Even with expectations duly lowered, Primeval's series 4 finale could only muster a subdued sigh from me. I think the truly frustrating thing about Primeval is watching a fantastic premise go to waste in the hands of writers who rarely deliver competent weekly stories, let alone effective plot arcs across a whole series. This year involved: a mysterious old man warning against doomsday, an enigmatic new member of the team, two rogue time-travellers from the 19th-century, and an inscrutable science maven whose company finances the ARC, but none of it coalesced into anything interesting or surprising. It's the kind of show where your own drifting imagination, trying to make sense of what each episode throws up, generally delivers more interesting theories than the show's so-called answers, which is an incredibly frustrating position to be in as a sci-fi viewer.
As ever, an anomaly opened in another auspiciously unpopulated area (an old prison that's become a tourist attraction), and the ARC team were called to investigate the glittery incursion. Abby (Hannah Spearritt), Connor (Andrew-Lee Potts), Becker (Ben Mansfield), Emily (Ruth Bradley), and various grunts descending on the penitentiary, later discovering a new type of anomaly that's able to spawn duplicates of itself that Jess (Ruth Kearney) can't detect separately. And through each unstable anomaly came some Phorusrhacids (aka series 3's "terror birds"), accompanied by former ARC hero Danny Quinn (Jason Flemyng), wearing a red checked shirt and clutching a giant bird's thigh bone like some bizarre fusion of a caveman and lumberjack. In addition, Ethan (Jonathan Byrne) returned, drawn to the abandoned prison by a makeshift anomaly-detector he's created, with the intention of escaping back through time.
There's really nothing to discuss about this finale from a storytelling perspective, as it was just another variation on the gang running around an empty location, clubbing and shooting giant animals while Connor spouted pseudo-science behind the anomalies. The only things of interested was how the show handled the return of Quinn and attempted to explain and resolve some of the year's big storylines.
To be mildly positive, I'm glad Flemyng assumedly found time in his schedule to return to Primeval, so the writers could explain his character's absence from the show, with a role that was certainly more worthwhile than last week's return for Lucy Brown. However, Quinn's comeback also felt like a slightly annoying way to explain Ethan's entire back-story in one messy swoop, when the story delivered its one major surprise: Ethan is actually Patrick Quinn, the 14-year-old brother of Danny who was lost through an anomaly in series 3's second episode. That reveal felt quite promising when it became known, partly because of its total unexpectedness, but then it grew less impressive when you started to question its logic. Why did Patrick changed his name to Ethan? Why has he spent the past 18-years convinced his older brother left him behind to die? In addition, the explanation for Ethan having become a callous murderer was reduced to the suggestion a lifetime spent slaughtering prehistoric animals has given him the distorted belief that all life is cheap, and that extends to humans. Really?
Quite how a 14-year-old managed to locate other anomalies and, at some point, arrived back in the late-1800's and allied himself with Emily to journey through time together, was glossed over. Why would Emily spend time with someone like Ethan? It's mentioned that she was a bride-to-be, for no apparent reason, unless she's due to return for series 5. And what was Ethan's plan in the present, beyond visit his family home last week and realize he doesn't belong in this time anymore?
The late Helen Cutter was an infuriating character for other reasons, but you at least knew she had access to future technology that gave her command of the anomalies, but how could a young boy and a Victorian woman come to have developed similar mastery of these anomalies? None of it makes sense to me, and I'm pretty sure Primeval's writers know it doesn't make sense, too. Will they manage to explain the plot holes during series 5? Maybe so, but this isn't a show that gives me enough solid, logical answers to have faith in that. I'm still unclear about many things regarding Helen Cutter that Primeval had three years to clarify, but didn't manage to.
By the end of this finale, a popular theory that Matt (Ciarán McMenamin) is from the future was proven true, although nothing that happened here had any bearing on his mission to prevent a future apocalypse that will force mankind to live underground a scorched surface. Emily also vanished into an anomaly leading back to her own time, making you wonder what the ultimate point of her character ever was. The intended Matt/Emily "lovers across time" vibe just didn't work, not helped by zero chemistry between the actors and the broad failure of McMenemin to assume the mantle of the leading man. In fact, with the effortlessly more charismatic Flemyng on hand for this finale, clubbing giant ostriches around the beak with a giant leg bone, it reminded me just how much Primeval needs an actor like him at its heart. Most of the cast play the material so straight it's ridiculous, as if they think this is deep sci-fi and not just a knockabout excuse to show some antediluvian monsters running around modern times. For me, there's a reason series 3 was the best year of Primeval, in hindsight: it killed off the restrictively somber Douglas Henshall, and gave us Jason Flemyng battling a Gigantosaurus with a helicopter.
Overall, this was a tepid finale that didn't really end any of its storylines in a very compelling way, and ultimately found a way to put some of the bigger questions on the backburner. Matt still doesn't know who causes the anomaly-based global disaster, but it's likely to be Philip's (Alexander Siddig) company Prospero, because it's revealed he knew Helen Cutter, and it looks like Connor's becoming the Anakin Skywalker to Philip's evil Emperor. I get the impression a lot's been left open intentionally, because the producers knew they have the luxury of a fifth series (which has already been filmed), so hopefully they manage to pull this together for some decent pay-off.
What did you think of series 4, ultimately?
written by Paul Mousley / directed by Mark Everest / 5 February 2011 / ITV1/HD