It’s Hard Not To See PRIMAL’s Parallel to the Pandemic
For newbies, the gist of the Primal, an adult animated show created by Genndy Tartakovsky of Samurai Jack, is so wild that it somehow works with Tartakovsky’s pen: The protagonist is the grunting and growling Nethandral caveman, called “Spear” by the production team, who teams up with a T-Rex, called “Fang,” as they survive the prehistoric jungles.
“Plague of Madness” opens like a tranquil nature documentary. A Brachiosaurus chomps away on tree fruit. Suddenly, the arrival of a smaller disease-ridden Parasaurolophus disturbs its peace. Since the creature and its own chaos seem so benign from above, the Brachiosaurus only glances then refocused on its meal. Suddenly, the creature sinks its teeth into the Brachiosauruses’s ankle. And it’s more than enough to infect the poor herbivore’s ginormous build.
In its agony, the plague-ridden herbivore transforms into an antagonistic shell, rampaging over its fellow herd and stomping on eggs. The massacre happens within a matter of minutes before the respective man-and-dino protagonists walk into the aftermath of the carnage and have to run from the diseased creature. Whereas they often fought their enemies, this is a creature they cannot touch. Although the disease never touches the leading characters, they’re forced to flee, imagine, then witness the disintegration of mortality fade in a maelstrom of dust and ashes.
I’m not the first to say that the surprise April Fools’ release of Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal “Plague of Madness” bears ghastly resonance to the coronavirus pandemic. Its opening serenity before its descent into horror can mirror how some may have reacted to the growing coronavirus pandemic, at first noticing something off but then turning away until it escalates.
It doesn’t help that the grotesque details pour out: the close-up of pus-oozing boils and the flesh-ripping. The sight provokes a high-octane nightmare sequence, with Fang envisioning his flesh melt away from his skeleton, like wax liquifying from a candle. Facing mortality is nothing new for him in the dog-eat-dog world of Primal but this central human is learning that there are even more unholy ways to die.
In the hands of a conventional director or writer, I would expect the protagonists to not look back and escape. But in the world of Tartakovsky, man and dino find space to meditate on the fatality. In a devastating visual, a human man lets himself touch the flake of falling ash. He’s letting himself have pitiful reverence for a life stolen and consumed.