Back in January in the team fest Ryan squee thread, there was much discussion comparing Becker with Ryan, and it has to be said Becker generally came out worst. So, for this fest I decided to take a closer look at Becker's role as a Special Forces captain, provide a few comparisons with Ryan, and also look at the way Primeval treats the military in a more general sense.
Contains spoilers up to and including 5.6. Wordcount - 5200 words.
Is Becker a Good Soldier?
Becker is many things, including brave, loyal, heroic, young, and pretty, but is he a good soldier?
When he was first introduced in series 3, a lot of the initial reactions were that he was too young to be a Special Forces Captain. Ben Mansfield was, I believe, about 25 at the time, and while it has been worked out (by fififolle or fredbassett, I think) that it is just about possible to reach the rank of Captain at that age, it would certainly be an unusual and remarkable achievement. Mark Wakeling, the actor who played Captain Ryan in series 1, and is himself an ex-army officer, said 25 was too young when he learned of the new character. Nevertheless, even if you assume some leeway between the age of the actor and the age of the character, Becker still can’t have been much older than 26 or 27 when he joined the team, which is still damn young to be a captain of any sort, let alone Special Forces.
On top of the age thing, the fact is, with the best will in the world, Ben Mansfield doesn’t look like a soldier. For quite a lot of series 3 he adopts a sort of generic ‘at ease’ pose of hands clasped behind his back when he’s not actively doing anything in the field, and he knows how to strike manly poses with a variety of guns, but he doesn’t come across as having the same natural confidence and authority as we had from Ryan, and his gun handling is occasionally a little sloppy. We can write at least part of this off to the fact that Mark Wakeling was in his mid-late thirties, with several years of both acting and military experience behind him, whereas Ben was 25 and not very long out of stage school when he landed the role of Becker (and with all his theatre/Shakespeare experience he was probably more used to handling swords than guns!). Still, it goes some way to explaining why Becker usually fares badly in comparison with Ryan.
Another criticism often levelled at Becker is the way he handles and interacts with his men, although this is often tied up with general criticism of the way that Primeval as a show handles military backup.
In series 1 Ryan and his men tended to be in the background a lot during anomaly situations, either guarding the perimeter, or watching over Cutter and his team. Ryan himself generally interacted with the team via either Claudia or Cutter, very rarely talking to the other members of the team, and there was a clear chain of command via Lester and Claudia that bypassed Cutter and the scientists the vast majority of the time. By the very nature of Primeval as a show, we want to see the heroes doing the action stuff and being heroic, and somehow series 1 managed to achieve that while still having what came across as a realistic military presence.
It’s unfortunate, really, that they never managed to replicate this in later series. From series 2 onwards the military backup is, as a general rule, either completely incompetent or else completely absent! A lot of this has been put down to the fact that Mark was given free rein to organise the extras during series 1, so that they looked like professional soldiers, but a lot of it also has to be blamed on the writing, and the desire to give all the action limelight to the main characters without having to constantly find excuses for why the military backup doesn’t happen to be there at the time.
Let’s look at a few examples of how this reflects badly on Becker.
On his first anomaly in 3.1, Becker and his men, along with Cutter, Abby and Jenny chase the pristichampus into some sort of mall/restaurant type place. Jenny tells Becker to get the place evacuated, and Cutter and Abby use this as an excuse to run off alone and find the creature by themselves, and almost end up getting themselves killed by it when they try to rescue a civilian. Despite Becker being given explicit instructions from Lester to keep Cutter and his team safe, there is no sign of either him or his men until after Cutter has dealt with it in his own improvised manner. True, they were busy evacuating the place along with Jenny, but surely it didn’t need Becker and all his men to do that? Or did he simply not notice that two of his primary charges had disappeared?
