Amnesia strikes Dino Town, Taylor goes nuts, teens smooch and 'Terra Nova' starts to have some fun

By James Hibberd
October 11, 2011 at 02:43 AM EDT
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“Cheesy.” “A let down.” A game of “Name That Movie We Stole This Scene From.” And, worst of all, a comparison to the infamous “Kim cougar trap” episode of 24. Those were just a few of your comments about last week’s “Angry Birds” episode of Terra Nova. After watching the preview for tonight’s adventure, you were braced: Amnesia virus? Really? Busting out an amnesia episode so soon?

And yet … I don’t know where you’re at on this, but aside from some rather convenient plotting, I liked this episode — “What Remains” — better than anything I’ve seen yet from Terra Nova. The characters seemed to loosen up. The dialogue was less forced, more witty. The show made better use of the CGI dinos — less screen time, more impact.

Last week, I sarcastically referenced Star Trek, but tonight felt like a traditional Trek episode in a good way. Yes, we had the Weekly Threat rather than tackling the serialized mysteries introduced in the pilot. But at least the threat was a way to explore the characters, rather than the previous two hours — with the teens trapped in the rover by slashers and the pterosaur attacks — where the action and characters seemed to exist in different, ahem, timelines.

In other words: “What Remains” was the least ambitious hour of Terra Nova — it wasn’t trying to be recreate the twisting mythology of Lost or the spectacle of Jurassic Park — yet it was the most successful in terms of pulling off some fundamental non-splashy elements which make for enjoyable TV.

We start with a creeping shot of an underground room with annoying bleeping sci-fi noises. I liked that we’re starting somewhere entirely new, an environment that prompted immediate questions: Where are we? Who’s this guy manically laughing? If you have enough green bugs and an opponent could you play checkers with them or would they keep scurrying away? There’s off camera screaming, and you wonder: Is there an insane asylum on Terra Nova? Perhaps a plaice filled with colonists driven nuts by shopping every day at the same farmer’s market?

The man runs outside into the jungle. He looks up into the face of a beatifically shot carnosaur, haloed by sunlight. IMO: The best Terra Nova dino shot we’ve seen. Carnasaur has a snack.

NEXT: “Detroit food riots”; Hammock make-out

Terra Nova: We learn the camp has lost contact with an off-site research center. Elizabeth and Taylor are going to investigate, while New Character Malcolm (no relation to chaos theory loving Dr. Ian Malcolm, I presume) and Jim are not allowed to tag along. We learn Malcolm gets his own rover, causing Jim to once again feel jealous of the Brit who used to date his wife. “I’m the only cop in town and they didn’t give me one,” Jim sulks.

Research Center: Taylor, Elizabeth and a handy Red Shirt find the research center abandoned. There’s a few mad scientists strapped down and a handy video log from the carnasaur victim explaining the problem: The staff caught a degenerative pathogen that causes people to flashback (er, flash forward?) to a previous point in their lives and forget everything that’s happened since. We meet a scientist suffering from the disease who has flashed to an event called the “Detroit food riots” (great, guess we have that to look forward to… and poor Detroit, always picked on, if she had called it the “Las Vegas food riots,” or the “Huntington Beach potato famine,” I would have been more intrigued).

Is this a super convenient crisis to explore the backstory of our characters? Yeah, but let’s go with it.

Terra Nova: Zoe caught a cold —  sleeping in an air vent finally caught up with her — and is demanding her mom. Jim caught the cold from Zoe and is gnawing on what looks like a big yam to get rid of it. He talks to Elizabeth at the research station via Terra Nova Skype. Jim keeps sneezing in a really non-convincing way (seriously, Jason O’Mara needs to work on his sneezes).

It bothered me that the research station has apparently been unable to contact the Terra Nova colony throughout its crisis, but suddenly they can have this conversation just in time to advance the story, right before communications shut down again. But I forgave it when the scene delivered its effective kicker: Elizabeth signs off and then says to herself: “Zoe … who is Zoe?” (Oh, if only us viewers could catch a pathogen that makes us forget troublesome Zoe!)

Terra Nova: Teen lovebirds Josh and Skye are cozying up in a hammock, where they see one of Steven Spielberg’s trademark shooting stars. We get to hear Josh playing guitar and … yeah. Skye sure seems entranced, however, captivated by his mild riffing like he’s suddenly Jack White. Josh brings up one of the lingering Terra Nova mythology questions — hey, what about the calculations on the rocks? — but neither of them really care. They kiss. And, since this is Hollywood, all first kisses must be interrupted by a problem.

