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[ENT] Jammer's Review: "Terra Nova"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Enterprise s Terra Nova. If you haven t seen the episode yet, beware. In brief: Surprisingly
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 30, 2001
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      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Enterprise's "Terra
      Nova." If you haven't seen the episode yet, beware.


      In brief: Surprisingly uninvolving and with a timid imagination.

      Plot description: The Enterprise crew arrives at Terra Nova, the site of a
      human colony whom no one has heard from in nearly 70 years.

      -----
      Enterprise: "Terra Nova"

      Airdate: 10/17/2001 (USA)
      Teleplay by Antoinette Stella
      Story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga
      Directed by LeVar Burton

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      Rating out of 4: **

      "Shale! It's all shale!" -- Jaymin
      -----

      "Terra Nova" is a bit more thoughtful than "Unexpected," but that's not
      saying much. Its messages have been well worn in the Trek universe, and as
      an hour of television it has a tendency to drag. Slow plots are one thing.
      Obvious, uninspired, uninformative plots are another.

      Terra Nova was called "the great experiment." It was an early human
      colonization mission, which set its sights on the closest uninhabited but
      habitable planet. Their vessel, at such low-warp speeds, took nine years to
      reach this world, almost 20 light-years away. About five years after
      establishing the colony, Something Happened. There were arguments with those
      back on Earth about a second landing mission -- a second mission that the
      first mission's colonists didn't want to happen. In the midst of having
      these arguments, Earth mysteriously lost contact with Terra Nova. No one has
      heard anything since.

      It's in a story like this that I'm beginning to wonder about humans in space
      prior to the Enterprise launch (but after the Terra Nova mission). How many
      humans are out here? How densely or sparsely scattered through space are we?
      How far have we already reached? We have Travis Mayweather on board the
      Enterprise, our series' resident "boomer" who was born in space, but beyond
      the vaguest of dialog we still don't know the answer to many questions. Just
      what did these early space travelers do? Where did they go? How long have
      they been out here? How long did it take them to get from world to world?
      They weren't going warp 5, so how fast were they traveling? And what about
      the topic of ship-to-Earth communication? "Terra Nova" seems to suggest that
      there was near-instantaneous faster-than-light interstellar communication
      even 70 years ago. I'm not so sure that's a great idea for a "prequel" Trek
      series.

      I'm also not so sure the writers even know the answers to many of these
      other questions. If they do, they certainly haven't asked or answered them
      on the screen. It's moments like "Terra Nova" that I begin to worry about
      the execution of this series' premise. It leaves out massive chunks of
      history in between Cochrane's first warp flight and the present storyline,
      and I'm not sure we'll ever find out what happened during those missing 90
      years -- like how Starfleet came to be, for example. There are big holes,
      and the series seems more interested in pressing forward than in looking
      back and filling in those important gaps.

      With "Terra Nova," the series does indeed take a look backward. But I can't
      say I'm at all impressed by the view. It's tunnel vision, at best.

      Archer & Co. beam down to Terra Nova and find the colony deserted. The
      colony's vessel, once landed, was dismantled to set up the outpost. It's
      still here, but where are the people? Suddenly the landing party is attacked
      by aliens. But wait -- these aren't aliens. They're the descendants of the
      Novan colonists, humans who have been somehow changed and don't trust
      outsiders. Lt. Reed is kidnapped by them, recycling the most reliable of
      plots: When in doubt, have the script grab itself a hostage as an excuse to
      give our characters additional motivation.

      It's subsequently discovered by the Enterprise crew that an asteroid hit the
      planet not long after the Terra Novans colonized the planet. This impact
      poisoned the rain that led to human mutations (so that's why they look kinda
      alien!) and forced the colonists underground into the caves. The coinciding
      disagreements about a second Terra Nova mission led the original colonists
      to believe they were attacked by a subsequent human-led mission. I find this
      to be hopelessly contrived. For one, why would the colonists even object to
      a second mission when they literally had a whole damn *planet* at their
      disposal for just a few hundred people? That's colossally absurd. For two,
      why would the colonists assume this disagreement would lead to an attack
      from their own people? This isn't logic; it's scripted paranoia.

      All of that was nearly 70 years ago. So now, two generations later, the
      descendants of the mutated survivors are primitive cave-dwellers who don't
      trust humans because they've been brought up to believe that humans attacked
      them and are responsible for their predicament.

