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The River: “Doctor Emmet Cole”

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And on Day 28, things finally got interesting.

In many ways, “Doctor Emmet Cole” is the episode of The River I’ve been waiting for. As the title suggests, the focus is squarely on the man who’s been at the center of the story, even as his appearances in the series so far have been fleeting. For once, there is no booga-booga of the week to terrorize the crew and make us wonder yet again why they just don’t get the hell out of the Amazon before they all end up dead. And those of us who have been waiting for the series to dole out a little more of the overarching mythology get a major download this week. There are still problems with the show, including a distracting logistical matter I’ll get to in a bit, but for the first time since the premiere, I found myself looking forward to seeing where The River would take me next.


As the episode begins, the Magus is closing in on Sahte Falls, the last known whereabouts of Emmet Cole, according to Lena’s late father Russ. En route to the falls, the crew discovers Emmet’s camera bag, containing another cache of videotapes, presumably consisting of the last footage shot by Emmet and his remaining crew. Upon return to the ship, Tess, Lincoln, and the rest of the gang gather around the monitors to view the tapes. From the beginning, it appears that Emmet has gone a little off the deep end. After swallowing a magical bug, he has a vision of falls, accompanied by a four-note musical pattern he can’t identify. He is convinced that he has found the Source and its guardians, the Xulos tribe, whose members have complete immunity from disease and impossible healing powers. Here, perhaps, is the secret to eternal life, or something like that.

Emmet sets off on foot for the falls, accompanied by camera crew members Manny and “Rabbit.” (Rabbit is an attractive young lass who grew up watching The Undiscovered Country and had a crush on Emmet. She even had his lunchbox, which makes Tess uncomfortable for a moment, until Emmet assures Rabbit that the feeling isn’t mutual.) Emmet’s trek into the jungle increasingly resembles a particularly eerie episode of Survivorman, especially after Manny ends up skinned alive and hung from a tree, and Rabbit takes off for civilization, leaving Emmet to make his way to the falls alone. (Well, alone except for his loyal dog Salsa. One of the most suspenseful moments of the series so far centered around Emmet deciding whether or not to kill and eat Salsa after breaking his ankle climbing a mango tree. Seriously, I was squirming.)


With so much of the episode centered on Emmet, there was little time left for the characters we’ve spent the bulk of our time with so far. Frankly, this came as a relief to me, as I could use a break from most of these people. (After briefly emerging as a flesh-and-blood teenager last week, Jahel reverted to her role as the Spanish Exposition. And by this point, everybody expects the Spanish Exposition.) One of the episode’s off-key moments came when Lena, having learned from the new videos that she is marked, finds the symbol under the back of her hair. Really? She never knew that was there? After Emmet spotted it in such an off-handed manner?

The one thing that really bugged me about this episode involved the found-footage technique. I promised myself early on that I wasn’t going to get too hung up on the veracity of this conceit, but I couldn’t help but feel annoyed when the crew of the Magus gathered to watch the tapes they'd just found, and it all appeared to be fully edited, with different camera angles represented and all the boring parts cut out. If they’d actually viewed the raw footage, they would have had to watch each tape from each camera, with the same events recurring several times, and there probably would have been hours worth of footage with absolutely nothing happening. Later, when the Xulos tribesmen discover Emmet, we again see footage from several different angles. I’ll buy that Emmet has a mini-cam on his clothing, but did one of the tribesmen pick up a camera and decide to take pictures along the way? Again, I know it’s just a gimmick, and if I took my own advice, I wouldn’t be taking it seriously. But for whatever reason, it got to me this time.

Still, I’m heartened by the turn the show has taken, and in particular, the last few minutes of the episode, with the reveal of the compound deep in the jungle. This was a particularly Lost-ian turn of events, and a welcome one. I hadn’t held out much hope that this eight-hour mini-season would arrive at a satisfactory conclusion, but now there’s at least some reason to believe that the final two hours won’t be completely lacking in resolution.

Stray observations:

  • Kudos to Bruce Greenwood for his textured performance in this episode. Emmet Cole has been an enigma so far, but Greenwood gave us a long look at his emotional core tonight, even as he made us realize that there’s some part of Cole that’s always “on” for the cameras.
  • Russ: “I gave up my life for your dreams.” Yeah, you sure did, buddy.
  • I didn’t even mention the skinned monkey. Or the revelation that it was Lena who set off Emmet’s beacon by remote control in hopes of getting help to find her father. Or the nuts that taste like ice cream and the leaves that taste like bacon. Definitely the richest episode so far.