For all this fourth season of Primeval has been an up and down experience for me quality-wise, I've got to give the writers and actors credit for delivering a strong season finisher with episode seven. This week's anomaly opens in an old prison that's been turned into a museum. I loved this set-up - with the iron bars and enclosed cells, the setting reminded me of something out of an old horror or haunted house flick.
The Ethan (Jonathan Byrne) and Emily (Ruth Bradley) storyline has been pretty poorly handled this season, and while I'm not surprised the whole thing turned out to be a giant red herring, I feel like the writers wrapped things up in the best possible fashion they could. Emily has been staying at the ARC offices until Ethan is found*, and she's warmed to the idea of making a new life for herself in the present. Bradley's handled the concept of Emily developing feelings for Matt with good grace, and I have to give her credit because goodness knows she hasn't had much to work with in the reciprocity department up to this point.
When Connor (Andrew Lee Potts), Abby (Hannah Spearritt) and Becker (Ben Mansfield) arrive at the prison, they discover there's something very strange about this anomaly - the locking mechanism won't hold (which Matt suspects has to do with Ethan's interference), allowing "terror birds" (i.e. overgrown ostriches that apparently eat people) to come through and run rampant throughout the prison. Terror birds has got to be the lamest name ever for a creature on this show, just sayin'. But we get an even BETTER surprise coming through the anomaly - DANNY (Jason Flemyng). He may look atrocious in a grubby flannel shirt and a mullet, but he hasn't lost his ATTITUDE! And he beats up terror birds with a big stick! That's the kind of devil-may-care attitude the show has been missing this season.
So, clever Ethan has apparently jury-rigged a simple radio to clue him into the location of anomalies, and so he inevitably shows up at the prison. In the firefight that ensues, he comes face-to-face with Danny and lo and behold we get this season's big reveal - Ethan is really Patrick, Danny's long-lost brother, first mentioned in season three, episode two! Honestly the Ethan/Patrick thing is more of an effort at continuity and thoroughness than I ever expected from this show, fairly impressive. However, the revelation that Ethan is Danny's brother proves that everyone, and I mean everyone, has been giving him way more credit for being an evil anomaly controlling mastermind than he deserved. While I can't begin to fathom the trauma being stuck in prehistoric times wreaked on Ethan/Patrick's fourteen-year-old mind, I also think it's an equally big stretch to have had his trauma translate into turning him into a timeline-hopping killer/madman. I'm sure there's a lot of truth to the idea that the more one kills, the easier it becomes, but to make the jump from killing animals for survival purposes to humans, and somehow doing all this because your big plot is to get back at your brother for abandoning you, is a bit ridiculous. Not to mention his obsession with killing Emily, but why not heap one more contrivance on an already convoluted plotline? *sigh*
Danny's big news (aside from discovering his brother is a nutjob that is) is that Helen Cutter somehow knew Philip Burton (Alexander Siddig), which puts Burton's activies and the whole "Prospero" project under suspicion (just in case you weren't wary of him already). *wink* By tying Philip to Helen Cutter and her apocalyptic aims for the destruction of mankind, Primeval is reaching for an ambitious, series-length mytharc. While I applaud the effort, and am very curious to see where things go in series 5 (especially since series 6 is not a foregone conclusion, given what I've read of the show's ratings battles), I do wish that the writers had been given more time to develop these ideas. However, there's no use I suppose in continually bemoaning the fact that too much gets crammed into too few episodes, and that qualm aside, this episode is a solid launching pad for the next spate of episodes due later this year.
