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'Terra Nova' recap: Dinosaur rasslin'

November 15, 2011 |  6:30 am

aylor fights a dinosaur, and Josh makes some bad decisions in the latest "Terra Nova"
Monday night on "Terra Nova," Taylor fought a giant komodo dragon and more or less kicked its big, scaly butt. And lo, it was awesome. Taylor's stories about his time wandering the jungle alone are one of the more compelling things about this show, and this was a good way to hint that if this show were all about Taylor -– borderline crazy, sort of unstable, possibly dictatorial Taylor -– it might be a much better show. Heck, Taylor's son is a better developed character than Jim's son, that mopey kid we have to hang out with all of the time, and Taylor's kid has appeared, what, maybe three times for five minutes total?

Unfortunately, Monday night's episode wasn't all about the old man fighting reptiles with his bare hands. It was about a bunch of other stuff too, and every time that we weren't hanging out with Taylor or watching him hatch his crazy plan to have Curran infiltrate the Sixer camp, the show was staid and, worse, kind of boring.

Look, this is a show set in a prehistoric wonderland; it shouldn’t be filled with story lines that were rejected back in the days of "Star Trek: Voyager" as too corny for even that show, the corniest of all the "Star Treks." (And while we're at it, I might as well point out that the special effects Fox is spending so much money on increasingly look like special effects that might have felt right at home on that mid-'90s sci-fi show. Those CGI fish in Monday's opening scene were really, really terrible.)

By far the most boring story line of the evening involved Maddy realizing that her hero, Horton, wasn't quite who he purported to be. She'd read his famous book about the prehistoric world in the future, and she'd written him a letter (by hand!) and gotten a personalized reply and everything. In and of itself, this wasn't a bad idea for a story line. Maddy's plucky exuberance over all things science-y and nerdy has been kind of fun throughout the series, and this could have been a fun way to play around with the idea that meeting your hero isn't always what you'd hoped it would be.

But this thing just kept dragging on ... and on ... and on, long past when it was obvious that Horton wasn't who he said he was and that someone had somehow taken his place. Zoe -– who somehow got roped into this plot line because there was nowhere else to fit the tyke -– kept saying that maybe Horton was a vampire, and I found myself hoping that was actually the case.

Instead, as soon as Maddy mentioned the idea of “Facers,” people who could make someone look like someone else, it became dreadfully obvious that Horton was some other guy who'd gotten rid of the original article (via murder, as it turned out), and that Maddy was going to have to figure out who he was.

The scene in which she did this mostly involved her standing around in front of the futuristic Wikipedia introduced last week and looking up unsolved murders of the future. It was about as dramatically interesting as that sounds, which is to say it wasn't very exciting at all. This all ended with fake-Horton trying to kill Maddy via poisonous spider bite (no, really) and Maddy summoning her father using the code word "asparagus." Also, Zoe angrily asked, "When will there be pie?" and it was the highlight of the episode.

On the other hand, I was slightly more into the story of Josh trying to get Kara back to the past and encountering issues at every turn. Again: Kara is not the most interesting plot motivator ever, but I like that she makes Josh kind of desperate to save her from her hellish future. His meeting with the Sixers, which involved him getting to talk with Kara (or a computerized version of her designed to say just what the Sixers wanted her to say?) was a genuinely fascinating scene that prompted more questions about Mira's group and their motivations. And Josh actually going through with the plot and stealing the drugs made for a pretty hard-core moment for the character, who hasn't been known for being hard-core in the past.

But the best thing about all of this was that this story didn't dilly-dally around. Josh quickly realized that, hey, stealing valuable medicine from a clinic where your mom works might not be the best of ideas, as Elisabeth pointed out that without that medicine, her patient would die. And he did the right thing before the end of the hour, setting down a vial of the drugs on the counter before his parents and facing the consequences. Now, those consequences, which mostly seemed to involve Josh getting yelled at a bit, didn't seem as serious as the crime, but the scene in which Taylor chuckled about how Jim had it good in the "father-son fighting" category was nicely done as well.

If there's a problem with the show at this point, it's that a lot of things that happen feel like they do so without consequence. At least this time Josh had to suffer in some fashion and at least his parents will perhaps have second thoughts about trusting him in the future. When all of the drama is relegated to the guest characters, as it too often has been on this show, it often seems as though the characters at the center are ciphers, with conflict rolling off of their backs. Josh still isn't a terribly great character, but by having him do something stupid and making him suffer the (admittedly minimal) consequences, the show has started to turn him into something more interesting. And if every episode can't be Taylor stripping down to a tank top and wrestling with dinosaurs, well, we can at least get something more interesting than what we usually do.


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-- Todd VanDerWerff

Photo: Taylor (Stephen Lang, left) and Jim (Jason O'Mara) go fishing for dino-fish. Credit: Fox