Season 1, episode 1: “Genesis”
The scene: The year 2149. The Earth is dying. Overpopulation and unchecked pollution have led to environmental collapse and now threaten the world’s inhabitants with extinction.
But for the Shannons, who have broken the government’s strictly-enforced “A Family is Four” regulations by adding an illegal third child to the two offspring they already have, life has just gotten a whole lot worse. Their third child is discovered, and former cop Dad (Jason O’Mara) gets sentenced to prison. Doctor Mom (Shelley Conn) has to bribe his guards for five minutes’ time so she can break the news to him that she and the two older kids have been selected for the government’s Terra Nova colonization project and will be sent away forever, never to see him or third child Zoe again.
You see, this bleak Futureworld’s scientists have discovered a time fracture that leads 85 million years into the past, and have started sending select groups of people back into the prehistoric era with the idea of restarting civilization from day one with modern technology and hopefully doing things better the second time around. We are told that the scientists believe that the past to which these people are being sent back is an alternate timeline, where their actions will carry no risk of affecting the 2149 world they left behind. (We were also told this by the producers at San Diego Comic-Con, but I have some doubts after seeing the full episode and the teaser for ep 2.)
So with a little assist from mom Elizabeth, intrepid dad Jim manages to break out of prison, miraculously arrange for the rescue of Zoe, and make a daring escape with his entire family through the time portal into the far, far distant past that will become their future.
Only this is the future past of the primeval forest Cretaceous era, and is full of monstrous dinosaurs (creatures designed with the help of famous paleontologist Jack Horner, tech advisor on Jurassic Park) and a multitude of hidden dangers, which will undoubtedly be revealed as the season progresses.
Terra Nova’s dictatorial leader Commander Nathaniel Taylor (Stephen Lang) officially greets the group of new arrivals, and holds a quick private meeting with Liz and Jim to size them up before welcoming them into the fold. The family is amazed by the size and beauty of their new home, and mom and dad both express the hope that they did the right thing in coming. The next day the parents start off for their assigned jobs, while the kids go exploring he vicinity.
Apparent genius older daughter Maddy gets the chance to flirt with a village lad and show off her profound knowledge of dino science facts and math skills, while angry son Josh, who is still lamenting leaving his girlfriend Kara behind in the future, immediately ditches mandatory orientation and latches onto the rebellious teen element in the camp. They take him for a swim at some gorgeous falls in the forbidden area outside the camp’s perimeter, where he explores some rock hieroglyphics apparently being kept a secret for some unknown reason from the rest of the colony by Cmdr. Taylor.
Meanwhile Jim takes notice of a suspicious character running through the compound and gives chase, and we learn about the “Sixers”, a renegade group of colonists who split away from the main group and now live a rebel existence somewhere in the wilds outside of the fenced compound. Named thus because they came through on the Sixth Pilgrimage to Terra Nova, this group of colonists stole a cache of contraband weapons and fled soon after arrival, with no one knowing who sent them or why exactly they came. It is suggested by Cmdr. Taylor that he is not sure whom in the future he can trust. (I doubt we can trust Taylor, either, but that’s for another episode.)
Taylor invites Jim to become part of his Security Team just in time for an apparent Sixer attack on the main gates, which turns out instead to be a Sixer convoy fleeing from a rampaging dinosaur. Finally, some much-promised VFX dino carnage occurs and a red shirt get munched! Taylor decoys the animal long enough to get everyone including the rest of the Sixers inside the compound, and defensive cannon are used to chase away the creature.
After a short tension-filled standoff, we learn that the Sixers are in control the quarry, and their leader Mira makes a successful offer to trade some apparently much-needed meteoric iron for their captured comrade. Détente between the factions resumes.
Taylor later asks Liz Shannon why she agreed to come to TN, and she explains that she feels her kids deserve “the chance to be part of something that has a future”. He reveals that his own son worked for the TN science division, and disappeared two years ago, but that he still hopes to find him.
Still out in the wild, Josh laments to new gal pal Skye what he sees as extreme differences between himself and his dad (which in fact are more like similarities), while a nearby stalled portion of the retreating Sixers are attacked by something nasty, an attack which is overheard by the trespassing teens. Finding their own vehicle damaged, the teens take cover with one of the rebels inside a disabled Sixer Rover vehicle, and all are menaced by an ever-increasing pack of very hungry carnivorous “Slasher” dinos.
Despite defending themselves with machine gun fire and improbably managing to contact the rescue team out looking for them, one of the group of teens becomes hysterical and bolts wildly to what seems like probable death outside of the Rover. The rescue team finds her injured, and gets a lead on the location remaining teens, once more under attack by Slashers. One teen does become a tasty dinner for the dinos.
But the cavalry arrives just in time for the others, and the rescue team saves the remaining teens and head back to the compound for a Shannon family prodigal son style reunion.
Skye, whose father was once a lieutenant working under Taylor, visits the Cmdr. to apologize for taking the kids into the off-limits area. He mentions the falls location, and menacing implies that the waters are treacherous there (i.e., stay away!). It’s then revealed that Taylor’s son is the one scrawling messages on the rocks, and rebel Mira suggests that the scrawled hieroglyphics hold “the key to everything” in Terra Nova.
Production values of this pilot were outstanding and the VFX dinosaurs do not disappoint! I feel compelled to mention that in his introductory speech to the new colonists, Cmdr. Taylor announced that they all now have “a second chance, a chance to get it right.” Here’s hoping that the writers and producers can get continue to “get it right” as well.
FOX has ordered 13 episodes of TERRA NOVA, and the first season is scheduled to air through December 2011. According to the Hollywood Reporter, some 250 sets were constructed for the pilot alone, which it cost between $10 and $20 million to produce. Executive producer Rene Echevarria says the price tag averages out to about $4 million for each of the first season’s 13 episodes.