S1E8: I’ve been pretty hard on Terra Nova for some time now. Specifically, I’ve found flaw with the simplistic self-contained plotlines—like Elisabeth getting temporary amnesia, or Maddy getting stuck in a tree with her brawny boyfriend (I also don’t know why I can’t make mention of the character Reynolds without highlighting his physique—not too sure what that’s about). I have also chastised the far-too-thin running story arc of Josh pursuing the retrieval of his girlfriend via the Sixers’ two-way portal. Plus, the dialogue. Oh…the dialogue. So, yeah. Maybe I’ve been a bit hypercritical of Terra Nova. But in all honesty, this week’s episode, “Vs.,” is an hour of television that—while still bearing it share of flaws (some new, some in Terra Nova—I genuinely enjoyed. It’s a little busier than usual. New subplots spring out after every commercial break. And it sure does up the ante on the campy during its “time-killer” moments. But I have to admit, “Vs.” is a fun watch, and a positive step for the series—exemplifying the lengths it is taking to instill both its characters (specifically, Taylor), it mysteries and its whole universe with more than we might have expected.
The episode follows in the recent vein of making us question the governing body of Terra Nova, in two specific ways: one very overt, one very subtle. The central plot of the episode follows Jim’s investigation of Taylor himself for murder of an unidentified individual. After Jim looks in on a delirious Boylan, who has been interrogated and psychologically tortured by Taylor for suspected treason with the Sixers, he finds out from Boylan that Taylor murdered somebody and buried him beneath a tree in the nearby woodlands, five years ago. Jim battles with his own doubts, a contentious Malcolm, and, eventually, Taylor himself in the deliberation over whether or not Terra Nova’s leader could be a murderer, let alone what to do about it.
"If they didn't, then the dragonfly will lead us right to the spy's front door, just as you suggested yesterday." - Malcolm
"If they didn't, and if the dragonfly could fly, but the fly can't fly." - Taylor
In the meantime, Taylor and Malcolm are investigating a prehistoric dragon fly that has been trained to fly a microchip from the Sixers to their TN-based spy, following a specific sound frequency to reach its destinations. After Malcolm figures all of this out and nurtures the bug back to health (it was injured by Reynolds when it flew near a group of young children—its incapacitated state allowed for Malcolm to figure out just what was going on with the bug anyway), he sets it back out so that he and Taylor may track on its quest to the sound frequency and find out who the TN-based mole is. But here’s the thing: at this point, Taylor knows that Jim is onto him, so he sets up a mechanism to deliver the same sound frequency in Jim’s home so that he has grounds to arrest him—now that is government corruption.
"If the people of Terra Nova knew that all of the blood, sweat and tears they put into building this place was built on a lie, and would probably come to absolutely nothing...well, they might as well lay down and die and forget the whole damn thing." - Taylor
The whole ordeal is made pretty much moot by the fact that Jim and Taylor are, like, best friends. Taylor confesses everything to Jim while he’s in custody—without all that much provocation, by the way—and then allows him to go free. This is really a “Coming to his senses” scene, but considering the lengths the man went to, it seems a little bit like a “Did he just forget what he was doing?” scene. Anyway, Taylor admits some pretty pertinent information—flashback: his son Lucas comes back to TN on the second pilgrimage, but his intentions are to develop a two-way portal so that the 2100s could mine TN for resources (or so Taylor says…I have a feeling something far more diabolical is afoot). The government then sends back Taylor’s mentor, a 2100s General, to replace him and cooperate with their paradise-paving ploy. Unbeknownst to the one-armed general, apparently, his handicap is a pretty big detriment in close-range duels. He draws a gun on Taylor, but Taylor is quicker and manages to shoot and kill him. Subsequently, Taylor banishes his own son after realizing his malfeasance, telling him he never wants to see him again.
So now we know the “What happened with Taylor and his son” backstory, which has been pretty much the biggest driving force of the series. The drawings on the rocks are also explained: they are Lucas’ plans for a two-way portal, which he draws on rocks in the woods to taunt his father (or so Taylor assumes).
"Good friends, family, loved ones...we're all in this together. Without all of you, I'd have nothing." - Taylor
We still don’t know who the Sixers’ mole is, but my hunch is the same as it was from the get-go: Washington. There might be a few things that contradict this, most notably her capture by the Sixers in an early episode. But there’s something about the way she pops into frame in this episode, twice—both in scenes when the spy is sort of, but not too obviously, being discussed. I’m going to have to go with my gut on this one and favor the language of the camera over logical in-universe signs. And anyway, there aren’t too many other major characters available as possibilities. With Boylan out, Malcolm too easy a choice, and Reynolds not really interesting enough to be a Sixer spy, Washington remains my bet.
The Harvest Festival framing is a genuinely interesting way to illustrate the theme of this episode (plus, the whole thing ends with an elaborate fireworks show...which really, can't at all be a bad idea in a society surrounded by dinosaur-infested woods). The Terra Novans celebrate Taylor as the messiah: he is their savior, their leader, their pioneer. But, as only the ones with names know, he’s also a really messed up, emotionally damaged, anything-but-infallible head case with a power trip and a god complex and a whole bunch of other reasons why he shouldn’t be a totalitarian leader (including the one simply fact that no one should ever be a totalitarian leader). Taylor is married to his mission to preserve Terra Nova, and his understanding of how to do so allows for no substitutes as its absolute leader—this is trouble, no matter where his heart lies. And although things wrap up nicely for Jim and Taylor this time, I predict that will not always be the case from now on.
portal that two-way portal should be ready any time now.