Sunday, 30 January 2011


Sunday, 30 January 2011

After last week's relative triumph, it was back down to earth with a bump for the penultimate episode of what's been a disjointed, frustrating comeback year for Primeval. The only indisputable success has been the enhanced quality of the CG (by virtue of the show's upgrade to HD), even if the creatures still rarely look like they exist in their environments or interact believably with the actors.

This week, an anomaly was detected at a stately home, so Matt (Ciarán McMenamin), Connor (Andrew-Lee Potts) and Abby (Hannah Spearritt) were sent to investigate, with time-traveller Emily (Ruth Bradley) tagging along under Matt's supervision. Arriving at the site, the team realized a group of Hyaenodon's (prehistoric hyenas) have been let loose in the building, which is currently the venue for a lavish wedding. And, coincidentally, the bride-to-be was none other than former ARC member Jenny Lewis (Lucy Brown), who it's revealed has kept her dino-fighting past a secret from milquetoast fiancé Michael. Meanwhile, Becker (Ben Mansfield) was tasked with hunting down errant Victorian desperado Ethan (Jonathan Byrne), eventually discovering his warehouse hideout, but finding himself in a precarious situation when he blundered inside and tripped one of Ethan's booby-traps. Fortunately, Jess (Ruth Kearney) was available to help him defuse Ethan's bomb, having accompanied her beloved Becker on his stakeout.

Unsurprisingly, this was another Primeval formula of "unusual setting" + "primitive beasts". The location and Hyaenodon's didn't offer anything terribly compelling, however, and to be honest the episode struggled to make this situation work. Why would Jenny want her big day to go ahead, if she's been made aware by her former colleagues that there's a pack of ravenous Hyaenodon's on the premises, who could easily attack and kill one of her guests? Why were the ARC team willing to go along with Jenny's idea of quietly continuing their mission without interrupting proceedings, knowing the clear risk to human life? And why did Abby and Emily seem to forget themselves and join Jenny for an impromptu girl's night in, before slipping on some slinky dresses and becoming part of the wedding ceremony the next morning? It also stuck out as being very rude of Jenny not to have invited Abby, Connor and Lester (Ben Miller) to her wedding to begin with, and the episode suffered from its chronic budget issues of being unable to populate any location with characters beyond the regulars. The sense of peril was therefore drastically reduced, as the wedding guests seemed to vanish into thin air until they were required for a few brief scenes.

This isn't croquet, this is "Extreme Croquet"
Putting aside the myriad nitpicks of this episode, it was mildly enjoyable to see the lovely Lucy Brown make a guest-starring return, despite the fact her drippy character was never very interesting and did nothing here to dissuade me otherwise. Jenny's relationship with Michael could have been the emotional backbone to the episode (a storyline about a woman keeping secrets from her betrothed), but it wasn't written to a standard that made this anything but a stock situation. Superficially, I guess it was nice to see Emily and Abby looking rather fetching in figure-hugging dresses, getting to work together as a mace-wielding duo during a Hyaenodon attack.

The subplot with Ethan continued to shuffle along, even though this is the penultimate episode and I was hoping for some clarity. The mystery of his character has been spoonfed ineptly, as I'm just puzzled by his behaviour and motivation. The clues each episode gives us about Emily/Ethan are so ambiguous, it's as if each writer doesn't know what's going on either but have been told to include certain things. I just hope next week's finale explains why someone so disturbed was travelling through time with Emily, and what his backstory is -- but to have reached this stage in the series without knowing Ethan's goal is just bad writing. It's impossible to care about him because we have no idea who he is, what he's doing, what he wants, or what he's planning. We're just told by Emily he's a threat and have to make sense of his actions (trying to kill Emily, setting booby-traps at a warehouse lair, visiting what appears to be his family home and getting recognized by an elderly neighbour, etc.) It seems likely that Matt and Gideon (Anton Lesser), who was unsurprisingly revealed to be his father, are time-travellers from the future, on a mission to stop Ethan instigating an apocalypse using the anomalies, but the show's target audience of 10-year-olds must be totally confused. Doctor Who does a far better job of gently unspooling its year's mytharc.

What did you think? I know Primeval splits opinion; some people lap up the cheesiness and creature capers, others gnash their teeth at the illogical plots and weak characterization. It rarely hits a happy medium for me, and series 4 has been especially hamstrung with its mishandling of characters and unclear mytharc.

WRITER: Matthew Parkhill
DIRECTOR: Robert Quinn
TRANSMISSION: 29 January 2011, ITV1/HD, 7.20PM