      How tragic for the entire Terra Nova mission: These brave humans spent nine
      years getting here, only to be devastated by a natural disaster. Tucker
      notes the unfortunate nature of the situation, but I personally chalk it up
      to cynical scriptwriting.

      And not just cynical, but uninspired and familiar. Let's talk about the
      issue of primitive cave-dwellers: Could anything be more derivative? We have
      our valiant Enterprise crew trying to reason with a primitive culture
      operating on incomplete information. This leads to the usual barriers with
      language, confused glances, and interminable distrust. I do find it somewhat
      intriguing to see how a catastrophe can instantly set back an advanced human
      culture to the stone age, but "Terra Nova's" take on the matter doesn't
      tackle the issue with any real depth. And it moves at a relentlessly slow
      pace.

      These primitives still have some supplies passed down from the original
      colonists, specifically machine guns that they use to initially repel the
      Enterprise landing party. Fortunately for the Novans -- or at the very least
      for our viewers who must have their RDA for "action" satiated -- after 70
      years these cave people still happen to have plenty of bullets for their
      guns, and the guns are still in perfect working condition.

      Archer tries to prove his Good Intentions to two of the Novans, Jaymin
      (Erick Avari) and Nadet (Mary Carver). Nadet is 75 years old and is in fact
      one of the original colony survivors. She was 5 years old when the asteroid
      hit, and might be Archer's best hope for reasoning with the Novans to get
      them to leave their caves. You see, Archer has a ticking clock here because
      the radiation has contaminated the Novans' underground water supply. He has
      to find a way to move them or they'll all get sick and die within a matter
      of months.

      So. The story's major crisis comes down to a painfully familiar You Have to
      Trust Me plot. Archer must convince Jaymin, who doubts him at every turn,
      that he has the Novans' best interests at heart. The turning point for trust
      is ostensibly demonstrated (but actually not) by a sequence in which
      Archer's shuttle sinks into a cave when the ground collapses beneath it, and
      then Archer and Jaymin help rescue a Novan who has become pinned underwater
      by a big piece of a tree. (I think it's a tree, though I'm not sure how it
      got so far underground.)

      This sequence is obviously manufactured (it feels like filler in order to
      make the hour seem more "eventful"), but what's worse is that even this
      proof of good faith doesn't win Jaymin over -- he's *still* bent on ignoring
      Archer's advice about the poisoned water supply! It's only through Nadet and
      her memory of events from before the asteroid impact that the story is
      finally able to budge Jaymin from his stubborn distrust. It takes too long,
      and it grows too tedious.

      The one scene that reveals a modicum of debate and insight is the one where
      Archer and T'Pol argue about the fate of the Novans now that they've lost
      all touch with who they once were and have become their own essentially
      alien culture. How can and should they be moved? Should they be taken by the
      Enterprise and absorbed back into humanity? Should they be left to their own
      devices and allowed to die? Is it Archer's place to save them? Reasonable
      questions, though Archer comes across as a bit needlessly hotheaded (Bakula
      seems to raise his voice through half the episode) and I'm still uneasy
      about the woodenness of T'Pol as performed by Blalock.

      On the whole, "Terra Nova" is content to coast on the fumes of creative
      fuels that were barely supplied from the outset. Star Trek is supposed to be
      about dialog and ideas. The problem with "Terra Nova" is that none of the
      people descended from the Terra Nova colony is permitted any worthwhile
      dialog. By making the Novans a group of primitives with incorrect
      information, the story has basically dropped its anchor before leaving the
      dock.

      I envision an infinitely more interesting and hopeful vision for Terra Nova.
      It has a thriving human society that for one reason or another has been out
      of contact with Earth for 70 years. It has become its own human subculture,
      with ideas and opinions and technology -- and an accurate historical record.
      It fills in story gaps for the audience with dialog about human history in
      the immediate aftermath of First Contact with the Vulcans. And to the people
      of this colony we now reveal the presence of a groundbreaking new starship,
      the Enterprise, which can go from star to star in the process of hours,
      days, or weeks rather than years. What do these colonists think about this
      achievement? Are they awed? Intrigued? Perhaps frightened by the
      possibilities?

      Instead we get cavemen with machine guns who are unwilling to believe Archer
      when he has the evidence sitting right in front of them. We move 'em
      elsewhere on the planet to save their lives. The Enterprise proceeds to its
      next adventure.

      Yawn.

      --
      Next week: Andorians!

      -----
      Copyright 2001 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
      Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.

      Star Trek: Hypertext - http://www.st-hypertext.com/
      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...
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