RECAP: Murder by Dinosaur

Once upon a time, there was a place called Communications Relay Station 19-A. Communications Relay Station 19-A existed long time ago and far, far away in a dangerous, magical place called Terra Nova. Unfortunately for everyone involved, it doesn't seem to be far enough away. Humanity left 2149 behind to rot while it skipped out to ruin the past as well got to leave and go to a place where they'd have a second chance to get it right, but that second chance doesn't seem to be working out as well as everyone had hoped. In that dark jungle night 85 million years ago at Communications Relay Station 19-A, a brave young man named Foster had his face eaten off by a dinosaur, whilst illuminated by the headlamps of his own still-running vehicle, and it 'twas murder moste foul.

The next day, the crack investigative team of Jim, Taylor, and Malcolmus (if Jim can call him that, I'm not going to miss out on the fun, either) surveys the scene. Malcolmus (Rod Hallett) thinks its pretty straightforward, if a bit odd, that a nykoraptor (a species Taylor refers to as two-legged sharks) would be out of its hunting area, but what are you gonna do and stuff like that. Jim's spider senses are tingling, though, and he isn't satisfied by the very logically constructed, if bloody scene, before him. Why did the nykoraptor leave all these delicious eggs untouched outside? Why was Foster so stupid as to leave the door open? Why is the inside of the door completely scratched to hell? BECAUSE IT 'TWAS MURDER! Taylor doesn't want to admit that a murder was committed in his little paradise, but Jim finally convinces him to let Jim play the Sherlock, with Wash (Simone Kessell) along for the Watson. I am already dissatisfied by this comparison. (The first series of the BBC's Sherlock is now streaming on Netflix. You should probably go watch it as soon as you're done reading and commenting on this recap.)

Wash and Jim don't look long for their first suspect. Terra Nova ain't that big of a place. Foster's friends, including Lt. Hottie, are out drunking in Boylan's bar. They point Wash and Jim in the direction of Foster's secret girlfriend. Jim's like, What's her name? And they're all, Dude, we don't know. It was a SECRET. Lt. Hottie says Foster used to lay up in his bunk for hours (sidenote: really, show?) looking at pictures of her that he hacked onto his dog tags, which are apparently computerized in 2149. But Foster's dog tags are not with his effects, and they're not with his effects because they got eaten along with his face the night before. They are now cruising along at top speed inside the large intestine of a nykoraptor. Jim, Taylor, and Wash corner the nyko in the jungle by trapping it up a tree, and then Taylor shoots it and Wash slices it open with medical skills we didn't know she possessed (don't worry, she stitches it back together . . . I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but Terra Nova has a strict "don't kill the dinosaurs" rule, although I'm not sure why; just being there 85 million years in the past is screwing things up, so why not just go for it?).

The dog tags lead them to a Mrs. (YUP) Rebecca Milner (Alice Parkinson). She denies the affair at first and is actually pretty hostile, but when her husband walks in and confesses to the murder, which he claims to have committed out of jealousy, she just ends up looking kind of stupid (and very guilty). Despite the fact that he's a murderer, Howard (Steve Rodgers) actually seems like a pretty great guy. His face is pleasantly doughy and his eyes are kind, but he knows every detail of the crime scene, and he had the motive, so Taylor has to make a decision: Will he uphold the bylaws of the colony and banish Howard from ever returning? The prospect of banishment makes everybody feel all weird, especially as its Howard, and what a cute face he has. I was actually surprised that the episode took this turn, and rather naively hoped at this point that the rest of the episode would deal with the fascinating ethical dilemma that had been created by this "bylaw." In my head, the rest of the episode went on to give us some actual quality time with these characters as they dealt with the fallout of the colony's (and the planet's) first murder, and the genuinely scary prospect of setting the precedent for how things like this are dealt with, because it's a huge deal. Frontier justice or not, whatever Taylor does is important. What do you do with the first murderer? Wherever you put him, he's the first of his kind.

Meanwhile, the episode makes some gestures towards the issue through Elisabeth and Jim's fight. The two of them start bickering over Howard's punishment, and it quickly escalates as Elisabeth makes the mistake of calling imprisonment "a mercy," which causes Jim to bring up the valid point that given the choice, he would much rather have been set loose in the wild with a gun than spend three years in hell. And then, just as it's getting good, the episode takes another turn. I told you, my expectations were too high. All this good drama they start a-boiling? Wasted. Taylor makes a giant speech upholding the bylaw, and banishing Howard to the jungle forever. He's all, we can't allow this behavior! We must strive to be worthy! And while all of this is happening, the camera starts focusing on certain people. Howard. Rebecca. Jim. Some random friend of Foster's who looks suspiciously guilty . . . and just like that, all that potential washed down the drain. This is now no longer about a compelling decision and its consequences, it's about catching the right bad guy, dammit! Howard is now obviously innocent, and we can see it in Jim's face as he watches wifey-poo agonize over poor Howard with his little back-pack walking into the jungle. So what does Jim do? He goes out to the jungle where Howard has been for all of five seconds, and brings him back home as a surprise present for Rebecca. My cat will sometimes do this with cockroaches.

