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Terra Nova followed its good two-part premiere with an even better episode. “Instinct” struck a more personal chord with its villains (pterosaurs fighting for their breeding ground and an old flame hoping to re-conquer Elizabeth Shannon) as well as with its protagonists (teenagers discovering and parents rediscovering love). The relationships that seemed clumsily dealt with in the extended premiere were handled with care in an episode that did not need dinosaurs to make us fear for our characters.
Sometimes, an episode has an identifiable moment that wins the viewer over and after which the writers, and the cast, have to do a pretty bad job to get him or her to reconsider. “Instinct” had such a moment for me right at the beginning with the survival training, especially when Lt. Washington (aka Wash) described how beetle grubs could become a delicious alternative to real food (“If you find yourself low on provision and starving, you won’t be saying ‘ew’ [like Zoe], but [pauses after gobbling a larva] ‘hmmm’.”). After that scene, I was not only taken by the episode, but found myself paying much more attention to Simone Kessell’s Washington.
The episode followed with a story where the pterosaur menace — though gradually developed — was much more palpable than the bigger dinosaurs generated in the previous episodes. It could be because they had more screen time, or because the integration of the generated graphics in the scenes were flawless (especially in the market scene and in the short scene with Zoe) or because their grudge was more personal and the protagonists obviously felt (and us with them) that the prehistoric reptiles had a certain right to be angry.
The writers deserve kudos for using something other than dinosaurs as a threat to human life in the Late Cretaceous and for being very convincing at laying out their case. The breeding ground idea — justifying the fertility of the soil that itself explained the choice of the site of Terra Nova — was excellent and very reassuring to any viewer wondering if the series creators, and its writers, have what it takes to live up to the potential of the premiere.
The parallels between the story of the unknown species (dubbed Malcomus Pterosauri) and what was unfolding between the characters became even more obvious when Elisabeth and Malcom came up with the idea of using pheromones to drive them away. This episode did a good job introducing Malcom as a character everyone would love to hate. It gave us the opportunity to understand the power structure in the settlement a little bit better and realize it is a place run by the military. More importantly, the story managed to avoid sliding into the type of drama that has no place in a show like this. There was some jealousy, yes, and it was often ugly in its expression, as that sentiment is meant to be, but things were properly handled and Elisabeth Shannon was a lady well above the fray. Let’s hope things stay that way.
A personal favorite however, was what passed between Josh and Skye. Now that Josh has apparently learned his lesson and is a good boy again, the writers decided to get him to act like one and, in the process, show his attraction to Skye. The two actors have a good screen presence and almost all scenes between them were very good, but the most effective was when he asked her to stay with them “to … help out with [his] sisters.” Her pause after his authoritative request and her smile after his half-baked explanation made the scene cute and definitely memorable.
It’s refreshing, after the terrible child actors in Falling Skies, to see how easily family moments and other scenes involving younger people are portrayed in the show. However, it is a pity Maddy Shannon’s adorableness is a bit wasted in her relationship with the young military soldier (or officer) Reynolds which offered a couple of funny scenes with the father, but failed in every other aspect. The writers’ preference for Josh’s heroics are so obvious that they conveniently knocked Reynolds out to give Josh a “Home Alone” moment as protector of the ladies. It is also worth mentioning that being the settlement’s (only) policeman doesn’t explain why Jim Shannon is so readily included in military patrols.
“Instinct” was centered on the instinct to breed and on that theme delivered a little bit for everyone: the pterosaur menace and the thrill it provided to the action, and the carefully developed love stories gave a personal and more civilized touch to human instincts that are, when everything is sliced and diced, very similar to the urges motivating the prehistoric flying reptiles.