The Gritty, Emotional Primal Concludes as a Celebration of Art

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The Gritty, Emotional <i>Primal</i> Concludes as a Celebration of Art


In the opening scene of “Echoes of Eternity,” the finale of Primal Season 2 and the definitive conclusion of the series as we know it, a father teaches his son (the show’s protagonist Spear) how to paint a handprint on a cave wall. This act of art-making is followed immediately by tragedy: the father gets killed by saber-toothed cats, and Spear becomes his tribe’s new leader after killing the cats. This origin story of sorts for our caveman antihero sets up a finale that delivers what could be considered Genndy Tartakovsky’s definitive statement with this story: the world is a violent, amoral place—but also a place where we have art.

If any action show can get away with self-mythologizing its own artistic value, it’s Primal. Tartakovsky’s Adult Swim animated series has been arguably the most visually beautiful TV series on the air over the past few years. It’s surpassed even the creator’s past work on Samurai Jack in telling simple yet thrilling stories of survival through visuals alone. The first season had almost no spoken dialogue, and with the exception of the one-off experiment “The Primal Theory,” all of Season 2’s dialogue was in languages the average American viewer wouldn’t recognize.

“Echoes of Eternity” concludes the season-long story arc of Spear and his T-Rex companion Fang rescuing the enslaved woman Mira. Here, Mira finally returns home to her mountainside village in a setting that looks like somewhere in northern Africa. Though returning home brings back memories of dead loved ones and the trauma of her initial enslavement, she is clearly happy to be reunited with her people.

Mira’s tribe has its own forms of art: ceremonial dances with elaborate masks. Spear, ever the outsider when he’s surrounded by more evolved humans, doesn’t always catch on to the cultural nuances (he doesn’t bow before the dancer in the moon mask, for example). While the dancing makes him smile, he ultimately leaves the ceremony to accompany Fang and her two babies, who are all even greater outsiders amongst civilization.

However, it does seem that after a life defined by violence since childhood, he’s been inspired to rekindle his artistry. After Mira selects an empty house for Spear, Fang, and the dino-babies to sleep in, Spear stares at the blank walls and decides to do what he did long ago in his cave: paint his handprint amidst the emptiness.

And Spear goes further than just leaving his mark on the wall. He illustrates the whole story of his life, from the violence in his childhood to the tragic death of his wife and kids and through all of his adventures with Fang and Mira. It’s a striking bookend to the series’ very first episode, wherein Spear erased his family’s portraits in mourning. Now he can finally make art again. By the following morning, when Mira arrives with breakfast and beholds this prehistoric masterpiece, Spear’s hands are bloodied from the intensity of the work.

The eventual confrontation of the Viking Chieftain, who was revived in the form of a giant fire monster and has been slowly making his way towards revenge against Spear over the past few episodes, is almost anticlimactic. It’s one last opportunity for the animators to show off their talent, especially the ferocity with which Spear beats the crap out of the monster even as it burns him nearly to death. The battle, however, is a relatively small part of the episode, less thrilling than the defeat of Ima’s forces in the previous episode and more a setup for what happens next.

Those who noticed the TV-MA disclaimer for this episode made note of “sexual situations” could probably guess what was going to happen between Spear and Mira, if not the exact circumstances in which it happens. Spear is horribly burned and disfigured; the medicine man can’t do much beyond covering his dying body with leaves. Mira, however, takes another look at Spear’s painting, and that’s enough to inspire her to have sex with Spear on what may be his final night alive. Cut to several years later, and Spear and Mira’s adorable daughter is riding on one of Fang’s now fully-grown children.

Yeah, the idea of “my art is so good that hot girls will have sex with me because of it” is definitely an adolescent fantasy, but what has Primal been if not gleefully adolescent? Tartakovsky’s skill is taking the silliest pulp ideas and presenting them with such assurance that they become art. Spear’s story has come to a fitting end, and whether or not we ever get more of this story (Tartakovsky has described his ideas for continuing Primal as an anthology series, preferring to do something completely different rather than a narrative continuation), I’m both grateful I got to enjoy this journey and hoping to experience more.

Reuben Baron is the author of the webcomic Con Job: Revenge of the SamurAlchemist and a regular contributor to Looper and CBR, among other websites. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndalusianDoge.

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