A pint-sized she-spy infiltrates Terra Nova as Maddy gets awkwardly courted and a feathered dino attacks

By James Hibberd
Updated October 18, 2011 at 02:03 AM EDT
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Terra Nova

S1 E4
type
  • TV Show
network
  • Fox

Welcome back! Gave the dino show another shot, huh? Well this week Terra Nova ditched the crisis-of-the-week format and started toying with some of the serialized elements that the series hinted about in the pilot. In fact, the show introduced a brand new mystery (say it with me now in your best angst-ridden Brad Pitt-in-Seven wail: “What’s in the box?!”).

We open at night. A couple Terra Nova lookouts work the watch-tower, keeping an eye out for carnosaurs and icebergs. They spot somebody — a Sixer. There’s a lot of rushing around in the dark foliage chasing a mysterious hooded figure. You’d think this would be an easy way for the guards to get killed and they should just start firing away from the tower. At any rate, to their surprise they find the attacker is a grubby little girl.

Medlab: The wildling girl kicks at the nurse and hides under a table. She’s all traumatized and doesn’t want to talk, acting like she’s been abused by dinosaurs or something. The girl says her name is Newt Leah. We learn she used to live at camp Terra Nova, but her family left with the Sixers. Now her parents are dead and she’s looking for the time-travel portal to go home — except, of course, the portal only goes one way, so she’s SOL on that front.

Taylor has Leah move in with the Shannons, which is odd because they already have an insanely illegal number of kids to start with. Adding Leah immediately causes over-population problems, with grumpy Josh getting kicked out of his room (dude: The hammock … Skye … just saying, you have options). Leah is introduced to Zoe and seems to despise her on sight. This helps us relate to Leah because we don’t like Zoe either.

Outside: Terra Nova troopers hunt for Leah’s lost backpack. If I were second-in-command Alicia, I’d be a bit annoyed about being put on “find the little girl’s backpack” duty. They get ambushed by Sixers and what follows is actually a pretty respectable chase-n-fight rumble-in-the-jungle scene. Alicia gets caught and out comes the Sixer queen Mira. She takes her rifle and strikes Alicia in the head.

Terra Nova: Leah gets a makeover and looks almost ready for the next episode of Toddlers & Terra Novas. Zoe shows her a sunny drawing of the Shannon family. The picture looks all warm and loving, but it notably doesn’t include the new girl. Leah quickly recognizes Zoe’s brand of passive aggressive b.s. and scowls at her.

NEXT: Sixer showdown; Farmer’s market courtship

Outside: Sixers want Leah back. They ride up to the camp in their tumbler vehicles. Leah is reassured that the Sixers’ futuristic weaponry cannot possibly penetrate Terra Nova’s wooden Lincoln Logs gate. The gate opens like a really heavy garage door and Taylor walks out to greet Mira, who is holding Alicia and his other solider hostage. Mira wants the girl; Taylor says he’ll let Leah come out and decide if Mira lets the hostages go.

Jim (who’s now wearing his gun all low-slung Old West-sheriff style) leads out Leah into a really high pressure divorce custody hearing — Do you want to live with your mom or dad? Just be honest and ignore the fact everybody is pointing guns at each other. Leah says she wants to stay at Terra Nova. Mira doesn’t seem like the type who would care what Leah wanted, but she goes along with it. Taylor warns her if the Sixers ride up on Terra Nova again, “I’m going to war.” This is more for our benefit than for anything else, because it’s getting strange that the Sixers keep getting away with this and nobody shoots at anybody.

Farmer’s market: It just wouldn’t be Terra Nova without a farmer’s market date! Now its hunky solider Mark and spastic Maddy’s turn to wander the produce isle and flirt amid the exotic fruits. (If you can only put one luxury item in your backpack leaving 2149 to join the Terra Nova colony, I’d recommend a Vitamix.)

Mark is shown trying to “court” Maddy as formally and awkwardly as possible. He apparently came through the portal from 1890: “According to the Commander, I have to address you in a certain way, then speak with your father, then call at your house, and then have the honor of escorting you to a planned activity or event outside the home that might please you,” he says.

Ugh. For Maddy’s sake, let’s hope the Commander isn’t also the source of Mark’s sex advice.

Meanwhile Leah: Is a Sixer spy. You figured that out I bet. She ditched school and dug up some secret object from under one of the cabins. She’s making her escape when Jim spots her. “What’s going on here kiddo?” he asks, and doesn’t that line give you the grade-school “I’m in trouble” feeling? Meanwhile Alicia nearly runs Leah down in a rover to stop her from walking a few feet.