It has to be said, though, Ryan is not entirely innocent in this department either. In 1.5 Cutter and Stephen deliberately made sure they got to the roof before Ryan and his men so that they could attempt to use tranquillisers first. That Ryan wasn’t there backing them up was entirely down to Cutter deliberately attempting to get away from him and do his own thing. It’s tempting to suggest the same is true of this situation, and that Cutter and Abby deliberately slipped away from Becker while he was momentarily distracted by starting the evacuation of the building. Not entirely surprising, considering that right before they entered the building, Becker had told Cutter and Abby in no uncertain terms that if tranquillisers didn’t work he was going to use live rounds.
Another example is in 3.9. The team (in this case comprising Connor, Abby, Sarah and Becker, along with a group of Becker’s soldiers) arrive at the campsite together, but when they go off in search of the anomaly and to investigate a possible creature in the woods, there is suddenly no sign of Becker’s men, just the team and Becker himself. They find a large herd of embolotherium, which are no doubt dangerous even if they are herbivores, and Becker says he is going to go and get the place evacuated. So far so good, although quite why he couldn’t have radioed one of his men and told them to start the evacuation is unclear. Does he not trust his own men to follow his orders if he isn’t there to oversee them personally?
Of course, this can largely be put down to sloppy writing, to make sure that the core team of Connor, Abby and Sarah are able to do their thing without Becker arguing or attempting to stop them, but the fact that Becker essentially abandoned them in the vicinity of a herd of large creatures does not reflect well on him. Neither does the fact that when the herd later stampede towards the campsite, it is still full of people, despite Becker saying he was going to have them evacuated at least half an hour earlier. Sloppy writing again? Bad continuity? Or perhaps his men really didn’t bother to follow Becker’s instructions once he had left them to it and rejoined the team.
In this case, unfortunately, you can’t blame the team for deliberately trying to get rid of Becker; it was entirely his decision to leave them alone in a dangerous situation, and the fact that neither Sarah or Connor were trampled by a creature is more by luck than anything else.
It seems that during series 4 and 5 Becker is no longer technically a military captain, although he does continue to act like one when it comes to dealing with his men. Besides, he can’t have spontaneously forgotten all that training as soon as he resigned from the army, so we’ll continue to look at how he and his men function in these series. It should also be noted that it is not entirely clear whether his men are still military, or whether they are private security at this point.
4.1 isn’t too bad, with a reasonable security team present at both the anomaly site and the arena. True, the men left at the anomaly site failed to stop Abby and Connor stealing a car, but their attention was probably more focussed on the anomaly, to be fair.
4.2 also had a good security team presence at the docks, although at least one of them was utterly unable to follow basic instructions, and fired his EMD in amongst the metal containers, stunning himself enough to let the creature kill him. Becker had warned everyone before they went in about potential for ricochet, and he can’t necessarily be blamed for the actions of individuals, but it doesn’t look good for team discipline, or basic common sense and ability to follow instructions from their boss.
By 4.4, however, they seem to have dispensed with a backup team entirely, and Becker, Matt and Connor investigate the anomaly at the school on their own. Becker does request backup on at least one occasion, but we never see them actually arrive, and certainly not in time to do anything useful (like, for instance, preventing their boss from being killed!).
This clearly starts a trend, because in Becker’s absence in 4.5, Matt, Connor and Abby go out into the field without any backup again.
The security team are at least back in evidence by 4.6 and 4.7, although they do nothing of any note, and frequently seem to conveniently vanish whenever there is any action. The same is true of Becker himself in parts of 4.7! Presumably this is to allow Matt and Danny to have their respective moments to shine with the terror birds and with Ethan.
By series 5 the use of security team is becoming ever more sporadic. For most of series 4 and at least some of series 5 there is still an attempt to show a backup team. However, from about the middle of series 5 onwards to be honest the writers appear to have almost given up on having them around. For instance, in episode 5.4 there was no sign at all of any of the security team when the ARC went into lockdown with a creature incursion. Also, in 5.5 and 5.6 we are led to assume that Lester and Jess are literally the only people left in the ARC. I know Jess said she was sending all available personnel out to deal with all the anomalies and creatures at convergence, so that accounts for the security teams, but what about the scientists? The technical support? The admin staff? Did she send them out into the field as well? The writers seem to have abandoned all attempts at even vague plausibility in order to make the finale entirely about the core team characters.
