Continuously opining, intermittently publishing.

Did we make the right decision?

Posted by oshane | Leave a comment at the end of this post.

I decided to start watching Terra Nova today on hulu+ and saw the first episode this evening.

Spoiler: The show first introduces a couple with three children living in a dystopian future 200 years from now. There is a cutscene that shows the Earth from the moon (cf. Earthrise), but instead of a picture of the cerulean verdant world we live on now, we see a sandy desert wasteland from space (cf. Dune). Pollution, over-population, and habitat destruction&#8212the liberal trifecta of red herrings that supposedly will lead to our doom (but a workable plot device)&#8212have made the Earth almost uninhabitable. People generally have to wear breathing masks and society is governed by a security state.

It becomes apparent that having more than two children is illegal because of Malthusian policies put into place by the fascist government. Upon a warrantless search, the police discover the third child that the couple tries to hide. The father, fearing that she will be taken away from them, attacks the police. They subdue him, and the criminal enforcement system sends him to a long maximum security prison sentence. Apparently hitting a cop and having a third child are maximum offenses. It is poetically notable, also, that there is no depiction of a trial.

Fast forward some years, and his wife comes to visit him in prison. We learn that society has found a way to overcome the problems plaguing Earth, by sending pilgrims through a one-way time fracture 85 million years into Earth’s prehistoric past&#8212a place of environmental perfection and hope (sunshine and breathable air). The wife is a well-educated well-trained highly sought doctor. She informs her husband that she has been recruited to this prehistoric colony, Terra Nova, and that their first two children are allowed to go but that she can’t take the third child, since that would be “rewarding illegal behavior.” Obviously her husband is prohibited from going. She has already, however, hatched a plan to abscond with her husband and smuggle their daughter so they can live in the past as a family. Through a bit of hidden planning and a small portable plasma cutter, the father/husband escapes, is almost outed near the time-portal to the past, and as his family is going through the portal, he makes a break for the time gate and throws himself through, ensuring his permanent freedom and his family’s reunification.

They have no way of returning to the dystopia they have always known. And the government has no way of retrieving “stowaways.” Certainly they will face new challenges adjusting to their environment, dinosaurs, life in a small colony that survives with advanced technology, and a new micro-culture. But, the day they arrive into this new world, the wife asks her husband whether they have “made the right decision?”

I was floored. She successfully reunited her family, ensured that the terrible government that was oppressing their ability to freely choose how to create their family (three children) could no longer oppress them, and rescued her husband from a maximum security prison and a lifelong status as a convicted felon for actions that should hardly be considered crimes. It is harder to know what the worst part of 22d century Earth was&#8212the environmental decline or the totalitarian centrally planned security state (I mean, even the people allowed to go through the time fracture were chosen by the government, so it’s evident the government was in maximum control). The former doomed civilization. The latter made the last days of civilization unbearable.

Of course they made the right decision! Clearly this decision is the plot device underpinning the TV show, and the tension caused by the decision to travel in time from the future to the past, and further tensions that will arise over the course of their lives are what will make the story interesting or not. Thus, it is possible the writers were intentionally explaining the crux of the story. But still, doing so directly made the tension too obvious, taking way sophistication the show could have displayed. And, using the vapid question, “Did we make the right decision?” made the show almost incredible.

Truly, they are not quite free, because they arrived into a micro-culture that is run as a top-down command-central tribe, but at least they could leave the gates if they wanted to. They remain in Terra Nova voluntarily, because that society offers them better benefits than slumming it with the dinosaurs, but at least the choice is meaningful, precisely because they can walk outside the gates and never return if they decide that is a better choice. Meanwhile, the family gets to be together. The children grow up with a father. And they are free from the clutches of the security state of the year 2149.

The question, “Did we make the right decision?” may have been more meaningful after a host of episodes in which they suffer and repel constant attacks, deal with disease, plague, and misfortune (I haven’t watched beyond episode 2, so I do not yet know what befalls them). At least at that point, one could understand the question as much as one could identify with the murmuring of the Israelites to return to the Egypt they had known out of fear for the wilds of the desert. When you are beset by the vagaries and tragedies of the wilderness, the temptation to trade its liberty for security becomes a more palpable tension.

But to ask the question so soon after a heroic, exhilarating exodus was not just bad writing, it inexcusably glossed over how terrible the future civilization was. Maybe that’s because we’ve all gotten so used to an increasing number of controls that the show’s writers didn’t even think twice about the absurdity of the comparison.

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