The Polar Bear Family & Me - Final episode review
Review by Rob Carnevale
GORDON Buchanan’s The Polar Bear Family & Me may well have had us marvelling at its beauty early on but by the final moments of the closing episode, this had become a sobering experience.
First and foremost, the natural white beauty of the Arctic region of Svalbard had been replaced by muddy landscapes and only the odd bit of green terrain. The bears’ white fur had also turned muddy and looked dirty.
This was not the image most of us leap to when thinking about polar bears. Yet, it is fast becoming an overlooked norm. The effects of climate change and environmental pollution mean that the bears’ habitat is changing and placing a strain on their very existence.
If the ice-cappped surrounds of episode one had put this in our minds and hung like some distant shadow over the bears’ prospects of survival, then episode three brought a stark, sometimes grim reality.
Buchanan, for his part, could often be seen to be struggling to keep his emotions in check. The family he had grown to love, Lyra and her two cubs Mickey and Luca, were never going to have it easy. And even before episode two had got going, Luca had perished.
But with Lyra and Mickey left to fight for survival in an environment that almost seemed alien, this was heartbreaking viewing.
Indeed, it served as a timely counterpoint to David Attenborough’s Africa just one night previously, which also contained startling images of nature struggling to survive against the ever-changing elements.
In Africa‘s case, it was a mother and baby elephant stricken by drought and the lack of food, culminating in the tear-jerking sight of the mother separating herself from the herd to be with her calf during its final moments.
With The Polar Bear Family & Me it was lack of snow and ice. Buchanan had chosen the warmest summer/autumn on record to set his project to find out more about polar bears into motion and this painted a picture of the unthinkable.
What if this is the future for polar bears? Will they be able to adapt and survive in time?
In the more immediate future, would Lyra make it through to the end of the episode and, in turn, would Mickey.
From the outset of the episode, Lyra was a pale shadow of her former self. Gaunt, desperate… there was even a moment where Buchanan seemed to be in imminent danger of becoming bear food. Mickey looked healthy but with his mother’s milk in dwindling supply, his own survival depended solely on Lyra’s ability to find the food she had spent months unsuccessfully looking for.
Alas, time ran out for Buchanan [and us] to find out the answers conclusively. Incelement weather (storms, rather than snow) prevented the Arctic team from remaining to see whether mother and son made it through to the winter weather. Buchanan’s sense of disappointment, concern and sorrow was palpable.
A footnote comment from the camera-man did at least offer some hope. Lyra’s collar had re-activated itself some six weeks after he’d left and was approaching the carcus of a dead whale… which would provide enough food to get her through winter. But there was no word on whether Mickey was with her.
Buchanan opined that he had survived. We hoped so too. But the hard truth is that this is the new normal for polar bears unfortunate enough to exist on the outer reaches of the Arctic (those at its core do, at least, appear to be flourishing).
Hence, as magnificent as The Polar Bear Family & Me was as a spectacle (particularly early on), it also provided a sobering comedown from its early highs and plenty of food for thought.
Buchanan deserves credit for often putting himself in harm’s way to try and get answers, and to provide hope. But the onus is firmly on us to protect the planet as much as we can and, in turn, help to ensure the longevity of these magnificent creatures.