Although The River took a few baby steps in the right direction this week, it’s probably too little, too late. The series debuted to mediocre ratings, and they’ve only gotten worse since then, so it’s not too much of a stretch to assume that the show will be one-and-done after this eight-episode season. If that is indeed the case, then we’re already over halfway through a story that’s gaining as little momentum as the Magus did while making its way slowly through the mist early in this week’s episode, “Peaches.”
The title might suggest that the crew accidentally ingests some cursed fruit this week, but as it turns out, Peaches is the nickname bestowed upon Lena by her father, missing Undiscovered Country cameraman Russ Landry (Lee Tergesen, forever Beecher from Oz to me). As the episode opens, Lena is understandably a little ticked off that everyone else seems solely concerned about finding Emmett, with almost no concern ever expressed for her father. Character development! And somewhat surprisingly, given how deficient The River has been in that area so far, it’s not the only character development to be found in this episode.
In the most welcome case, Jahel progresses a bit beyond her role as the Spanish Exposition, somehow managing to smile once or twice. (In what passes for humor on this show, there’s even a joking reference to the fact that she thinks everyone else on the ship is afraid of her. Well, of course they are, Jahel! Every time you open your mouth, it’s to talk about something terrible that’s about to happen to them!) She even gets to flirt with a boy; admittedly, it’s a boy who turns out to have been dead for quite some time, but still—baby steps.
Kurt also manages to transcend his previous role as the vaguely menacing security guy who is actually terrible at his job. After the Magus encounters another ship, the Exodus, and welcomes its crew aboard for drinks, Kurt uses the all-seeing surveillance system to determine that their guests mean them harm. He does his best to quell the threat, shooting one of the Exodus crew members several times, but it’s to no avail, as he is also already dead. Indeed, all the Exodus crew members are ghosts trapped on the river, and can only be freed by finding replacements for themselves and stranding them aboard their ship until the sun comes up. (Yes, it’s a rather convoluted set-up, but it’s good for a fairly suspenseful rescue, as well as handful of flinch-worthy scares along the way.)
“Peaches” even pulls off an “I should have seen it coming” moment, after Lena discovers her father Russ is aboard the Exodus. When the cavalry arrives minutes before dawn, armed with flares to burn the ghost ship down, Lena urges Russ to come back to the Magus with them. But he can’t do that, because...he’s been dead all along. It’s the old Sixth Sense switcheroo, but I have to admit, it worked on me. (Less effective was the lampshade-hanging moment when Lena pretends to have a Blair Witch-style freakout for Jonas’s camera. Please don’t try to do “meta,” The River. It’s not your strong suit.)
Despite the things it did right this week, the series is still deeply flawed. The appearance of Russ should have been the opportunity to advance the mythology we’ve been waiting for, but he doesn’t add much to our storehouse of knowledge, aside from the fact that Emmett set off into the jungle on foot after leaving the Magus. The attempt at generating heat from a Lincoln-Lena-Jonas love triangle was predictable enough, and almost certain to become tedious in weeks to come. The dialogue is too often cringe-worthy, and the acting rarely more than serviceable. (Tergesen would have been a strong addition to the cast, but obviously that’s not going to happen, unless he pops up again in the archival footage.) Baby steps are better than nothing, but The River needs to take a big leap forward if it’s going to last longer than the three hours remaining this season.
- Russ told Lena that no guy would ever ask out a girl who played the accordion. Not true, I can personally attest! (It seemed like a good idea at the time.)
- Shouldn’t Jahel, the keeper of all supernatural secrets, have known there was something wrong with the crew of the Exodus? Maybe she was just happy to have someone to talk to.