This review contains spoilers.
After taking a break over the Christmas period, Primeval: New World returned this week in Canada, picking up pretty much straight away from where it left off in December. Coincidentally it returned in a new Tuesday night timeslot, the same day that the series is showing in the UK on Watch, with episode three debuting this week.
It’s interesting to watch New World as it debuts on this side of the pond as it still holds up to multiple views and, in fact, knowledge of the twist at the end of episode eight actually adds to the show. After seeing the episodes again, my thoughts on the series still stand when compared to the UK original but they’re nonetheless fun to watch a second time.
Returning to the newer Canadian episodes, we get a very 2001: A Space Odyssey opening with a group of skateboarders pulling off some neat tricks. Without fellow Canadian Avril Lavigne in sight, these skater boys see a creature moving beyond the trees and soon upload the helmet cam video to the internet, the footage appearing on a video site under the delightful title of ‘Freaking Real Dino’, where it comes to the attention of Toby who notes its increasing rise in hits and views and its potential implications for keeping their mission secret.
Breakthrough is an interesting and well set-up episode from the start and is actually one of the best episodes so far. The break seems to have re-invigorated the series and there are plenty of interesting plot strands set-up in this episode as well as previous ones discussed. It feels much stronger than the first half and would have given the previous episodes a boost if an episode of this quality had appeared mid-way through the original run.
Evan, to whom we return to post-credits, has more on his mind. Angelika has gone – she doesn’t appear at all in this episode – and the business is only just ticking along. Thoughts of her and an absent Mac bother Evan and only a chat with Dylan stirs him from his thoughts. The opening scene flickers between genius and plodding exposition, as we get some great consideration about the knowledge of the creatures and anomalies gaining a life on the un-censorable internet – something the fifth series of UK Primeval didn’t really cover after the T-Rex incident – but also some very clunky dialogue that attempts to sum up the main plot developments of episode eight. It’s nice to get a refresher of what happened but it was only five weeks ago, so unless you enjoyed a rather lot of alcohol over the season of goodwill, you would hardly forget the body in the freezer.
There are more subtle nods to previous events, though, such as the anomaly computer being down because of the bullet damage inflicted by Evan, but the opening passes well enough.
Arriving at the skate park, Evan and Dylan find the skaters the subject of admiration and providing plenty of autographs thanks to the arrival of local television crews. Fearing exposure, they go off on a hunt for classic favourite creature, the Triceratops. This is off-set with Toby back at Cross Photonics trying to get in touch with Lieutenant Ken Leeds for support in covering it up, only to find a brick wall in Lisa Merriweather, Leeds’ new assistant mentioned in previous episodes. She is a hard-faced woman and knows more than she lets on to Toby, and looks to be keeping secrets from Leeds himself, something that fleshes out the universe more and adds a little more mystery and intrigue to the New World melting pot.
Back at the investigation, Evan and Dylan follow the trail of destruction to the home of Howard Kanan, a rich, eccentric scientist that has had a run in with Evan previously. Though there is perhaps an element of coincidence in having them turn up on his doorstep, it does help establish Evan as not quite the hero we imagine with a question mark soon hanging over him whether he truly is the genius that he self-proclaims or whether he did his own little bit of industrial espionage to get where he is. Newly introduced Howard Kanan is a nicely drawn character, a withdrawn, bitter loner living off snack foods in his living room-cum-laboratory, trying to work out where things went wrong for him. There’s some fun banter between the two characters and, though it may be a riff on the typical hero and villain, it’s enjoyable and fleshes things out a little in an episode that is more about character and plot development and less about the monster of the week, a worthy achievement for the forty-five minute piece.
Dylan, meanwhile, has gone dino-hunting and finds the triceratops but also finds herself charged by the scared creature until she figures out, in a neat piece of out-loud thinking for our benefit, that it’s the colour red she’s wearing that’s antagonising him. Not before, though, the creature demolishes a shed and soaks Evan in a swimming pool, destroying the anomaly detector in the process, before Kanan witnesses the creature.
