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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Terra Nova responds to "Occupation" with "Resistance"

     To end the freshman run of Terra Nova, FOX presents "Occupation" and "Resistance" last night. Lucas Taylor (Ashley Zukerman) leads some greedy miners into the past, and they take control of Terra Nova. When Jim (Jason O'Mara), who is injured in the initial confrontation, wakes up, he seeks a way to communicate with Commander Taylor (Stephen Lang), who is outside the walls of the settlement with a handful of soldiers. Together, they plot to stop their conquerers. Jim travels back to the future, and gets home just before destroying the portal. Then, mysteriously, the bad guys pack up and go, heading into the Badlands where the bow of an old sailing ship is discovered.

     "Occupation" and "Resistance" call to mind other TV shows and movies pretty heavily. There's an Avatar-esque battle with a company who just wants to make a profit (though Lang is now on the right side). When the characters gaze at pretty dinosaurs, who Lucas casually murders, the parallel is even stronger. There's also an aspect of Lost, in the mystery of the sailing ship, and some of the musical score plays up this well. It's a smart move for Terra Nova, given that Avatar did well in theaters, and Lost is one of the greatest series ever made.

     But execution falls short, as it has continuously done over the season. Things are too easy, and leaps are made without explanation. Jim can run faster than the explosion destroying the Hub? Really? It's understandable that Terra Nova, being in part a family drama, doesn't want to lose its patriarch, but his mission is a suicide one. It would have been far more interesting to have Jim trapped in the future next season, seeking a way home. Or anyone in Jim's place, for that matter. Also, Jim just pretends he is confused wandering outside of the compound's walls, and the soldiers take him home? And he travels to a packed bar after curfew, where occupiers and colonists alike are drinking, and no one gets in trouble?

     The thing is, though, Terra Nova does know how to deliver a killer action sequence. And it also can tug a few heart strings. Credit should be given to Washington's (Simone Kessell) heroic sacrifice, made all the more moving as she struggles with the guilt of surrending Terra Nova to save innocent lives. In "Occupation" and "Resistance," she is a complex character with good motivations and a compelling story. Which saves the season finale from being a total bust. It's also hard not to get excited when the various members of the colony, who don't always get along, come together to fight back, even as the scenes lean a bit towards the cheesy.

     In a similar vein, Lang delivers a fantastic performance, even as the story between Taylor father and soon veers between unrealistic and ridiculous. Lucas is single-minded and evil, rather than layered, making their confrontation silly. But Lang still manages to evoke some strong emotion at his son's betrayal and death, and that says much about his acting skills.

     Dinosaur sightings are light, especially in the first half, but then, that's not really what Terra Nova is about. More disappointing is not seeing the colony fall, only hearing about it from Jim's perspective, as he slept through the whole thing. However, this is likely because of budget concerns, and because "Resistance" later gives a massive explosion and dinosaur chase, that kind of makes up for the skimping earlier.

     Does Terra Nova deserve a second season? Well, people will be upset if the ship's bow isn't explained. But it's hard to argue for more installments when, despite some wonderful moments and great special effects, the stories and dialogue just are not up to snuff. There are plenty of better shows that have been cancelled quicker. The deciding factor will likely be ratings, which have been good, but not great, given the massive budget of the series. Word may not be handed down for months, and there's nothing to do but wait and see.

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     Catch up with streaming episodes of Terra Nova.

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