We’re in danger of getting off the point here, but it’s worth noting simply to show the lengths to which the writers were going to keep all the action focussed completely on the core characters. It’s no wonder the security team were so under-utilised.
Another criticism levelled at Becker has been that he doesn’t appear to show any camaraderie with his men, or any reaction when they are hurt, or even killed.
It’s true that we see Becker spending far more time interacting with the core team than with his men. It’s also true that we generally never see any reaction from him when his men are killed. And there are a lot of occasions when his men get killed.
It is likely that at least some of his men were killed during Helen’s invasion of the ARC in 3.3, but we don’t see it. The first time we see one of his men being killed is in 3.5 when one is infected by the fungus creature. True, we never actually see him die, but it seems likely, given the speed at which the infection seems to consume anyone else who gets infected. Becker, in fact, was the one who gave the order for the man to move forward and fire on the fungus creature, although at the time none of them knew that bullets would be ineffective. However, when it becomes clear that the assault rifle isn’t harming the creature there is no order to pull back, and the single soldier who moved forward gets attacked by the creature. Becker chases after the creature and fires on it, looking angry, but that is the only reaction we see.
This situation actually seems unlike the Becker we know from many other scenes. Why does he let the soldier go forwards alone to take on the creature? Becker is normally the first one to lead the way in an action situation. Perhaps the explanation is that at this point Becker is armed with a handgun, and the soldiers have assault rifles, so he lets someone with a more effective weapon take point.
In 3.8 two of his men are killed while they are guarding the anomaly at the race track. Again, we see absolutely no reaction from Becker when he arrives on scene, although at the time he is having quite a vehement argument with Abby about waiting for backup. Briefly going back to the subject of military procedure, however, you have to wonder why no one appears to have noticed that the two soldiers hadn’t checked in since the previous night, or why no one else came to relieve them and take the next watch shift at some point. The anomaly was locked, and they all believed there had been no incursion, but even so you would expect that someone would be keeping track of men left out in the field. Even if it wasn’t necessarily Becker’s fault that they lost contact with the men, ultimately it is Becker’s responsibility.
The only example I can think of when we do see a reaction from Becker to one of his men being killed is in 4.3. When he learns over the radio that they have a man down at the theatre, he lashes out angrily at Matt, blaming him and his blasé attitude to things coming through the anomaly (although at this point he was already angry with Matt about Emily, and about Matt going through the anomaly, so it’s probably yet another piece of ammunition to throw at him, rather than necessarily Becker being particularly upset by the news). When he and Abby return to the theatre, Becker discovers the body of one of his men, and for a brief moment we do see a reaction. He doesn’t say anything, but his expression is one of anger, frustration, and a touch of sadness. Perhaps he actually liked that particular man.
There is another reaction in 4.7 when he discovers one of his men has been taken down by Ethan, but this time it’s more one of anger, and he immediately turns his attention to the fact that they have a new threat, rather than lingering over the dead man.
It’s not as if we expect Becker to be wailing in anguish every time one of his men dies – he is a soldier, after all. But this lack of reaction seems odd, particularly when you consider his obvious grief and guilt over the death of Sarah, and the loss of the other team members. You could argue that these people were his friends, and also that from a TV show point of view the viewer has more of an emotional connection to the likes of Sarah and Danny, so are more likely to empathise with Becker’s guilt, whereas most casual viewers don’t really care about a soldier who probably didn’t have any lines beyond the short scream when he died! However, there are also occasions when Becker expresses guilt and pain over the deaths of random members of the public who he was unable to save, such as the girl and the teacher in 4.4. He didn’t even know these people, and yet we see more reaction to their deaths than we do to the deaths of men who Becker has worked with and has responsibility for.
