'Terra Nova' Recap: Instinct

Oct 03, 2011 | 6:44pm EDT

S01E02: It’s hard to tell what type of series Terra Nova is setting out to be. The first episode suggested a continuous narrative—somewhat reminiscent, perhaps, to LOST—in which episodes end with questions rather than with answers (the pilot concluded on a note revolving around the mysterious markings that have something to do with Commander Taylor, his estranged son, and the Sixers.

Tonight’s episode carries out more of a self-contained storyline regarding one of the newfound dangers of life in prehistory (turns out, living amongst dinosaurs is not entirely safe). However, the episode does pose on question that we’re meant to keep in mind—Taylor knows that the Sixers have a mole at Terra Nova. But who is it?

The more pressing issues of the night: mini-pterodactyls, and, to a slightly lesser degree of importance, clingy ex-boyfriends.

"Zoe's sleeping in her own bed. We're alone..." - Liz

"Screeeeeeeeeech!" - Mini-pterodactyl

"Unbelievable." - Jim

Things are going just fine in Terra Nova, save for Jim’s and Liz’s inability to have some private time. It’s either reptilian screeches or youngest daughter Zoe being too afraid to sleep alone—but there’s always something keeping the Shannons from intimacy.

In the same theme of love, both older Shannon children are finding themselves marginally romantically invested in a Terra Novian. With Josh, it’s the same femme fatale who almost got him killed last week (she’s nice, though…give her a chance). With Maddy, it’s the studly, Hemsworth-looking fella who apparently works directly for Commander Taylor and Alicia Washington, his survival-expert associate.

But love is complicated when Liz runs into an old boyfriend from college in the hospital—an old boyfriend who is none too pleased to find out that she has brought her husband with her to Terra Nova. His name is Malcolm. And Jim hates him.


The episode opens on two nameless Terra Nova soldiers who are attacked by what we later find out to be mini-pterodactyls (hardly the technical term, but reasonably accurate) out in the woods. Pretty soon, the mini-pterodactyls are making their way into society. First, only a couple show up (conveniently, for us, they attack Jim). After a while, more and more start to accumulate on the border fence—eventually amassing in such great quantities that desperate measures need to be taken.

"Talk about a small world!" - Malcolm

"Yeah, that, and eighty-five million years..." - Liz

Somewhere in the midst of the chaos, Jim decides it’s more important to start asking questions about Malcolm—he finds out, via Taylor, that Malcolm was the one who put Liz’s name on the list for Terra Nova recruitment, all in the name of rekindling an old flame. Jim really hates Malcolm.

But back to the million-plus flying savages. Taylor, Washington, Jim, Liz and ol’ Malcolm are on the task force to figure out how to rid the town of these bird-monsters. The scientists figure out that the birds are angry because Terra Nova has been built on their literal breeding ground. The scientists also conjecture that if they create a synthetic pheromone, they can lure the pterodactyls away with it. This is where the soldiers come in. Taylor and Jim are given the job of capturing individual specimens of the creature to extract the pheromones, and then driving the lure (which is like a huge aerosol can stuck on ‘spray’) away from camp, taking the pterodactyls with them. And that’s what they do.

In the meantime, the three Shannon kids plus the two post-adolescent ones’ love interests are holed up in the household, which becomes peskily infested by the pterodactyls. There’s some maneuvering. A few meaningful comments and glances. Everyone turns out okay.

And same goes for the town in general—Taylor and Jim drive off with the pheromone, taking the entire species with them. They return come morning to warm welcomes from their respective mates (Taylor and Washington have kind of a spark going).

"What's this? A kind of wine?" - Liz

"Yes. Eight-five million B.C.. Very good year." - Jim

So, status quo in Terra Nova. The Jim-Malcolm rivalry is set to rest while Jim and Liz finally have time to themselves. Josh, who has been upset over the girlfriend he left back in the 2100s, is beginning to forget about her thanks to the kindly vixen Skye. And Maddy is experiencing love for the first time. All very sweet.

But here’s the thing: who is the mole? The far too obvious answer is Malcolm. We’re already told not to like him via Jim, so it can’t be him. I’m thinking second-in-command/budding romantic interest Alicia Washington. She had prominent screen time in the episode, but was more or less kept inconspicuous. Plus, if they are building a relationship between her and Taylor, that could be the foundation for some chaos. And what does a dinosaur-laden village need more than chaos?


My complaints with Terra Nova remain consistent, as do my praises. The dialogue is entirely phoned in. Stars Jason O’Mara and Shelley Conn actually have pretty good screen chemistry. It’s a shame it’s wasted on empty, uncreative lines. If they could just make the dialogue more funny, nuanced, or believable, then we could have ourselves a far more enjoyable show.

The pros section: the show does keep you watching. Not so much in a “What’s going to happen next?” way. A lot of the self-contained action is pretty predictable. You can tell whether something good is going to happen, or something bad…you can predict a lot of the episode’s beats. But you keep watching because, all in all, it’s a pleasant watch. It’s like watching an old movie you’ve seen a few times over. It feels familiar, but nice. And that can be attributed, again, to the Spielbergity of the mood.

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