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TERRA NOVA 1.03 ‘Instinct’

Thousands of angry prehistoric birds attack the Terra Nova settlement, endangering Jim's family and the entire colony.

Episode Title: "Instinct"

Writers: René Echevarria & Brannon Braga

Director: Jon Cassar

Previously on "Terra Nova":

Hoping to escape extinction in Earth's future, Jim Shannon (Jason O'Mara) and his wife, Elisabeth (Shelley Conn), along with their children Josh (Landon Liboiron), Maddy (Naomi Scott) and Zoe (Alana Mansour) traveled with the tenth pilgrimage of settlers to Terra Nova, a colony located 85 million years in the past of an alternate timeline. In this time, dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures still roam the Earth. Soon enough, Jim was brought before the leader of Terra Nova, Commander Nathaniel Taylor (Stephen Lang); who was initially dismissive of Jim's desire to be a cop again. But eventually, Jim was added to his security team when a rival group of humans called "Sixers" attempted to assassinate Taylor.

Taylor took Jim into his confidence and he revealed that the Sixers were all brought to Terra Nova in the sixth pilgrimage of settlers and that they stole weapons and supplies before breaking away from the colony. Elsewhere, Josh and a girl named Skye (Allison Miller) snuck out of the colony with her friends to go drinking and swimming. After their vehicle was disabled by Sixers, Josh and the rest of the kids were stuck in the jungle, forcing Jim, Elisabeth and Taylor to form a search party. When they found the disabled vehicle, the kids were under attack by slasher tail dinosaurs. However, Jim and Taylor managed to get everyone back alive.

Back at Terra Nova, Taylor lightly grilled Skye as to whether she had seen the writing on the waterfall rocks that he wished to hide. And at those same rocks, the leader of the Sixers, Mira (Christine Adams) revealed that the writings came from Taylor's missing son; and they represent a way to control the future by controlling the past.

Story:

At night in the jungles outside of Terra Nova, three of Taylor's men are on a supply run for an outpost when their vehicle is mysteriously disabled. And when they emerge to fix the tire, they are killed by creatures from above. Back at Terra Nova, Josh, Zoe and Maddy receive their first lessons in survival skills in case they are trapped outside of the colony. After the makeshift school session, Josh is dismissed to resume latrine duty as punishment for last episode's moonshine run with Skye and the other teens. Sometime later, he and Skye are dismissed from the latrine and they immediately go to what appears to be the Terra Nova farmer's market; where Josh is enamored with a handmade guitar he can't afford.
 
At the Shannon home, Jim is given the kids for the night, but he proves to hapless in the kitchen and in getting Zoe to bathe. When Elisabeth comes home, she and Jim nearly get the chance to get reacquainted in bed when a loud bird's caws distracts them. Jim goes outside to chase off the prehistoric creature, but when he gets back Zoe is already in his bed getting comforted by her mother after the bird scared her. The next day, Taylor brings Jim along to find his missing supply runners and he secretly assigns Jim to find out who the Sixers have inside the camp feeding info to Mira.

They find the three men dead near their vehicle and realize that the Sixers weren't responsible for this attack. Back at the main medical facility, Dr. Malcolm Wallace (Rod Hallett), an old friend of Elisabeth's acts surprised to see her in Terra Nova. And he definitely seems surprised to see Jim there with her. Taylor has Malcolm and Elisabeth examine the bodies of the three dead men to determine what killed them, but it is Jim who finds a tiny tooth or claw on one of the men that suggests a new predator was responsible. Back at the Shannon home, Elisabeth admits that she and Malcolm used to date but she denies it was serious before bringing Jim back to bed.

Sure enough, the bird returns to make more noise. But when Jim and Josh both go to investigate, they find several birds lined up on the Terra Nova fence. And when Josh throws a rock at one, the others attack them and cut Jim… leaving an identical mark to the one that killed Taylor's men. Jim passes on the news to Taylor while his wound is treated the next day and we learn that the birds are actually reptiles called pterosaurs. Meanwhile, Josh and Skye visit the farmer's market again when hundreds of the pterosaurs swoop down and attack everyone; causing mass panic and a lot of damage.

