Perhaps I’m just developing a form of Stockholm Syndrome, but this week’s episode of Terra Nova was – wait for it – sort of good. For maybe the first half hour. It’s more than most have managed.
Maddy has always been precocious, so her transformation into Terra Nova‘s version of Nancy Drew was believable, even if the Horton subplot was ultimately unsatisfying. It started off strong, as Maddy began to suspect something was wrong with Horton, it got only stronger as she struggled to find some evidence to support her theories – and then it fell apart when, at the final moment, Horton’s doppelganger turned into a raving cartoon villain, complete with a needlessly convoluted death-trap.
The thing is, his rescue of the apple harvest offered some scope for the kind of ambiguity we saw in Lost and Battlestar Galactica, where just having a bad past didn’t necessarily make him a bad guy. Well, they happily threw that option out, and even a final, oddly reflective scene didn’t really go far enough in pointing out that maybe nu-Horton could’ve been useful after all. We never discover Horton’s fate (assuming that being punched in the face didn’t kill him) so maybe they’ll return to the character, but given the track record of the series, I’m not hopeful.
Josh’s plot was similarly strong, only in his case it actually got followed up on. The knowledge that Mira is telling the truth about being able to speak to the future is a fantastic development, and the chance to speak to his girlfriend makes Josh’s teenage recklessness all the more believable. At the same time… doesn’t anywhere in Terra Nova use CCTV? The moral twists made for an entertaining progression, even if “I needed one dose of those drugs to save a dying innocent person!” was a step too far (by that point, I just laughed at Josh’s worsening situation).
Again, though, the consequences of the plot weren’t dealt with. I’m sure we’ll see more tension between Josh and his family as a result of this story, but we should have had more fallout in this episode. The implication was that the stakes were high if he got found out, and then when he did… nothing. Some angry parents, and nothing more.
And, just in case you were wondering whether I’d make the same point again, it has to be said that Taylor is once again the only character with any depth, while Jim ends up playing his lapdog. This time, because the past is so surprisingly dinosaur-free, the pair go on a prehistoric fishing trip (hurray, more fleeting appearances of bad CGI!) leading to an encounter with Curran, the exiled soldier from some episodes back. As soon as things look like they might get interesting, Jim is dispatched and Taylor steals all the interesting scenes, convincing (forcing) Curran to become his double-agent.
Jim, meanwhile, sticks to being the world’s most passive cop, and dodges every possible moral condundrum with as little thought as possible. Even at the end of the episode, when he finally learns that Mira is telling the truth about communicating with 2149 and that Taylor may have been keeping it from them, his instinct is to run right to him and tell him what’s going on. Sigh.
Part of Terra Nova‘s big problem is that the series seems to have developed its morality by committee. The Shannons are all so bland that even when he’s put himself in a situation that could lead to imprisonment or exile, he seems to display no self-preservation instinct. Jim, meanwhile, plays things completely by the rulebook. I don’t think we need him to be McBain-style maverick, but surely he has some reservations? It’d be nice to see someone in Terra Nova actually act like a real person once or twice. I’ve actually grown to like Malcolm the obvious villain (to give him his full title) because he’s the only one besides Taylor who seems comfortable with his negative character traits.
Still, despite those flaws, this was probably my favourite episode of the series so far. The plots were compelling, the dialogue was less stilted than usual, and if it had just straightened out the last 10 minutes it could have been actively good. Maybe by the end of the series they’ll make it through an entire episode without dropping the ball.
You can read our review of episode seven here.
Terra Nova screens in the UK on Sky1 and Sky1 HD.