‘Beauty and the Beast’ Review: ‘Primal Fear’ Plays Like a Comic Book Movie
Recap and review of Beauty and the Beast – Season 3 Episode 2 – Primal Fear:
While I’ve loved the show for three years now, part of me wishes Beauty and the Beast had always been like this. Had the series always played out like a comic book movie in the way “Primal Fear” does, as opposed to as a supernatural romance, then maybe I wouldn’t have had to twist so many arms to get people to watch this show I love so much. This was an outrageously fun hour of TV, and I’m beyond hyped for the direction this series is taking.
In a lot of ways, it can be a bit reductive to just call this a small-screen comic book movie, but really, I don’t mean it as a negative. Quite the opposite, in fact. One of the things I loved about seeing the advanced screening for the Season 3 premiere at Philadelphia Comic-Con was how well this show plays on the big screen. And I imagine the same would have been true of “Primal Fear,” an episode that almost seems designed to be seen in a theater-like setting. There’s a lot of action, some really cool special effects, and the ongoing intrigue of the season’s overarching mystery. Beauty and the Beast has evolved beyond its beginnings as a supernatural procedural with romantic elements, and has become one of the more interesting ongoing genre series you’re likely to find on TV this summer. Lord only knows, in the summer doldrums, something like Beauty and the Beast is badly needed. But enough with the generic talk: what made this episode work? Let’s dig in, shall we?
So the Case of the Week — if we can even call it that anymore, since each individual case links into the overall story of the season — centers on Alton Finn, a tech mogul with stage 4 neuroblastoma. Put simply, he’s got an inoperable brain tumor, and he doesn’t have a whole lot of time left to live. Complicating matters is the fact that Effective Worldwide Solutions, a shady corporation dealing in illicit goods, had been providing Finn with regular injections of the same serum that eventually went to J.T. (Austin Basis). This had the effect of not only keeping him alive, but altering his tumor in such a way that he ended up with superpowers, namely the ability to overload electricity. Sound silly? Sure, but it’s no more or less silly than any other supervillain origin, and that’s what I like about it. The show has adopted a more gritty approach on the one hand, but it still maintains a firm grasp of its inherently fantastical genre trappings. We get a show that takes itself, and its situations, seriously without crossing over into self-parody. Such is the case here, as Alton Finn creates a path of destruction through the city when he discovers that Agent Thomas intercepted a courier with the serum meant for him…and gave that serum to J.T.! Naturally, J.T. becomes a target once Finn learns from Agent Thomas that J.T. is working on recreating the serum, and…well, you could probably see where it goes from here. I can’t say the development was unexpected, really. In my interview with Austin Basis last month, he mentioned how the first episodes of the season feature J.T. in a more action-oriented role that sees him in peril nearly every single week. And that’s more or less what happens here, as J.T. has to fight against Finn, who’s got some crazy electricity-based powers. To say it doesn’t go well for him would be the understatement of the century. And yet, it’s clear that there’s more to J.T. than ever before.
Part of the ongoing narrative of the episode sees subtle changes occur in J.T.: for one, he sticks up for Tess (Nina Lisandrello) when her four a-hole brothers pick on her at a shooting range. And how does he stick up for her? By proving he’s a hell of a shot with a service revolver. It’s an absolutely badass moment for the character, and it serves to elevate the J.T. and Tess relationship to one where they’re on equal footing in how they support and strengthen one another. Lisandrello and Basis have eased into this lovely, amicable chemistry that helps boost every scene they’re in together. Yes, it’s built as a case of opposites attracting, but it doesn’t exactly strain credulity. This relationship makes perfect sense, considering what we know about these two characters. Of course, the issue with J.T.’s sudden sharpshooting skills is that, only moments earlier, he couldn’t hit anything worth a damn. So the question remains, how did he suddenly become such a good shot so quickly? It’s a question J.T. himself has trouble answering, and he begins to suspect it may be a side effect of the serum. Later in the episode, although it goes without comment by any of the characters, J.T. suddenly seems more brave and daring than he’s ever been. The way he stands up to Finn, and remains defiant even after he’s injected his homemade serum into Agent Thomas, thus depriving Finn of his best chance at survival, makes J.T. feel almost like a new man. It’s exhilarating to watch unfold, considering that while he did eventually need to be saved by Vincent (Jay Ryan), he did a pretty good job of holding out on his own for a while. I’m still expecting we’ll learn that J.T. has powers now, and that this is an incremental, gradual reveal of that fact. But until then, I’m liking the buildup of J.T.’s character into an action-oriented hero in his own right, even if that buildup does still occasionally involve him being a Dude in Distress.
