'Terra Nova' Season 1, Episode 4 Recap - 'The Runaway'

'Terra Nova' Season 1, Episode 4 Recap - 'The Runaway' After a two-week sidetrack that had us dealing with killer dinosaur birds and crazy memory viruses, we're back to reality a bit with "Terra Nova." Or, as far back to reality as we can get on a show about a time portal to the past.

It seems that there just isn't enough meat to the main through-line of the show--namely the Sixers and the "truth" about Terra Nova--to warrant it more than a few episodes in this initial run. The Sixers have been touched on as a subject in each episode, but only briefly. That bartender that hired Josh didn't make a single appearance in this episode, so that never got followed up on. And for a seemingly serious and dangerous situation with a spy in their midst, Taylor and Jim seem awfully casual about figuring out who it is.

But the Sixers are back in "The Runaway," as the titular runaway is a young girl about Zoe's age by the name of Leah. Leah claims she ran away from the Sixers because she had to eat scraps and it basically sucked, so she tried to find the portal to go home. Sorry, kid... that portal's supposedly a one-way street, though apparently they can still send communications through. No, I don't understand it either.

Anyway, Leah is made to be quirky by not liking stuff. "Don't like shots," she says. "Don't like scraps." Huh, what a coincidence... I don't like you. Or this show very much right now.

Things pick up a bit when it turns out that Leah was a spy sent in to steal a hidden box (that two-timing ten-year-old!), which she does even when the clueless Shannons are so nice to her. Mira, leader of the Sixes, even put on a big pageant by kidnapping Washington and some other nameless soldier and attempting to make an exchange.

But when the ever-heroic Jim finds out that Leah only did it because Mira threatened to kill her brother, he goes out alone to find the Sixer camp and get the brother back. He then gets caught up in the most well-laid trap in the history of traps. How did they know he was going to stand on that exact spot?

Jim's imprisonment is short-lived, but it lasts just long enough for Mira to dangle some "truths" out in front of him without actually revealing anything important, while Jim growls "What's Terra Nova really about?" Mira's answer to that, by the way, is "You'll see."

Will we? Because so far we've been given nothing interesting to go on. Here's a hint as to why "Lost" worked: each episode there was a new piece of the puzzle, or else a new mystery related to the puzzle, that was introduced. You have to add information, even if it's unexplained information. Throw in a polar bear or a hatch if you must. But don't just tell us there's a big secret and then say "you'll see" for four episodes.

It seems as though there is the potential for three different shows here, each of which could be good:

One would be a family drama about the minutiae of daily life in this extraordinary setting. That show would focus more on Maddy's "courtship," though, and nobody wants that.

Another would be an action-packed show about the monumental challenges that face these pioneers as they try to make it in a hostile new world. Big dinosaurs. Swarms of birds. Deadly diseases. We've seen these as well.

The third would be an unraveling mystery, full of conspiracies about why the two tribes are there. The main conflict would be between Terra Nova and the Sixers, and there would be a secret about the whole operation that has yet to be revealed, but would be hinted at in small doses.

The first two could even be combined into one show. So could the second and the third. But when you have all three going at the same time, everything feels forced. There's just not enough time, so while we're focusing on the infiltrating Sixers we really don't give a crap about whether or not Maddy can make it through a day at the infirmary. Plus, we've been dealing with other huge, unrelated problems that have been deus ex machina-ed away at the end of each episode, never to be seen again.

There's time for the show to recover, but it's going to have to be focused from here on in. No more crazy outside threats that aren't Sixer-related. No more new characters from out of nowhere. And definitely no more Maddy than absolutely necessary.