EPISODE REVIEW: Terra Nova: “The Runaway” (Episode 4)

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Tonight we found out a bit about the Sixers, but did we find a show actually worth watching? And if the show *IS* worth watching, does that mean anyone actually *will* watch it? “Terra Nova” has lost 19% of its audience in just 14 days, though obviously some of that probably was it being pre-empted by Baseball last week. Ratings for this episode - when they come out - will give a VERY strong indication of whether or not people were interested enough in this show for it to rebound, or if it was just a piece of gum that’s already lost its flavor and been forgotten about.

As for myself, I admit a bias: Stephen Spielberg has a terrible track record with TV, and Branon Bragga has usurped Fred Frieberger as “The Series Killer.” Between the two of them, and the inherently silly premise, this show seems like it should be a train wreck in progress. But I admit a bias within my bias: I really like the underdog. I really like the underdog to win. Despite the crazy amounts of money and name recognition they’ve poured into this stupid show, their track records suggest it’s gonna’ die horribly, which makes them the underdogs. (Oddly) Which means that despite being generally bored by the show, and despite generally disliking the show runner, I really, really, really, really want these guys to redeem themselves and pull out a hit. I really really really want this show to become good, just to spite my own negative impulses.

So *IS* it any good?

PLAY BY PLAY

Teaser:
Washington and a random redshirt see someone running through the woods at night, and figure it’s a Sixer. They go out to investigate, and it turns out to be a little girl.

Act One:
The little girl is named “Leah Marcos” and she’s run away from the Sixer camp. Pretty much everyone takes this at face value despite the fact that she’s like seven or eight and not really all that dirty and she’s been running through a pangean jungle at night, and has been possibly on the lam for several days. Also, she’s not at all malnourished. But they’re all chumps.
So, because Terra Nova is a town of about 20,000 men, women, children, and families, and because they’ve got schools and hospitals and farms and shopping centers and bars and an army and their own currency, it follows, logically, that they would have *NO* infrastructure for taking care of a homeless kid. No, seriously: they’re allegedly starting a civilization here, they’re obviously well-established, but the only thing they can think to do with Leah is send her to spend the night with the Shannons? Wow.
Anyway, we get several scenes of forced-heartwarmingness as the family opens up to her and she opens up to the family. It’s as bad as it sounds.

Act Two:
The sixers capture Washington and Random Redshirt #1, then show up at the gate demanding Leah. In a pointless and showy showdow, they offer to trade the captives for the girl. Taylor inexplicably exposes himself to risk (Honestly, how rational is it to walk out and talk to a biker gang? Why not just shoot ’em?) and inexplicably decides to let Leah decide for herself if she wants to go with the bikers (“Honey, here’s some strange and abusive people that you’re clearly afraid of. Wanna’ go for a ride with them? There’ll probably be candy!”). She says no. Mira, leader of the Sixers releases her prisoners and they storm off.

Act Three:
Boring crap happens. More domesticity. The smart daughter attempts to work as a candy striper in the infirmary, but keeps getting grossed out. Smart Daughter’s boyfriend attempts to talk to Jim about dating her, but despite the fact that he was all for it last week and actually offering friendly advice, this week he threatens to shoot the kid.
Leah turns out to be not on the level. She breaks into a house she used to live in before the Sixers fled Terra Nova, steals something, and tries to get away. She’s captured by Shannon and Washington, howeve.r

Act Four:
The episode is running pretty short so we get a pointless interrogation scene of a guy who is utterly unimportant, and a pointless and out of character argument between Jim and Taylor as to whether they should go and rescue Leah’s little brother. Ostensibly she lied because Mira threatened to hurt her brother. Having padded out the plot about as much as they can, Jim takes a futuristic 85-million-year-old dune buggy through the jungle at night for no real reason other than union rules on overtime on location shoots are clearly different in Australia than they are in the ’States. He gets caught in a snare trap, and we have our obligatory pointless Diosaur Cameo for the week.
(Oh: THAT’S why they keep doing all these night shots: so it’s easier to key in the dino FX without it looking all cheesy and fake like it would in better lighting. Got it. Sad. “Hm. Lights went out. Must be a special effects sequence coming…”)
Jim gets captured.

Act Five:
In the Sixer Camp, Mira tells Jim that people in the future want Taylor dead for some reason, but then she gives him the little brother and lets him go, and in so doing effectively lets him keep “The Box” that the entire episode’s plot revolved around. He takes the kid back to base, reunites him with his sister, foists both kids off on some off-screen characters, and then refuses to give a full debriefing to Taylor. Oh, yes, and if Mira takes down Taylor, ’the people’ in the future will let her have her daughter, who’s still up there, waiting.

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

So *IS* it any good?

No, it is not. We’ve got a show here that runs 44 minutes, and feels padded out by about seven. We’ve got a large ensemble cast of ten important characters, and nobody seems to know what to do with most of ‘em. Taylor is the leader, so why is Jim in every scene? Jim is the only cop in a town that has no crime, so why is he so indispensable? The Shannon family is basically useless. The little girl hasn’t contributed anything material since the pilot, the son has been a schlubb of a character since the getgo, and the smart daughter - who is actually pretty good - is given a make-work subplot here that is just killing time. The mom is dull (But believably smart), the town feels like a Montana Future version of Epcot (The never-built experimental city, not the theme park), and there’s just an unmistakable feeling that none of these people exist when we’re not actually looking at them onscreen.

Think about that for a minute: If you don’t see Captain Picard in a scene, you just assume he’s off doing something important, yes? If Jack or Ben or John on Lost aren’t in an episode, or aren’t in a scene, you never doubt for a moment that they’re skulking around the island doing some mopey-assed thing, right? McKay is off somewhere being a jackass in Atlantis whether we’re looking at him or not, right? Part of creating an enjoyable show - and this is oh so crucial in SF - is giving the impression that the people exist when they’re not front and center of the show. This gives the characters heft, or perhaps it means the characters inherently have heft. This show ain’t got that. This show is like Power Rangers in that regard: if you’re not watching it, they don’t exist.

I exaggerate. Jim has it, particularly in the scenes where he’s beat up at the end. Taylor has it. The smart daughter *almost* has it. Skye doesn’t have it, but easily could because I’m in love with Allison Miller (Who wasn’t in this episode). The point is this place, this whole show, is as ephemeral as a daydream. And about as coherent.

But leaving that aside, the fact is that none of the stories we’ve been told are either particularly well told, nor particularly worth telling. We’ve got a lot of people we don’t really care about talking about stuff we’re not really interested in, the direction is flat, cinematography is bland (Very disappointing as the scenery is eyepopping), the stunts tonight were sub-par. Somewhere between Xena and Power Rangers. Music is bland.

The fact is, I could forgive all that. I don’t mind the amateur hour stuff. In a cheaper, older show I’d find it charming, but this show is only marginally more compelling than SyFy’s horrible “Flash Gordon” series from a couple years ago, and about eight times more expensive. At root the real problem here is that the entire show - from premise through characters and on into execution - is really, really badly conceived from the getgo.

This show is *worse* than FlashForward. At least with that Braga Debacle, there was a sense of a real story that was slipping away from him. There was a sense of disappointment at wasted potential, and that the story slipped away from the makers. Here: no such thing. This hasn't engaged on any level.

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?

Ratings will tell, but I’m thinking that, no, it will not distract our joyless citizenry from the ongoing implosion of the economy or our futures.

Sad, really. I could go for some distraction.

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