Primeval New World episode 5 review: Undone
The Primeval New World team is finding its footing in this mature, horror-inflected episode...
This review contains spoilers.
Episode five of Primeval’s Canadian spin-off and we get to an instalment that owes much to horror cinema. The action opens up onto a typical university campus in the middle of Frosh Week – the intentionally misspelt equivalent of our very own Freshers’, or welcome week – so there are lots of students ready to be picked off by the episode's creature. Like a horror film we're introduced to the stereotypes of a TV frat house – Radcliffe House – as they prepare to play a real-life game of capture the flag: there’s the bossy female house leader who picks on the “less cool” kids and there’s the naïve young blonde girl ripe for the picking... Over a thumping electronic beat the game begins and we're given several misdirections of a creature being present, from the opening line of “We mess this up, it’ll be the end of life we know it” referring not to the time-altering potential of the anomalies covered later but to the game, and various young jocks hiding in bushes jumping out on unexpected freshers. These are either witty tongue-in-cheek nods to the audience or cheap scares depending on your point of view.
But it’s not long before the creature does appear, a small canine-like Lycaenops, a dog-sized descendent of the Gorgonopsid, the very first creature to appear in the original Primeval. It’s not long before, in horror tradition, the naïve blonde girl is running across campus, chased by the foe, activating panic points but not actually answering them to get security over, instead deciding to half-heartedly whimper for help as she locks herself in a bike storage facility before the creature tries to make an attack for her but fails.
After a strong episode four, the writing appears on the surface to be taking a down-turn with a slightly clichéd set-up but this is an episode worth sticking with for what comes later. But if you watch it as a tongue-in-cheek horror film university cliché set-up there’s much to enjoy.
Post-credits, and we’re back at Cross Photonics and the stereotypes continue as we see Evan trying to solve a complicated maths problem by also trying to successfully shoot a ball, as if he’s trying to prove he’s got both brains and brawn in one of the most forced visual metaphors I’ve seen. But after a brief verbal sparring with Angelika we are at least given at least a bit of the more adult material with a slightly steamy shower scene between Mac and his girlfriend Sam where she proves to be a little on the manipulative side, and he hides the reason behind having a key around his neck. It's a nice pick-up of a plot line from a couple of episodes ago, and she is a character that permeates through the action of the episode, for good reason, in a clever piece of drip-fed set-up.
Back in the centre and Toby offers us more insight into the workings of the anomaly detector and how it reads cell phones, but also suffers delays due to a lack of server capacity, detail that was never really delved into in the UK original. It adds more plausibility into their set-up, which mirrors the feeling of UK series one with their use of the Home Office as a make-shift office and containment facility as opposed to the purpose-built ARC, adding a sense of rawness to the action.
Naturally, the plot device of the delay in crunching the data almost immediately comes into relevance as the machine finds an anomaly that opened thirty-four minutes previously on the University campus but has since closed and it’s off to the site for the team.
Attracted by the flashing activated security points, Evan and Toby discover Kate, the girl previously chased by the creature, being questioned by a disbelieving security guard who thinks she’s been the victim of a Frosh Week prank. The team, fitting in amongst students with their casual dress style, take in the area and become victim to the jocks-in-bushes in another false scare. They do, though, track down the creature thanks to Dylan, a torch, and her knowledge of predators. The POV shot of the creature is employed again, and this time Lycaenops sees the world with a red haze. It’s not long before they are after the creature and into a deserted library to continue the horror film stylings, with Evan, Toby, Dylan and Mac stalking the creature between corridors of books in a tense, well-constructed hunt to a spooky soundscape that builds the tension. The CGI from the creature in this early part of the episode is used sparingly in flashes here and there and, though the greyness of the creature in a dark setting is hardly visually exciting, its compositing and fur is well done.
We get the first great bit of interaction with the creature as it goes for Evan in a very realistically done jump-and-punch-away by the team’s leader. Mac’s alert to him may be a bit awkward but we do get more realistic dialogue from a group investigating a killer canine and the creature’s reaction to being Tasered is equally as believable. Undone is not as big on the CGI as, say, the last episode – though there is plenty of it – but what is there is exceptionally well done.
With nowhere to put the creature now the anomaly has closed it’s taken back to Cross Photonics to be temporarily stored there until a solution can be found, taken via the CGI-saving rolled up carpet trick and then in a van brought by the eager-to-please Sam, who is keen to find a place onto the team. Mac finds himself, in the series first gross-out joke, covered in animal urine but it’s not just a cheap laugh as we will find out later.
With the Lycaenops now tranquilised and stored in the back of a van in a loading bay – surely there would be a safer location? - Evan makes the decision to have it guarded by the two nightwatchman, Sam and other guard Bill who while away the night playing poker games whilst Toby tries to solve the delays in the detector.
