S1E11/12: Well, there you have it. A season of buildup—scattered hints and occasional insights into the master plan of the renegade son of the prehistoric society’s hard-boiled autocrat—all culminating in a very eventful two-hour season finale of Terra Nova. In short, Lucas, his business associates from the 2100s, and the Sixers wage warfare on Terra Nova and prehistory in general for a handful of motivations. Mira just wants to go back to the future so she can reunite with her daughter. The ecophobic businessmen just want to mine all the resources they can (apply your own political/capitalistic allegorical connotations). And I’m convinced that Lucas’ primary, if not sole motivation, is just the mere drive to undermine and destroy his father.
In fact, the episode is actually a little too eventful. That is to say, I think the story and gravity of the events would have been better served if we had spread all of what we get in the finale out over a few weeks. Sure, the sheer volume of tonight’s activity might heighten the intensity, but this comes at the price of comprehensibility. A show like Terra Nova rarely boasts the quality of being too complicated. But the finale teeters on that line. There is a whole lot going on—so much so that I’m really only going to focus on the broad strokes in this recap. And perhaps this wouldn’t be as big a problem if the show paid more attention to how it delivers its plotlines and characters. But we’ll get to that.
“Last thing I remember is the explosion.” – Jim
“That was three days ago, Jim.” – Liz
If you had forgotten that this was a Steven Spielberg production, this episode does a mighty fine job of reminding you. First of all, it opens with the eleventh pilgrimage delivering a man with a bomb strapped to his torso. When the bomb explodes, we get as dedicated an homage to Saving Private Ryan as I’ve ever seen, with Jim Shannon taking on the role of a deafened Tom Hanks. It’s also moderately important to note—even though it is barely mentioned or even alluded to much after the scenes to immediately follow—that Josh’s long-awaited girlfriend Cara also shows up on this pilgrimage, and is killed by the explosion. But that’s probably just so the show can ship Josh and Skye guiltlessly. Nice work.
Jim finds himself in a the bed of a rundown hospital, three days later—by the count of his wife, who intercepts him leaving the building in a bewildered run-in with two armed soldiers. Liz explains to Jim, and to us, that Lucas, Sixers and co. have overtaken TN in the interim period (we even get a visual of Mira standing on Taylor’s veranda throne), and she bends her new level of authority a bit to send her husband home to see their children. This poses a bit of a problem for the viewer, especially once Mira shows up at Jim’s hospital bed demanding to know where he is. It is pretty unbelievable that such lax security would be the M.O. of a tyrannical militant society three days into its hostile (and well-funded) reign over enemy territory. But whatever, we’ll live.
“They’re the Phoenix group. Private military. Killers for hire.” – Washington Jim sets out on his ad hoc investigation. His first stop: Washington, who is given a hell of a lot more character depth in this episode than she ever had before. Washington was left in charge by Taylor before he set off to oversee the arrival of the 11th, with Jim and the armed forces. After that, Taylor disappeared, extending Washington’s reign. She was forced to surrender when the invaders began killing civilians, and has been in a drunken stupor at Boylan’s as a means of coping with her handing over of the society to this tyrannical movement. But Jim knows how to rally. The mission to strike back is engaged. “You know, you have your father’s eyes.” – Washington While Terra Nova hasn’t always been fair to its minor characters, the season finale seems a lot like an apology letter to each of them: Washington, primarily an expositional character up to this point, is fleshed out and made the episode’s biggest hero when she helps the Shannon family escape from the guards who are hunting them, sacrificing her own life (she is shot dead by Lucas) to ensure the preservation of theirs. Malcolm is redeemed for all of his petty, cowardly and occasionally deceitful behaviors in the actions he takes to prevent the bad guys from following through with their mission…albeit via some pretty passive-aggressive tactics, like working as “slowly as he can” to repair their portal technology when he is forced into their employ. In fairness, he does blow something up, eventually. Then there are the soldiers—the gunmen and Reilly, the bomb-defusing expert—who all have their moments in the sun at one point or another in the episode. The rough-around-the-edges Reilly even gets to display her softer side when she allows Reynolds a break from his shift to spend time with Maddy (which—and I don’t mean to sound like a total jerk here—in a time of climactic guerilla warfare is pretty damn irresponsible). And Skye does everything she can to make up for her malfeasance…it’s hinted that she even engages in some kind of sexual act with the enamored Lucas, who, incidentally, keeps calling her his sister to save Josh’s life after he beats up Emperor Lucas for being inappropriate with her. By the way, what is with TV and incest these past couple of weeks?! Exhibit A (spoilers). Exhibit B (super-spoilers). And now this, kind of…COME ON! “You’re a highly suggestible hypochondriac, Mr. Weaver. I suggest you see a doctor about that. – Liz” But of course, nobody is allowed to steal the show from the Shannons and Taylor. Liz has her moment of badassery when she cons the sleazy businessman of the future into retrieving her kidnapped husband (held by an ever-maddening Lucas) by tricking him into believing she has poisoned him, and then injecting him with a sedative after he has complied. Jim saves the day by outrunning two explosions, one Tyrannosaurus Rex, and singlehandedly taking down an entire troupe of trained military soldiers—he also cuts off all ties with the 2100s (or so we are led to believe, for now) for all of Terra Nova society, which is kind of a double-edged sword. And Taylor finally faces off with his son. Just to make sure we understand that he’s really evil, the show has Lucas manipulate his father with crocodile tears about his mother’s death and the guilt he has shouldered because of it…just before stabbing Taylor when he is at his most vulnerable. The stab is not fatal, but neither is the gunshot wound Lucas incurs courtesy of a nearby Skye (Taylor’s surrogate daughter, who probably just won his favor back).
“That’s what this place is about. It’s about hope and a second chance. We cannot let them take that away from us.” – Liz So, when the episode leaves off, the future and the past are separated indefinitely, Lucas has hightailed it off someplace, and the Sixers have retreated to the mysterious badlands, from whence Jim and co. discover part of a 19th century ship…next season’s mystery: what the hell is going on in the badlands? But more or less, everything turns out okay back in the past. “A thousand people is all we’d have to restart civilization.” – Jim “A thousand people. That’s a good round number.” – Taylor That being said, the show’s Achilles heel is especially prevalent in this episode: it has a lot going on—it has its science fiction aspects, its ecological message, its family-trying-to-survive story, its political themes…but it doesn’t deliver most of them with enough sincerity. When actors are forced into really shallow scenes, spouting really hackneyed dialogue, it ruins the sincerity of what the show might otherwise be very successful in doing: telling a relatable story in a fantasy world. If we see another season of Terra Nova, we have new, more promising mysteries in store. Hopefully, the show will make an effort to bulk up some of its writing to better suit these new, potentially exciting storylines. So what might have brought the ship to the badlands? If there is another time portal, how did it get there? Where does it take you? And who is operating it? And how do the Sixers know about it? And, if they do know about it, why haven’t they tried to activate it previously? I hope you enjoyed this season of Terra Nova! Watch out for sonic waves!