be full of crap. Terra Nova was intentionally settled on a spot where they found thousands upon thousands of egg shell fragments in the dirt, because it made the soil fertile. They assumed that whatever laid these thousands of eggs had moved on. I’m no scientist, and you seem to have a few supposedly smart ones on your staff, so if even I think that’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard all episode (prior to the pheromone plan, of course), you’ve been duped by a resume full of lies, my friend. Additionally, no one’s come up with a better tire that’s more resistant to plot-contrived flats by 2149? And it bears repeating, three armed men can’t stop these bird-reptiles from plucking out their eyes and killing them?

You know, here’s the real problem with Terra Nova so far. It’s plot twists are completely unoriginal. We need a flat tire to be what strands our pre-credits victims in the forest? Why not have one of the birds fly at the vehicle and bring it to a halt? Why not have a Sixer attack leave them bereft of transportation, and thereby forward two plots? Actually, make that one plot, because the A-plot of this episode has no signs of bearing any thing to come in the future, except that World’s Worst Scientist wants to steal away Doctor Wife from Cop Dad, which was the B-plot at best and in no way thematically reflected in the A-plot. Interrupted sexy times for Cop Dad and Doctor Wife lead to discovering the reptile birds…and not, y’know, science or anything.

But hey, maybe they wanted to take it easy in the first couple of episodes. Not get too plot-arc heavy because it’s a prime time show on Fox, and shows that display intelligence early on die quickly on this network. Maybe come Episode 3, we can finally sink our teeth into something new and interesting and…

“While investigating radio silence at a nearby outpost, Elisabeth, Jim, Malcolm and Taylor discover an outbreak of a mysterious and fatal virus that causes memory loss.”

Oh, f*** you, show!

Terra Nova, Pilot Episode

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After a busy week, we finally sat down to watch Monday’s premiere of Terra Nova this morning, and I am skeptical. Spoilers ahead.

The story: in the dying future of 2149, we’ve ignored all of Al Gore’s warnings and the Earth is clouded over to the point where, as the characters later mention, even the Moon is unseen. Families are limited to four people, but our main characters, the Shannons, have an illegal 3rd child. Somehow they keep that fact a secret for three years, but when they’re found out, dad Jim punches some fellow cops and gets arrested. He serves two years in prison before his wife comes to help him break out, giving him a small laser cutting tool, so he can sneak in to join the rest of the fam (and smuggle in little Zoe) to travel to the distant pass for a new start.

Welcome to the future, bitches! I mean...the past. Welcome to the past.

We never see Jim’s escape from prison, just him sneaking into the line of time travelers, and though nearly arrested again he makes a run for it through the one-way portal. Apparently none of the security guards had guns in the future, but they do in the past. How convenient!

Well, no one really cares about how many kids they have here, and the gruff Colonel who’s in charge ends up putting Jim on agriculture duty while his doctor wife does her doctor thing.

On their first day, Jim hacks some weeds then captures a guy who was trying to kill the Colonel, so he gets to be a cop again after all. His Hermione Granger-knockoff daughter, Maddy (but I’m never going to call her that), fills us in on how this is an alternate timeline in addition to being 85 million years in the past. So no worries about stepping on butterflies, Maddy says, because it won’t mean they were never born.

Turns out the Sixth group to have come through all broke off into their own settlement and took over some iron quarry–they call them the Sixers. They don’t like Terra Nov for reasons we aren’t told, and there’s a brief standoff with them at one point where some iron gets traded for a captive and medical supplies.

Meanwhile, Rebellious Angry Teen son Josh makes friends with the Every Girl Skye, and goes “OTG”–Outisde The Gates–with her and her friends to cliff dive, look at some geometry scratchings left by persons unknown in the rocks, and check on their moonshine supply. All of these things do in fact happen. Sixers find their car and steal their power supplies, then get attacked by “Slashers”, this show’s answer to velociraptors, who have slashing barbs in their tails and love to hurt humans. Emphasis on hurt, apparently, as no one ends up dying from the Slasher-attack that fills up the last half hour of the premiere.

So the Colonel and the cops go find the kids who are holed with a wounded Sixer, shoot at some Slashers, and then stare goggle-eyed at the moon they’ve never seen before while Hermione tells us about how the moon moves a half centimeter away from the Earth every year (turns out, it’s 3.8 centimeters a year), and that the stars are in a different pattern now than in their original time because the universe hasn’t expanded as much, whatwith it being 85 million years earlier.

This is Mila, leader of the Sixers. You can tell she's a badass because she just got off the set of the Matrix.

We end with the Sixer’s leader, Mila, and her wounded soldier (oh yeah, at some point during the Slasher attack, she showed up unnoticed, got him back, and left, without us ever seeing any of it or anyone noticing until afterwards), talking about how the scratchings are really from the Colonel’s runaway son, reminding his dad that he knows the secret of Terra Nova, and it has something with controlling the past to control the future.

