You know, it’s hard to review an episode of television in which nothing actually happened. Often I say something like that as a form of sarcastic hyperbole, but it’s not far off to say that nothing happened in tonight’s episode of “Terra Nova.” What’s important to take away can be summed up in about one paragraph. But there’s not much else to talk about. If you watched the episode, you know what I’m talking about. Part of my job is to not just tell you what happened, but what it meant. But there’s not much in the way of meaning that be teased out of “The Runaway.”
That’s not because the episode is as impenetrable as the box under Mira’s old abode. It’s because the episode, as well as the show, is all surface. The only reason anyone does anything on this show is because of family, lost or found. The Shannons’ are the show’s central domestic unit, but they stand in contrast to the myriad of people in “Terra Nova” that are part of fractured families. Whenever a base reason for any action is discovered, it boils down to, “I am doing it for [INSERT LOVED ONE HERE].” We learned tonight that the Sixers aren’t exactly freedom fighters so much as hired hands. But Mira, their leader, is doing it for the same reasons little Lea Marcos infiltrated the camp: for a family member held by someone else. Even Taylor, the enigmatic figure who likes to wear prehistoric couture running jackets when not out battling dinosaurs, has a secret past involving a missing son. At a certain point, this reasoning gets old and clichéd. And we’re already well past that point.
Essentially, the entire hour was built around a desire to have Mira and Jim sit around for a few minutes and expand the mythology of the show. But, you know, not TOO much. So we got dialogue like this:
Jim: “What’s Terra Nova really about?”
Mira: “You’ll see.”
Ryan McGee: “YOU CAN BOTH DIE IN A FIRE.”
That’s the type of dialogue that drove fans of “Lost” crazy go nuts for years. But at least that show had a wide cast of compelling characters to get one through the obfuscation. Here, we have a camp that’s already established (problem #1), filled with people we haven’t gotten to know (problem #2), and therefore have no investment in when things inevitably break down thanks to the dire threats of cute little girls and/or dinosaurs that invade during booty calls (problem #3). It’s not so much that we’re curious if the citizens of Terra Nova or The Sixers are in the “right” here, because both sides are equally faceless at this juncture. It’s not that we can’t tell, it’s that we don’t care.
“Terra Nova” has tried to pay some passing attention to character development, but it’s unclear how to unveil it through the course of the story. By introducing Lea into the occasion this week, the show had a perfect opportunity to see how each member of the Shannon family might react to this new visitor. Would Jim favor her over his own daughters? Might Josh magically turn into a human being around her? Might Zoe get territorial? All fine questions to explore and give dimensionality to this cardboard cutout family. But no: instead, barely anyone besides Jim spent any time with her, leaving this week’s character-building to a vocational irony story involving would-be doctor Maddie’s fear of gross anatomy. Did that tell us anything about Maddie? No. It was pure padding that added nothing to the episode except time between commercials.
At this point, the most of us can hope for are the little drips of story that seep through the cracks around the fifty minute mark each week. At the end of the pilot, I theorized that Mira’s dialogue near The Rock of Perpetual Mathematics indicated Taylor was actually the Big Bad of the show, something the Shannons would discover over the course of this season. Now, we learn that both Taylor and The Sixers are “innocents,” as it were, both fighting a nameless force from the future. Taylor might have been a company man once, but either went insane in the membrane during his time alone, or had a change of heart after his separation from his son. After that rebellion, “they” sent The Sixers back, holding something precious that belongs to each of the pilgrims in 2149 to assure their plan actually succeed. So rather than sending the Shannons over to the Sixers to fight Taylor, I’ll wager the two sides unite against a large army of super soldiers that some through the portal next. Until then, it’s just gonna be moppets hugging, I guess.
But we’re going to have to wait eight hours to see if that theory is right. That might not seem like a long time, unless you’ve seen these first five hours of “Terra Nova.” Then you realize it will be a might long time indeed. So with my editor’s permission, I’ve come up with a “Terra Nova” drinking game to get you through this first season. I myself will not be participating, because The Powers That Be at HitFix seem to frown upon reviews that consist of nothing but “oh come on”, “really?”, and “jdhfjdhfjksdjsj.” They are strange, that way. I know. But here are some simple rules, based on what’s gone down over these first four episodes, of ways in which you can take the show’s tropes and use them to your advantage. (Unless you’re under legal drinking age, of course. Then, you can drink soda until you’re sick. Deal? Deal.)
Take a sip whenever…
…Josh does something that makes you say, “What a douche.”
…future science is introduced to solve an unsolvable problem.
…one character tells another about an amazing action scene that happened off screen.
…a soldier walks in wearing armor from the videogame “Fallout 3.”
…the show finds a reason to have Jason O’Mara shirtless.
…Taylor mysteriously asks a person if they just heard anything about him, and in the process only makes himself seem guiltier.
…a dinosaur obviously shows up due to a studio note, not a story need.
Take a gulp whenever…
…Zoe actually has a line.
…the Shannons are actually all in the same room at once.
…someone besides the Shannons, Taylor, Washington, Reynolds, or Skye get a line inside the camp.
…something or someone easily penetrates the perimeter of the camp.
…Maddie says something that forces you to wonder why Reynolds is remotely interested in her.
…Josh does something that makes you think, “Wow, maybe he ISN’T a douche.”
Drink the whole thing whenever…
…a dinosaur kills a human being under the age of 20.
…someone answers a question about the past in a non-evasive manner.
…someone shows an emotion other than “blasé” at living amongst dinosaurs 85 million years in the past.
…Randy Jackson shows up during sweeps to tell a T. Rex he sounds “pitchy”.
That’s a pretty good start, no? And with two weeks until the next episode, we have plenty of time to build upon the work I’ve started here. And unlike the work that went into to creating the camp, we’ll be able to document all the work done here to make our time more palatable upon the show’s return. Nothing would make me happier than to have such a game be unnecessary to enjoy it. But for now, I fear it is. And even if I can’t personally enjoy it, I bestow this gift to all of you. I can’t give you a portal, but I can give you this.
Is such a game even necessary for you? Am I being too hard on this show? If not, what other rules should we add to the game? And what does the show need to do to sustain your interest enough to stick with the show for this season? Sounds off below!