Episode Title: "Genesis Part 1"
Story by: Kelly Marcel & Craig Silverstein
Teleplay by: Craig Silverstein & Kelly Marcel and Brannon Braga & David Fury
Director: Alex Graves
Episode Title: "Genesis Part 2"
Writers: Brannon Braga & David Fury
Director: Alex Graves
In the year 2149, Earth's environment is on the verge of collapse and humanity is facing extinction. With little else to live for, Jim Shannon (Jason O'Mara) and his wife, Elisabeth (Shelley Conn) take their family 85 million years into the distant past to join the prehistoric colony known as Terra Nova.
In the future, Jim Shannon returns home to his wife, Elisabeth and their children Josh (Landon Liboiron), Maddy (Naomi Scott) and Zoe (Alana Mansour). Because it's illegal to have more than two children, the Shannon family hides Zoe when population control cops arrive suspecting them of a violation. Jim tells the inspectors that he's a cop as well, but it doesn't deter them from finding Zoe. When the cops start getting rough with his family, Jim punches out the lead inspector and gets himself into a great deal of trouble. Years later, Elisabeth visits Jim in prison and tells him that she has been recruited to the Terra Nova colony with their kids.
However, the Shannons would be forced to leave Zoe and Jim in the future, so Elisabeth smuggles a laser cutter into the prison so that Jim can escape. As the family begins to line up for the journey to the distant past (via a fracture in time and space), Jim meets up with a smuggler and gives the man a payoff in exchange for an oversized backpack. Jim then reunites with his family, but a security guard spots Jim and tries to pull him aside. Jim leaves his bag with Elisabeth and he is forced to disable the guard and make a break for the time fracture. Jim arrives suddenly in the past and the gun in his hand draws unwanted attention from the security team.
The Shannon family is then forced to reveal that their youngest daughter Zoe was hidden in Jim's backpack. The security team then escorts the entire group of immigrants as they take in the sights and sounds of a world 85 million years removed from their own. Soon, they arrive at the Terra Nova colony, where Commander Nathaniel Taylor (Stephen Lang) addresses the crowd and welcomes them to their new lives. Immediately after, he meets with Elisabeth and Jim about their crimes in the future. Taylor actually doesn't care about population crimes and he welcomes Elisabeth as a new doctor for their settlement. But he has less use for Jim and he assigns him to agricultural duty.
Upon arriving at their new home, Zoe wanders off and she comes across large dinosaurs feeding on leaves from outside the walls of the colony. The Shannon family finds Zoe almost being carried away by an overzealous eater, before watching the creatures in awe. The next morning, Maddy, Zoe and Josh come across a monument to the first probe that was sent to the past; which proved that Terra Nova exists in an alternate timeline and can't affect their own future. Josh then blows off orientation to hang out with a cute girl named Skye (Allison Miller) and when Jim catches him, Josh simply ignores his father's orders.
In the infirmary, Elizabeth is briefly taken hostage by someone referred to as a thief and a "Sixer." Outside, Jim notices the same man carrying a weapon and approaching Taylor with intent to kill. Jim spoils the assassination attempt and earns Taylor's respect, which immediately gets him added to Taylor's security team. Taking Jim on a private tour outside of Terra Nova, Taylor tells him that the Sixers term came from the 6th pilgrimage back to Terra Nova, who stockpiled weapons and broke away from the camp as a large group when they were discovered. Taylor knows someone in the future sent them back but he doesn't know who or what their purpose is.
Jim and Taylor see two Sixer vehicles approaching Terra Nova with a Carnotaurus on their tail. And the dinosaur isn't alone. Jim and Taylor get their people and the Sixers within the Terra Nova gates before the guards repel the predator. Inside, a standoff ensues between Taylor's men and Mira (Christine Adams), the leader of the Sixers. Cooler heads prevail and Taylor gives her the would be assassin and medical supplies in exchange for a rare ore needed by the colony which is mined and controlled by the Sixers. Outside of the Terra Nova colony, Josh bonds with Skye and her friends over moonshine. She also shows him mysterious written equations on the water rocks that Taylor doesn't want anyone to see.
