"Within" was a generally pleasing episode of Terra Nova — especially considering what came just before — as it laid out the groundwork for what will hopefully be a riveting season finale.The story wasted no time, and right from the start, took us back (for the first time since the series premiere) to the portal terminus, the place where the time fracture endpoint in the Late Cretaceous has been "fixed". In just a couple of sentences, we learned why the members of the eleventh pilgrimage or anyone else coming from 2149 would be expected at that very point. What followed was a story structured to bring an end to the spy subplot and get that out of the way before the next stage in the settlement's story.
In the previous episode, we discovered that Skye was the Sixers' spy. I didn't particularly like how that was brought about, but I welcomed the development, because some level of complexity is always good in any character, especially in those like Skye who seem to have more potential than the others. The show, contrary to what was common practice in the first half of the season, picked up where we left off with Jim Shannon's investigation taking center stage and quickly producing results. Skye was generally used much better than in the previous episode, torn between her desire to save her mother and her wish to protect the settlement. However, it is a pity that the farewell scene with her mother (when they decided she had to stop spying for the Sixers) was either too short or not emotionally charged enough to justify everything Skye had been through.
Also, I felt uneasy (like in "Now You See Me") to see Skye in such a different light. It appears she has been passing intelligence for some time now. Therefore, the show could have managed to avoid showing her as "cool and collected" as she was before we knew or avoided showing her as erratic as she has been since then. The impression it gives is that it was only decided later that she would be the spy. Finally, although the actress did a fine job throughout the episode, I found her performance in the scene with Taylor and Shannon at the communication outpost lacking.
I would have liked the above to be developed a bit differently, but the real disappointment for me was Lucas Taylor, both the character and the actor bringing him to life. Even when taking into account whatever really happened in August 2138, Lucas's hatred for his father seems blown out of proportion. Don't get me wrong, I am well aware patricides are not only the stuff of Greek tragedies, but even in those overly dramatic old plays, things fell into place nicely. Here, the more the show tries to explain why Lucas hates his father, the more melodramatic it gets, and the less believable it sounds. The story would have been better off by just presenting the one-sided feud without trying to get us to understand. Also, why was Lucas talking about his plans in such detail to an unwilling spy?
There were a couple of things that weren't central to the story, but were the highlights of the hour to me. Everything Maddy Shannon was involved in was well crafted and very well executed. I am on record for stressing how uneven Naomi Scott's performance has been since the beginning of the series and how Maddy's relationship with her soldier always brings the worst out of the actress, but even Corporal Reynolds couldn't spoil the fun this time around. Their little discussion about her "fried" core was teasingly funny and, to me at least, the very first decent scene involving them both. There is the right type of chemistry between Maddy and her brother Josh, which makes watching them together generally easy. In a very well portrayed and typical teenage way, he teased her before helping her out, but of course, the very best was the scene with Boylan (the bartender). He ended up offering her the "core" for free, in exchange for the-puzzled-Maddy's promise to relay his kindness to her father. It would have been good at this point to link this story to the main one somehow. Maddy was after a computer processing unit and Skye needed the processing power of the "Eye," so a connection here (even if not straightforward) was possible.
This allows me to segue to something the show has consistently been good at, but which has mostly gone unnoticed: the science-fiction. From a name like "core" to describe a computer processing unit, to their very enhanced tablets and everything in the infirmary or in Malcolm's research lab, the show has always produced interesting, but unassuming future tech. Granted, Lucas's equations showing themselves to the viewer as only mathematics-for-television is not exactly great material, but nothing is perfect...
One of the perceived advantages of having a 13-episode run is the ability to produce more episodes like "Within." Episodes that are focused and harnessing — for the most part — the best of what we have learned from the characters while taking us closer to the conclusion of the running story arc. It is unfortunate that with Terra Nova we only had them sporadically.