Contrast this with series 1, and we see a completely different picture. When the diver was lost in 1.3 we were shown Ryan and his men talking together in the aftermath, and the fact that they had lost a man was treated as a serious situation, worthy of comment by Claudia. It was the very first time they had lost someone from the team, and while it wasn’t lingered over, it was definitely noted.
Similarly, the deaths in 1.6 were treated as a big thing by Cutter.
This seems to be largely a difference in the treatment of soldiers in series 1 and in later series, rather than necessarily a contrast of Becker and Ryan, however. In series 1, soldier deaths are few and far between, and when they happen, it is generally acknowledged in some way. Alternatively, the death is a big plot event when the stakes are higher and the creature is more dangerous, such as the series finale when lots of soldiers died, including Ryan himself.
By contrast, in series 3 and later, the writers seem far more blasé about killing soldiers. Soldiers seem to be largely treated as ‘redshirts’, and are regularly being killed quite easily by any random creature-of-the-week, or even, on occasion, by their own stupidity or lack of discipline.
In essence, what this means is that you are not necessarily comparing like with like when you compare Becker and Ryan. Still, even bearing this in mind, Becker’s record doesn’t look particularly stunning.
It is perhaps possible to suggest that there could be an in-character explanation for Becker’s leadership issues, and it goes back to the point made right at the beginning - his age. In 3.4 Wilder comments that Becker was top of his class at Sandhurst, and it’s quite easy to see Becker as the kind of person who would be utterly dedicated to being the best, and rising through the ranks as fast as possible, which may go some way towards explaining how he made it to captain so young.
Nevertheless, a lot of his men are a great deal older than him, and it’s likely that, for all his outward display of confidence, Becker may have felt a constant need to prove himself, and show people that he attained his rank on merit and not on connections. As such, it’s easy to see him keeping himself apart from his men and trying to maintain a separation between them to create an air of authority, rather than socialising with them. Also, he might be unwilling to show anything other than a brave and stoic facade in the face of death and danger, lest he be written off as not ‘hard’ enough, hence his apparent lack of emotion when men under his command are killed. This, of course, may have had completely the opposite effect on his men, in that they don’t develop a relationship or much personal respect for Becker, which may also explain some of the ill-discipline.
Ryan, on the other hand, comes across as having an easy camaraderie with his men, without it in any way impacting on his authority. He is a natural leader, and has nothing to prove.
This, of course is mostly speculation, but it seems at least a plausible explanation for Becker’s apparently incompetent team, and his lack of reaction to their deaths.
There are a couple of good points to Becker’s leadership skills, however. In the webisodes he argues with Matt (and apparently wins on the issue) when Matt wants the security teams to wear civilian clothes. Becker points out that uniform promotes unity, and gives his men authority in the field, as well as giving the public confidence when weapons are involved, all of which are good points.
He also generally leads from the front, and with the one notable exception from 3.5, he is usually the first one to throw himself into a dangerous situation, rather than relying on his men to do the dangerous stuff.
Which brings us nicely onto the second part of this discussion, namely, that while he may be lacking in military leadership qualities, he is certainly not lacking in personal heroism and bravery and team loyalty.
He generally works extremely well with the core team, despite a few blips in series 3. On the whole, though, while they may have their differences of opinion, by the end of series 3 Becker is a fully integrated core team member, rather than just the glorified bodyguard. This is even more apparent in series 4 and 5, when it seems his experiences and the loss of Sarah, Connor, Abby and Danny has thoroughly shattered his tough military facade. During series 4 and 5 he clearly thinks of them as his friends rather than just his teammates, and he is unquestioningly loyal to them all.
As the ‘action man’ of the team, Becker is brave and resourceful in taking on creatures and defending his friends, and is usually the first one into a dangerous situation.
