S01E03: Terra Nova has stakes in human drama and in science fiction—and while it doesn’t fail entirely in either, it has a long way to go to really nail either. Tonight’s episode covers a territory well-traversed in both of these genres: amnesia. Elisabeth Shannon and Nathaniel Taylor investigate a laboratory-gone-awry in the middle of the wetlands, and contract a pathogen that causes them both (as it did all of the lab workers) to gradually lose their memory. Meanwhile, the ol’ “rivals teaming up” storyline overtakes Jim and Malcolm, who need to use their unique abilities (Malcolm’s scientific genius and Jim’s apparent invulnerability to pathogens—way to go Jim) to save their joint love: Elisabeth. And Taylor too, I guess.
“So you’re gunna tell her it’s twenty years later than she thinks it is, and shes gone back in time twenty-eight million years…but you think a husband and kids will confuse her?!” – Jim
The episode opens with some palpable tension between Jim and Malcolm. Malcolm is still pretty infatuated with Jim’s wife, and seems to think he is somewhat entitled to her, what with their mutual careers in medicine and their history together. However, they are capable of being civil: Malcolm gives Jim a medicinal root to chew on when he contracts a cold. The two also team up to go find Elisabeth and Taylor (out on their excavation of the wetlands lab) when they have not called back to base long past the allotted check-in time. Washington insists that everyone stay at camp, but the two men devoted to Liz pay no mind to her orders.
The story here is Jim’s journey to prove himself more worthy of Liz’s love than Malcolm is. We all know that Jim is her true love: first and foremost, he’s her husband., Secondly, Malcolm is conniving and underhanded, albeit not entirely a bad guy. But when the duo encounters an amnesiac Liz, only Malcolm knows how to handle the situation. Even worse, it’s only Malcolm she remembers (since the last twenty years of her life are blocked out, and she met him in college).
Malcolm eventually contracts the disease himself, and begins to put the moves on Liz, which naturally infuriates Jim to the point of violence. He is upset by the fact that Liz takes Malcolm’s side, but persists in trying to help her in any way he can find the cure (for her own disease; she is, conveniently enough, the only one capable of figuring out the cure to this disease). Gradually, working in close quarters, Liz begins to ask questions about Jim’s life. She infers that she and he know one another, and that they are friends. The slow but steady increase in her trust in him encourages Jim, and she eventually comes to figure out that they are married with children. Around this time, she figures out that Jim (the only one not afflicted by the memory loss) is immune due to his cold, and surmises that if she can transfer the cold to other people, they, too, will be cured. Climactic moment: he kisses her. It’s the culmination of science (the transfer of particles for the purposes of combatting a brain disease) and love (no explanation necessary). If it wasn’t a little melodramatic, it would have worked.
But that’s sort of the show’s problem: it is light on the science aspect and a little too heavy-handed on the drama. We don’t always need the highest possible degree of raw emotion or interpersonal conflict. People are usually more subtle and intricate than that. The Shannons are good characters, and they’re all pretty believable, but they need to dial it back to more realistic levels, and maybe amp up the mythology a bit.
“You promised Cara you’d try to get her here. What if I told you I might know a guy who could help you with that?” – Skye
Josh is conflicted about his budding relationship with Skye, due to his commitment to his past/future girlfriend Cara. Skye, ever the noble young lady, tries to help Josh in getting Cara to Terra Nova. She brings him to a shady bartender who ‘specializes in that sort of thing,’ but he needs to know that Josh can be trusted: he wants Josh to work for him. Josh agrees. Anything for his girlfriend (except abstaining from kissing other girls every once in a while, apparently). The end of the episode reveals the underwhelming twist that this bartender is the Sixers’ mole, and that he has manipulated Josh into working for him because he’s “the sheriff’s son,” and that apparently has a lot of potential for whatever the Sixers are up to. This could develop into something interesting; let’s not write it off immediately as a lame ransom plot.
The episode does give us a little more insight into Taylor’s character. When he goes crazy from the pathogen, he reverts back to a savage Apocalypse Now-esque figure of his past, looking for his wife and son. We find out that his wife is dead, and we already know that his son is out there, somewhere, not being too great a son. He does some damage, and we get a glimpse of his pain (he doesn’t want to live in a world without his wife), but once he’s back to the past/present, he’s essentially back to normal.
To reiterate the main plot: Jim struggles to gain his wife’s trust as she battles her inability to remember him. Through “re-meeting” Jim, she comes to build up a trust in him and to eventually realize (not remember, but realize) that he must be her husband. The message here: love is stronger than anything. While that’s a fine message and one that certainly can be conveyed adequately in sci-fi, the actual science fiction going on here is not substantial or detailed enough to hold up that aspect of the show—rather, it’s flimsy and vague, and nothing original. However, credit due: they are building up a thick bond between the Shannon couple. So long as they keep building on this, the family’s relationship could be enough to maintain interest in the not-as-big-a-sci-fi-as-it-should-be series.