With the team split between the campus and base, and with the anomaly briefly re-opening again to spit out a second creature, a slightly clichéd episode redeems itself in one tense, well-constructed scene. The captured animal, it seems, has a faster-than-expected metabolism and thus the tranquiliser doesn’t have the long-term effect on it Dylan hoped and it’s soon up and about. Whilst Sam is on the phone to a fawning Mac, Bill is approaching the van to investigate what is making the noise in a great don’t-open-it moment whilst Sam runs Baywatch style down an increasing number of corridors to get back to him. But it’s too late and in the most visually strong death scene in the series so far – and much more than we ever saw in the original series – we see the creature killing Bill.
But then we get an even more surprising twist. In a series that, unlike its competitor counterpart Doctor Who, Primeval has never been afraid to kill off cast members big and small and we see, in another tense moment, Sam fail to Taser the creature and has to run away but the safety of a called lift eludes her and the creatures pounces and kills her. Now, this certainly took me by surprise as Sam seems to have been set-up to have a longer story arc than this and her death at the hands of the creature comes out of the blue and is a well-done twist and redeems the more expected early elements of the show.
Naturally, her death leads to an emotional scene both from Evan, who realises his actions have led to the death of two long-standing colleagues, but also from Mac who says goodbye to his partner and places the key from around his neck into her palm – will this be significant? This also triggers the final third of the episode with Mac going on a revenge man-hunt to track down not only the creature that killed Sam but the second one – a larger male – that has followed the scent of the female’s urine on his shirt back all the way to Cross Photonics.
We now get another well constructed horror scene of chasing the creature around the building – a spin on the monster loose in their “safe” base that was employed several times in the UK original – with technology playing its part in the use of CCTV on tablet PCs. During this scene no one feels safe with Toby at one point in the line of fire and there is a fear that anyone could be killed off at any moment, but instead it’s Mac – after a shower-scene to give the viewers a little bit of eye-candy to enjoy and a neat slow-motion section that shows off the CGI – who shoots dead the creature, leading to an unexpected element of pathos from the episode as the second creature discovers the dead body of its mate and tries to coax it back to life in a touching scene that parallels Mac’s reaction to Sam’s body and, amazingly, helps us feel something for the creatures. That is until Mac shoots that dead too.
The episode does go a little Home and Away at the end with a montage of shots of the team dealing with the events to a heart-tugging indie-ballad soundtrack, though admittedly a very touching song: it may be a little cheesy but it works, showing especially how much impact the events had on leader Evan who seeks solace in the arms of Angelika while Mac comes to terms to the death of Sam and the episode fades out as the team reflect on what's happened.
Undone is an unusual beast to review. On the face of it, it’s a clichéd creature hunt without the depth of plotting of the UK Primeval but dig under the surface and it’s not as shallow as it seems. The horror-film stylings are done well both in the characters employed and the tense hunting scenes. The CGI in this episode is the most impressive so far and the interactions between the Lycaenops and the human cast flawless when they meet. Though the episode once more, like 1.3, doesn’t focus much on the overall arc, I think the only major failing so far of the series as it at times doesn’t feel like they’re heading for anything massive. There are still questions raised and elements touched upon: though Ken Leeds doesn’t appear, he is mentioned in a passing comment early on, and if there's no continuation of his creature-storing plot reveal, then there is a nice continuation of how they don’t know everything about the anomalies or how to track them, with plenty of detail there. A few questions are raised such as what the key that Mac gives Sam is for and a line briefly mentioned halfway through – where Dylan questions whether Evan knows more about the impact of killing creatures rather than returning them than he lets on – suggests there may be more to the frozen ARC member than we think, but I’m hoping these are both clues to something bigger and not red-herrings.
The death of Sam in the episode certainly comes out of the blue and lifts this episode up and though it curtails the plot arc of a character only appearing twice, it shows that no one is safe and we had enough of a connection with her for this to make an impact.
Adult-wise the series continues to step-up with much more death seen on screen and dealt with realistically and it was actually quite a mature episode once you got past the clichéd first ten minutes, with how the incidents affect Evan and Mac. PNW is also not afraid to mention how the deaths need to be covered up and what to do with the creatures so they do cover those bases.
Undone proves to be a surprisingly mature episode that balances the horror film stylings with some emotional and surprising developments that offset the more dodgy characterisation employed at the start of the episode, and continues a series that becomes more promising each week. It’s just a shame that it still feels, at times, like a series of one-off episodes rather than something glued together by one big over-arching plot, but the elements are coming together as the team find their footing.
Read Philip's review of the previous episode, Angry Birds, here.
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