That's not all it needs to do, of course, but a show needs to have some kind of personality or selling point, and "colony in dinosaur times" is theoretically a damn strong setting.
Tonight's episode was still a little short of being a success, but it's certainly the episode that has most fully embraced its setting. A set of meteors hits near the colony, which has the effect of a mass EMP explosion, frying most of the circuits that provide power to Terra Nova and its technology. The members of the family and Commander Taylor are split up and each have to deal with different aspects of this, which sort of fits my prescription of how the family conceit could make the show work.
Which is not to say that they all work. The chief culprit against quality in Terra Nova this week is Maddy's storyline, as she sneaks off for a date with her hunky soldier suitor. I can't imagine a worse thing to say about anything than that it reminded me of the romance from Star Wars Episode 2, which is exactly what I'm saying about the opening of tonight's episode, as hunky soldier and Exposition Maddy exchange bromides in a flowery field. They're among the first to see the meteors and, oh dear lord, actually spend the night in a tree.
I suppose a blatant Jurassic Park homage beats an Attack Of The Clones homage, but both are just not interesting. It's televised relationship-building at its most insipid. And that's frustrating, because Maddy could actually have a good story: a repressed nerd and ignored middle child, coming of age in a world where intelligence is valued over conformity. Instead, we get a girl meeting a boy, and both being boring.
Skye's relationship with Josh is slightly better, thanks to the existence of a tiny amount of tension, but I still wouldn't hold it up as a model. I still like Skye as a character, though, and for the first time since the end of the pilot she actually has some screen time away from Josh. She goes along as her friend Hunter goes to the hospital when he has excessive indigestion, but that's quickly revealed to be a massive parasite that Elisabeth has to do an old-fashioned operation on. After the recent episode with Maddy trying and failing to work in the hospital setting, having Skye show up and competently handle the work provides a nice parallel and one that's relatively subtly handled by the show, since it's not directly mentioned. The surgery and parasite effect is also fairly fun, in a creepy/silly X-Files fashion, but also a good demonstration of the dangers of living in a new world.
Meanwhile, Jim and Zoe are off playing with new technology, which as Todd tweeted right as I was getting to watch and thus couldn't avoid thinking about, was basically an exciting future version of Wikipedia. I'm sure this magical room of knowledge will become important in the show's overarching plot and this was just a convenient way to bring it up, but it also served as a way for Zoey to become slightly more of a character and less of a symbol of hope. Giving her a fear of spiders isn't exactly in-depth characterization, and I doubt the "Go Away Spider" song will outsell Glee this week, but at least it was an attempt.
The most fun, however, came from the Taylor-Sixer plot, thanks mostly to it finally, finally, finally making dinosaurs a specific relevant part of the story instead of merely a random monster. The Sixers have a giant dinosaur they use as a diversion, guiding it towards the colony with torches and screaming. I'm not sure if this is what I want Terra Nova to be, but it's definitely a much better than the show's been. And I remain impressed with the action sequences; the fight choreographers and stunt doubles on this show might be the people doing the most/only consistently great work on the show.
There are still massive problems here. The conspiracy feels tacked-on, as do many of the familial interactions. The writing generally lacks imagination or spark. But this was the first episode since the pilot that made me believe that Terra Nova was on the right track toward realizing its potential instead of doing plots done better elsewhere.