One of the things I adore about tv shows with the episodic style to them are sub-plots. While I do like episodes to focus on the A plot, I love seeing a B plot going on, and sometimes I don't even mind a C plot. The Primeval tv series is no exception to this rule, of course, but there is a difficulty here with this. The series consists of a number of episodes per Series (what Americans call "Seasons") of roughly 6 episodes or so (Series 3 was exceptional, with a total of 10 episodes), and you can't do a lot of character development and story arc-style plots with such a short run of episodes. Well, you can't do them all that effectively, at any rate. So far, Series 4 of Primeval has been plagued with this problem, especially in the character development area, as with the introduction of three new characters, and then another two characters in Episode 3, the series just hasn't been able to get its focus down right. This episode was no exception.
This story has one major plot, and two sub-plots going for it. I'll cover these in order.
First off, there is the major plot of the incursion of the creatures at the high school. This plot takes place at McKinnon High School on a Saturday, with three students (one female and two male) suffering detention under the watchful eye of a teacher who...well, let's just say that I didn't find the guy in the role all that believable for some reason, and was glad that he got offed by the beasties of this episode early on. However, since when do schools hold detention on Saturdays? And since when do these same schools still allow snack machines? Also, while I understand the tightening of security in schools, since when do they have security systems designed to lock the kids in? And why the heck did no one put the gym equipment away before everyone left for the weekend? Sheesh! The beginning of the episode had echoes of The Breakfast Club (one of the movies that I still like), and while this wasn't necessarily a bad idea, it could have been executed a bit better.
That said, the beasties, the Therocephalians, for this episode were very well done, and absolutely scary and horrifying, especially after the realisation by the ARC team about their venomous properties, and I really felt sorry for the female student who got killed in the gymnasium, and even sadder for Jess Parker, who had to watch the whole thing on the monitor screen back at the ARC. Her feeling of helplessness was etched on her face rather well, and her realisation about the nature of the creatures that come through the anomalies was well handled, without her having to utter a word. I shared the horror that Becker and Matt felt at the realization in the area where the anomaly had manifest when there were dozens of the Therocephalians around, and have to say that I loved the action sequences, as they used the new EMD weapons to take them down over and over again. I was horrified when the Therocephalian leapt onto Becker's back, and thought that he was a goner for sure, though I was relieved with his saving and all, but for one minor thing.
There were a couple of problems with this storyline, however. First off, what the heck is going on with ARC security? How silly/dumb can this organisation be, sending the team out yet again without any security back-up? Where the heck are the security forces that are supposed to work for the ARC? What is going on here with the empty ARC facility itself, and so few people in its employ? Does this have to do with Burton's screening process? It bothered me that both Matt and Becker at some point in the story called Jess and asked for back-up, and yet there's no back-up. I'm not sure about her in her capacity as field co-ordinator any longer, to be honest. The second thing was the science aspects of stuff. I'm still not sure why Matt thought that stuffing some salt in Becker's wound would help, so perhaps someone out there can offer some thoughts on this. I also didn't feel that content about the business with Connor and the two students making the chemical bombs that they used on the Therocephalians, and how Connor knew that they would be effective. Not that I'm not grateful about this, given that Matt and Becker survived, but still...
