By John Keegan
“The River” takes a step back from the psychological horrors of the previous episode and turns to something a bit more familiar to genre fans in this installment. I would call this the “Resident Evil episode”, because that was precisely what was coming to mind from the start. And given my usual lack of enthusiasm for zombie stories (closer to loathing, actually), I was surprised at how well this episode worked for me.
Perhaps it has something to do with how the writers grounded the entire situation in the personal investments of the Magus crew. Certainly, the desire to find Emmet was a huge part of the story, but they also used Kurt’s back story to personalize the zombie infestation. While it did make the death of Rabbit and Kurt’s eventual requirement to kill his fiancé a bit more predictable than it needed to be, it added some much needed depth to the proceedings.
Starting the story with the carnage in the freezer was a very good idea. The fact that the crew was looking for Emmet, and then had to contemplate sifting through body parts in an attempt to identify the remains, immediately put the audience out of their comfort zone. And in this case, the documentary-style camera work added to the sense of psychological horror, since we got to see the crew react exactly as most of us would in such a sickening scenario.
Taking a page right out of “I Am Legend”, research into potential cures for cancer, based on the genetics of the “angelic” tribe featured in the previous episode, leads to the release of a fast-acting pathogen that turns normal human beings into killer zombies. (I hate it when that happens!) The episode runs through all of the usual tropes, though it was refreshing to see Kurt take the logical step and wipe out (most of) the nest of zombies when they stumbled into their lair.
I wasn’t at all prepared for the writers to pay off that ongoing business with the dragonflies. Most of this episode, and the one before it, kept to a more grounded brand of horror, and so it was a bit of twist for the more mystical/spiritual element to come slipping back under the door. And it was definitely strange, but I liked it all the more for it. And for the twist of having Emmet Cole back in the story, in the flesh, so quickly and unexpectedly.
The next episode is the season finale, and it could very well be the series finale, given the anemic ratings. I’m hoping that the writers took this into account and allow the bulk of the story to come to a conclusion. While there are a ton of unanswered questions about just what is happening, one could argue that the only narrative elements that need to be addressed are Kurt’s designs against Emmet Cole and what the crew plans to do now that Cole has been rescued.
From my point of view, the first part could be resolved in the finale, and the second part doesn’t need much closure at all. Whether or not the crew decides to go home, or follow Cole into the unknown to find the answers to all the strangeness they’ve uncovered, that is the sort of open-ended conclusion that could work, if done correctly. Sometimes it’s all right to leave mysteries unsolved, if the mere existence of those mysteries is just a backdrop to the more human struggles experienced by the characters.John Keegan is Editor-in-Chief for Critical Myth, a partner site of SciFi Vision.