''Vs.'' delivers some big answers to big questions fans had been wondering about

By James Hibberd
Updated November 22, 2011 at 02:24 AM EST
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Credit: Fox
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Are you ready to hop up and down and clap your hands like an awkward Harvest Festival dancer over this week’s Terra Nova? Tonight, loyal viewers (Novans?) got some big answers to big questions: What is the riff between Taylor and his son Lucas all about? What do the drawings on the rocks mean? And how is the secret spy communicating with the Sixers?

Okay, we never wondered about that last question. With everybody everybody walking in and out of Terra Nova like it had a big revolving door, we just assumed they were strolling out every night. But it’s a big part of tonight’s episode titled “Vs.”

We open with a sweeping overhead shot. A pesky prehistoric dragonfly is buzzing around as we follow a convoy of trucks out the gate. The insect, not the convoy, has what Hollywood directors call “command of the camera” and we follow it all the way to Mira at the Sixers camp.

Mira asks the insect for information about the colony. Is this the Terra Nova spy Jim and Taylor have been trying to find? An insect, just like in Goblet of Fire? Taylor and Jim have been going nuts trying to figure out who the Sixer spy is, could they have simply lit some Citronella candles?

Cell: Taylor is grilling scallywag bartender Tom Boylan because he’s convinced he’s the Sixer spy. “You’re gonna sit here and you’re gonna rot,” Taylor growls, and then goes all Guantanamo Bay on the guy by torturing him with a loud alarm (which might not seem as bad as having your fingernails pulled, but I imagine it gets painful really quick). I’m torn on whether this means Terra Nova is showing some character darkness here, or whether we’re now at a point that “enhanced interrogation” techniques are so acceptable even a heroic leader in a family show can get away with them.

Meanwhile, the Shannon family gets ready for that Harvest Festival we heard about a couple weeks back. The holiday celebrates the day Commander Taylor first came through the portal. The name of the holiday seems odd, since he’s hardly a farmer. How about calling it the Silver Fox Fest? The colonists can wear tight black T-shirts, do bicep curls and maybe exchange gifts of Norelco beard trimmers.

NEXT: I spy a dragonfly; Who killed who?

Jim is concerned about Boylan’s delusional condition. “You know he did shoot a Sixer and save your life recently,” Jim reminds Taylor. Jim gets a moment alone with Boylan, who mistakes him for Taylor and threatens to reveal Taylor’s dark secret that’s buried by the “Pilgrim Tree.”

Med-Lab: Banter time. Jim and Malcolm spar as Jim tries to find where this mysterious Pilgrim Tree is located. Jim teases Malcolm about his receding hairline (it’s all right, buddy, you’re maybe a Norwood 2 at worst). Seems the tree is famously where Taylor lived when he first arrived at Terra Nova many years ago. Jim drives out to the tree and starts digging at the base, trying to get to the root of this mystery (sorry). He discovers a skeleton in Taylor’s old closet.

Now why, across a whole planet of unremarkable jungle, does Taylor conceal his deadly secret at a historic Terra Nova landmark? (Terra Nova, it’s s–t like this…)

Jim takes the body back to the lab where the mystery deepens: Elisabeth determines the man was shot about five years ago, and did not arrive on any of the previously recorded pilgrimages to the past.

“You don’t think Taylor killed him?” Elizabeth asks.

“I think Taylor would do anything if he thought it was in the best interest of the colony,” Jim replies, which sounds about right.

Outside: The Terra Nova kids rehearse a play to celebrate the Harvest Festival. The cast includes Zoe playing Commander Taylor. This scene requires Zoe to pretend like she’s a bad actor and somehow she pulls it off. The dragonfly spy then flutters around and a solider whacks it with his gun. I’m pretty sure Taylor would scream at any solider for using his rifle as a bug swatter. Then the soldier promptly apologizes for killing the local wildlife (even the military guys are hippies at Terra Nova). Maddy notices the insect has a microchip on it…

Med-Lab: Examining the wounded dragonfly, it seems the insect is not the spy (which is a relief — that would have been disappointing) but it’s a courier of messages back and forth between the colony spy and the Sixers. If only there was a way to get the dragonfly to lead them to the spy’s secret dragonfly homing signal…

NEXT: Jim and Elisabeth give Zoe’s play a bad reviewBar: Boylan is released after a convoy attack rules out him being the spy (we figured that, right?). Jim pressures Boylan for more info about the skeleton. It seems he helped Taylor bury the body five years ago and somehow Taylor’s son Lucas was involved. After that, Boylan shuts up — saying he muscled Taylor to the deed to this bar in exchange for his silence.