But I’m once again burying the lede a bit here, as the real focus of the episode is on how Vincent and Catherine (Kristin Kreuk) are transitioning into their new lives together, as well as their resurgent career as beast hunters. This sort of story might feel like a bit of a retread, but here’s why I love it: Vincent worrying about his ability to control his beast side without harming Catherine is an interesting way to throw a wrinkle into their relationship, WITHOUT introducing a new love interest to turn this into another love triangle. It’s an avenue of character development I think the show could have been well-served exploring last season, considering how much the love triangle soured fans on the show’s narrative. I mean, I get why the show explored the Gabe and Tori stories, and I think Vincent and Catherine’s romance is ultimately a stronger one for having overcome those threats. But I can also see why fans hated having Vincent and Catherine separated for the better part of a season, and outright hostile towards one another for a good chunk of it as well. But that isn’t the case here. Vincent and Catherine aren’t free of problems in their relationship, but this time, the issues are internal rather than external. They’re also kind of funny, to boot. The big misunderstanding when Vincent accidentally catches Heather (Nicole Gale Anderson) in the show, along with their clumsy attempts to keep it hidden from Catherine, provides welcome levity to an episode that’s largely serious. I also think the reveal that Heather’s fiance has dumped her after having second thoughts provides a thematic parallel between Vincent and Catherine, as Cat herself is worried Vincent might be rethinking the decision to move in together. The central idea here is that Catherine is worried Vincent doesn’t trust her, when the real issue is that Vincent doesn’t trust himself. He’s worried he might lose control and end up harming her or somebody else, a risk that grows exponentially now that they’re living together.
However, as with most VinCat relationship problems, they get worked out through the heat of the moment. In this situation, Vincent fights against Alton Finn, and Catherine is there to once again bring him back from the brink. At first, I was a bit worried that the show would have Catherine present for each and every one of Vincent’s fights from here on out. But it almost makes a certain kind of sense that she would be. I mean, they’re a team, aren’t they? I also feel this was a more effective use of Catherine than last week, in that she not only brings Vincent back from the brink, she also talks some sense into Finn, showing that while he did accidentally murder that courier who had been intercepted by Agent Thomas, he didn’t actually mean to. He simply lacks proper control of his powers. In this sense, Finn is a cautionary tale of what could happen if Vincent ever loses control of his beast powers. Finn seems like a good guy driven mad by the desperation of his terminal diagnosis and the unstable nature of his abilities. Similarly, Vincent is a good man struggling under the weight of stress and unstable powers of his own. It’s an effective narrative approach to mirror these two men this way, and I think by the end of the season, the parallels here will have become more pronounced. I like the notion that Vincent has at least a little bit in common with everyone he faces, and Alton Finn is no different. In a nice touch, after Finn is defeated, Vincent arranges to have his tumor operated on with a potentially life-saving procedure, showing that while he IS helping to track down the persons responsible for turning these people into experiments, he’s not exactly shirking his responsibilities as a doctor. Unfortunately, it seems like everything the group did to save Agent Thomas was ultimately for nothing. A mysterious person sneaked into his hospital room while they were away, and put a bullet in his head. With Agent Thomas now dead, Vincent, Catherine, J.T. and Tess have to start from square one in their attempt to track down just who’s creating all these superpowered citizens. In short, their job just got a whole hell of a lot harder.
With a narrative like this, Beauty and the Beast must tread carefully. The presence of another shadowy company feels a lot like a Muirfield retread, and that could lead to the stories feeling circle and too familiar. But I’m generally loving what we’ve gotten so far, as this is Muirfield with a twist. Each person has different abilities, and each person provides a different kind of threat. The variance in those threats offers the potential for a more exciting approach to how each threat is neutralized. Sure, we still get the fight climax every week, but this fight felt markedly different from last week’s, which was different from the one in the Season 2 finale. It’s all very effective stuff, and it’s anchored by an ensemble that is more than game. Seriously, Ryan and Kreuk’s onscreen chemistry feels as natural now as it ever did, and I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention how good Ryan’s American accent has become (I feel like noting this mostly because I watched a lot of movies over the weekend with my nephew in which foreigners tried to sound American and failed out loud). In short, nobody is phoning in their performances. And that helps elevate the material, as this could all feel a whole lot sillier if the actors weren’t taking this seriously. And while I’m not sure if the show has received a budget increase or not, the effects certainly look better now than they ever have before, from Finn’s electrical powers, to the improved makeup for Vincent’s transformations. This is Beauty and the Beast realizing its full potential as the epic genre series it always had the potential to be. Here’s hoping audiences realize that, and hop on the bandwagon.
But what did you think of “Primal Fear”? Sound off in the comments! Until next week, thanks for reading!
‘Beauty and the Beast’ Season Premiere Review: ‘Beast of Wall Street’ Charts New Path
‘Beauty and the Beast’ Advance Review: Season 3 Premiere Is a Grown-Up Fairy Tale
Austin Basis Talks VinCat, Season 3 Expectations, Season 4 Speculation (EXCLUSIVE)
Austin Basis talks ‘Beauty and the Beast’ Creative Process, More (EXCLUSIVE)