[Review] - Primeval: New World, Season 1 Episode 5, "Undone"

Courtesy of Impossible Pictures
I didn't care for my review of the previous episode. I wrote it, I rewrote it, and stared blankly at the screen, trying to think of something to say about an episode that inspired nothing in me. So I posted what I had because I didn't want to post nothing. Looking back at my thoughts for the first four episodes of Primeval: New World, it all just seemed like so much of the same.

When it came to Eureka and Warehouse 13, I was able to work myself into a lather each week because I knew those shows were better then their recent seasons turned out to be. With Primeval, I don't have that cushion. All I have is the continuous mediocrity. It's not even bad television, it's just lazy. If it were insultingly bad, it might actually have some merit, if only mockingly. But from week to week, I'm left uninspired, and have to resort to the same "no character development, poor plotting, etc." arguments that, frankly, have become boring. I tired of writing that stuff, and I'm sure if anyone is reading these reviews, you're tired of reading them. I might as well just make a mad lib review, so I can sub out the creature's name, and keep everything the same.

I say all this because, despite living by the Swanson code (never half-ass two things; whole ass one thing), and have stuck to the idea that once I start reviewing a series, I'm sticking with it through the entire season, I was ready to give up on this one. The show wasn't improving, it was just stagnate, and I wasn't being challenged by it, as either a viewer or a writer. This preface was meant to be an apology to myself for giving up, and a promise to anyone who might be interested that it wouldn't happen again. This show nearly beat me.

Instead, it surprised me. Properly surprised. And did so by turning out a genuinely good episode. An enjoyable episode. An episode that proves this show has it in itself to be better then it has been. The trick will be keeping it at this level, which I'm not convinced it can.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that also hunt in pairs.

First the creature, which I have to say I am relatively ignorant about. The Lycaenops was indeed a reptile which looked and (was thought to have) behaved more like a mammal. It was certainly built more like modern mammals then anything before, or after for a good long while, which I put down to the niche-favouring nature of, well, nature. It lived well before mammals. Or dinosaurs, for that matter, around 260 million years ago. And thus ends my knowledge of the Lycaenops. What I do know is that this show needs to stop, and I mean immediately, referring to any creature that predates the Ice Age as a "dinosaur." That is not a catch-all term, it is very specific classification. It would be like referring to every living creature today as a "mammal." If someone did that you'd think they were an idiot of the highest order. Lycaenops were no more a dinosaur then I am. So don't call them that.  
As for the episode, despite a rocky third act, this is what I've been saying the show should be, from the start. From the first scene with Cross (yes, I even picked up a few of their names) doing maths and football, it felt different. The characters weren't being forced towards an end. The dialogue sounded genuine. Despite the fact they still haven't had anything for her to do, the CFO was relatable, and her interactions with Cross felt like those you would have with a friend and co-worker. The same went for Mac and Sam (names!). Despite seeing next to nothing of their relationship, you immediately understood their connection to each other. When she first appeared a couple weeks ago, I said Sam was more developed and interesting then any of the main cast, and she continued that trend in this episode. Her manipulations of Mac, her clear, focused motivations, and the fact that the actress knocked it out of the park, with the half-giggles later on when she is called into the field, made her seem like a real person. Someone you can relate to. And mourn for (more on that later).

The improvements continued into the beast-of-the-week plot. It was tight, tense, and lacked any of the unnecessary embellishment that has been a stone around the ankle of the series from the get-go. I especially liked the continuing debate between the cast, each position based on experience and development rather then the force of the writer's hand, about what to do with the creatures. An ethics debate, on an adventure show! Good gods, it's a sign of intelligence! Though, the sudden interest in causality rung a little empty, considering how many creatures, and how nonchalantly so, they've killed over the past four episodes. But that doesn't matter, because at least it's a discussion that relies on them thinking individually, and creates actual tension among the group (Dylan - another name! - remains the least realised character, but I'm starting to think it has more to do with the actress then the writing).

Which brings us to the issue of death. Death as a plot device, as a means of creating tension, is not new. It is, in fact, cliche. However, it can be effective, if used with a deft touch. And while nothing in the previous episodes suggested the show was capable of that, they pulled it off. I'm going to give full credit to writer Sarah Dodd. The whole scene was played perfectly, building and building, and I honestly thought Sam was going to get away (her death seems less necessary considering Cross earlier and Mac later push one of the creatures out of the air, mid jump, like a sack of pre-poped popcorn). Sam was likable enough that, when the teeth came down, I was immediately disappointed. I felt the loss. To be clear, I haven't felt anything for this show, and certainly nothing for anyone on the show. But I felt her death, and later I felt the effects it had on everyone. And this was from a minor character who hadn't even really interacted with anyone else in the cast. I doubt I would have cared as much if Tech Girl had bit it (damn, so close with the names). This very show has tried this before, in the pilot, with the Animal Control guy, and failed on every level. They tried all the same tricks, and it backfired on them because, and I said this at the time, it had no context. It should have been saved for an episode of two in, when we had time to build a relationship with these people. Now, the trick is not to do it again. They tried once, got a mulligan, tried again, and it worked. But leave death alone for a while.

The only let down was Mac's reaction very heavy handed, with the eyes, then the hands, then the key. You pushed it too far, show. You got greedy. And the hunting down of the creatures resulted in the show-standard stupidity rearing it's ugly head again, with the taser being set down, despite there being a lizard-wolf on the loose, and keeping backs turned to open doors, and that sort of nonsense. But the rest of the episode was such a marked change, I was willing to overlook the slow creep of the past back into the script. To stave off this creep, keep the focus on the characters. The animals are macguffins, not the focus. Let Mac's grief and anger be the villain for a while. Let Cross' self doubt corrupt his cocky facade. Let Dylan do... something interesting. Help me remember something about the Tech Girl other then she's apparently bisexual (and points for not playing that one too heavy handed. Best to leave it alone for a while too, or risk the overshadowing nature of fan service). And get Dodd to write more episodes. She's done a better job then anyone else.

Oh, and anyone who thought the section of the library they hunted the creatures in at the beginning was some obscure library science joke, it wasn't. DA70 is British military history. An obscure library science joke would have had them in the QH or QL section. You're welcome, librarians.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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