Last week I talked about how The River‘s premiere succeeded in mixing compelling drama with just the right amount of suspense and creativity. Can the same be said about this week’s episode?
Let’s break it down after the jump.
Despite a relatively strong premiere, I already feel like The River is losing a bit of steam. Namely, we seem to be falling into a predictable episode-of-the-week formula. I’m not saying that a good serial drama has to have a “mythology,” but there needs to be some sort of hook to keep us coming back week after week. Right now, I’m just not feeling compelled enough to be excited.
The search for Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood) continues this week as our search team goes deeper into the Amazon. (Side Note: The way things are going, I’m convinced I could use that exact same sentence to start off every recap). This week, the group reaches a junction where jungle gatekeepers, the ominous Morcego, decide whether or not the group is worthy of going further. Yup, the show is falling into a “monster-of-the-week” formula. The past two episodes it was different kinds of “vengeful” spirits who are looking to torture the gang for no real discernible reason, aside from the fact that they’re just pissed off. This week the Morcego throw some sort of powder on everyone while they’re sleeping so that they slowly lose their sight, and are therefore helpless while the Morcegos come in for the kill. So why do they have such a serious hate on for our team? Dunno - apparently questions like these aren’t important.
Another common and annoying thread: Jahel (Paulina Gaitan) always seems to know about these threats, forebodingly telling the group via subtitles after they’re already in danger. If she knows so much about all the horrible stuff going on in the jungle why does no one think to consult her ahead of time? Why doesn’t she offer up this intel before the crazy natives come after everyone with knives? Again, more questions to add to the pile.
It’s only a matter of time before people say “Screw it. I’m not going die out here in the jungle” and pack it in. I mean wouldn’t you? They’ve already had one person on their team brutally murdered, Tess (Leslie Hope) was kidnapped by a ghost and dragged somewhere underground, and Jahel swallowed a dragon fly and was possessed by the disembodied spirit of Cole himself who warned them all to get the eff away. This is some messed up stuff. So why are they still going on? Thankfully, the writers have enough sense to ask this of the characters this episode so that we, at least temporarily, can justify this craziness.
But unless a change-up happens, it’s really unrealistic to think they’re going to keep putting themselves in mortal danger for this cause – whether it is exploitative greed from the television guys, the search for missing loved ones, or simply tagging along out of obligation. It just does not seem reasonable that these people would continue.
This brings me to lead cameraman AJ (Shaun Parkes), who remains by far the best character. Not only does he give some great moments of comic relief (the swearing before entering the cave: priceless), he says what we’re all thinking. I, of course, am referring to about how he abandons Lena and Kurt (Thomas Kretschmann) in the middle of the jungle and goes off searching for a Four Seasons hotel. AJ is the only one of the bunch who hasn’t lost his sight (because of an altercation earlier in the episode) and therefore becomes the only one who can find the antidote for the blinding powder.
But instead of stepping up to the plate (from what we’ve seen of AJ, he’s arrogant and self-serving) he decides to get the hell out of the jungle and maybe send help for the others once he’s safe. Why would I applaud such a selfish act? Because it’s totally in line with his character. Let’s face it: when we’re talking about life-threatening danger, not everyone is going to take on the hero role.
Even when AJ accidentally stumbles on the magic tree that will cure everyone’s blindness – he only decides to help just because it’s there. But he doesn’t do this without setting up his cameras to get his “hero shot”. It’s hokey, but demonstrates how the show has moments of cheeky self-awareness that I appreciate.
The rest of the episode’s elements were pretty lukewarm. After the seemingly egotistical Clark (Paul Blackthorne) confesses to the Morcego (right before they come in for the kill…of course) that he forced everyone to come to the Amazon because he wanted a great television show, the Morcego feel appeased and let everyone live. So Clark gets the oh-you’re-not-as-selfish-as-we-thought ribbon and everyone is saved just in the nick of time. How very convenient. The problem is that this isn’t character development; this is just a way to give closure without pissing off the audience with dangling threads. It gives us a nice clean break going into next week’s episode where we’ll meet the next angry spirit. If you can’t tell, I’m already getting bored and we’re only three episodes in.
Some other observations:
- Where I praised the multiple camera angles and varying types of footage, it’s now starting to get unrealistic. When the Morcegos creep into the shot, why is it almost always accompanied by a static blip, and an immediate cutaway? I know the intention is to show just a snippet to keep the suspense going, but it’s happening way too often. Same goes for bleeping out the swearing. Note to producers: Use these elements sparingly – otherwise it becomes distracting.
- The hand-held footage is getting to be a bit much and I think it has the potential to turn off audiences. This show has an uphill battle to make sure the novelty of this format doesn’t get tired. So far, it’s definitely showing some fatigue.
- Lincoln got a haircut! Thank goodness.
- We find out that Tess and Clark had an “affair” (but only because Tess and Emmet were on a break) Am I surprised or even interested in this revelation? Umm…no.
What did you think viewers? Is The River doing it for you? Or are you like me and getting a bit nauseous from all the Blair Witch-like footage? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.