With the first season of ‘Terra Nova’ over and its future still uncertain, there has been much discussion about the positive and negative aspects of the show. One facet of the show that was missed over and over again throughout the season was opportunities for character development and increased believability. The characters often seemed flat, unbelievable and one-dimensional. One particular area in which there is a great deal of room for improvement is in the further enhancement of the female characters of ‘Terra Nova’. The overall narrative of the show could be greatly improved by giving the women stronger and more interesting personalities and storylines.
Ahead is a discussion of the female characters of ‘Terra Nova’ along with SPOILERS from this season!
At the beginning of the season, we were told that the Shannon family was brought to Terra Nova because Elisabeth was specifically recruited and brought there due to her outstanding skills as a doctor. However, it was then strongly implied that Malcolm had her recruited because she was an old flame of his and he was hoping to renew their romantic connection when he learned that Jim was being held in prison in 2149. For the rest of the season, Elisabeth was then relegated to secondary status – she mostly played a supporting role in all the forthcoming storylines. Regardless of the ultimate reason for her recruitment, she’s still a gifted doctor, something that’s surely a vital necessity in a prehistoric environment and even more so now that the portal is closed and Terra Nova is cut off from 2149 and its technology. I’d like to see Elisabeth do more than stitch up wounds and show people how to pull giant parasitic worms out of people’s stomachs. Perhaps we could see a storyline in which a pandemic or a biologic weapon strikes Terra Nova and Elisabeth is the key to saving the day. We saw a little hint of steel in her spine in the season finale when she manipulated Weaver (Lucas’ rich benefactor) into releasing Jim by convincing him she had injected him with a deadly parasite. Hopefully we’ll see that trend continue and Elisabeth will become a more formidable presence on the show.
Maddy Shannon is an extremely smart, driven, Type-A young woman. She arrived at Terra Nova excited at the opportunity to study the new world in which she found herself. She quickly devolved into a flighty, boy-obsessed parody of what could have been a much more interesting character. This season, she was primarily defined in terms of her relationship with others – her father, her boyfriend, the supposed mentor with whom she was hoping to intern. Maddy’s character would be much richer if she was allowed to develop some self-assurance and use some of the intelligence to problem-solve in an engaging and believable way. To use an example from this season, we often saw Maddy studying and quoting facts about Terra Nova. I think it would have been much better to have had her use her knowledge to help herself and her boyfriend get home when they were stranded in the jungle the night of the meteor strike. Someone as studious as Maddy who had gone through the mandatory survival training would conceivably have known some tricks to make it back to camp. Instead, she was passively led to safety by her boyfriend. I would much rather have seen some determination and agency in that area rather than having her scurry frantically around the camp in order to get the necessary technology to make her broken computer work because she hadn’t studied “…in over twenty four hours!”
We found out by the end of the season that Skye is street-smart and savvy. As demonstrated by her ability to evade detection when she was acting as a spy for the Sixers, she is resourceful and brave. In risking so much to make sure her sick mother was given medical care, we saw that she was very determined in doing what she felt needed to be done. However, in attempting to meet her mother’s medical needs, Skye betrayed Terra Nova. She obviously loves Terra Nova, its people and its leader and is now in need of redemption. She began this process by saving Commander Taylor from Lucas in the culminating moments of the season finale, but I suspect she still has a ways to go to regain his trust. As Terra Nova rebuilds from the attacks perpetrated by the Phoenix soldiers, this could provide Skye with an opportunity to use her determination, resourcefulness and perhaps her guile. Also, as an intern in the medical lab, Skye could benefit from some of the same more fully fleshed-out medical storyline suggestions as was mentioned for Elisabeth above.
Mira had an interesting story arc in Season One. We started out thinking Mira was the undisputed leader of the Sixers, but we then discovered that Mira worked for Lucas and not the other way around. At the end of the season, it seemed clear Mira was metaphorically dancing to the tune played by Lucas and his wealthy benefactors. Everything she did was motivated by her desire to return to 2149 and provide a financially secure life for her daughter who still resides there. The collapse of the portal (at least for now) ended that dream. In my opinion, given these storyline developments, Mira provides the most interesting opportunity for character growth. She is clearly strong and charismatic in her own way. She can get things done…but now what will she choose to do? Pursue revenge? But if so, against whom? Who will she blame for her current predicament – the folks at Terra Nova? Or maybe she’ll focus her energies on getting the portal open again, either by means of collaboration or force. Before the collapse of the portal, Mira and the Phoenix soldiers were expecting to go home. I think a really interesting twist would be to see Mira in a reversal of roles with Lucas with her forcing him to work on reopening the portal for her own needs. I’d like to see Mira as a leader in truth and not just in name. There’s a lot of potential there.
Although Wash was killed in the season finale, I’ve included her in this discussion due to both her professional position and the manner in which she died. As Taylor’s second in command, she had an important position in camp, but until the end of the season, she was usually only an accessory in the storylines. In the finale, I thought we were shown a glimmer of what could have developed into a really interesting character. Her guilt over letting the Phoenix troops take Terra Nova and her subsequent desire for redemption could have been interesting and more drawn out. Instead, to use a term from comic book analysis, she was killed in a “women in refrigerator” type fashion. (For those unfamiliar, the term refers to the phenomenon in which a female character is killed just to move the plot forward.) I was disappointed to see her character treated in such a way just when she was showing some zest. Perhaps if (the for now hypothetical) season two of ‘Terra Nova’ uses flashbacks to fill in any of Taylor’s back story, we could also see some more of Wash.
As the youngest member of the show, Zoe’s opportunities are probably more limited. I think the show would be better served if they stopped trying sooooo hard to make Zoe cute and just try to make her be more realistic. But please, no more Spider Song and no more baby pet dinosaurs. Please!!
What do you think, Readers? How could improvements to the women’s characters and storylines improve ‘Terra Nova’ in a (and at this point theoretical) second season? Please share your comments and opinions below.
If you need to catch up on any of this season’s episodes, you can start with a recap of the very first episode: ‘Terra Nova – Genesis’.