Spoiler Heavy Reviews: Terra Nova – “Vs.”

by Kevin on November 21, 2011

Watching Terra Nova week after week, I often find myself wondering how good of a police officer Jim is supposed to be. In the pilot, we only got a brief glimpse of the Shannons’ lives in 2149, and in those few minutes Jim a) failed to hide his daughter from the Population Control enforcers and b) was thrown in prison for assaulting one of them. These aren’t exactly actions that scream cleverness, and even though he escapes from prison and hurls himself through the portal into Terra Nova, our entire introduction to Jim shows him to be brutish, reckless, and willing to jeopardize his entire family’s success in the new colony to avoid paying for a law that he willingly broke. (Remember, he went to prison for the assault, not the extra child; the penalty for a third child is a hefty fine, not necessarily jail time).

Sure, now that Jim is in Terra Nova, he has solved some crimes, but they can only happen by making huge leaps in logic and assumptions that the audience has no choice but to simply accept. (I’m still not convinced Curran actually killed anybody, but I haven’t decided if that doubt is intended by the writers or a byproduct of a confusing and awful story.) His police work is sloppy, probably because he’s not actually a detective and never was. He’s simple law enforcement, which should only extend to keeping the peace, finding lost children, and making sure Boylan’s liquor license stays current.

But tonight, Jim gets to put all those police skills he may or may not have to good use. Taylor has been interrogating Boylan, attempting to find out whether he’s a Sixers spy. After a particularly rough session, Boylan tells Jim about a secret buried under “The Pilgrim Tree,” something that Taylor wouldn’t be pleased to have discovered. That secret turns out to be a dead body, someone not found on record as having come through the portal on an official pilgrimage.

There was a lot of intrigue tonight, but mostly there was a lot of exposition. Taylor caught us up with a lot of the information we could have been shown directly over the last few weeks. Jim discovers that the body was Taylor’s mentor, the general sent to relieve him of command in support of mysterious and shady people in 2149 who would use Terra Nova for its resources and nothing else, stripping it bare. Worse, Taylor’s son has been supporting them, making the calculations that allows for the portal to be used in both directions.

But the same man telling us that he did what he did to give humanity the fresh start it was promised purposely set up Jim to be the spy in an attempt to blackmail him into backing off his investigation. (Then he goes ahead and tells him everything anyway. Oh well, better let him go, I guess.) With Jim and Taylor butting heads so much, it’s difficult to know whether anything that was revealed tonight can actually be trusted; besides, do Mira and the Sixers really look like a bunch of corporate shills to anyone?

“Vs.” is all about opposition, both the kind between characters and between the public and private versions of those characters. Jim’s investigation might be the main focus tonight, but Taylor’s (very long) story is the most conflicted we’ve seen of our gruff, silver-bearded leader. What parts of Taylor’s story are true? Which version of him is the real one? Is it the benevolent leader played by Zoe, guaranteeing your trust and his loyalty, willing to murder his mentor and banish his son for the good of humanity? Or is it the Sixers’ version, the ruthless dictator who will stop at nothing to cover up the truth?

What I found most disappointing about “Vs.” was the way it took a promising concept—the possible exposure of Taylor’s deep dark secret—and turned it into a lengthy exposition piece and a flashback with some pretty cringe-worthy acting. The story was going so well, with the audience in on the secret and Jim and Elisabeth exchanging awkward, knowing glances when Taylor blamed the Sixers for the body. Unfortunately when it came time to accuse him, the whole thing got derailed by Taylor’s story and we ended up more or less where we started.

The “real” story behind Terra Nova the colony may not be revealed this season, but tonight was a small step to understanding the central conflict the show seems to be setting up. Sadly, we mostly got a rehash of the same questions asked in the pilot: Who’s really pulling the strings? What’s the real purpose behind Terra Nova? Who are the real villains, and are there any heroes? Eventually Terra Nova needs to stop telling us stories and show us what’s going on behind the scenes before the curtain falls.

Kevin’s Grade: C+

The Good

  • Terra Nova is definitely getting its act together, and I think if the season was a bit longer I’d be more forgiving of “Vs.” But with a short season, it’s a shame that the major plot points we saw tonight—Taylor killing to keep his command, his banishment of his son—couldn’t have been parsed out in between goofy dinosaur sequences. “Vs.” could have been fleshed out to replace at least two of the more lousy episodes where nothing happened.

The Bad

  • Speaking of nondescript job descriptions, Elisabeth Shannon doesn’t exactly have a specific career herself. Depending on the needs of the episode, she’s a medical doctor, a surgeon, a biologist, and geneticist, and now a forensic anthropologist. Geez, Terra Nova, hire some more damn scientists.
  • Commander Taylor Day? Really? How big is this guy’s ego, anyway?

The Weird

  • Why are they having a harvest festival? Do they still have growing seasons? Isn’t this a tropical climate?
  • Where was that convoy going, anyway? Isn’t there only one colony?

Things to Think About

  • The biggest issue is how much of Taylor’s story is true, if any of it. Certainly Lucas and the Sixers have their own version of events, and I’m guessing we’ll be seeing at least some of it before we break.

Next week: Episode 1.09 “Now You See Me,” the “me” apparently being a big ol’ dinosaur. Also some Sixers stuff. Happy Thanksgiving, Terra Nova fans!


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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jim November 22, 2011 at 8:48 am

1) Why wouldn’t Taylor bury the general himself? It doesn’t make sense to involve someone else – even if they used to be good friends. Plus, it didn’t seem like they buried the body very deep so it’s not like this was the kind of major operation that would require two people.
2) Why blow the best lead to your biggest strategic liability just to arrange for some face time with Shannon? “Eh … we’ll get the spy some other time. Really, not a big deal.”
3) Harvest festival – fine, whatever. But when did everyone develop an appetite for listing to dopey colonial music and dancing like b-holes. What kind of music do they listen to in 2149, anyway?

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Kevin November 22, 2011 at 8:51 am

All valid points. I think the harvest festival got on my nerves the most. They kind of based it on Thanksgiving, but realized enough that wouldn’t make much sense in a new land without any of the same history, but forgot that means they could do anything else with it. And “Pilgrim Tree?” I see what you did there.

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