EPISODE REVIEW: Terra Nova: “Instinct” (Episode 3)

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Jim attempts to have sex with his wife, but keeps getting interrupted by noisy pterodactyls. It was funny when it happened to Fred Flintstone (The first cartoon character to have sex. Well, second. Well, really, I guess it was a team effort) and it’s funny now. Oh, no, wait, what’s the opposite of funny? Belabored? Yeah, go with that. The birds- sorry, Pterosaurs - turn out to be evil, and kill people. Turns out, owing to very bad planning, Terra Nova was built atop the Pterosaur breeding grounds, and after nine years away, the birds are all coming back to have a creepy swinger weekend to end all creepy swinger weekends.

Meanwhile, Josh contemplates buying a guitar, but then decides not to. That isn’t really very interesting, so let’s get back to the A-plot.

So they decide to move the bird to a new creepy swinger pad by the use of pheromones. Jim’s wife and her skeevy, stalkery ex-boyfriend who just accidentally on purpose happens to be the science chief for Terra Nova, hits on her because he knew somehow her husband was in jail 85 million years in the future and requested her to come back to the past without….you know what? That’s not really very interesting, either. Let’s get back to the A-plot again. Sorry.

So they make a truck load of pheromones and load them on a truck, and then Jim and Taylor drive them to the new chicka-chicka-wa-wa site. This actually *is* interesting, but we don’t’ actually get to see it

The end.

OBSERVATIONS

That may seem a rather perfunctory recap of the plot, but the fact is not a lot happens here.

The peril is kind of artificial, and way too easily resolved. The real purpose, from a plot point, is to introduce Jim’s wife’s skeevy ex, and everything else is just padding. “Ah,” you say, “But they also introduced the idea that there’s a mole in the colony.” No, not true. They introduced that last week. In fact, the Gina Torres-wannabe who leads the bad guys in this show flat out *SAID* she’s got a mole in the camp. In fact, when Taylor is listing the reasons he *suspects* there’s a mole, he *doesn’t* mention that. Is it wrong of me to dislike Brannon Braga?

So nothing much happens, and the supporting cast is mostly wasted. Skye (AKA “Princess Michelle” from Kings) lights up her two or three scenes, but she’s really given nothing to do. Josh is much better here than he was in the premier, though still not all that great. Again, I don’t blame the actor, I blame the writing. The smart sister says several smartly irrelevant things, the cute little girl, Zoe, exists entirely to be adorable and imperiled, and sure enough, she does both tonight. The skeevy ex - Malcolm - is introduced to give Jim an artificial foil and generate some tension, since the movie ended with his family reunited and happy, but dysfunction is trendy now. It’s all pretty meh. Is it wrong of me to dislike Brannon Braga? I mean, seriously?

What really bothered me about tonight’s episode was that Jim is a lowly cop, there illegally, and on hand maybe a week or so at this point, yet he’s functioning as Taylor’s right hand man, and the defacto deputy mayor of Bedrock. He’s on hand for every discussion, he’s involved in every decision, he’s in darn near every scene. He doesn’t *NEED* to be.

Ok, I get it: he’s the star. Swell. He’s good, I like him. But there’s no call, nor even any logical reason, for him to be in every scene. This is an ensemble show with a large cast - I’m counting 10 regular characters - and there’s no reason why Taylor - who ran the place all hunky-dory-like for a decade - needs to have Jim The Newbie on hand the whole time. We like Taylor. He’s well-cast, he’s well-acted. He displays no charisma nor common sense here, but last week he was pretty great, and the contact buzz is still in the air, so we’ll let that slide. Bottom line: Taylor can carry his own scenes. He doesn’t need Jim on hand every second, particularly since there’s no call for him to be there. In fact, Jim doesn’t even appear to have any assigned duties at the present. He’s like Worf in season 1 of TNG: Just hangin’ out on the bridge, wandering around for no reason, and occasionally speaking WAY TOO LOUDLY FOR NO GOOD REASON.

(Jim doesn’t actually speak loudly, but you get my point. Most metaphors don’t bear close examination.)

I’m not going to beat a stillborn horse, this episode was a dud. It reminded me *a lot* of the kinds of episodes they did in the first season of Stargate: Atlantis. But the thing is: SGA did it better. That’s not high praise, because the 1st season of that show was almost unwatchably weak. They had a lot of artificially forced plots, kinda’ pointless conflict, the whole ‘cut off from civilization’ thing, the whole ‘we’ve got to solve our problems ourselves because there’s no one to help us’ thing, and the sprawling cast, and so on. Obvious comparisons.