NEXT: Josh blows it; Malcolm makes his move

“You know I like you,” Josh tells her, “but I can’t, I’m sorry.” Can’t what? Kiss her? You just did that. Or were you thinking of doing something more in the hammock? Either way, we want to smack him. Josh is still pining for his girlfriend we barely met in the pilot who isn’t born for 85 million years. Amazingly, Skye offers to help make arrangements to bring her to Terra Nova. Does any teen girl with a crush do this? “Sure, I’ll volunteer to smuggle you a rival for my affection, because having another attractive girl around doesn’t bother me at all.” Methinks all Skye really needs to do is bide her time; a couple more weeks in her hammock and Josh would cave.

Skye brings Josh to the skeezy bar owner who says he might be able to get his girlfriend to Terra Nova, if Josh becomes his indentured servant working for him. This cannot be great for Skye’s self esteem — not only does Josh choose future/past girlfriend over her, but he’s willing slave away for who knows how long in this guy’s bar to pay for it.

Research station: Jim got wind that there is trouble at the research station and sets off to rescue Elizabeth. Malcolm insisted on going too (“What are you going to do, shoot them back to health?”). They arrive only to find Elizabeth blasting at them with one of those sonic guns.

Jim and Malcolm remove their masks — which seems like a really bad idea — and Elizabeth rushes into Malcolm’s arms. She’s apparently reverted to a time when they were dating … and I guess it’s also a time in her life where she routinely shot at any strangers coming into her lab. By the looks of things, Elizabeth is a bit more friendly with Malcolm than a couple who only dated for “half a minute” like she claimed last week.

To keep Elizabeth focused on helping solve the pathogen crisis, Jim reluctantly agrees to pretend like he’s not married to Elizabeth. “You throw husband and kids at her right now it’s just going to confuse her,” reassures Malcolm. Uh huh…

The men explain to Elizabeth what Terra Nova is all about. “You people couldn’t have time traveled until after the Ice Age?” she asks, incredulous, and Terra Nova nitpickers everywhere cheer.

Reluctantly leaving Elizabeth and Malcolm alone, Jim wanders around the station until he encounters Taylor — who has reverted to think he’s fighting a war in Somalia and is searching for his lost wife. He’s also totally out of his gourd.

Jim survives the encounter and returns to find Malcolm trying to hump his wife, making a move and saying how beautiful she is (now, if Jim came back 10 minutes later, this episode could have been really interesting, but that’s not going to happen on a family show). Jim tackles Malcolm, who claims the pathogen was influencing him (do we buy this?). Elizabeth is confused. I like that Malcolm reflexively checks to makes sure his hair isn’t messed up.

NEXT: Crazy Taylor stars in Jurassic Chopper

Outside: Taylor has escaped. He’s also driving a motorcycle. In a jungle. At night. We don’t question how this is accomplished — it’s Taylor, he’s badass and he can do what he wants. I expect him to saddle up and ride a carnasaur by the end of the season.

Research station: Jim and Malcolm team up to try and restore communications. There’s a nice velociraptors-in-the-power-station-style sequence where they fight some ferocious tiny dinos. They lock one in a room with an unconscious Red Shirt. “Maybe he’ll just eat that soldier and go away,” says Malcolm hopefully. Again, the dialogue has kicked up a notch this episode. As for their solution, it seems rather unlikely any animal would choose to eat nickel over meat, but…

Terra Nova: Crazy Taylor sneaks up on the camp. He smears mud on his face (at least, I hope it’s mud). Taylor breaks into his own Ewok hut and is cornered by second-in-command Alicia. Once she realizes he’s confused, she tries explain where he is, saying that his wife is dead and that they will help him remember his past. “Dead?” he asks, devastated. “Why would I want to remember that?” Taylor moves — whoa! — to cut his own throat. He’s saved by Alicia’s stun gun.

Dramatically, it’s an effective moment, and it’s back-to-back with another: Elizabeth puts some clues together and realizes Jim is her husband. “What I feel for you is more than just a memory,” Jim says, giving her back the wedding ring she lost. Again, nicely done. And poor Malcolm — even when Elizabeth believes he’s her boyfriend she still falls for Jim.

Needless to say, Elizabeth solves the medical crisis. Yes, the yam is involved. It’s another tech-tech solution this week, but there were some likable moments along the way. We also get an ending coda where we find out that skeezy smuggler is trading with the nefarious Sixers. They plan to leverage Josh’s desire to get his girlfriend to Terra Nova as part of some evil plot. Oh, the cost of rejecting Skye just keeps getting higher…

See last week’s recap here (I know, it was more fun, when it comes to recap source material, it’s tough to top prehistoric bird attacks disrupting sex). Follow me on Twitter here.

What did you think? Did this hour improve upon last week, or do you want an amnesia pathogen to erase your memory? Oh, and I cannot sign off without posting this:

RATE THIS EPISODE:

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