The last four episodes of season five of Primeval are some of the best the series has produced.
Episode 5.3 sees the return of Emily thanks to a rather unlikely set of coincidences. When the team accidentally sends a dinosaur back into the 1800s, Matt goes after it and meets her again. The plot is confused, with some idea that she is pretending to be a murderer going by the name of Spring Heeled Jack in order to cover the raptor’s killings. You do wonder why though. Nonetheless it allows the production an opportunity to move into a rich period setting while the duo debate what they should do. The hurly burly of Victorian life is well captured in these scenes.
Meanwhile Abby is trying to copy the work Connor is doing so she and Matt can find a way to stop him. Their agendas clash with their feelings for one another but writers Paul Mousley & Gabbie Asher don’t quite manage to translate it into anything much. And it does seem unlikely there would only be the one camera on such an important room.
In the end, Emily is back in the present and should be an asset to the cast; Ruth Braadley manages to catch her conflicting feelings well The episode climaxes with Connor’s machine- which seems to have been built in a very short time- working and creating an anomaly with suitably dramatic music to match. The scripts do seem to be effectively creating an ongoing story with a real sense of purpose.
5.4 is one of those episodes you might feel uncomfortable with bugs because there are hundreds of them, swarming out of the newly created anomaly and eating their way through the reinforced concrete walls. Very effective CGI effects and some off putting audible ones makes this threat seem more real than some and much of the episode is a series of set peices as the cast try to defeat these creatures.. With the team trapped in the building- and Burton ready to destroy them all- the tension is well played. A bristling script gives everyone plenty to do and director Helen Raynor’s busy cameras add to what is a gripping instalment. With the loyalties of everyone tested, there are also some of the best character moments of this series so far.
The season- and perhaps the entire series- leads to a thrilling finale. By any criteria the best two episodes Primeval has delivered in its history manage to pull together plot elements stretching back to season one while providing a dynamic climax to this season. The two parter opens with the team determined to stop Philip Burton’s New Dawn project. What the writers have grasped, perhaps from watching rival shows, is that a finale does not necessarily have to complex nor introduce hitherto unknown elements. It needs to be edge of the seat exciting. Episode 5 in particular is a masterclass in how to do this.
The format is basically no more (or less) than a series of action beats in which at the last possible moment, the rug is pulled from underneath the protagonists. There’s a T Rex stalking the streets, itself a well staged sequence considering the show does not have the biggest budget in the world, there’s a plan to stop New Dawn, Connor is trapped underneath an upturned vehicle after he fails to stop Burton, there’s another plan to stop New Dawn which is foiled, then another, then another. Anomalies open up all over the world leading to chaos. It sounds like a mess, but every sequence is choreographed so well and edited so sharply that it becomes a series of thrills that you would normally associate with the end of a film. The way this episode ends brings out the very best from the cast.
Surely episode 6 can’t match this? Well actually it can , maintaining the rollercoaster effect while broadening the threat; with the man made anomaly now growing out of control and three of the team stuck in a desolate far future (again superbly visualised). There seem to be few options left to resolve the danger to the whole planet. Not only that but Lester and Jess are trapped in a deserted Ark in the company of those future predators.
Perhaps realising that if they let up for a moment, we’d guess the end, the writers continue to throw in new jeopardy and tension but this is underpinned by some strong character moments even from , yes, Matt who till now has been such a thinly sketched character that Ciaran McMenamin has been starved of enough material to make an impact. Here finally he does and gets the final heroic moment that again keeps you guessing, and provides an end of episode teaser for a next season that doesn’t now look as if it will happen.
For all the cast this is an opportunity to show what they can do and everyone delivers. It seems a tad unfair to single anyone out but Alexander Siddig’s Burton finally becomes a more rounded character whose motivation is stronger for us to appreciate. It might have been better had some of this been brought through earlier but it gives both the actor and character their strongest moments. Another aspect that works well here but was too sketchy in season 4 is the way that Burton’s work inspires Connor and there is almost a paternal relationship there. This plays out strongly in these two episodes and even at the end Connor is wanting to go back and save Burton. For Andrew Lee Potts these episodes provide him with some of Connor’s best moments. Of all the characters his is the one that has changed the most from when we first met him.
It’s been a shame that Ruth Keaney has been under-used, mostly stuck in front of a multi screen console but here she proves what a good character Jess is. Most of the others have necessarily become au fait with rampaging dinosaurs so it is refreshing that she remains frightened of them ; the atmospheric scenes where she and Lester are alone in the predator infested Ark building are very effective. Ben Miller again relishes the chance to do some action but always undercut with humour.
The future of the series is once again in doubt; there is talk of a more adult version which would inevitably seem like a different series anyway and it sounds as if they would want to use a totally new cast. If this really is the end of Primeval. as we know it, the team has gone out on a triumphant high.