S01E04: Now we're getting to the good stuff! The hints of mysteries to come, the "Everything is not as it seems" speeches, the scenes that make you start to rescind your trust in characters you assumed from the getgo were 'good guys.' This is a good sign for Terra Nova.
Tonight's episode, "The Runaway," brings an unexpected visitor to the Terra Nova society. During a twilight woods excavation, Lt. Washington and her protegee, Maddy's Hemsworthian love interest Mark Reynolds, discover a young girl hiding (from them). They take her back to camp and try to treat her medically, but she resists all help, kicking and throwing a violent fit. Of course, the Shannons are the ones capable of getting through to her: Elisabeth talks her into giving her name (Leah), and revealing her origins: she lives among the Sxiers, both her parents are dead, she's got a twin brother, and she has been told that Nathaniel Taylor is "the Bad Man." She claims to be trying to find the portal in order to travel back to the 2100s so that she might live with her grandmother. However, Jim informs her that this is impossible—one-way portal; that's an important enough factoid to keep repeating.
Side-note: I noticed something else that was repeated in this episode—Zoe's carnivorous Venus flytrap. Could just be an innocent mention, but I'd be willing to bet all my Obamadollars that somewhere along the line, this plant comes into significant play.
But back to the episode: the Shannons take in Leah, while Washington and Reynolds head into the woods to find Leah's misplaced backpack. Lo and behold, they are ambushed and taken captive by Sixers. Led by Mira, the Sixers pay a visit to Terra Nova with their hostages, demanding that Taylor give up Leah. But both parties agree to leave it up to the child: Leah chooses to stay with Terra Nova; the Sixers release their hostages and retreat. Taylor threatens them with war if another invasion is attempted.
“Did the overachiever just kinda-sorta achieve? Instead of open-heart surgery, did she just do an appendectomy?” - Josh
So all is well and good. The little girl chooses the good guys, and even manages to bond with the soldier with the attachment disorder. That very man and his faithful sheriff start up a healthy round of McCarthyistic interrogation, looking for every otherwise-innocent member of the Sixth Pilgrimage to find out who among their society is the ominous spy. Of all people, Malcolm shoots in and comes to a fellow scientist's rescue when the questioning gets a little too heated. We can see from Jim's face that he might be coming to realize that Malcolm is right, and their behavior is unjust.
However, the Terra Novians soon learn to never trust little girls: it was all a ruse, and Leah was just biding her time until she could get into the former residence of Mira to retrieve a locked container hidden beneath the floorboards. She is caught before she can reach the borders, and interrogated by Taylor and Jim. Leah reveals that Mira insisted that she would kill her brother if Leah didn't get the package for her, but Taylor doesn't buy it. Jim is less of a cold-hearted jerk (granted, his son didn't run off to join the Sixers or become a waterfall graffiti artist or whatever it is Taylor, Jr., up to) and decides to believe Leah.
Off in the woods, searching for a runaway Leah, Jim gets snagged in a Sixer trap and is almost eaten by whatever kind of dinosaur is known for its slow reaction time and relative jumping skills. The dinosaur is disposed of by a Sixer, and Jim is taken hostage.
"That's the way they used to do it." - Reynolds
"Technically they will do it that way. In the future. Of course, they’ll also wear corsets." - Maddy
And here comes the payoff. Not just of this episode, but of the entire season so far. Up until now, we've been served the idea that these people are living in a nice little, moderately dysfunctional society, with a few loose ends here and there. But Terra Nova comes right out and explains to us here, "There's a whole lot more going on." Mira explains to Jim that Taylor got on the bad sides of a lot of people back in the 2100s, and that he's up to no good. She dismisses the idea that Terra Nova is about a "fresh start," but refuses to reveal what she believes the society/project to really be. All we know: it's a bad thing. Which is a good thing (for us). Mira also earns a few of our sympathies by revealing she was never actually going to hurt Leah's brother, and that she just wants to see her own daughter again.
Jim is released. Leah is safe, and is reunited with her brother. The two are given a new home in Terra Nova. It's probably the happiest, Spielbergiest ending in recent television, especially considering the foreboding message of evil one scene earlier. And then of course, there's the mysterious container: unopenable (they can travel through time...but they can't open a box). Malcolm keeps it in his cupboard, as ordered by Taylor, until someone invents a key. Or a hammer. Or something.
So all that at the end there—Mira's whole shpiel—that's what we were waiting for. That's where the fun comes out. It's nice to see Jim and Elisabeth raise their kids in dinotopia. It's nice to see nerdy Maddy come into her own (a subplot this week has Maddy shy away from medicinal practice, and become officially 'involved' with her soldier of love). But the real fun is these mysteries that are building up. Taylor's "not what he seems" arc. The Sixers "unlikely good guys" story. Maybe it's none too shocking to some of you out there, but it's a fun twist. After all, I seem to recall another series that had a group of people suddenly stranded in a natural paradise/wasteland, initially fearing some "Others," who turned out to have a lot more going for them than anyone had thought. And that one turned out to be pretty addicting.