EPISODE REVIEW: Terra Nova: “Bylaw“ (Episode 5)

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A good episode! A genuinely good episode! Who would have seen it coming?

PLAY BY PLAY

Investigating the death of a soldier, Jim concludes that it’s actually a murder staged to look like a dino-accident. He finds that the soldier in question was having an affair with a married woman. Upon questioning her, her cuckolded husband shows up and admits to everything. He’s banished in accordance with the bylaws: Given a gun and a backpack, and don’t let the door hitcha’. Of course you know it’s not going to be that easy because we’re only 20 minutes into the episode.

Well, predictably it turns out he didn’t do it. Initially the odds on favorite was that his wife killed the soldier because he’d dumped her a few weeks earlier. Turns out that, no, in fact neither of ’em did it at all: the guy was actually done in by a redshirt who kept losing at cards. The dead soldier had his hooks into the redshirt bigtime, so ultimately he killed him. After a sort of needlessly complicated sting routine that doesn’t *entirely* make sense, the redshirt is ousted, beat up by a 50 year old skinny man, and abandoned in the wilderness.

The End

MEANWHILE, in the almost wholly unrelated subplot, Zoe finds an egg and the dino-baby is gonna’ die so mom does lapro-ovular-endoscopic-pre-natal-egg-salad-surgery on the thing, and it’s born fine. Yeah. (“Squirtle!” one of my kids said)

The End.

MEANWHILE, Josh is working at the bar and gets roped into doing an errand for the bartender guy, running a message to the woman who wants to be Gina Tores, but isn’t. He runs the message. It’s a whole lot of nothing. Skye tags along just to remind us that she’s in the show.

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

Forgive me if I’m a bit rambly. It’s Halloween, and I’m filled to the gills with sugar and caffeine. And pork. The pork was a bad call, really. I’m gonna’ be awake for a while.

This was actually a genuinely good episode. It wasn’t *great,* excepting possibly by comparison to the previous four, or “Outcasts” on BBC-A, but it is a pretty good episode. It manages to maintain a level of interest and action *roughly* equal to a Stargate: Atlantis episode (IE: Better than Trek, not as good as the new Dr. Who, way better than the old Dr. Who). My whole family came away actually *wanting* to watch it next week, which is the first time that’s happened.

As my oldest son said, “This was really the first episode to have a plot. The first one was just a bunch of stuff that happened, and the other ones are just stuff that felt fake, just to fill up an hour. This one had a story.” I agree. The murder mystery was clever, and though the first twist was obvious, the second one was just random and capricious enough that I didn’t see it coming. Which doesn’t make it brilliant, mind you, I’d already eaten like a pound of glucose by that point, but still: Better than it needed to be, and - more importantly - better than this show has heretofore been.

The Zoe subplot should have been jettisoned entirely. It adds nothing and eats up a lot of screen time. Not normally a problem, but there’s actually some interesting stuff going on. The Josh subplot doesn’t really work. It’s let down by “The Event” style stuff at the end, where (Once again) Mira, leader of the Sixers, gives us some cliffhangery Surm without any side order of Drang. Look, folks, I know that Lost got away with never having anyone explain what was going on, but that was freakin’ Lost: they can get away with it. They were the best thing on TV, and were basically a watershed in genre storytelling. Terra Nova ain’t got that. It hasn’t earned that level of forbearance from the audience. If someone hauls you out in the middle of the night, gets in your face and says “You don’t know what’s going on here!” the obvious answer, the logical thing you’d do would be to say “Ok, well, what *IS* going on here, Benjamin Linus, or Mira, if in fact that is your real name?” Then the leader of the others/sixers would say “Oh, right, ok, well the commander is actually evil because…blah…blah….blah.” Continually having people *not* reveal information is extremely frustrating, and not in a good way. It’s just tedious manipulation.

That said, the Josh stuff works so long as he’s in conflict with his dad. His dad makes the wrong call tonight, letting Josh work for the mole, without knowing, of course, that the dude is the mole. This is actually *GOOD* manipulation, since we can see the kid getting in deeper, and it adds to the tension. Good call on that one.

Skye is criminally underused. Why would she put up with all this crap for a guy who’s basically mooning over his ex-girlfriend?

The theme of justice versus mercy versus law is pretty tedious, and way too 90s in execution, particularly in the scene where Jim and Mrs. Dr. Jim get into an argument about it. What saves it from becoming totally SeaQuest/TNG is when Jim freaks out about how bad prison was, and how he spent two years there, and if he had to chose between that and being out in the jungle with a gun, he’d much rather take the other option. His wife backs off. So that was nice. Unexpected. I also like that they make it very clear the colony doesn’t have the resources to support a criminal population. Their options are: 1) Imprisonment 2) Banishment. There’s no death sentence, though clearly Banishment is considered to be pretty much exactly that. The Commander points out that he survived in the jungle by himself for months, it can be done, and obviously the Sixers are doing ok out there.

Speaking of the whole crappy “Nobody ever shares information” thing, did Jim tell the commander about the Sixer’s tree forts?

The sets are pretty sprawling, and this is the first episode since the premier to really make good use of them. Once again, it felt like a place. In episodes 2-4 it felt like a backlot.

There was a clergyman of some sort in the funeral scene. We don’t know what brand, but he was in the front row, and he was clearly wearing some kind of high church shawl. (I’m protestant. I don’t know what those thingies are called.) Nice touch. Theologically speaking…well, I don’t want to get into the theological ramifications of time travel when I’m this wired on sugar. Tabled.

What really makes this work is that Jim actually has a *reason* to be front and center. He’s got a job, it makes sense. It didn’t feel forced like all the others.

We get a little bit of world-building: suicide runs rampant in the 22nd century. None of the Shannons had ever seen a public funeral before, either.

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?

Yes, I think so. We end up with a triumph of frontier justice, we’ve got a good cop complaining about burocracy and bad laws, and the good cop wins at the end. The traditional touchey-feeley ‘let’s rehabilitate criminals’ thing is basically derailed in favor of ‘throw the bums out.’

It was oddly refreshing.

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