Taylor’s cabin: The object Leah stole is a weird blueish cylinder box type thing. They can’t open it. The team grouse about being fooled by a little girl, while flattering themselves by calling her “the perfect spy. Young enough to be sympathetic, old enough to be capable.” Now it’s Taylor’s turn to break out the “kiddo,” telling Leah to take a seat.

NEXT: Jim goes rogue; Dinos of a feather…

Jim talks sweetly to Leah, while Taylor glares. Playing good cop, bad Commander. They want to know how to open the box and Leah doesn’t know. She claims she only stole it because Mira has her brother hostage and says she’s going to hurt him if Leah doesn’t bring her the box. This explains everything — nobody could possibly resist the charms of joining the Shannon family for reals! Taylor orders Leah taken to “pod zero” …. whatever that is, sounds unpleasant.

Back at home: Jim frets about Leah’s little brother being hurt. He finds a drawing left by Leah that says she’s sorry, that she had to betray them. Therefore, Jim concludes, she was telling the truth. Except couldn’t the drawing have been part of Master Spy Leah’s contingency plan in case she got caught? And just because Mira threatened his brother doesn’t mean she’ll actually go through with it — what would be the point? If Mira is that much of a psychopath, Taylor should shoot her on sight.

Outside: More motorcycle nighttime action. Jim is goin’ rogue — if there’s a stray child up for grabs needing a family, you know he wants to claim him first. But Jim gets literally snared and finds himself suspended high above the ground. And along comes….

Just when you started to think we wouldn’t get a dino this week, meet the Nykoraptor. Best of all: We get a terrestrial dinosaur sporting some feathers on his head. This was a big point of discussion in the early development of Terra Nova. Using some of the latest dino research, producers wanted to show dinosaurs with feathers; others rightly worried it would make the dinos look like ferocious chickens. They pull it off here, this nasty creature is not something you want snapping at your head.

A Sixer helpfully shoots the Nykoraptor. He goes up to the helpless Jim and, once again, strikes a prisoner in the head with a rifle. This is, apparently, the Sixers’ signature move, and utterly baffling since they all carry those sonic non-lethal stun guns anyway. Is all the blunt force head trauma really necessary to subdue a prisoner? You can kill somebody doing that, you know, it’s not like you’re just giving him an Ambien.

Sixer camp: Jim awakens in Mira’s cabin. I really wanted Mira to ask Jim, “What were you doing kiddo?” but she doesn’t. Instead she explains the boy was never in danger (duh).

“Maybe you should have had your spy get the box for ya instead of sending a little girl,” Jim snarls — yes, snarls! — at her. Maybe Jim has a concussion, I dunno, but I liked him in this scene. He seemed drunk and surly.

FINALLY: “What’s Terra Nova really about?”

“Taylor has pissed off some very powerful people in 2149,” Mira says. “They want him gone.” Seems those powerful people are holding Mira’s daughter and that’s why she’s out to get Taylor (sigh — Jim, Taylor, now Mira … it’s always about their kids). Mira then teases at some great truth behind Terra Nova. Apparently there’s a big secret purpose behind the colony; it’s not just about establishing farmer’s markets.

“What’s Terra Nova really about?” Jim asks.

We stop fidgeting and lean forward…

“You’ll see,” Mira says, annoyingly.

C’mon Terra Nova, you guys saw Lost, you gotta tease us a little better than “you’ll see.”

Terra Nova: Jim returns with Leah’s brother. It seems the refugee kids will live with another family, which is a shame: I was starting to root for the resourceful Leah to replace helpless Zoe.

Meanwhile Taylor darkly grills Jim about what Mira told him. There’s a tension in this final beat I like. There’s moments where you can see flickers of a really good show inside Terra Nova when the characters aren’t trying so hard to be aggressively cheerful.

So what did you think about this week? What do you think is in the box? What is Terra Nova really about?

Again, the show seems to be getting a little better. It’s not a prehistoric Breaking Bad, it’s never going to be. Terra Nova is to Jurassic Park what Tales of the Gold Monkey was to Indiana Jones — and that’s OK if that’s what you expect. (And no, I didn’t write about the subplot with Maddy being her mom’s squeamish surgical apprentice. I suspect you’re OK with that).

Follow me on Twitter here, read the Inside TV blog here, and see previous Terra Nova recaps (including, yes, the infamous Angry Birds episode, here).

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Terra Nova

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  • In Season
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  • Fox

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