EPISODE REVIEW: Terra Nova: “What Remains” (Episode 3) UPDATED!

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Worlds better than last week.

That’s not to say ‘great’ - there’s an uncomfortable level of SeaQuestism going on here - but it’s still worlds better than the bewilderingly bad sophomore slump we had last time.

PLAY BY PLAY

Taylor, Jim’s Wife, and Redshirt go out to a research station to investigate something or other. Once there they find that the staff have all gone goofy. One is remembering a blizzard in Detroit from twenty years earlier/85 million years later, and the others have gone catatonic. Taylor et all have been infected by whatever it is that got the others. They inform the base of the problem, quarantine the location, and start working on a cure while looking for the last unaccounted-for member of the station’s normal team, hoping he can help.

“Did you find him?”
“We found his boots.”
“He’s walking around barefoot?”
“No, his feet were still in ‘em.”

Predictably, Jim’s Wife and everyone else quickly lose their memory.

Jim, meanwhile, gets a cold from his daughter, and when he find out how bad the situation is at the outpost, he and Malcolm head out there to help. They attempt to keep themselves from exposure, but that lasts about twelve seconds, so now the clock is ticking on them as well. Jim’s wife’s memories have stabilized at a point about 20 years in her past, when she and Malcolm were dating, but she hadn’t met Jim yet.

This isn’t awkward enough to be funny, or to add drama, or even tension, it’s just padding. Eventually Taylor shows up, reliving memories from a war in Somalia 10 years earlier, and babbling about psych ops. He’s very violent, and threatens to slit a lot of throats, the heads off for Terra Nova. This is filmed really blandly. It really *should* be intimidating and frightening, since it’s been implied that Taylor’s got some serious bite behind his bark, but all we get is a grey haired wiry old guy standing there with a goofy look on his face. Then Malcolm loses his memories in a not-terribly-exciting set piece.

Meanwhile, via deductive reasoning, Jim’s wife has figured out that Jim is her husband, though she doesn’t remember him, and then they figure out what everyone in the audience already knew like half an hour ago: the cold is keeping Jim from getting the virus. They make out to infect her in the most efficient way possible (Ok, admittedly, that was pretty good/clever).

Meanwhile, back at the base Josh and Skye make out, then he says he wants to get his girlfriend back from the future, which Skye goes along with for some dumb-ass reason. She takes him to meet a bartender who can get things done, and he’s given a job. Later on in the episode, said Bartender is trading with the sixers.

Meanwhile, the smart daughter - Maddie - attempts to date that soldier boy who’s been hanging around.

The End

OBSERVATIONS

I actually genuinely want to like this series. I was pleasantly surprised by the premier (Though not exactly impressed), and I think part of my obvious anger at last week’s terrible episode was largely that they managed to piss away all their potential in less than one episode. This one isn’t a return to form - I suppose because we don’t even know what the form is yet - but it’s an improvement. That said, my “This feels like SeaQuest” comment wasn’t intended entirely to be flippant: the fact is, this show feels old fashioned. There’s a strange earnestness to it that you found in late 80s/early 90s shows that seems very dated, very out of place, very deliberate and distracting. The storytelling thus far has been pretty rigid. The writing is pretty stiff and formulaic (Plot, subplot, character piece a, character piece b, token arc element), the direction is…uhm….tightassed? The music is bland. The acting is, on the whole, pretty good, but there’s a strange disconnect between the characters who seem to be living the part (Jim, Taylor, Skye) and the ones who seem to be acting like they’re living the part, if that makes sense. (Pretty much anyone else on the cast). There’s a strange lack of chemistry between most of the characters, which is odd as the cast is, on the whole, pretty charismatic.

About the direction: I, like everyone else, am pretty sick of the whole cameramen-on-acid ‘found footage’ pseudo-documentary style that was so popular over the last decade. I welcome a return to more formal composition of shots, depth of field, decent cinematography, and so on. Nothing against the Pseudo-docu style, it’s just a fashion, I liked it fine at the time, but hemlines have changed, and I don’t miss it. That said, this show feels uncommonly stolid, from a directorial perspective. There’s no jittery cam, but at the same time there’s no real feeling of energy or kinetic excitement or what have you. A lot of that is editing. This show is paced like some pre-MTV thing, and it’s lacking a modern sense of…oh, I apologize in advance for this…it’s lacking a sense of the more modern dynamic rhythms one would use in editing. The meter and pace is just bland, and it’s all one speed all the time. The tempo doesn’t increase in the adventurous bits, nor does it slow down in the quiet bits. It goes without saying that it doesn’t change in the funny or sexy bits, either. It’s just very frustrating and bleargh.