BUT: for all its early failings, SGA knew not to still all their dramatic leads in every scene all the time. Weir would say ‘go do stuff’ and Sheppard would bitch and moan, but go off and do it, and there’d be some meanwhile-back-at-the-ranch stuff involving Rodney or Raddik, so at least it’d be visually interesting as jump back and forth between locations, and eventually all that jump cutting back and forth generates a sense of energy and maybe even emergency, a little pace, a little rhythm, you know? And when the big conflict comes at the end, they would *SHOW* us the resolution. Sure, it might be cheezy, but say what you will about SGA (“It’s cheezy,” for instance), they never cheated by having the climax happen offstage. That’s just bad screenwriting, and it’s simply inexcusable in a show that costs $4 MILLION an episode.

Which brings me back around to Brannon Braga: I don’t like him. To be honest, I didn’t even know how much he had to do with this show, but his name is plastered all over it. I was going to cut him some slack, even though I don’t like him - maybe this was guilt by association, maybe he just wrote a couple eps or something - but, no, he’s the show runner. He’s the guy who makes the day to day decisions of what happens, what gets filmed, what doesn’t. He’s in the captain’s seat. If, let’s say, John Q. Dumbass wrote this episode, and it gets on the air, it’s not really his fault. I mean, yeah, he’s a dumbass, and he wrote a bad story, but he got paid for it, and there his responsibilities end. It’s Braga who bought it, and said “Wow, you know, this story lacks both a second *and* a third act, and involves nothing of any remote interest whatsoever! Let’s run this puppy!” So who’s fault really is it?

Look, I know a lot of people hate Brannon Braga because he wrote Star Trek Generations (Deservedly), and I confess some annoyance at that. It was the moment I stopped caring about Trek. I know a lot of people hate him because he wrote a lot of terrible TNG episodes (Deservedly), but I don’t. A lot of people hate him for the pointless miasma that was Star Trek Voyager (Deservedly) but I don’t. A lot of people hate him for putting the final bullet in Trek’s head with Star Trek Enterprise (Deservedly) after torturing it to death for a decade or so. I’m not one of those. Others dislike him for “Threshold,” but I don’t care. Many dislike him for working as a producer on 24 for the last two seasons, and effectively killing the show. I don’t, but then I never liked the show to begin with. Many dislike him for “FlashForward,” which took a great premise and a solid cast and managed to steam all the life out of it within six episodes. I admit some annoyance at that as well.

I just don’t like him. It’s not for any specific reason, it’s just the whole package taken together. He’s been the show runner for five series now, and they’ve all sucked. I’m sure he’s a fine man, with many admirable qualities, but I just really wish he’d quit TV, since it’s clearly not his calling. Maybe get a nice job in the meatpacking industry, or as a drummer for a jazz fusion trio. I don’t know if he plays drums, probably he doesn’t, given the apparent lack of dramatic timing in his shows, but the bottom line is I’m sure he can do *something* other than this if he put his mind to it, and I really wish he would. No personal insult, Brannon, but your scent is all over this thing, and it’s driving me off.

Which, you know, might be a good thing. Experience suggests I’m exactly the kind of viewer you don’t want for your programs. I don’t know why that might be, but, eh, whatever.

While on the subject of vague and baseless accusations of sub-par performance from people I don’t know, I note Rene Echevarria’s an executive producer on this. He wrote a number of episodes of TNG that I didn’t like, and a number of DS9 episodes I don’t remember. He’s also an executive producer on Dark Angel (Which sucked), Medium (Which sucked), The 4400 (Which mostly sucked), and Castle (Which doesn’t suck, but never seems to really be trying hard, either), and on the upcoming “Teen Wolf” series (Which, undoubtedly, will suck). I come not to praise Rene, nor to bury him. Truth be told, I’m only vaguely aware of his work, but there’s definitely an emerging ‘lame by association’ thing here, production-wise. Couple this with Speilberg’s frankly unfathomably bad track record on TV (Amazing Stories,SeaQuest,Earth 2, all of which were expensive and terrible failures), and I don’t have a lot of hopes for this show. I’ll be surprised if it makes a second season.

I revise my opinion from last week: The mole is Lt. Washington.

Not that it’s surprising, but production values appear a lot lower this week than in the movie last week. That’s to be expected, but things appear a bit fakier, the sets appear more set-like, the lighting isn’t as good, the cinematography is far less expansive. Such budget as they have appears to have mostly gone to the CGI pterosaurs. Clearly it didn’t go towards getting a good writer.

I’m thinking you’ll see a pretty massive decline in ratings between this week and next.

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?

I don’t think *anyone* will like this.

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