Terra Nova episode 4 review: What Remains

Is Terra Nova running out of steam already? Here's our review of What Remains...

This review contains spoilers.

4. What Remains

There are some things that happen approximately nine billion times more frequently on TV than in the real world. Attractive women falling in love with hideous men. Crimes being solved by one maverick playing outside the rules, rather than the rigorous, painstaking application of technique. And explosive bouts of amnesia. Indeed, the amnesia episode normally happens some time around the point where writers start running out of ideas, which is why it’s a little worrying that it’s happening now.

Still, as it turns out, it wasn’t all that bad. But only because my expectations were very low to begin with. It certainly wasn’t that good either, and the ridiculously clunky insertion of the common cold into the plot gave a sense of plodding inevitability to the show’s conclusion, but it had its moments. Not least the revelation of what a complete psychopath Taylor was in his army days. That’s the guy running Terra Nova? Suddenly the place feels a lot less safe.

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Part of what keeps Terra Nova from greatness is that its cast are all so blandly cookie-cutter that you can’t help but be nauseated by their very presence. The ‘love triangle’ between Elisabeth, Jim and Malcom isn’t really a triangle at all, because you can’t make a triangle if you’ve only got one dimension.

If the writers really wanted to make this into a story, they might show some hint – the barest sliver of an indication – that Elisabeth might regret how things ended with Malcolm. Here, we get the perfect opportunity for her to reflect on their relationship, and yet the show does nothing with it. As it is, Malcolm’s barely disguised longing creates no real drama, because there’s no remotely credible indication that it’ll ever be reciprocated. It’s not necessarily bad writing, but it is boring writing.

What is bad writing, though, is short exchange where Elisabeth asks Jim if he can do a bit of computer hacking, and he replies that he can because his daughter Maddie taught him. Now, I don’t want to come over all comic book guy, but given that he was born at least 80 years in the future, Jim is what sociologists might call a ‘digital native’. This means that unlike modern fathers (and even that’s a stretch, after 30 years of home PCs) he doesn’t need his kids to teach him how to use computers, because he’s been using them all his life. Even if his daughter was an unusually good hacker (a skill we see no evidence of on screen…) it’s tough to imagine her teaching Jim “couldn’t cook dinner by himself in the last episode” Shannon how to do it. Before he went to prison. It’s lazy, anachronistic, borderline nonsense.

Speaking of lazy nonsense, it’d be nice if someone remembered that Terra Nova has more than 3 people in its security division. Or if they thought through how being regressed 20 years might disorient someone (Elisabeth recognises Malcom immediately, and doesn’t seem to notice that from her perspective he’s unexpected aged a full TWENTY YEARS). After last week’s episode showed a glimmer of intelligent thought, this one’s back in the stone-age (not literally – that comes millions of years later.)

Subplot wise, it’s all pretty The OC BCE with regards to the kids, but the all-too-brief reappearance of the Sixers offers some intrigue. And Josh even mentioned the weirdo equations they saw in the pilot. It’s a slow burn, but this series ends in December, so let’s hope they don’t wait too much longer to get to it.

One thing we can be thankful of is that the quality of the dinosaur CGI does seem to be improving. Not only that, but we actually saw more species in this episode than in the pilot, at my count. A definite sign that things are looking up. Although, the appearance of a tyrannosaur (if not a T Rex) at the start of the episode makes me think they’re really missing a trick by showing any before the big one (because you just know the T. Rex episode, when they inevitably get to it, is going to be a big deal).

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As a show, then, Terra Nova is still struggling to find its voice, hovering somewhere between ropey and promising. This episode was much closer to the former. Let’s hope it’s a blip, and that the series isn’t about to go into quality freefall…

Read our review of episode three, Instinct, here.

Terra Nova screens in the UK on Sky1 and Sky1 HD.

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