The reason the prison anomaly wouldn't close was interesting, I thought - it makes sense in a weird sort of way that if two anomalies opened in the exact same spot that something extra strange would happen. The implications - that multiple anomalies, reacting against each other, could cause untold numbers of weaker portals to open, is a terrifying one, and I do dearly hope that the show doesn't squander the possibilities from this development later on. I love that it's Connor who figures out the double-anomaly mystery, and that he's the one to project the apocalyptic implications for anomalies, if they continue at their currently appearing trend. I even love the fact that he's still naive enough to take his findings to Philip - that fail, however well-meaning, balances out the great strides we've gotten to see Connor make throughout the show as an increasingly viable and valuable member of the team. Cutter would be proud. :) If the man's got to have a weak spot, it makes perfect sense that it would be his predisposition towards fandom that would place him in peril.
This episode was Matt's (Ciarán McMenamin) strongest outing to date as team leader. He seemed to exude genuine feeling for his teammates this episode, instead of just phoning it in. While I appreciate the fact that Matt was close to his father and dedicated to his (finally clarified) mission, what hooks me with a show are the characters and their relationships. And if someone's supposed to be heroic, dang it I want them to prove worthy of the adjective! Matt seemed genuinely interested in Emily's safety and her decision to stay or return home (one of the two anomalies at the prison is identified as her original time period, thanks to Connor's handy-dandy anomaly dating device!). The realization that Ethan is not the super-villain he'd thought also serves as a much-needed shock to Matt's system - he's not always right, and inspite of the elaborate subterfuge employed by his father to secure him the position on the ARC team, the real baddie has been operating right under his nose. When Emily and Matt say their goodbyes, thankfully the show doesn't stray into melodrama - instead there's a very subtle hint that they really like each other, but this just isn't going to work out. I found it a bit poignant but not overdone, nicely balanced, and McMenamin actually seems emotionally engaged for a change, which is a HUGE step in the right direction for his character.
*Side note on Ethan/Emily - Are we just supposed to take Ethan's apparently intense hatred for Emily has a sign that his deranged, or is there more to their story? I didn't quite buy the guy's drive to eliminate Emily as a carryover from his introduction. I'd like there to be more to their story, in part because I thought Emily was a much better addition to the core cast than other female members past and present (Jess, Sarah).
So, going forward, there are a few things I'd like to see happen in series 5. First and foremost, I would love to have Abby drop-kick Philip for daring to mess with her man. Second, I really, really, really hope Danny comes back. If his return in this episode was to merely pass on news of the connection between Helen and Philip, I am going to be CRUSHED. If Danny doesn't return, the whole Ethan/Patrick red herring of a storyline is just going to be ridiculous. (WAIT A SEC...googled Primeval series 5, and according to this article, we haven't seen the last of Danny OR Patrick! Woo-hoo!). The ARC desperately needs someone with Danny's energy and attitude...and if Danny returns in a bigger capacity for the back six episodes this year, I have high(er) hopes that the show could see a sixth series. Besides, Ethan needs redemption and Danny needs to be finally excised of the guilt he's carried with him over his brother's disappearance. Third point, now that I've sufficiently recovered (momentarily) for Jason Flemyng fangirl squealing, is that I really need to see Lester (Ben Miller) deck Philip for 1) being evil and 2) for MESSING WITH HIS FRIENDS! Because though he'd never admit it, Connor, Abby, Becker, and Danny are HIS PEOPLE, DANG IT! And fourth, but certainly not least, figure out what to do with Becker and Jess (Ruth Kearney) - separately, together, whatever, I don't care...but these characters will hopefully be better and more consistently served by the next six episodes. Becker's predisposition towards anger/angst this season has been way overdone. And while Jess's character has grown marginally less annoying as series 4 has progressed, she still feels completely unnecessary and superfluous to the team. The writers seem to have had trouble with female characters (see Sarah) except for Helen and Abby.
While series 4 hasn't been quite as consistently brilliant as I'd rank series 3, it's been so good to have this show back on my TV screen, if for no other reason than quality time spent with the likes of Andrew Lee Potts and Ben Miller is never wasted. :) The show is in a good position to finish the year strong with series 5 (I imagine we'll see premiere announcements this summer, maybe?), and I have high hopes those episodes will deliver.