Marcus Jones


Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal is scarily relevant today. (Warning: Spoilers!)

Figure 1. (screenshot)

Genndy Tartakovsky’s TV show Primal is an animated series currently airing on Adult Swim. The series follows a caveman, Spear, and his T-rex companion, Fang, as they travel a prehistoric world rife with danger. This series sets itself apart in the fact that it has no dialogue; both protagonists communicate in growls, primal noises, and body gestures. Genndy recognises that actions speak louder than words, and never is this theme more relevant than in Primal. The amount of emotion that Spear conveys with just his facial expressions alone tells a whole story.

However, the episode of Primal released on April Fool’s Day doesn’t feature Spear or Fang in the beginning. Rather, it focuses on a lone sauropod, infected with a disease that causes it to enter a state of bloodlust and madness.

A herd of sauropods is lounging about, feeding on vegetation and laying leaves over their eggs. One of them strays from the herd to eat some fruit on a tree. It turns its head towards the surrounding bushes, and what appears to be a near-zombified Parasaurolophus, with its flesh falling off, and what’s left of it a sickly green. How it managed to become infected, or what cause its current state is not shown. The Parasaurolophus runs around the feeding sauropod, and we as the viewers are hoping for one thing in regards to the sauropod: please don’t get bitten.

What we all fear comes to pass: the Parasaurolophus takes a small bite out of the sauropod’s leg, which the sauropod responds to with flinging the smaller dinosaur still attached to its leg away, where it hits a tree and dies. The sauropod checks its wound and walks off.

What follows is the most devastating jump-cut I’ve ever seen. The next scene is of that same sauropod, but in a disheveled state. Its skin is now a sick, green hue, its eyes are watering, mucus is pouring out of its nose, and its tongue hangs out. The distraught look in his eyes makes the whole ordeal even more upsetting. It approaches a lake and drinks heavily from it. This sequence is heartbreaking: seeing a once-peaceful creature being reduced to a miserable state of pain and sickness has a level of meta self-awareness, given the current state of the Coronavirus pandemic.

With the jump cut to the now-sick sauropod, there is an overwhelming feeling of dread, like something terrible than just the sauropod’s miserable state is about to happen. The situation on-screen escalates when the infected sauropod, after taking a second drink of water, throws up blood into that same pond. The other sauropods look in his direction, clearly confused and concerned about their herd member. When he finally stops throwing up blood, his eyes become a contorted mess.

The zombie-like dino proceeds to kill his own herd in a gruesome and upsetting display. His own herd members are clearly confused and terrified as to what he is doing. As viewers, we sympathise with both parties: the infected sauropod, as it’s not his fault for being infected, and his herd, for bearing the brunt of this infected monster’s rampage.

Spear and Fang eventually come across the aftermath of the carnage, and they are just as confused. Fang smells one of the corpses, and backs away in disgust because she knows that whatever killed this herd wasn’t normal, at least to a T-Rex. Fang’s revulsion at the corpses, as well as Spear discovering the smashed sauropod eggs, signals that the world as the two know it has changed, just like our world has undergone a huge change, where wildlife scampers across empty roads and once crowded spaces lie barren.

As if to mimic the ever-expanding threat of the Coronavirus, the infected sauropod raises its bony, diseased head and furiously pursues our two heroes.

Our heroes understand that this towering menace cannot be killed by normal means. Its death is not immediate, and our heroes have to watch the poor creature slowly burning to a crisp. Their horrified expressions towards the creature’s demise tells of the trauma both will have to endure in the coming years.

This single episode has instilled a deep fear in me while watching it. Witnessing a peaceful creature like the sauropod slowly transform into a mindless killing machine is an upsetting and horrific experience, but there’s no denying that this one episode proves how effective animated storytelling can be, especially when relevant to our currently changing world.