At the medical lab, Malcolm and Elisabeth relate the theory that Terra Nova was built on the breeding ground of the pterosaurs; which means that millions of the birds may be coming to retake their lands by force. Jim also gets suspicious about Malcolm's intentions towards his wife when he learns from Taylor that it was Malcolm's recommendation that got Elisabeth a place at Terra Nova. Before Jim leaves to procure live pterosaurs to run some tests on, he confronts Malcolm and accuses him of expecting Jim to not come with his wife. Completely skipping over the part where he caught the pterosaurs, Jim returns to the camp with the test subjects. 

Malcolm and Elisabeth devise an idea to lure the pterosaurs away from Terra Nova with a synthesized pheromone. Sure, why not? It worked on "Star Trek: The Next Generation." But in the long run up to actually making the pheromone work, the Terra Nova colony is attacked by thousands of the pterosaurs. Inside the Shannon house, Skye and a soldier attracted to Maddy are surprised when the pterosaurs actually get into the house through the air ducts. The solider is knocked out and Zoe is left behind in the living room until Josh finally goes back for her. Back in the lab, the pheromone is finished before Jim and Taylor race off to lure the pterosaurs away.

Hours later, Jim and Taylor return from a successful mission and report that the pterosaurs took to their new breeding ground very quickly. Jim and Elisabeth return to their home and find their children asleep in the living room. Now that they have some measure of privacy, they retreat to their bedroom to make love.

Breakdown:

Clearly, the most important thing that came out of this episode is that Jim got laid and Josh is well on his way with Skye.

But more seriously, was this really the strongest story the writers could come up with after the pilot? A prehistoric remix of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds"? It's not that this episode was particularly bad… it just wasn't good either.

The CGI for the pterosaurs was fine, but the entire setup and resolution just felt silly. I swear that I've seen the whole "pheromone" solution in an episode or two of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," I just don't recall which one. "Star Trek" veteran, Brannon Braga co-wrote this episode and it's almost disturbing how similar it felt to the way those shows handled problems. Namely an incomprehensible bit of technobabble used as a justification for the solution.  

I want to like Jim, but it's hard to get beyond his cardboard-like personality. The only time he shows any fire is when he's jealous of his wife's former relationship with Malcolm. But even so, it's disingenuous for Jim to hold Malcolm's recommendation of his wife against him considering that the trip to Terra Nova saved all of their lives. Malcolm was obviously disappointed that Elisabeth was able to bring her husband with her, but at least he didn't make a big scene out of it or try to woo her away from him.

The more interesting aspect with Jim was only lightly touched upon, but I'd like to see more of his investigation to uncover the Sixers' inside man or woman at Terra Nova. That would actually be a far more effective way of getting Jim to explore the different areas of the camp and uncovering the secrets that even Taylor is hiding from him. Some of that appears to be coming up soon, but it should have started more definitively in this episode.

It also has to be noted that this episode completely jumped over what could have been two entertaining sequences: Jim's trip to catch the pterosaurs and the eventual scene in which Jim and Taylor lured the pterosaurs to their new breeding ground. That may have been a budgetary consideration, but it still felt like the episode was cutting away just when cool things were about to happen.

Josh's romance with Skye is pretty by the numbers and I'm hoping we're not going to get a lot dopey scenes of him playing the guitar to impress her now that she basically gave him the money for it. I was more intrigued by the fact that the people at Terra Nova actually use money. That implies that the people there have jobs and that there is an economy in place. It may not sound exciting on the surface, but it there's money involved it means that Terra Nova is likely to have crime as well. And in this world, there is no better motivations for crime than money and food.

Out of all of the new shows this fall, "Terra Nova" is fortunate that Fox is probably going to air all of the episodes just to recoup the money that went into the pilot. Thus far, the ratings are solid and its got a better chance at renewal than "Fringe." But "Terra Nova" hasn't lived up to its potential just yet. Hopefully that will come some time soon.

Crave Online Rating: 6.5 out of 10.