TV Review: The River, 1.8, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”

…merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a series of spooky happenings so ridiculous and thinly conveyed they’re laughable – except for all the dead bodies.

Joseph Kratzer


[rating: 3.5]

The season finale of The River had a lot going on: the crew reacted to having the object of their mission recovered, Jahel got an inkling of character development beyond being a personified spooky Amazon Wiki (sort of), Kurt owned up to being more heavily invested in the expedition than anyone on the Magus realized (but just barely), there were a couple murders, and an exorcism – and that’s probably the biggest problem with The River. The series has been inconsistent if nothing else. After exploding out of the gate with the fast paced, action packed, and thrilling two part pilot, the series has meandered among tired clichés and poor writing masquerading in a more original program’s clothing, only occasionally reminding its audience of the actually intriguing and mysterious elements that initially sucked us in, and only when Dr. Emmett Cole (Bruce Greenwood) was directly featured.

What I’ll go ahead and say was probably the last episode ever of The River (and I’m just speculating based on ratings and actual merit) opened with a flashback to Lincoln and Lena snuggling together as little kids singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” – just a perfect example of how on the nose this series has unfortunately been – followed by a series of talking heads from everyone describing their reactions to the conclusion of their quest as Dr. Cole has finally been rescued, a reasonable if not standard approach. In Lena’s “personal interview” she offers an interesting interpretation of the titular song which could have served as a real think piece if it weren’t undercut by a too-soon-it’s-silly-not-creepy echo of her and young Lincoln’s rendition.

Soon enough we get to the meat of what everyone, the audience included, is thinking – as Clark puts it, we all want some “fucking answers” straight from the horse’s mouth as to why Emmett came to The Amazon. Although by now everyone who’s been paying attention knows the answer is that he’s been searching for what Emmett’s called “The Source”, of what exactly hasn’t really been specifically defined except for “all life” and “magic”. Disappointingly, Emmett doesn’t offer any elaboration, instead expressing that he’s over it and just wants to focus on being a husband and father. This doesn’t sit well with Lena whose own father died as part of Emmett’s journey and who now appears more determined than ever to ensure her father at least did not die in vain by getting to the bottom of The Source and her connection to it via the birthmark on her neck – you and me both, sister. It’s been a real disappointment so little time has been spent on this element of the series as it’s the only real reason anyone has stuck with it for this long.

Eventually Emmett gets around to having a talk with his son on the deck and just as it looks like Emmett may convince poor Lincoln that he’s really dedicated to their relationship from now on, Lincoln intercepts a couple bullets to his neck and chest apparently meant for Emmett and is shot and killed from about ten feet away inside the cabin. Of course the shooter isn’t identified (despite the entire goddamn boat being covered with surveillance cameras) and nobody attempts to run down the shooter (Kurt included as far as I remember) instead opting to gawk uselessly at Lincoln’s dead body. From what I could see, every member of the crew is in plain view at this point except for Clark.

Now when Lincoln is shot and pronounced dead half way through the episode, given the show’s themes of supernatural manipulation and sinister resurrections (Russ Landry and Jonah, anyone?), I knew he wouldn’t stay that way for long. And just like Pavlov’s dogs’ salivation, in comes Jahel with a way to bring Lincoln back from the dead, no doubt with some sort of curse or evil spirit because – duh-doi – that’s how this shit works, Jahel. And guess what? That’s exactly what happens – yawn. During the scene in which Jahel calls upon the Boiuna spirit, what Emmett warns against and calls “The god of all demons” (clearly a good idea, right Jahel?), there were two small details I appreciated seeing.

The first was Lincoln’s necklace, which has a medallion in the same shape as Lena’s birthmark, which was given to him by Emmett after he acquired it from an old native woman whom told of a prophecy in which a boy would be strong enough to stop the pendulum of time from swinging off its center – or something to that effect. It’s difficult to remember this piece of information because despite being the most intriguing element of The River it hasn’t really been touched on since it was first introduced during the pilot, one of the many mistakes this series has committed.

The second detail was even smaller though I’m sure much more deliberate – seeing the “La Muerte” Tarot card close to and in plain sight of the camera. Unfortunately these tiny details are like two toothpicks buckling under the weight of the giant heap of crap and wasted potential this series has turned out to be.

So once Lincoln is resurrected he becomes the “curse of the week” and starts royally fuckin’ shit up starting by identifying Kurt as his shooter, which everyone is apparently comfortable with as he was one of the four people most likely to have been responsible in addition to Clark, Lena, and Jonah. Kurt denies the accusation but complies accordingly. Lincoln then tells his father he loves him which is the first sign that this isn’t really Lincoln in the driver seat and Emmett smartly notices. Evil Lincoln (now wearing a black shirt a la Tobey Maguire’s “Emo Peter Parker” – damn you, Sam Raimi) then goes on to make a sandwich, viciously slit Jonah’s throat in what was arguably the coolest shot of the episode, and then eat the sandwich. The one element of this scene which confused me was Jonah’s reaction to Lincoln accusing him of being the actual shooter. The guy doesn’t confirm or deny the accusation and looks pretty guilty (or scared shitless) yet I still didn’t buy him as the killer.

Meanwhile Clark, the person made to look the most likely to want to murder Emmett as he was having an affair with Tess and screaming and throwing a hissy fit just before the shooting after seeing the two hook up and getting rejected by Tess, has a conversation with Emmett that included no dramatic confessions or confrontations – a totally useless and boring scene which did nothing but showcase what a spineless coward Clark is, which we already knew.

Then came the scene in which Jahel became something more resembling a person than an Ouija board. Her and her father have the standard, “I’m an adult – But you make bad choices!” father-daughter conversation. Subsequently it’s revealed that Jahel’s mother, whom she thought dead, is in fact not and is actually somewhere else (Emilio doesn’t specify) due to her inability to resist the spirirts she communed with, much like the path Jahel apparently wants to pursue. Though the first part was very textbook, the second half of this conversation established some substantial backstory for Jahel and gave her an expectation for the future to either meet or surpass – something that makes the character much more multi-dimensional than she has been all season. Again, The River only seems capable of demonstrating glimpses of good story telling and character development and only at the most inopportune moments.

But to get back to Evil Lincoln, Emmett is eventually able to arrange an exorcism. This goes about exactly as you would expect it to so I won’t waste time recounting it. Suffice to say it works (thanks to some helpful advice from Kurt of all people) and our Lincoln emerges, sans demon, and the next day we aren’t any better for it. The real shooter is never revealed and like most episode of The River, there’s little consequence.

Then comes the big finish. Once Lincoln is confirmed back to normal and the curse of the week is overcome, the crew look forward (literally) to the helicopter set to get them on the path back home supposedly awaiting them just around the bend only to discover that not only is it not there, but the entire goddamn geography of the river is physically changing right before their eyes. SIGH.

This might’ve worked as a cool or effective shot if it were in any way grounded in anything established by the series other than “This river is cursed and supernatural, or something!” The River has been nothing more than a collection of random, vaguely creepy scenes with no real effort to connect them with coherent story telling or halfway decent characterization and it’s suffered because of those deficits. If the mythology involving Lincoln’s medallion and Lena’s birthmark or the angel-like tribes people had been properly explored the show might’ve earned more viewers and positive word of mouth as well as a second season, but instead, by holding off on those elements to feature dumb gimmicks, the series will now probably never get the chance to explore those more intriguing and original aspects.

The River wasn’t all bad; it could’ve been worse, but by failing to take full advantage of its opportunity to speak to millions of viewers in a meaningful way, it’s squandered any potential it once held to be a mainstream success.