The second story and first sub-plot was the business with Burton wanting to destroy the creatures in the ARC menagerie, and Abby not being willing to stand for this. This plot was much more entertaining and fascinating to watch it play out than the main plot in a lot of ways, and the interactions of Abby/Burton, Abby/Lester, and Abby/Jess were very well handled, and showed some distinct relationships developing between the various characters. I honestly liked the bit between Abby and Jess where Jess was going to help her, but then came the sequence when the girl at the high school was killed by the creature, and Jess told Abby that she couldn't help her get the menagerie creatures out due to her getting a wake-up call about the creatures from the footage that she watched on the monitor from the school of the girl's death. I'm not sure if this now firmly puts Jesse in Burton's camp or not about that, and other stuff, but Jess definitely bears watching. What impressed me about the plot was that it was refreshing in two ways. First, Abby's impassioned pleas about saving the animals in the menagerie came across very much as if she's channelling Nick Cutter, and second, Lester's actions in helping Abby out by pointing out to Burton the bad spin that would come about by destroying the menagerie once the anomalies become public knowledge was just priceless. I've really come to like Lester even more in this fourth series of the show, and am just sad that his role has been reduced so much because of the introduction of the new characters. I also liked the fact that the writer and show producers gave the viewing audience both sides of the animal debate, but I tend to favour Abby's view, that it's not the creatures' fault that they ended up in the modern day. That said, I can also see Jesse's side (and Burton's, I guess) view that these creatures are dangerous and the whole point of the ARC is to protect people from what comes through the anomalies. I suspect that this whole storyline isn't quite done yet, even if Burton has relented in the matter for now. And the fact that Connor defended Burton in this business has created a somewhat large rift between Connor and his love, Abby.
The third plot of the story was the whole Emily/Ethan/Matt stuff that is continuing to unfold. While this plot played a very minor role in the episode, there are some telling moments in this bit. The kidnapping of Emily by Ethan towards the end of the episode, and Matt's returning to find her gone, obviously set up stuff for the next episode, I hope. Add in the mystery of Matt's telling Connor and Becker that he couldn't remember going to school at one point, and that just deepened the mystery surrounding Matt, and made my thoughts on Matt's origins clearer. One sticking point for me is Matt's trust in Emily. This is getting to the point of the ridiculous, given what I suspect to be his origins, and I have to say that sometimes I feel as though he's being played for the fool by her. That said, What did Emily do with the tracker that she took from Matt's place? And what does Ethan want with Emily? Part of the problem that I'm having with the Emily and Ethan storyline is that I'm feeling (and it's only two episodes in) that it's being somewhat...dragged out. We'll see if my impression of this holds up after next week's Episode 5.
That said, I really liked the episode for the most part. It had a good deal more wit and excitement to it than there's been recently in the episodes of the show, some interesting bits of characterisation, but there was something else. I rather liked the fact that the episode drew on earlier stories in the series in regards some of the plotting - a monster incursion at a school (Series 1, Episode 1); a child/children in detention with a teacher being attacked, and the monsters breaking through shut doors (Series 1, Episode 1); climbing all over furniture to keep out of the creatures' way (Series 2, Episode 2); a team member watching a person die, but not showing the death (Series 2, Episode 7). There were probably other bits that I missed in this regard, but it was nice to see Primeval borrowing bits from earlier stories and giving them a new angle. On the flip side of the coin, I find the writing to be somewhat shoddy this Series, and this episode was no exception to that rule. The business with ARC personnel and security (highlighted by the fact that there was no back-up team at the school for Matt, Connor, and Becker) and the whole idea that Abby thought she would actually get away with smuggling the menagerie animals out of the ARC, even with Jess's help.
While I did like this episode overall, there are some problems with it (a couple of which I've already mentioned). Add to that list... The timing of this episode bothered me and was somewhat sloppy. Because of the conversation between Matt and Emily, this episode must take place the day after the events of Episode 3. However, this also means that it's the day after Connor called Burton an idiot, and yet here he is defending him to Abby on the subject of killing the creatures in the menagerie. This doesn't strike me like Connor at all, especially when it comes to allowing Rex to be killed, and I can only conclude that his hero-worship of Burton is clouding his sense of judgement, and is starting to de-rail his relationship with Abby. Sad, but true. And where the heck are Sid and Nancy in all this? (Hmm, maybe Lester took them home with him and is keeping them?) Finally, there's the Dublin substituting for London business. I'm starting to find this particularly annoying, as firstly, Dublin does not look anything at all like London based on what I know of the two cities, and secondly because of the number of Irish accents in the series these days. Just...tiresome.
So, that's it for Episode 4. Three more episodes before Series 4 wraps up. *sigh*
Comments and thoughts always welcome, as per usual. :)