Terra Nova episode 5 review: The Runaway

Terra Nova still has problems, but The Runaway is an episode where it might just be coming together...

This review contains spoilers.

5. The Runaway

This week’s episode of Terra Nova sees the colony perplexed by the arrival of an apparently feral Sixer child – Leah Marcos – who appears to be defecting back to the colony. Not only that, but she might even be able to help them get the drop on their foes. Unless, of course, she’s a mole…

Despite the variable quality of the past few weeks, I think we can safely call this the first episode of Terra Nova that was more good than bad. True, the leads remain almost impressively bland, but the focus on Taylor and new arrival Leah means that for a change, the characters at the forefront of the story are quite engaging.

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It’s impossible not to enjoy Leah’s presence in the cast. Imagine Newt from Aliens as trained by Sydney Bristow (from Alias) and you’re sort of there, although she’s not quite as successfully evasive as either of those two and once her plan unravels she quickly reverts to childish form. Better yet, however, is that her reveal as a double-agent (if an unwilling one) actually goes some way towards making the Shannon family’s collective naiveté look as dumb to them as it does to the rest of us.

Taylor, meanwhile, continues his role as the show’s most interesting figure as we learn a little more about how he operates. Although charismatic and superficially friendly, there’s an obvious menace to him that we see from time to time, not least in his eagerness to interrogate Leah at the first chance he gets.

The Sixers make their long-overdue return as well, and we finally learn a bit more about who they are, why they’re upset with Terra Nova and how it is they avoid their foes. Mira is still something of a one-dimensional cliché, but assuming she isn’t lying, we do get a little new information about what it is that motivates her – and the fact that she let Jim go unharmed can’t be overlooked, even though her motivations for returning Leah’s brother are completely ignored by the story. Indeed, it happens off camera, which is another example of Terra Nova’s worst writing. Things happening because they need to, not because they’ve been set up to.

Still, as well as giving us enough information to stay interested in the ongoing story (and a cheap-but-tantalising ‘what’s in the box!?’ mystery), this is also the first episode of Terra Nova that squeezes some emotional engagement out of the viewers. We like Leah, we want her to like living in Terra Nova, and we’re disappointed when she turns out to be playing us for fools (even though it’s something of a narrative inevitability). Similarly, when Washington gets into a fight with some Sixers, it’s well-choreographed and exciting in a way that no previous action sequence on the show has been, and thrilling to watch as a result.

It’s fair to say that the episode was far from perfect, though. The scene where Leah is introduced to Terra Nova lays it on with a trowel, right up to the point where the guy with no legs is telling everyone how great he feels just to be alive and living in the colony, but there are even counterpoints to that. When Taylor and his new favourite lapdog Jim go looking for Terra Nova’s mole, Malcolm makes a rather pointed remark about there being no lawyers in Terra Nova which make you wonder just how benign Taylor’s rule really is. Despite appearances to the contrary, it seems not everyone enjoys having him in charge.

Similarly, for the good action scene we’re treated to, we also have to endure the sight of Jim hanging from a snare above an unconvincing CGI dinosaur. It’s rather a shame that the dinosaurs are not only increasingly ignored by Terra Nova, but that they’re also some of the weakest elements of the show. They’re the only reason I even started watching!

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And, of course, it wouldn’t be Terra Nova if the better sci-fi half of the story wasn’t married with an awful tale of teenage tedium. I get that the idea is to show that life in Terra Nova isn’t all dino-attacks and private wars, but honestly, the less we could see of the kids and their love lives, the better.

If nothing else, though, the main plot of this episode finally sees Terra Nova living up to some of its potential. Do we trust Taylor or Mira? What is the apparent secret behind Terra Nova’s creation? And how long until Jim and Taylor find themselves at odds? I’m not saying Terra Nova is perfect – there’s still a long way to go before it starts being anywhere near a must-watch – but if every episode could bat at this level it might actually start to fill the Lost/Galactica-shaped hole in our lives. Maybe.

Read our review of episode four, What Remains, here.

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

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