I’ve got some beef with this show’s writing and acting. The writing is exactly what you expect to hear. Is Jim heading off into danger, and his wife Elizabeth is staying behind to help an injured girl? Well, they should have a moment before he leaves then! Nevermind the dying injured girl, it’s time right now to tell my husband in halting speech how I don’t blame him for our son running off! Yeah, best doctor ever here. All the word choices, the pauses, the god awful one-liners, they are completely expected. Then there are the things that just don’t make sense, like how Hermione talks about the stars not looking the same. This comes immediately after they talk about how the Moon became unviewable when her father was still young, so…how the hell would she know? I get it, she’s the smart chick, but there’s no reason for her to know what the stars look like if she can’t even see the moon! There’s also a conversation Skye and Josh have that doesn’t even make any sense at all, and it’s not due to overuse of future slang. It’s an overabundance of tired dialogue and too much telling, not showing.

The psuedo-science is half-assed, as well. They talk about how the newcomers often suffer from ‘hyperoxi-something’, basically their bodies aren’t used to having so much oxygen. But this gets some passing mentions, along with how the newbies (oh, they call them “fresh”) need to drink some kind of green protein shake only for the first few days to get their bodies adapted to the extra nutrients, etc. Okay, I’ve got some other questions: what about adjusting to the brightness factor? What about getting sunburned because they’ve never had to protect themselves against such direct exposure? What about getting a metric ton of vaccinations against diseases and sicknesses they have never had a chance to be exposed to? The family might’ve gotten these before coming, but Jail Cell Jim sure didn’t, or their illegal daughter. The offhanded butterfly reference to the chaos theory is pretty lame, too. I know it’s a popular saying and all, but can someone please come up with a new way to talk about that doesn’t involve butterflies already?

And then there’s half-assed mysterious threats. Slashers dinosaurs have sharp tails! They hunt in large packs! They are beating the shit out of this car! We’re so dead! Except NONE of the kids die. Seriously. One of them panics and runs off into the jungle, into the herd of dangerous pack hunters, and then stumbles out in front of the Colonel, Jim and Elizabeth’s car (oh, and the girl’s dad is there too, another soldier), injured but not dead. Not even missing a limb! Later one of their friends gets hi leg chomped on and is dragged out of the car, and they jump out with guns blazing to help him–he’s still being chomped on, but the slasher is scared off. He lives too! He even quips “Now we know why they call them slashers,” later, which (a) you already knew, (b) you were bitten, not slashed, and (c) your leg should probably be getting amputated right now, why are you vertical and making jokes at all? Then a third friend gets a proper slashing up his torso and should be losing his sweet meats, but he lives with a quick slapped on bandage, too! Not one of these idiot teenagers dies! We hear about how other people have died, and how it’s so dangerous, but no one here actually died despite given plenty of opportunity to do so! Look, if one velociraptor can kill Samuel L. Jackson, a pack of slashers should’ve eaten the hell out of Tasha.

If Skye was this badass consistently, I would've liked her much better.

Then there’s their ring leader, Skye. As mentioned, she’s the Every Girl. She seems to sometimes be a troublemaker, or a flirt, or a thrill seeker, or a smartass, or a badass with a gun shouting orders, or a conspiracy theorist, or, as we later learn, a girl who’s parents are not around for some reason and the Colonel was their friend so he keeps an eye on her now. So add orphan to the list. However, as they never say her parents died, I think it’s fairly obvious they’re with the Sixers. I’m hoping Skye turns out to be a traitor, because that would be a good twist at least, and possible motivation for why she’s whatever the situation/script calls for her to be.

Overall, it’s easy to see I wasn’t impressed. The script wasn’t great, the action was weirdly broken up and didn’t have any payoff, and the characters weren’t too strong. They all felt they’d taken one or two signifying traits during character creation to get bonuses to some key roles.

Elizabeth Shannon: Strong Female Doctor
Jim Shannon: Cop Dad
Josh Shannon: Rebellious Teen
Maddy Shannon: Hermione Granger
Zoe Shannon: Adorable Moppet
Skye: Troublemaker Orphan
Colonel: Badass Colonel

And they show these choices off in ways that are just too obvious and feel too set-up. The Colonel tells us how he ended up having to survive on his for the 181 days, and faces off with a dinosaur one-on-one, but you never really feel like it’ll end badly for him. Elizabeth talks about how she eschewed using her reputation and money to live comfortably in the future  and chose to come here for her kids sake, but it smacks of ‘I thought you’d ask, so I prepared a speech!’ Actually, Hermione’s over-intelligence is the only thing that gets played in any natural way, so kudos to her for not overdoing or sounding too much like she was reading a script. And…yes, Zoe is an adorable moppet. It might saccharine soon, but dammit, the kid’s wicked cute!

Oh, yeah, one more thing. Why do your bullets do just about nothing against dinosaurs?!