The first example comes in 3.3 when he fights his way through Helen’s clone army to rescue the team single-handed. It is likely that any men who had been left at the ARC would have been killed or captured by Helen’s clone army, but what about the men who went with them to the anomaly in the hospital? Why did Becker not utilise them in his attempt to retake the ARC and rescue key personnel? Perhaps he did, and they were elsewhere in the building, taking out the clones, while Becker went looking for the rest of the team. Or possibly he left them guarding the perimeter, to ensure no one else got in. We don’t know, but there is a revealing exchange between him and Lester when Becker eventually finds them.
Lester: How many men have you got with you?
Becker: Just me. Should be enough.
Overconfident much? Nevertheless, he does manage to bodyguard Connor long enough to let Connor do his thing and stop the clone soldiers, so it seems his confidence is justified.
Similarly, in 3.6 he stood against Christine Johnson’s invading force single-handed, and then worked from the inside to overthrow Christine and bring back Lester. He successfully convinced Christine that he was happy to work under her commend, and gained her trust enough that she was willing to send him to arrest people who had been his teammates only hours earlier. On this occasion it was nice to see Becker using his brain and being sneaky, rather than his standard response to problems (which is generally to shoot them until they stop being problems).
In 3.4 Becker took on the G-rex armed only with a shotgun in order to get to the people trapped inside the plane, and then again to get back out of the plane and get to Jenny.
Probably his best known, and most impressive, heroics are his actions in episode 3.8. Despite his constant insistence that they need to wait for backup, he accompanies the team into the future world and fully supports their efforts to save Jack after he has been overruled by Danny. When the situation goes to hell in a hand-basket, Becker is prepared to sacrifice himself to give the others time to rescue Jack and get themselves out. He then manages to survive what seems like a suicide action, and reappears in time to save them all yet again from another future predator.
It’s a shame we didn’t get to see what happened to him after he lured the predators away, although of course that would have spoiled the surprise later. Whatever he did, it seems unlikely that he managed to kill multiple predators armed only with a handgun and shotgun, so it’s possible that he found some way to evade them, or confuse their senses for long enough to keep them distracted, before eventually making his escape. Then, once he was back out in the open, he had the sense to take cover and stay hidden within sight of the anomaly to await the return of the others. More evidence that he has a brain as well as big gun, even if it does happen off-screen.
There are more solo heroics in 4.4, when he sneaks through a pack of therocephalians to lock the anomaly, and then attempts (and almost succeeds) to fight his way back out again when he has a bit of a stealth fail.
There’s also the bomb incident in 4.6, although it had to be said that Becker rather makes a cock up of that situation, what with doing the stakeout alone, and going in alone, and getting caught out by the booby trap. Jess is actually arguably the hero of that situation, although it must be noted that Becker kept telling Jess to get out in an attempt to save her, even knowing that he would certainly die if she did leave him. He is certainly not afraid of sacrificing himself to save others, it appears.
And speaking of Jess, in 5.4 Becker was prepared to risk going out into the radiation filled ARC to fetch medicine for Jess, despite the obvious danger.
As well as the solo heroics, he works well with other team members, and often provides the backup to other characters’ heroics.
One obvious example is Abby, with whom we saw Becker having quite a successful partnership from series onwards. 3.7 was the first time we really saw them working together, and after their initial disagreement about shooting the dracorex, Becker fully supported Abby’s attempts to save it, both in a practical and a psychological moral support sense. We see Becker and Abby working together again in 4.3 tracking down the arboreal raptors in the theatre, and in 5.5 in the midst of convergence tackling the Precambrian worms. On all these occasions, they make an incredibly effective team. The rock-paper-scissors moment in 5.5 is particularly noteworthy, simply for the sense of camaraderie and friendship between them. In quieter moments, it’s apparent that Becker cares a great deal for Abby. Their reunion in 4.1 is an obvious example, and also the way he attempts to comfort and support Abby in 5.1 when Connor is taken by the giant bug.
