Television & Film

TERRA NOVA Ep 2: It’s For the Birds

banner_recapTERRA NOVA
Season 1, episode 2: “Instinct”
Watch out for those SPOILERS!!

We open with a vehicle driving through a thunderstorm outside of the compound, and two bickering and obvious red shirts becoming waylaid, and then being attacked by something nasty that swoops down on them from the surrounding trees.

Terra Nova is attacked by dangerous, flying Pterosaurs. ©2011 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: FOX

Back in a very dry Terra Nova, the Shannon kids are getting some survival training lessons on how to start a wilderness fire, how to tell which way is north, and why beetles make tasty snacks. Eldest daughter Maddy spouts off another ream or two of scientific facts to no one in particular. (Okay, we get it, she’s a genius. Stop rubbing it in.)

Littlest daughter Zoe gets her own bed in Maddy’s room at last and Mom Elisabeth and Dad Jim finally have the opportunity to make out after two years apart, only to be interrupted by horrible screeching noises from the outside that turn out to be from mini-Pterodactyl-like creatures. (Hey, dontcha think those habitats were built just a little too close for comfort to the fence?? I’m just sayin’.)

Rod Hallett as Dr. Wallace ©2011 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Brook Rushton/FOX

Next day Doc Mom Liz runs into her old friend Malcolm Wallace (played by Rod Hallett) in the infirmary. He’s now Terra Nova’s Chief Science Officer (Isn’t that the job Taylor’s son held before he disappeared? Hmmm….) And he’s apparently an old flame of hers as well.

Cmdr. Tayor, his second-in-command Alicia Washington (nicknamed “Wash”) and Jim go outside the compound’s fence to search for Sixer rebels. Taylor postulates that there is a Sixer spy inside TN, and asks Jim’s help in ferreting out that person. The unsurprisingly now-shredded and completely deceased red shirts and their vehicle are discovered, and Jim wonders out loud, “What in the hell did this to them?” (I think your first clue might be that you live in DINOSAUR COUNTRY now, mister.)

Josh’s gal pal Skye attempts to help him assimilate by taking him browsing in the TN market, where he finds a guitar he likes (Oh no, I hope there will not be singing later on), for which the vendor wants more money than Josh currently has. I didn’t catch the actual name of the TN currency, though. Quoting Executive Producer Brannon Braga’s September 28, 2011 interview with  “It’s a community, it’s more communal at first but free trade is encouraged in terms of exchanging goods. There’s no currency yet. Not yet.” (So color me confused as to what they are using for money.)

The dead red shirts are autopsied, and Jim discovers an unidentifiable “claw” in the bodies. This has BIG CLUE written all over it. While Mom works in the lab, Dad takes a turn playing Mr. Mom (badly) back at home, and in the process finds out that (shock, horror) daughter Maddy is now interested in a boy. (She’s 16, not 6, guys.) Dad later also shows a little jealousy over the fact that Mom’s old boyfriend has shown up in town, but both parents finally manage some downtime later that night to get it together…wait, no. The screechy mini-Pterodactyl-like things are back again outside, and this time they are looking for tasty human snacks. (I think we just found out what killed those red shirts.)

A visit to Wikipedia has just enlightened me that these creatures are called Pterosaurs, or flying reptiles. I stand corrected! The scriptwriter also renames them as such later in the ep, but I will have you know that Wiki beat him to it.

Commander Taylor (Stephen Lang, R) and Jim (Jason O’Mara, L) prepare to battle the Pterosaurs. ©2011 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Brook Rushton/FOX

Taylor reveals to Jim that Liz was originally recommended for the Terra Nova project by her old boyfriend Malcolm. We see suspicion forming in Jim’s eyes, and since nothing in this show’s writing is very subtle, I’d guess he has good reason to be a bit concerned.

In the marketplace, Josh tries to exchange some modern music and a baseball player’s cap for the guitar he eyed earlier, but refuses to trade the platinum necklace that the vendor wants instead because it was a gift from his old girlfriend Kara from back in the future they left behind. (Oh, dear, we also find out that he was in a BAND back home. This does not bode well! I fear musical moments to come in later eps.) The Pterosaurs then attack the marketplace. (Shades of Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”)


Commander Taylor, Jim, Skye and Josh assess the damage done to Terra Nova after a violent Pterosaur attack. ©2011 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Brook Rushton/FOX

It is decided that the Pterosaurs are migrating, and the bad news is that a lot more may be coming TN’s way, and soon. The REALLY bad news is that the camp’s thermal imaging sensors have revealed that millions of Pterosaurs are resting under the surrounding forest canopy. Apparently TN was built on the breeding ground of these creatures. (Big oops!) Taylor gives the order for everyone to stay undercover for the time being.

While making preparations to capture a couple of these creatures for study, Jim accuses Malcolm of recruiting Liz because he thought her husband would be stuck in prison back in the future and this would give the scientist a second chance with her. Malcolm denies this (and lies very badly). In the lab, Liz suggests a solution: synthesizing a more powerful concentration of the creatures’ own pheromones to attract them to a new breeding ground someplace else.

The compound is locked down tight in prep for the expected Pterosaur attack, which helpfully immediately follows. Maddy’s crush (Reynolds) makes a good impression on Jim by offering to help secure the Shannon home and protect everyone there.

Elisabeth (Shelley Conn, L) and Dr. Wallace (Rod Hallett, R) examine a group of fallen soldiers. ©2011 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Brook Rushton/FOX

Before you can say “deus ex machina,“ Liz’s artificial pheromone production in the lab is an immediate success, but in the meantime several of the Pterosaur creatures have infiltrated the Shannon home and are threatening the kids. Their “protector” Reynolds gets  knocked out immediately and little Zoe is separated from the rest and forced to hide under a bench. Josh fights off the bird-like attack à la Tippi Hedren and rescues everybody, which later results in a thank-you kiss from gal pal Skye, which I assume will cause big problems later on when (and this is my official prediction) his old GF Kara shows up in TN.

Taylor and Jim’s team ride off to release the pheromones in a drum far, far away, which I guess is a complete and utter success because there is an immediate removal of the Pterosaurs to parts elsewhere. (We don’t get to see any of this action, money for these scenes was not in the budget, I guess.) Hooray for our side! (Although you realize that the Pterosaurs were actually there first and so it’s really the HUMANS who are the unwanted interlopers … but I’m not going to go there.)

Now that the day is saved by Liz, Malcolm the ex-boyfriend decides to name the newly-discovered species of Pterosaur creatures after himself, in what I assume will not be the last pompous gesture he ever makes. Jim and Liz finally get to go home only to find all of their kids safe and sound and fast asleep, and so decide to get some sack-time themselves. (Wink, wink.) So all’s well that ends well in this episode, for now, at least.

Simone Kessell as “Wash” in Terra Nova

My reaction? Parts of this ep seemed extremely rushed, and several scenes were obviously truncated due to what I assume were budget restraints, but the VFX Pterosaurs that were presented were nicely realistic, if a little too cute to seem really scary. Only the red shirts in the very beginning died, everyone else just got a few little scratches and a Bandaid. Ho hum. I only hope this is not going to turn into a featured-dinosaur-of-the-week show. And I still can’t get over how clean this wild and wooly prehistoric place is. All of the creatures and people are a bit too perfect, which sort of screams “set” and not enough CGI time, but maybe their appearances will morph into something more realistic given time. We got to see a little more of the Wash character (played by Simone Kessell), who seems by far one of the more interesting actors in the show. My guess is that a secondary plotline is probably in the works for her (or maybe SHE’S the Sixer spy??) Time will tell for that as well.

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