The year is 2149, and Earth’s environment is on the verge of being completely unsustainable for human habitation. The only solution is a settlement 85 million years in the past. The settlement is known as Terra Nova, and it is the last hope for human survival.
[Be warned, the following recap of this much-anticipated pilot does contain spoilers.]
At the center of this story is the Shannon family, a family torn apart when the father, Jim (Jason O’Mara) is imprisoned for violation of population control laws. When the mother, Elizabeth (Shelly Conn) is enlisted to bring her expertise and skills as a doctor on the tenth and latest pilgrimage to Terra Nova, she hatches a plan for him to break out of his maximum security prison, steal back their illicit daughter, Zoe (Alan Mansour), and have him stow away on the pilgrimage to start a new life as a complete family. Rounding out the family are their two older children: Josh (Landon Liboiron), their oldest and very obstinate son, and Maddy (Naomi Scott), their awkward and studious daughter.
Needless to say, they make it to Terra Nova where they meet Commander Nathaniel Taylor (Stephen Lang). He is the man in charge of Terra Nova, and after ten pilgrimages, the settlement has certainly grown into its own entity. Located within an armored fortress in a Cretaceous forest, the settlers work to create a new paradise for themselves. Having come from a world with uncountable environmental issues, the new settlers need time to adjust to living in nature: getting the proper amount of oxygen for the first time in their lives, and adjusting to the enzymes in the natural foods.
Taylor takes the sudden unexpected arrival of Jim and Zoe Shannon in stride (he had only been expecting Elizabeth, Josh and Maddy), and graciously welcomes Zoe into the community and gives Jim a job working in agriculture. Being a former cop and now an escaped inmate, Jim does his best to acclimate himself to his second chance, cutting down weeds that are so thick they require machetes and attempting to learn how to properly oxidize crops. Elizabeth is set to work right away in the infirmary where she discovers some unconventional medical practices going on, utilizing the natural environment in the healing process. Maddy is only too excited to be in Terra Nova. She is a fount of knowledge about how it was founded and the world they now find themselves in, and serves primarily as a tool for exposition as she explains things to the awestruck Zoe.
It is through Maddy that we learn that Terra Nova not only exists on Earth in the past, but also in a different timeline. This means that what they do in the past won’t affect the future, and thus the dreaded “butterfly effect” is not an issue. We also learn that the space-time rift that sends them back to Terra Nova was not created, but discovered. It was simply stabilized. The trip from the future to the past is one-way. While matter can’t be sent from the past back to the future, information can, so Taylor keeps a communication flow going with the future.
But of course, what we really want from this show is the dinosaurs. And we are treated to a few types of dinosaurs that mirror the three most iconic ones from ‘Jurassic Park.’ We are first introduced to a pen of Brachiosaurs when Zoe wanders off. Why they’ve penned up a group of these giants is anybody’s guess. Next, we are treated to a car chase involving Carnotaurs, predecessors to the great Tyrannosaurus Rex. And lastly, we have an encounter with the dreaded Slashers, which are quite like Velociraptors, only they are much larger and have barbed tails that they use to slice their prey. The dinosaur effects are not the most top notch ever seen, but they do serve their purpose well enough.
As the Shannon’s attempt to settle in, Josh meets a girl named Skye (Allison Miller). She came to Terra Nova as a child, and was taken under Taylor’s wing when her parents died. Being the defiant teenager that he is, Josh follows Skye and her friends as they sneak outside the perimeter to go swimming in a river in a forbidden zone and drink some Cretaceous-style moonshine. Skye points out some strange carvings on rocks around the river. They look like strange formulas, but nobody can make any sense of them. As expected, these will play a crucial role in the larger story as it develops.
Inside Terra Nova, Elizabeth is attacked by a man who has snuck into the settlement. The man rushes off and attempts to assassinate Taylor. Jim thwarts the man, and Taylor decides to recruit him to his security team, telling him about the dark side of Terra Nova. On the sixth pilgrimage, a group of people stowed along with weapons and a clear agenda to take over. They were forced out, and set up their own settlement. Known as Sixers, they attempt to raid and infiltrate Terra Nova under the leadership of a woman named Mira (Christine Adams). Taylor doesn’t know how they got to Terra Nova, but he suspects that they had government help, and so has been keeping information about them out of his reports to the future until he can figure out how and why they were sent on his own. The Sixers aren’t the only secret Taylor is keeping. Skye suspects that he knows about the carvings by the river and is not telling anybody. So she, in turn, is not letting him know that she’s seen them.
After a Carno-fueled chase with Mira and a tense negotiation to get her man back, Taylor relents and lets the Sixers go. But it is only after that is done that they realize some of the children have gone missing. Seeing security footage of Josh, Skye and a bunch of other teens sneaking out, Taylor puts together a team, including Jim and Elizabeth, to find them before the sun sets and the Slashers come out to hunt.
Josh, Skye and company quickly realize that their rover has had its power cells stolen by Sixers. They see a Sixer transport nearby, and hoping to peacefully get their power cells back, quickly discover that they’ve been the victim of a Slasher attack. Penning themselves inside the Sixer transport, they attempt to fend off the Slashers when they return. They also are able to contact Taylor to let him know where they are, but they still have to stay put and fight off the Slashers as they systematically pound away at the transport, finding weaknesses and tearing it apart. Eventually, Taylor and his team catch up with them and set up a defensive perimeter to drive the Slashers away. Elizabeth tends to the wounded, and they are all brought back to Terra Nova safely, and Josh and Jim both begin to realize that, while they are at odds with each other, they are actually more alike than either of them were willing to believe.
The episode ends with Mira and one of her Sixer companions checking out the mysterious carvings. She then lets him know that they were done by Taylor’s son, who went missing years ago. He is onto something that could affect both the past and the future.
While the writing of this episode was a little stilted at time, clumping big chunks of exposition together into non-sequitur speeches, the establishment of the story is very intriguing. This is a show that has been years in the making, and the final result is something that, while not a mind-blowing experience, is certainly interesting enough to make me want to come back and see where it’s going. I also hope that the use of dinosaurs is more than either running-from or staring-at.
This pilot does a good job in showing the potential of this show, of which there is plenty. It is an intriguing concept that is fairly well executed. Whether or not it will meet that potential in the weeks to come has yet to be seen, but this is certainly a solid start. I’m definitely looking forward to where it could take us.