Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
We may earn a commission from links on this page

The River: “The Experiment”

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

In this episode of The River, our intrepid explorers run across a forgotten outpost from The Walking Dead. While this should ramp up the horror and tension, all of the big reveals instead seem to suffer from a lack of imagination. There’s more than a small hint of Lost in the mysterious compound, but the plot points seem taken from the worst and most ridiculous twists of that show. Besides the sudden appearance of zombies, there is the absurd conceit of the glass windchimes leading the characters to the lab and the magical dragonflies encasing our lost hero in magical dragonfly silk that somehow nourished him and kept him alive for months.

Unfortunately, the episode proceeds for the most part without Bruce Greenwood’s lost hero, the only truly compelling character in the cast. With him out of the picture (for the most part, at least), the show attempts to make the other characters more sympathetic by adding in glimpses of their back-story while maintaining the increasingly pointless captured footage conceit, but the episode is also unconvinced that viewers care enough to remember this back-story later in the same episode. Kurt’s story is the worst offender, as we twice see home footage of him proposing to his naked lady love four months earlier in Berlin, but then when he finds her zombified in the Dharma Initiative building, the show flashes back to that same footage of some 10 minutes prior, presumably to help along the slower viewers. Most of the other back-story does not really add anything, although we do see Lena have what looks like an epileptic seizure at her retail job. Actually, the most horrible piece of back-story from a purely human standpoint has Clark bursting into Tess’ house with ex-cameraman Sammy to convince this deeply depressed and guilty lady to mount the expedition. Perhaps in a world where this very same lady would pull the very same stunt on her own son, this is acceptable behavior, but in any realistic setting, she should have shot him.

So, having found the mysterious compound at the end of the last episode, the heroes wander inside. There are clues everywhere that the people who worked and lived there vanished in a hurry, but besides the bloody handprints on the wall, there's no sign of said people, at least until the characters stumble over the corpses in the kitchen freezer. A.J. catches Kurt wandering off and follows him to a dormitory, where he is looking for the lady from his flashbacks but finds young Rabbit instead. Rabbit, sadly, has been infected by the Lost virus, and even after the zombies attack, can only answer direct questions with non sequiturs. Fortunately, footage from one of the ubiquitous cameras turns up on an errant laptop to show the explorer club that the facility was working on a cure for cancer. If I understood this sequence correctly (I could have actually used some help from the Spanish Exposition here), they managed to turn this cure into a retrovirus, but Kurt’s lady love shot it up, thus somehow turning everyone into zombies. This raises a few questions. First, if it was supposed to cure cancer, why would the infected become mindless hunters of living flesh? Second, if it is airborne, how did the intrepid explorers club escape catching it immediately? Third, for that matter, how were Rabbit and Emmet spared?

Worse than the virus that moves in mysterious ways is the club’s decision to cross to the other building through the tunnels. One of the only useful pieces of information that Rabbit has to offer is that the zombies disappear every 10 minutes for some downtime. Since I have seen movies before, I knew they were in the damn tunnels. They also had established that there were two ways to cross to the other building: through the tunnels or overland. Once the club realized that they were in the darkened tunnels with the flesh-eating maniacs, however, Tess insisted that this was the only way to go. If there is a reason other than sheer stupid plot mechanics, I missed it. Perhaps she is just a really big fan of Call Of Duty.

Speaking of sheer stupid plot mechanics, the rest of the episode features the absurdity of the signal being just a reflection from glass windchimes, the magical dragonfly cocoon, the two-hour run back to the boat while dragging an unconscious man who is larger than anyone else in the club, and the Magus being so amazingly slow that the zombies overran it, despite their well-established need for a nap every 10 minutes. Even Emmet’s return to consciousness involves him shooting a zombie in close quarters with the bullet striking the wall less than a foot from his son. Nice aim for a guy who has presumably been unconscious and unfed for several months. However, having Greenwood reunited with the party lifts the prospect of the next episode out of the dismal range.

Stray observations:

  • I confess that I have not seen every episode of this show, but I am filling in because Scott Von Doviak has been called upon for a secret A.V. Club mission. The only declassified parts of his mission involve the words “traveling upriver” and “terminating a rogue reviewer with extreme prejudice.” Funny, I live upriver. Anyway, if Mister Von Doviak were here, he would have a word or two about fast zombies. More importantly, if I missed something that would have made me more sympathetic to this episode, then I hereby apologize. I will offer, though, that I saw last week’s episode and completely agree with Scott’s review and rating.
  • During the conversation where Lincoln tells Lena that he has a girlfriend, the door is open just enough to see Emmet on the bed behind him. Their conversation was so astoundingly dull that I kept watching Emmet, expecting him to sit up or do something creepy just out of frame. But no. It was just a dull conversation.
  • The main reason I am angry with this episode is that they abandoned Salsa. I like that dog more than most of the rest of the cast. That’s some serious bullshit there.