Back at Cross Photonics and Mac returns, his character back to its fun joviality but still with a bitter side from the events of the previous episode, and there’s some well-written discussion about the effects on time. They take a look at his frozen other-self and he asks Toby to investigate what the ARC is, which should tie the UK team nicely back into the story, and we already know from promo shots Connor is back for the final episode so it’ll be interesting to see where that goes from here. Mac also comes up with an idea to dampen the enthusiasm for the dinosaur story after the video goes viral and gets mirrored across sites, making digital containment possible. Toby, though, still finds herself unable to make progress past Lisa Merriweather.
Returning to the Triceratops, Evan reluctantly lets Howard team up with him to fix the anomaly detector and they share some great dialogue across the table, with the piece about the fates of their respective wives being particularly poignant. But, the big question raised through Howard’s characterisation, is can he be trusted? I’m not convinced.
With Mac’s fake triceratops revealed and the story discounted and labelled as a hoax online, it’s just a matter of getting the creature back through the anomaly, with a detector that’s only just about working after its quick fix. Whilst Dylan goes on the softly softly approach and begins to get food for it to lead it in a trail, Lieutenant Leeds – is it me or does he somehow look different in this episode? – appears out of nowhere with his army to tranquilise the beast, but is stopped to undertake a more peaceful containment by Dylan. Gustafson once more shines and he continues to be my favourite of the characters, with his dialogue, mannerisms and awkwardness, especially in the plant-gathering scene, a joy to watch.
But time is against them. Howard catches up with Evan to reveal he’s adapted a piece of technology he had to create a timer until the anomaly collapses, following their previous boffin-based discussion on how the holes in space and time decay. It’s a cracking piece of technology that is new to the series as a whole – it’s not something the UK team ever had – and will be very useful, though there is a big spoonful of sugar needed here as the timer works first time and handily shows a digital display of exactly how long is left before the anomaly closes, which just happens to be the narrowest of margins of two minutes. So it’s a race against time to get the dinosaur back through the anomaly – which they just manage – but in a good twist Howard leaps through the anomaly at the last minute and disappears into, presumably, the Cretaceous period. What will be happen because of his actions is uncertain but it’s a great new development for the series.
With the dinosaur returned to its own time and the video discounted as a hoax, there’s just time for a touching speech from Dylan on how humans have interacted with animals over the years – perhaps there’s a touch of Helen Cutter in her thoughts, though without too much malice – and a mysterious ending back at Project Magnet, with more evidence that Lisa is keeping things from Ken, plus a phone call by Ken to his boss.
Breakthrough was a great episode to restart the series after a mid-season break. It really is everything the series should have been much earlier. The first half was very hit and miss with three great episodes and five average ones, with little in the way of keeping the arc going. This episode felt much more satisfying with old threads sitting nicely beside some new twists and turns, and the new characters of Lisa and Howard adding some extra intrigue into the piece. The exposition at the start may have been a little clunky, the monster of the week underused against everything else going on and some of the leaps in logic and technology that allowed some of the plot points to progress a little unrealistically, but the way the internet works in relation to sightings was well delivered and needed tackling, especially after UK Primeval’s worldwide convergence, and the new plot strand of Howard Kanan certainly builds up more plotting, alongside the on-going and increasing weirdness at Project Magnet.
Episode nine was a great piece of drama with some humour, touching speeches and characterisation, and some very decent CGI, even if there was nothing too demanding. We learnt more about the characters, got some great new plot threads and old stories were brought back and justified.
I just hope, unlike the lack of arc-development and average episodes that followed the first episode, the final five continue in this vein of quality and don’t end up wasting the plot threads set up here. Build on these, Primeval: New World, and this last third of the series could redeem what was an average start before Christmas.
Read Philip’s review of the previous episode, Truth, here.
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