Primal : Season 2
Might contain spoilers.
The long-awaited return of Genndy Tartakovsky’s masterclass in animation is a little childish to start with but quickly finds its way back to awe-inspiring coelacanths and oversized megalodons in the middle of a nightmarish scenario that inspires empathy and awe for the very first human explorers, navigating the unknown oceans like Spear.
I’m glad Spear and Fang aren’t separated for too long. The latter’s devastation when she accidentally causes the death of her new consort is heartbreaking. It’s almost a relief when the slavers make their first appearance in the gripping ‘Dawn of Man’ to divert one’s attention. I don’t understand why Spear is surprised to see another tribe of more modern humans, complete with clumsy flashbacks to images on the cave wall from a few minutes prior, considering he met one tribe in the previous episode and is chasing a woman from yet another.
That brings us to the deliberately shocking ‘The Red Mist’. I must say I find Paste Magazine’s reaction frankly repugnant. Yes, the violence is brutal, but the community being so gorily annihilated is made up of slavers who set out on expedition after expedition in search of more slaves. Even then, at every step, Fang and Spear attempt to disengage from the fight, but the slavers stop them. Only the children are too young to be held solely responsible for their actions. My main objection is that the duo attain ridiculous new heights of invincibility.
The sequence with the returning chief and his son is well done, but the only moment of true emotion is the former finding himself unable to fire the arrow. I’m glad they suffer and die later.
Meera is a capable addition. Spear’s joy at Fang laying eggs—in graphic detail—is lovely, and Meera’s happiness is pleasant. I worried at first that Fang might turn against Spear; her antics as she knocks him over and comically protects her eggs make me laugh, as did the process of trying to get her onto the ship.
‘The Colossaeus’ turns into a sombre episode after that, demonstrating in painful detail how powerless the trio are against a determined, relentless, organized, and technologically advanced civilization. Breaking one of Fang’s eggs immediately establishes how hateful a villain their ruler is. The second part is unfortunately more concerned with gore and repetitive, uninteresting invasions.
Indeed, I’ll never understand the show’s fondness for violence, but I must say I was surprised that the ruler’s comeuppance was merely being dropped from a great height with little ceremony. I expected a far more gruesome death once poor Kamau turned on her. Still, I can’t complain about being allowed to move on to Fang’s two babies play-fighting and knocking themselves over.
‘The Primal Theory’ might have been a compelling episode on a different series, but here, I can only wonder why it exists. It’s competently executed, fairly disgusting, predictable, and mystifying. It interrupts an immersive and engrossing story for no apparent reason other than to set up the punchline.
The finale similarly left me nonplussed. To be clear, it’s a well-executed and melancholy episode with much to enjoy, like Fang determinedly entering the house, Spear painting his life story, or the glimpse at his childhood. The return of the chief in his demonic avatar is what ruins everything. Spear’s death after he vanquishes the demon is a heroic sacrifice, but he can’t shrug off his mortal coil in time to prevent Meera from smiling at his paintings and having sex with him while he’s barely even conscious, let alone able to consent, simply so that the next image can be their child riding Fang’s.
I suppose this is the ending of Spear and Fang’s story, and it’s bizarre. I have to agree with commenters on Reddit saying the final fight felt rushed and that it almost appeared as if the arc would spill into a third season before the abrupt climax. I also agree that the episodic structure of the first season was much more effective, and that:
Ultimately, Spear and Fang are the emotional core of the show, and even during the other story arcs that was never forgotten. Spear and Fang were largely separated during the Colossaeus arc but we still got some great moments between the two.
Then this episode hits, Spear is on his literal deathbed, and we don’t get to see Fang’s reaction for longer than five seconds? It’s so bizarre that they paced it this way. Seeing so many emotional story beats essentially skipped over feels absolutely terrible given the last episode spent two minutes showing seemingly redundant, pointless oars rowing, only to pay it off in dividends by the end. Where was that sort of pacing and foreshadowing here? Why did the payoff for Kamau’s story arc get so much more time and care while the end of our protagonist’s story gets the shaft?
Expanding any story’s universe inevitably has a peculiarly constricting effect, in that it forces the infinite possibilities of the unknown to coalesce into a single known even as it ostensibly creates new opportunities. To watch this season is to see that phenomenon occur again and again. Spear’s fascinating world is invaded and diminished by other civilizations, by the unnecessary digression into a nearly modern England, by his encounter with a devilspawn and the appearance of his child. Bit by bit, these episodes carve up incredible potential into more familiar and conventional realities, gaining little in return.