Um, who owned the bar before? Al Swearengen? A martini-slinging Allosaurus? Taylor himself? Wouldn’t that be sort of unfair to own the only bar and be the founder? For being a newfangled Whole Foods communal paradise there’s a pretty strong capitalism streak in Terra Nova that I don’t have straight in my head yet. (Digression: Reminds me of the Hitchhikers Guide novel where the ship crashes on prehistoric Earth. The settlers decide that leaves will be the currency and everybody thinks they’re rich. The leaf ends up devalued since there’s so many that one of the ship’s peanuts costs like three forests).

Med-Lab: Malcolm rats out Elisabeth’s investigation of the mysterious skeleton to Taylor. Jim protects Boylan by lying outright to Taylor (which seems rather unlike him) about how he found the corpse. Taylor pretends like he doesn’t know who the victim is.

Meanwhile, crafty Malcolm brings up the idea again of using the Sixers’ wounded dragonfly to lead them to the spy. This leads Taylor to say my favorite line in the episode. Bitterly noting the scheme could work “if the dragonfly could fly but the fly can’t fly!” Yes, keep repeating it, it will make you happy.

Turns out Malcolm has surgically repaired the dragonfly’s wing (there’s apparently nothing Malcolm cannot do, aside from make people respect him). “Malcolm you’re all right,” says Taylor, “I don’t care what anybody says.”

Feel that Malcolm? That backhand?

Harvest Festival: Colonists dance really awkwardly. There’s lots of brightly colored pots and nutritious fruit on sticks (I’m starting to suspect the whole colony is vegan. Have we witnessed any meat eating so far?). During the play about the founding of Terra Nova, Zoe plays Taylor and another kid plays the one-armed general who sent him through the portal. One arm — like the skeleton!

Jim and Elisabeth stand up in the middle of Zoe’s performance and walk out.

Did anybody else find that hilarious? Poor kid. The general’s been dead for five years, they could have waited, even George W. Bush tried to finish reading My Pet Goat.

NEXT: Skeleton coup; General shoots first?

But before Jim and Elisabeth can act, the dragonfly traces the spy signal … right to the Shannon household! Whaaaa? Taylor has Jim arrested for being the spy (nobody suspects Josh? He just got caught smuggling drugs to the Sixers!).

Cell: Jim is incarcerated and defiant. He knows Taylor knows he isn’t the spy and furthermore he knows that Taylor knows that he knows it. Taylor offers to release Jim IF he drops the investigation of the mystery skeleton. “You want to stop me you lock that door and throw away the key!” Jim taunts, which isn’t the smartest thing for any prisoner to say.

Jim reveals he knows the body’s identity — it’s the famous general who sent Taylor through the portal and later vanished.

Taylor gives up the ghost: It was a dark and windy night five years ago. The general came to Terra Nova to relieve Taylor of command. Seems the general was working for the bad guys — and so was Taylor’s son, Lucas. His son was creating a machine that would make the portal go both ways. The “bigger players” want to use this bi-portal to exploit the natural resources of Terra Nova, to strip it like they did Earth. Taylor refused to step down and, wouldn’t you know it, the General draws first. Taylor is faster and shoots him.

“And so I found myself having to kill my mentor,” Taylor says. “And if that still wasn’t bad enough, I still had to deal with my son.” Taylor exiles his traitorous son, telling him he never wants to see his face again.

See what happened here? Jim got Taylor to confess to murder — even though Jim is the one in prison! He’s not just a cop, he’s a supercop.

“You’ll have to forgive me for playing rough, but we are dealing with the fate of the human race,” Taylor says.

Jim believes Taylor’s story that it’s all the one-armed man’s fault. He also vows to join Taylor’s cause to fight against the forces from the future that want a portal to go both ways and…

I’m don’t know if I’m with them on this. On one hand, yeah, you don’t want to ruin this planet like you did the last one. But if Terra Nova can help Earth … is that a bad thing? In the context of the show’s story, I’m assuming the bad guys want to do something really nefarious, like nuke the Hometree and steal the Unobtainium. But am I the only person who thinks a two-way portal could really benefit Earth while barely putting a dent into Terra Nova’s jungle sprawl?

Using resources isn’t inherently evil. Terra Nova may leave a Zero Carbon Footprint, but it’s impossible to feed/clothe/shelter billions back on Earth without using some resources. You have an entire planet full of misery and suffering, and another with just several hundred people with a whole utopia to themselves. What about creating an, I dunno, high pressure oxygen pipeline? Maybe uprooting thousands trees to start replanting the rain forest? The local wildlife could provide some food (who wants to go to McDino’s for dinner?).

What do you think? Is it fair the colonists have all the oranges to themselves? And who do you think the spy is? (If I were writing Terra Nova … I would make it Mark Reynolds, lot of drama in that choice — plus we could have Maddy say, “Mark, you’re breaking my heart! Where you’re going I can’t follow.” Though you can follow me on Twitter right here.) Here’s wishing you all a merry Silver Fox Fest.

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