So we come to it. The true test of a new high-concept series’ mettle. The second week. This can be a make-or-break moment for a new show. Terra Nova had a pretty decent, expansive, dare-I-say “cinematic” pilot. But after episode 2, with the Shannon family’s toddler in peril because of CGI pterodactyls, it was clear that show had no interest in pushing televisual boundaries, but was content to be a tepid “family hour” of teen romance and feel-good parent-child bonding filtered through the seen-’em-all clichés of cop, doctor, and military procedurals. Talk about a dinosaur! Episode 2 proved a deal-breaker for FlashForward, V, and Invasion, as well.
So I have good news for you. “Los Ciegos,” the second week episode of The River not only maintained the promise of its pilot—it exceeded it. That’s not to say that it didn’t share some perfunctory similarity to other less successful pilot follow-ups. Oddly enough, series of this ilk often build on their debut with what could be called a Trial of the Flesh. Terra Nova’s third episode was scraping the bottom of the TV barrel: an amnesia story line. Check that. The bottom of the barrel was truly reached on Star Trek: Enterprise, which took only three episodes to reach a male pregnancy plot. Lost more successfully explored a Trial of the Flesh six episodes into its first season when Charlie gave up drugs. These are all episodes about someone repenting for past sins or overcoming a crippling fear, and both such elements occurred in “Los Ciegos,” an hour that suggested The River may be more interested in developing its characters than merely subjecting us to silly found-footage shocks. But if they do want more of the latter, showrunner Oren Peli seems to know that the best scares come when you actually care about the characters on screen.
“Los Ciegos” opened with a 2002 clip from Emmet Cole’s Undiscovered Country series. I immediately cried foul when he said that sharks are so aggressive that they even start devouring one another “while in the womb.” I mean, only mammals have wombs, right? Yes and no. While thinking to myself that either Dr. Cole is really stupid, and thus his series was maybe just a cover for more covert research, or, and more likely, that The River is really stupid, I did a little research, and apparently Cole’s somewhat right. Unlike a lot of other fish, female sharks of many species carry fertilized eggs to term, though in an oviduct, not a “womb” per se. Hence, their number of offspring from any given reproduction cycle is relatively low. Also, I guess I should have realized that sharks would be smart enough to know that external fertilization isn’t any fun. No matter. The thematic point being set up here, I think, is that individuals can turn on each other when in a confined setting like the womb or The Magus. Like Kurt, apparently plotting the deaths of his fellow crew members in conjunction with some shadowy operatives on the other end of a satellite phone. Or Clark, willing to abet Kurt just because his betrayal will make for good ratings.
Walking deeper into the jungle after their dual experiences with ghosts in their first ten days up the river, the crew of The Magus quickly saw a portent of doom: the mark of the Morcegos, an Amazonian tribe so fearsome that locals tell stories to their children about them to make them behave. Kind of like how my dad invented a mythical school (I think mythical. I hope mythical) called Morganza that he threatened to send me to if I misbehaved. I have issues. But unlike Morganza, these Morcegos were all too real, as evidenced by their chalk-outline symbol, an open eye. It was a warning for our party not to go any further. Sacred land was ahead. Apparently, nobody in the group had seen Jeremiah Johnson or they’d know the perils of venturing into the sacred land of a native people. And they entered into the most sacred part of that sacred land, a terrifyingly claustrophobic cave. All except for A.J., who we learned had been trapped in a mine on a previous job and now refused to go underground. At all. So he watched the camera equipment as everybody else went down into the bowels of the earth, hoping to run into Emmet. Instead, they discovered a corpse missing its eyes. Don’t worry, it wasn’t Emmet, or even Lena’s father. Just some random dude who’d left the Morcegos majorly PO’d. Think of the Morcegos like the Hovitos from Raiders of the Lost Ark, except they protect their ancestral land via disembowelment and inflicted blindness and not by rolling boulders.
NEXT: The River goes all José Saramago on us when the Magus crew is stricken with blindness.