On the way back to their home, the Sixers spot the vehicle procured by Skye and her friends. But when the Sixers proceed to remove the battery and components, they are attacked by slasher tail dinosaurs. And when Josh and Skye return with her friends, they end up trapped with the surviving Sixer as a pack of slasher tails surround them. Inside Terra Nova, Taylor and his security team realize that the kids are missing. Jim and Elisabeth both join the search party and they find one of the girls from Skye's party badly injured from the attack. Elisabeth and a few troops stay behind to save her life while Jim and Taylor search for the others.
The searcher party arrives just as the slasher tail dinosaurs begin overrunning the vehicle. Taylor and Jim go to find the lone Sixer survivor, but they see that Mira has already retrieved her man and left. Back at the camp, the Shannons reunite and reconcile. Privately, Skye apologizes to Taylor and defers to him as a surrogate father. But when he presses her on whether she saw anything near the waterfalls, Skye denies going near them. At the waterfalls, Mira tells one of her men that the writings and equations were made by Taylor's long missing son, who has secrets that Taylor doesn't want exposed about the reasons behind Terra Nova. Somehow there is a way in the past to control the future.
Back at Terra Nova, the Shannon family assembles to watch the moon and the stars, which look very different than the skies they knew in the future.
Few shows have ever been hyped for as long as "Terra Nova" has by Fox. And part of that is a by product of over a season's worth of delays and what was reportedly the largest budget for a TV pilot in the history of television… rumored to be as high as $30 million.
The good news is that "Terra Nova" is visually impressive, not just in the CGI but also in the lush Australian locations which genuinely feel otherworldly. The dinosaurs aren't quite as imposing as the ones that Steven Spielberg used in "Jurassic Park" nearly two decades ago, but they are still effective. It's refreshing to see that Fox is attempting a weekly series with more ambition than just the latest Gordon Ramsay reality crapfest or another cops or lawyers show.
This show has a lot of potential, but it doesn't arrive fully formed. The weakest aspect of "Terra Nova" is the script, which features some amazingly on-the-nose dialog and doesn't trust its audience with any point that's not beaten into the ground. The Shannon family acts less like people than like stock family characters complete with the rebellious son and the brainy daughter. Even the question about why the Shannons risked everything to have a third child is glossed over. But if I had to hazard a guess, I'd say that the Shannons needed another child for a genetic match to save either their son or their older daughter from a disease. That's just a theory, but it's the only thing that makes sense at the moment.
Jason O'Mara was pretty terrible in the "Life on Mars" ABC reboot, which led me to worry about whether he'd be able to carry "Terra Nova." Thankfully, he's not that bad as Jim and he carries his cocky attitude well. But so far, Jim seems like a pretty by the numbers hero. Also, everything seems to come almost too easily for Jim. He breaks out of prison without breaking a sweat and he's a cop again by the end of his second day in Terra Nova. Aside from a prison sentence that takes place almost entirely offscreen, Jim just seems to escape the consequences of his actions when they should have haunted him a little longer.
Fortunately, Stephen Lang is there to steal the show as the charismatic Commander Taylor. I did get a lot of "Avatar" flashbacks while watching Lang's performance (and is that rare ore called "Unobtainium" by any chance?). However, Lang exudes so much energy that it's hard not to like Taylor. And aside from some rather obvious secret keeping, Taylor appears to be a more heroic role than Lang has become known for. Although, I wouldn't put it past the writers to try to make Taylor into the villain as the show goes on. That would be the lazy way to go; which almost certainly means that it will happen exactly that way.
As for the teen characters, I think that Josh has the potential to be the next "Tyler from 'V'"; which is to say that he might an incredibly insipid character whom the audience will quickly despise. Allison Miller comes off a little better as Skye and I enjoyed her surrogate family relationship with Taylor.
The writing on the waterfall rocks was an intriguing mystery whose origins were solved way too quickly. Also, Kira's monologue about the equations representing a way to control the future by controlling the past don't make any sense if they're in an alternate timeline. Quick theory: the whole "alternate timeline" story is a lie and the colonists are actually in their own past; which would at least give some truth to Kira's words. And if Terra Nova is taking place in an alternate timeline, aren't the settlers screwing things up for the future generations of humanity that would have emerged there?
"Terra Nova" is off to a decent start, but I hope that it can improve upon the pilot quickly. Next week's episode will be the first real test. What's "Terra Nova" going to look like without $30 million to throw around?
Crave Online Rating: 8 out of 10.