The River Episodes 101 & 102
"Magus" & "Marbeley"
101 Written by: Oren Peli, Michael R. Perry, & Michael Green
102 Written by: Michael Green & Zack Estrin
Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra
Original Airdate: 7 February 2012
In This Episode...
Emmet Cole is an explorer who has been doing nature shows with his wife Tess and son Lincoln for over 20 years. On his last trek, he went without his family. Lincoln was in med school, but Tess was hurt that he went without her. He also opted to go with Cam Travers instead of his usual producer Clark Quietly. He disappeared on that trip, along with his entire crew, and after six months of radio silence, he was declared dead. Two weeks later, Emmet's emergency beacon goes off. Someone had to activate it, and Tess believes that her husband is still alive. Clark and the network will pay for the entire trip as long as they can document every moment, and Lincoln has to come. Lincoln has been estranged from his father for a year before his disappearance, but Tess convinces him to go. Rounding out the expedition is Emilio, the mechanic; his equally handy teen daughter Jaleh, who doesn't speak English; the ships captain, Curt, who is somehow "in" on whatever hell is going on (Clark catches him talking on a sat phone saying "If he finds the Source, I'll put him down); and cameramen AJ and Sammy.
The crew sets out into the Amazon, and don't have any trouble locating the beacon signal. It is hooked inside a man-sized cage, submerged in the river. There is no sign of Emmet, or his ship, the Magus. The cage has been ripped open - from the inside. Tess is not discouraged. The group stops to pick up new supplies, and Lena Landry flies in via helicopter to join the search. Her father, Russ, was Emmet's cameraman. She grew up on the boat with Lincoln, and Russ went with Emmet on his final mission. She believes that if Emmet is alive, there is a good chance that her father is, too. She has plotted out the current patterns and has narrowed down where the Magus is likely to be. It is a place called Boiuna, not on any maps, and a place that instills fear in Jaleh. The Magus is there. The crew busts into the panic room, which has been welded shut from the outside. Inside, they find an altar with photos of Cam, and a large pod. Lincoln opens the pod, and something is released. It attacks Lena and zips off into the trees. Jaleh, who is attuned to the supernatural, explains that it was a spirit the devil sent back. The pod was a soul catcher, lured in with a drop of blood, and they let it go. The blood it got from Lena energized it.
Lena reveals that about a month before he disappeared, Emmet called her and told her that if anything ever happened to him, there was a stash of videos and journals she needed to destroy. Of course, she doesn't; she shares them. It turns out that Emmet has been in pursuit of real magic - and he found it. Realizing that whatever they let out of the pod was once Cam, and it had to be put back. Lincoln goes up onto the deck and taunts it with blood from his own palm. Tess believes that if this is or was Cam, he would know if Emmet were alive. As the spirit of Cam creates a ruckus, she screams, "Give me a sign! One for dead, two for alive!" Cam-Beast attacks the boat viciously, kills Sammy, and is captured in the pod. When things get quiet, Tess sees two long gashes on her torso - a sign, she believes, means Emmet is alive. In the peace of morning, Tess agrees to call off the search, but it is Lincoln who wants to press forward.
Episode 102 begins with Jaleh swallowing a large blue tropical insect in her sleep. The bug seems to possess her with Emmet's spirit. She sleepwalks to Tess and speaks in a manly demon voice that Tess immediately recognizes as Emmet's. He tells them to go, to save themselves, but this just fuels Tess's drive. Jaleh and Emilio stay on the ship while the rest of the crew ventures into the jungle, one of the last places Emmet was on his tapes.
In the jungle, the group encounters a graveyard that belonged to 19th century British explorers. Nearby are "spirit trees." Locals believe that spirits live in trees, and often leave gifts for them. In this case, they are dolls. Hundreds and hundreds of decrepit dolls. With night drawing quickly, Curt insists they have no choice but to set up camp there for the night. As if sleeping in a doll graveyard wasn't scary enough, Lincoln finds his childhood bear in the trees. Tess believes that Emmet left it as a sign, but Lincoln isn't so sure: he threw the bear into the Indian ocean when he was 16. That night as they sleep, an unseen hand drags Lincoln from his tent. This is the last straw for Lincoln and he and the rest of the crew move out. As they march, something grabs Tess by the ankle and tries to pull her into a shallow stream. Lincoln pulls her out, and Lena relates a story that Emmet used to tell around the campfire in this region: a young girl, playing in the forest, drops her doll in the river. Her mother isn't paying attention so the girl goes after it herself and drowns. Her body is never found, and it is said that she is the one who haunts the trees and tries to drown people so she can have company.
Realizing that Lincoln still has is bear, Curt insists he put the toy back in the tree. He does so - twice - and both times it falls. Frustrated, Curt straps the bear down securely - and the other dolls, hundreds of them, all drop on their heads. The group turns tail, but discover that they keep ending up back at the doll graveyard. That is when Tess gets dragged into the river and disappears. Lena decides that the only way to get Tess back is to give the little girl her real mother back. In the real graveyard, they find the mother of the drowned girl and dig up her bones (which, strangely enough, are all still connected, even though I assume the connective tissue would have decayed decades ago with the rest of the flesh and organs). Lincoln takes the skeletal remains into the river as an offering. What seems like an eternity later, Tess emerges, further down the river, and covered head to toe in mud.
Back on the boat, Lincoln sits with Jaleh. She convulses and coughs up the blue bug that she swallowed. She knows that Emmet is still alive.
Dig It or Bury It?
I really like this show so far. It is one of my favorite new shows of the 2011-2012 season. The acting is solid, the script is tight, the found-footage format isn't nausea-inducing, and this is one of the few shows on the air that has actual scares. I am bummed that there are only eight episodes in the season - and two were aired tonight - but judging by the buzz around the premiere episode, I think this show will have a good run.
I worry about a couple things. First, that we won't get to see any of these monsters. I am all about "fear of that which is unseen" but dammit, sometimes I just want a monster! Also, I am not sure about this "monster of the week" format. It might work for eight episodes, but I think if The River goes into a second season, there will need to be some kind of overarching lore that will carry from episode to episode.
There's Magic Out There
Told through archival footage, Emmet gives young Lincoln an amulet made by a shaman's wife, who said that one day he would meet a child who was strong enough - for what, the child would know. In another video, young Lincoln and Lena are playing and Emmet films them. He sees a birthmark on Lena's neck - shaped like the amulet. As an adult, Lincoln finds the amulet where he hid it, in a rusty lunchbox in a secret cubby.
Decaying dolls, hanged in trees, every once in a while turning their necks or opening their eyes. It is subtle, it is horribly overused, and it is effective every time. I especially liked the child that the crew finds in the jungle. Tess calls out for a child who appears to be crying on a fallen tree trunk. The child turns around - it is a doll. Then the doll's head tilts back - it is a monkey who got a doll face on its head. The monkey runs up into the trees. It's not really scary - it's kind of adorable - but it is supposed to be scary and it was a moment I quite enjoyed.
The crew knows where they have to look - they just have to get there. Also, Lincoln gets a much-needed haircut.