The 'Terra Nova' Finale and the Case for a Second Season
The first season finale for Terra Nova aired last night on Fox, and the ratings are in. The show experienced a slight rise in viewership over last week, getting 7.24 million viewers in its first hour and 7.12 M in its second. Not mind-blowing by any means, but taking into account what happened in last night’s double episode, I’m still hoping for a second season.
Why? Even though critics have not looked favourably on the show, and audience numbers have not made it a runaway hit, I think a second season could build on the (admittedly) shaky foundation of the first 13 episodes. If Terra Nova’s screenwriters can learn from the mistakes of this season, there’s a chance the show could develop into a standout hour of sci-fi television.
Before you start filling the comments section with mocking responses, know that I’m not blind to the problems with Terra Nova. I get it: the dino effects were often silly, the characters were a bit bland, and more than a few of the stories were half-baked. But I’m still in love with the basic premise of the show: colonists from the future trying to restart civilization in the distant past. I really wanted Terra Nova to succeed, and so I’m willing to give it one more chance.
That chance should come in the form of a second season, but not all at once. I’m suggesting that Fox give the show a small episode order - maybe five or six instalments – to see if the writers can take what they’ve learned from the reaction to the first season and make the show better.
Remember – Terra Nova was written and shot all in one block, months before it aired. It was impossible for the writers to prepare an episode, see how it went over with fans, and use that response to guide the subsequent instalments. Now that the writers know what worked with fans and what didn’t, it’s conceivable that a second season will be better.
What’s more, the finale introduced some concepts that could fuel interesting follow-up episodes. The idea of a second colony living out in the badlands sparked my interest, as did the arrival of another loose cannon faction: the mercenary Phoenix army. That gives us a total of four groups to interact with each other, creating rivalries and alliances that can be explored in future episodes.
Granted, the energizing idea of the Terra Novans being cut off from the future was undermined by the revelation of the Badlands time fracture. If the fracture is guarded by another colony, though, maybe it won’t be so easy for the Terra Novans after all.
Then we have the characters. Jim Shannon too often plays the “good cop”, bowing to Taylor’s orders and supporting his wife Elizabeth. I’m hoping that a second season, with the potential for shifting allegiances with other factions, gives Jim a chance to butt heads with Taylor. It’s a plot device that often makes Jim more interesting.
As for Elizabeth, she needs a bigger challenge than patching people up after their occasional fisticuffs or treks through the jungle. Maybe a major ethical issue related to her profession, or a Shannon kid that goes missing for multiple episodes - anything to spare us from another Jim-Elizabeth-Malcolm love triangle.
In terms of story structure, the show should abandon its one-episode villains and tidy conclusions, and move towards a more serialized story arc. That way, the danger of the environment can feel more persistent, and the villains of the series, like Lucas Taylor and the Sixers, can develop beyond their snarling, one-dimensional dialogue. Too often in this season, Terra Nova would return to the “status quo” after an episode, and development of the story and characters would be reset.
We also need to get to know more of the other Terra Novans. Having only the Shannon family as a touchstone for the events of the series , we don’t get a sense of Terra Nova being a community. Instead, they often come across as a mob of “red shirts” who can be fed to the wildlife or caught in the crossfire between the major players. A second season could scale back the role of the Shannons in certain episodes, and explore the contributions of other colonists to the new civilization.
That still leaves the dinos, those much-maligned parts of the Terra Nova package. The key problem here is money – making the creatures look convincing and terrifying without bankrupting the show (or the studio).
To be honest, I don’t know what to suggest for the dinosaur action. I’ve said in the past that it would be better to keep the dinos in the background and focus on the characters, but people still want the prehistoric chases implied by the show’s premise. Maybe it would be more economical to rely on animatronics of the sort created for Jurassic Park, rather than 100% CGI – especially for lengthy close-up shots.
I list these suggestions as a plea for more Terra Nova. I want science fiction on network TV to survive, and I don’t believe Terra Nova has burned through all its potential just yet. It’s limping along, to be sure, but I hope Fox will give the show a few more episodes. I need to see Terra Nova either fail spectacularly or finally take off, not crawl away with a whimper. Just like the human race in the series, let’s give it one more go.
What did you think of the Terra Nova finale, and of the show in general? Did you become a fan, despite the problems with the show's execution in the first season? Were you totally disappointed and stopped watching? Does it deserve a second season to fix the mistakes? Sound off in the comments down below, or browse through the archive of my TV commentary.