Episode Title: "Bylaw"
Writer: Paul Grellong
Director: Nelson McCormick
In the jungle outside of the colony walls, a soldier named Foster reaches a relay station to make repairs. But when he opens the door, a nycoraptor leaps at him and rips him to shreds. Some time later, Commander Nathaniel Taylor (Stephen Lang) brings Jim Shannon (Jason O'Mara) out to look at the scene along with his soldiers. Although the incident initially appears to be an accident, Jim notices the nycoraptor had left claw marks on the door as if it was trying to get out before Foster arrived. Back at the colony, Jim's wife, Elisabeth Shannon (Shelley Conn) notes that Foster's body had dinosaur blood on him that may have led the nycoraptor to mistake him for its main source of food.
Elsewhere, Josh Shannon (Landon Liboiron) gets some bad news from his shady boss, Boylan. If he wants to get his girlfriend on the next pilgrimage from 2149 than he has to deal directly with the Sixers and their leader, Mira (Christine Adams). Meanwhile, Jim shares his suspicions with Taylor that Foster's death was murder. With Taylor's second-in-command, Alicia Washington (Simone Kessell) by his side, Jim speaks to Foster's friends in the military and he learns that Foster had a girlfriend. They also hunt down the nycoraptor that killed Foster and retrieve his dogtag to find a picture of the girlfriend; whom Washington recognizes as a woman named Rebecca.
Rebecca admits knowing Foster but she claims that they had no relationship until her husband, Howard arrives and immediately confesses to killing Foster as revenge for Foster's affair with Rebecca. At first, Howard has trouble sharing the details of the crime, but he eventually convinces Jim and Taylor that he's guilty. Elsewhere in the camp, Josh admits to Skye (Allison Miller) that he has to sneak out of the colony to meet with Mira, but she readily volunteers to help him. That night, Jim and Elizabeth argue over "frontier justice" and she points out that Howard's confession could have been falsified.
The following day, Taylor banishes Howard from Terra Nova and sends him into the wild. But Jim notices the glances between Rebecca and Howard and he begins to have doubts. He follows Howard out into the jungle, where the scared man admits that he didn't kill Foster but he believed that Rebecca did. Jim sneaks Howard back inside to confront Rebecca, but she is just as mystified as they are about who killed Foster. All she knows is that he gambled heavily at Boylan's bar. Jim brings his new angle to Taylor, who is initially livid about drudging up the case again. But he allows Jim to go after Boylan.
Together, Jim and Washington find out that Foster was owed a considerable amount of money from his gambling sessions. When they're ready, Taylor accompanies Jim and Washington as they raid Boylan's bar and arrest Boylan. Jim also tells Josh that he doesn't work there anymore. While the soldiers are searching for Boylan's ledger, they get a call that says Boylan has escaped from custody. Taylor, Jim and a soldier named Curran go out in pursuit. But while Washington gives them updates on Boylan's movements, we see that he is safely seated next to her in the colony.
Finally, the three men reach a clearing where Taylor springs his trap: Curran is Foster's real killer, because he was the one who owed him more money than he could pay. Although Curran doesn't directly admit it, he tries to fire on Taylor and Jim with an unloaded weapon. Taylor kicks the crap out of Curran and summarily exiles him from the colony. With Howard now free to live openly in Terra Nova again, he reconciles with Rebecca. Taylor even thanks Boylan for playing along with the charade, but the bar owner warns him that his next favor won't be free. Even Jim is feeling generous as he tells Josh that the decision to work for Boylan is his alone.
Much later, Josh and Skye sneak out of the colony and come face-to-face with Mira. She says that she will help his girlfriend, Kira from 2149 get on the 11th pilgrimage to Terra Nova if Josh agrees to do a favor for her in the future, no questions asked. Although Skye shakes her head, Josh nods and makes the deal.
"Terra Nova" is a show with a fantastic premise and lackluster execution.
There are so many reasons that this should be one of the most kickass series on TV, but instead it's one of the most tame family dramas I've seen since "No Ordinary Family." There's nothing wrong with making a good family show for that audience, but this isn't very good and it's definitely not the groundbreaking sci-fi drama that Fox seemed to promise its viewers for months on end.
The first murder in "Terra Nova" could have been done in any number of ways that would have been entertaining. But what we got was the most boring death-by-dino you could ever hope for. And for someone who was supposed to be a tough Chicago cop in the future, Jim sure seemed surprised by the idea that someone would give a false confession to protect a spouse.
Aside from the weakly constructed murder mystery, one of the main problems here is that none of these side characters matter to us. We've never really noticed Foster or Curran, so why should we care when one dies and the other one set it up? At least on police procedural series, we're given meaningful glimpses into who the victims were and we get a better feel for the killers and their motives. But Curran felt like he was just dropped in at the convenient place to unmask the murderer.
And the dialog is unbelievably stilted. Have you ever seen the first "Planet of the Apes" movie? Stephen Lang's Commander Taylor seemed to be channeling Charlton Heston's melodramatic astronaut from that movie… who also happened to be named Taylor. Imagine the fun the Rifftrax writers would have with lines like “I’m going to go bury our soldier. Then I’m going to make a decision. I don’t recall ever having to have made a tougher one” and “We’ve lost our share of folks. But never like this. Not to murder.”
Prior to the launch of "Terra Nova," I had concerns about Jason O'Mara's ability to carry a series after the dismal "Life on Mars" U.S. adaptation. And sure enough, O'Mara seems to sleepwalk through most of his scenes here, including the climatic confrontation with Curran… in which Jim does absolutely nothing! Even Jim's argument with Elizabeth about frontier justice felt incredibly forced. I'm sure the writer would have loved for that to be a truly dramatic scene, but the words as written didn't work and the performances couldn't save it either.
The Sixers plotline is one of the few redeeming qualities of "Terra Nova," even though Mira isn't exactly the most compelling villain either. The idea that the Sixers can still communicate with their leaders in the future is intruging, but it's not enough to keep this show afloat by itself. "Terra Nova" doesn't have to be "The Walking Dead" or "Battlestar Galactica." But it could at least be more interesting than the episodes we've seen so far.
At this rate, I'm not going to care if it doesn't get picked up for another season.
Crave Online Rating: 5.5 out of 10.