TV Review: Primeval (1×05)

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It’s beautiful.

It’s worth considering what the anomaly represents in all of this.

On the surface, it’s a simple sci-fi plot device. Except, actually, it’s not. We associate time travel with science fiction, but there’s nothing about Primeval that marks it as such – particularly so at this point in the show’s development, when it’s at its most low-tech. There’s no scientific explanation of the anomaly – how could there be, really – and so it must be considered as something else.

The anomaly, then, is magic. It’s a portal to another world – glimmering, shining lights, representing a path into something otherwise cut off from us. How could it be anything else?

It’s more than that, though – because it’s an opportunity for grace. Repeatedly it’s been emphasised that the creatures from the anomalies are beautiful; the majesty of nature is perhaps the closest that Primeval has to any single overarching theme. The close of this episode is a scene of sheer jubilation for Cutter, Steven, Connor and Abby. And, notably, for Claudia.

When Claudia describes the Pteranodon as “beautiful”, after having been demanding to kill it for much of the episode, it’s an important point of progression in her character arc; the moment at which she moves away from the political world, embracing the natural side of things. Embracing that beauty.

Claudia’s prior stance, however, is not out of the ordinary – it’s not anomalous, if you will. It’s the same stance represented by people like Tom Ryan or James Lester; one of limitation, one of control, one of constraint. The grace of the anomalies is a liberating force, but it’s one that can only be considered an aberration in the world that Claudia Brown came from.

primeval anomaly 1x05 golf course sky helen cutter review

But then, there is more to it. The anomalies are also a representation of danger; more specifically, it’s a danger that’s always framed in terms of consumption. Akin to the ouroboros, the past is eating the present. To reassert the beauty of the past, the present must be cannibalised. Subsumed.

Arguably, you can see this carrying across the entirety of Primeval; any trips to the future have always affirmed the idea that humanity plunges the planet into a dystopia, leaving nature as a dead and barren wasteland. For all that Nick and his team think they’re helping, they’re not – they’re an extension of the bureaucracy represented by Lester and the government, ultimately forming a part of the same system that brings about the end. The dystopian future was always caused by attempts to control the anomalies, rather than letting them run their course – from the ARC in series 3, to Philip Burton’s later efforts as the series drew to a close.

This casts the anomalies in a different light again. Taken as a natural phenomenon, they should be understood as a response to humanity – the immune system fighting back. Primeval is, then, a fiercely environmentalist programme; it is, after all, quite literally depicting nature itself trying to reassert dominance over humanity – yet not through violence, but rather through beauty.

Certainly, this is the most obvious interpretation of later years of the programme; here, though, it’s less obvious. One could take the character Rex as a suggestion that humanity can live alongside this grace without corrupting it – and yet, consider what happens to Claudia Brown. In this episode, she finally understands the beauty of the anomalies; in the next, she disappears, to be replaced by a woman far more firmly entrenched in the world of bureaucracy than she ever was.

All of which, in turn, prompts an understanding of our main characters which is in fact far darker than initially appears. Hoping to preserve what they clearly acknowledge as beauty, the team instead become an eschatological archetype, engaged in a wholly futile fight against an unavoidable status quo. For all their attempts to engage with the grace of the anomalies, they are instead unwitting agents of the control they so often try to shrug off.

This then begs the question – by the standards of the programme itself, who is the real hero? Who is, fundamentally, in the right? The answer is obvious.

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Helen Cutter.

She’s the only one who has wholeheartedly embraced the anomalies, and, in turn, their liberation. Consider her introduction in the pool – entirely vulnerable, yet entirely at ease. Helen is at one with nature, and so Helen is the hero of the show. She’s the only one who understands the point of it all.

When viewed through this lens – ie, taking the anomalies as the centre of the show, rather than merely a plot vehicle to allow for prehistoric escapades – Primeval takes a very different stance. It becomes difficult to see our heroes as heroes, per se.

And yet, perhaps they still are.

Primeval, understood in this way, is a crushingly cynical programme. Yes, it’s about a reassertion of beauty in the face of the degradation of the natural world (consider the setting of each episode too – always an artificial version of nature) but it features main characters whose actions are fundamentally yet unknowingly at odds with their worldview, and ultimately posits that nothing can be done to avoid the end of the world – indeed, their very actions advance this dystopia.

However, our heroes always maintain a level of positivity and optimism – far moreso than Helen, who grows increasingly nihilistic as the programme goes on. It’s this nihilism that is ultimately the clearest argument from which to denounce her as the hero – for all that she initially embraces the liberation of the anomalies, her eventual slide into nihilism is surely incompatible with the beauty of nature that the series holds paramount.

Perhaps, then, the fact that the team were able to create their own beauty indicates they do understand the premise of the show after all.

7/10

Related:

Primeval reviews

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The impact of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and why it still matters

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It’s not exactly an original take on the matter to say that Buffy the Vampire Slayer was highly influential, if not pivotal, in terms of how television has developed over the past twenty years.

That does not, however, make it any less true.

Certainly, Buffy was groundbreaking in many key respects – many of the most popular television shows today owe a huge debt to Buffy, and may not have existed without it. In some regards, it’s a little bit like Isaac Asimov’s story about the woman who read Hamlet for the first time and said “I don’t see why people admire that play so. It is nothing but a bunch of quotations strung together”.

And yet despite how familiar certain aspects of the show have now become, Buffy still stands above them – after all, part of the reason why it was so influential was because of just how good it is.

For the 20th anniversary of Buffy on Friday, I wrote this short piece, celebrating the show and arguing why it still matters today.

This piece shall also be dedicated to my real life pal Robbie, who very much likes Buffy. I got him a book for his birthday once that compared Buffy to Hamlet, which I thought was quite clever, since we had exams on Hamlet coming up soon. I’m told he didn’t write his essay about all the ways Hamlet is like Buffy, but I don’t entirely trust his account of it all.

(Oh, huh, I just noticed that I referenced Hamlet in the above anyway. I bet that was for his benefit. Wow, I’m such a good friend. Presents and articles. What a blessing to have me in your life.)

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