But much to Jim's and Howard's surprise, but not to mine, Jim's little surprise backfires. Rebecca didn't murder Foster, but was feeling guilty because she believed Howard had and it was her fault. Howard, in turn, originally confessed because he believed his murderous, adulterous wife needed his protection. So it all turns out for the best! Rebecca realizes the error of her ways and everybody falls in love again and is happy. BLECH. It would actually be very sweet if it hadn't totally killed the plot of the episode.

Speaking of Degrassi, he and Skye are still up to shenanigans. Bartender Boylan (Damien Garvey) wants him to meet Mira out in the scary jungle, or else he won't be able to bring girlfriend Kara to Terra Nova. Skye offers to go with him, in what is apparently a new teenage seduction technique called "I'm helping you bring your stupid girlfriend to our paradise so won't you make out with me now?" They meet Mira in the jungle, she makes Degrassi make a scary promise, blah blah it's over. I wish they would actually give these characters something interesting to do. It's funny, because I was under the impression that a significant part of my problem with Degrassi was with the actor who portrayed him, but I've gotta tell you, I streamlined the entire second season of Life Unexpected last weekend, and Landon Liboiron actually proved himself quite delightful. Basically what I'm saying is that it is almost entirely the fault of the writers at this point that Degrassi is so completely useless.

While all of this is happening, Zoe and Elisabeth hatch a baby dinosaur, which they will now keep as a pet, and that is the only redeeming part about this waste of a storyline.

And now for the real killer, who turns out to be a slimeball gambler friend of Foster's who we couldn't give a rat's patootie about. Turns out Curran (Jay Ryan) racked up some pretty serious gambling debts to old Foster, and instead of being a sane person and just you know, not paying him or something simple like that, Curran murders Foster with a dinosaur. Team Jim and Taylor trick Curran into a "confession" via an elaborate ruse wherein bartender Boylan is arrested and his records confiscated, which gives nasty Curran the opportunity to steal said records before someone can see how much money he owed the dead guy. The episode leaves all of this to a "reveal" in the jungle. We as viewers are kept out of the trick with Boylan until the last minute, when we realize OHO! it was a trick! Except it doesn't work because the episode telegraphs that Curran is the murderer even before we know his name, just by the way the camera lingers on him in opportune moments, and it makes me very upset. So anyway, Taylor beats the hell out of Curran before kicking him out into the jungle with nothing but the clothes on his back and an evil smile on his face. Taylor IS the justice system in Terra Nova, but I can't help wondering just how smart a practice it is to go turning your enemies loose in the jungle.

The carceral system in this country is actually a huge issue, and I don't want to downplay it or bore you by going into details here, but I'm a pretty firm believer that the way we treat criminals actually reinforces criminal behavior, and that's something this episode nicely brings up. Howard appears to have committed a very bad crime, something he shouldn't be allowed to get away with, so the question becomes, how do you deal with it? And how do you deal with the consequences of that choice? The answer to that question is obviously something we as a society have trouble answering (and the writers apparently do as well, because they kind of take the easy way out). Here's this otherwise good guy who's done this horrible thing, and how do you deal with that? It's not easy, and it shouldn't be easy. But then everything is ruined and the murderer turns out to be stupid Curran, who is obviously evil, and nobody feels bad about putting evil guys out in the jungle to be eaten by dinosaurs (or join the Sixers, which is obviously what is going to happen here). This is how the bad stuff starts, how enemies are made. All that stuff you were trying to fix by coming here? It starts again right here with putting this guy out into the jungle and not giving it a second thought. The end result of this is that a complicated issue in the story suddenly becomes uncomplicated, and by the end, is completely glossed over in favor of Taylor's boot up Curran's ass (if I'm being honest, I did enjoy watching that happen, but that doesn't take away the validity of my complaint . . . I'm a complicated person).

There is just so much STUFF shoved into this episode, and none of it is dealt with fully. We never spend enough time with anyone, or anything. I think I'm just going to have to accept that this show is not interested in slowing down and thinking about itself. This is the kind of show that substitutes fast moving plot for honest character moments, the kind of show that thinks having twists and turns and "shocking surprises" is the main substance of storytelling. I'm not knocking that kind of storytelling, either. I'm as much a fan of a good thriller as the next person. The problem is that Terra Nova doesn't want to admit it's just a brainless thriller in disguise. It keeps trying to be more, and so far, it's not working out.

Next week: A METEOR!