Becker is also sometimes teamed up with Danny in series 3, the most memorable occasion being Danny’s constant testing of the ARC defences. There was also a real sense of friendship and respect between them at the end of 3.6 when Danny actually apologises for doubting Becker’s loyalty, and again on Danny’s return in 4.7.
Despite some lovely fun scenes together early in series 3, Becker is paired with Connor far less than you would actually imagine, especially from series 4 onwards. Nevertheless, there are still some nice moments, such as the high-five in 4.2 when Connor is reinstated on the team.
Of course, Becker’s relationship with Matt in series 4 and 5 is a thing of bromance beauty, right from their alpha-male pissing contest over the EMDs in 4.1, and their conversation in the aftermath:
Becker: After Sarah was killed, I thought about quitting. Danny, Connor, Abby... The one thing I can do here is make sure that never happens again.
Matt: It wasn’t your fault, you know that.
Becker: It was my job to look after them. I failed.
Matt: It was a year ago. You really need to let it go now, mate.
Becker: You trust me, right?
Matt: Yeah, with my life. You’re not going to hug me now, are you?
Becker: God no.
They even keep up the sarcasm and alpha-male bantering in 4.4 when Becker is dying, in a scene that has fed a thousand slashers. Unfortunately, since Matt is the team leader, and nominal ‘hero’ of the show, Becker very rarely gets to save Matt, or to outshine him in the heroics department, although it does happen occasionally, such as 4.2 when Becker arrives in the nick of time at the docks. Nevertheless, they work well together in the field, anticipating each other’s actions and backing each other up. You suspect that Becker’s anger with Matt in 4.3 is more to do with the fact that Matt betrayed his trust and almost got himself stranded in another time as a result, rather than necessarily because Matt broke the rules about going through an anomaly.
It’s clear that while Matt and Becker take the piss out of each other and disagree over the use of EMDs, there is a great deal of trust and professional respect as well as genuine friendship between them. And despite what Becker says in 4.1, by the end of 5.6 there are indeed very definite hugs. Quite a lot of them, in fact!
On the subject of hugs and affection, the Becker of series 4 and 5 and the webisodes is something of a different beast to the one we met in series 3. At the start of series 3 he generally came across as being stoic and officious, with only brief displays of personality with his dry sarcasm. By the middle of series 3 he was definitely mellowing, and showing his humour and very occasional affectionate or supportive gestures to the other members of the team.
By series 4, though, we have a Becker who is completely unashamed to show his feelings, hug his teammates, and provide frequent casual touches in friendship or support. Although he does tend to be a little more reserved when his security team is around, such as the way he let go of Jess very quickly as soon as his men arrived in 4.6. All this makes it very clear that Becker is a full and true member of the core team, and not just their security attachment any more.
Much as many fans love Ryan, the fact is he is not a main titles character; he is a recurring extra, albeit a recurring extra with a very important role and plot function. Becker, on the other hand, is a main titles character from episode 3.6 onwards. I personally believe that Becker was actually designed far more as a replacement for Stephen than he was for Ryan, and to a large extent he seems to fill the ‘young good-looking action hero’ slot far more than the Ryan ‘steady military backup’ slot. Becker’s frequent solo heroics are far more similar to Stephen than to Ryan, who was generally with his men whenever there was a dangerous situation.
As such, the fact that Becker is military isn’t actually the main driving force of the character. His ability to integrate with the team and form close friendships and relationships with the core characters is generally given far higher prominence than his role as a leader of soldiers, especially from series 4 onwards. It is true that his characterisation in series 3 was a little lacking, possibly due to the high turnover of other, more prominent, main characters in that series. Nevertheless, his dry sarcasm and comedy moments give him personality traits that are built upon further in series 4 and the webisodes.
In answer to the original question, then, I’d like to suggest that no, Becker is not a good soldier.
He is, however, a very good hero.