There was never any real sense of peril, and the whole ’cold’ thing was introduced so obviously that you knew literally seven minutes into the show what the solution would be. The conflict between Malcolm and Jim is pretty bland. Everything was telegraphed very obviously, up to, and including Jim being sent back to get his wife’s wedding ring. That did set up the one good scene in the ep, when he puts it on her finger as she says “I don’t remember you.” “But you will.”

You know what really would help this production out a heck of a lot? Watch a few episodes of Stargate: Atlantis. That was never a very *good* show, but even when it was bad, it was fun to watch, and it had a lot of the same basic kinds of appeal they’re going for here - or so I assume - but for whatever reason the TN people have no idea how to go about it, whereas it came pretty easy to the SGA folks.

Stuff we find out:

I guess The Bartender is the mole. That’s disappointing. The purpose - plot-wise - of having a mole is so you can feel betrayed by having a trusted character turn out to be eeeeevil. Having it be some guy youv’e never heard of who’s revealed in the 3rd ep is pretty anticlimactic. I suppose it’s possible there’s more than one mole, but that seems deeper than this show is willing to go at present. In any event, Washington is out. She’s been working w/ Taylor 10 years at this point, and knew him from the Somali War.

Detroit evidently burned to the ground in the 2020s, resulting in food riots and people dying in “The worst winter in 125 years.” I’m not sure how this fits in with the “Global Warming” future we saw, but, eh.

“We” won the Somali War, though who ‘we’ are and what it was about is unclear. They mention ‘psy ops’ were used, and ‘pretty brutal simulations,’ but what that means isn’t clear. Taylor seems to be deliberately ignoring stuff he sees, though, so it’s implied hallucinations were somehow projected on combatants.

Actually, I take it back: Best scene in the ep:

Washington: “It’s ten years later, sir, you’ve got to remember.”
Taylor: “And my wife is dead?”
Washington: “Yes.”
Taylor: “Why would I want to remember that?” [Immediately attempts suicide]

It is assumed that communication with the ‘present’ is only possible when the time tunnel is open, but evidently the “Sixers” have the ability to do it without one. They also have agents on the other side who can affect the selection process.

I think this ep is the make-it-or-break-it one for the series. The premier brought in a very impressive 9 million viewers. Last week’s crappy episode dropped by about a million, which is still a very impressive rating. If this week’s ep is in the 7-8 million range, then the show’s future is reasonably secure. If, however, ratings are way low, then the series is probably doomed. Myself, I sort of expect ratings below seven million for tonight’s ep, simply because last week’s ep was lame enough to turn a number of my mundane friends off the show. We shall see.

I do hope it gets better, but thus far it’s pretty much stereotypically Spielberg-on-TV. As the missus said tonight, “Wow, if Spielberg did one of those Discovery channels shows about Dinosaurs or Megafauna, it’d be called ‘Walking With Giant Bores.’”

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?

Nothing to dislike.

UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE!

The ratings are in: Seven Million people watched the show last night. Initial ratings for the premier were 9.22 million viewers, which is pretty incredible since it held 'em for 2 hours. Second episode was said by the PR flacks to have held the entire premier audience, but in fact it dropped to 8.73 million. That's actually better than anyone would have expected, and so good I don't know why they even bothered to exaggerate it. Some sophomore dropoff is to be expected.

Dropping 2.2 million viewers in just 14 days, however, *IS* a significant cause for alarm.

Put it another way: the premier cost about 86 cents per viewer. The second episode cost about 45 cents to the viewer (Because it only had half the run time and half the budget)As of this episode, each ep is costing them just shy of 60 cents a viewer. Now, that's not disasterous, it's nowhere near the recent debacles of SGU and Caprica, which were paying three-bucks-and-change per set of eyeballs by the end. It is, however, a concern: If the ratio of cost to viewers goes too high, well, the show dies.

Losing just shy of 25% of your audience in a fortnight is a very bad indicator that things are heading that way.

Of course to be fair, some of that may have been due to the baseball game that ran 11 innings, and pushed the show back in the eastern time zone.

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