At last, we find out what happened to Dr. Emmet Cole after he disappeared up the Amazon.

The River
Credit: Mario Perez/ABC
S1 E6
  • Movie

One of the things that most intrigued me about The River when it premiered was that ABC had only committed to an eight episode run. That meant executive producer Oren Peli, the found-footage wunderkind behind Paranormal Activity, was allowed to craft a tight, streamlined narrative that could remain faithful to its premise, without having to dilute and compromise it over 22 episodes, and resolve its mysteries without a glut of red herrings. Unlike, say, that other Steven Spielberg-produced sci-fi yarn over on Fox, Terra Nova, which found itself canceled on Monday. And just when I was really starting to invest in all that teen romance too!

So who else thought we were going to finally meet Dr. Emmet Cole in the present last night? I mean, the episode was actually titled “Dr. Emmet Cole,” for the Boiuna’s sake! In an interview with, exec producers Zack Estrin and Michael Green suggested that the solution to Cole’s disappearance wouldn’t be the biggest mystery on the show. But now that we’ve got only two episodes left…it kind of seems that it is. Not that I’m complaining! Actually, I thought “Dr. Emmet Cole” played like a found-footage version of Blow-Up, with The River’s characters basically just sitting around and scrutinizing video footage for most of it. And the acting challenge presented to Bruce Greenwood—monologue in front of a camera for most of an hour without seeming entirely like a crazy person—was pretty incredible.

“Dr. Emmet Cole” began with Lena dealing with her father’s death by staring out wistfully at the Boiuna and trying very hard not to rock and back forth, sobbing, while cradling herself in her arms. It’s just Daddy’s Little Girl and her accordion, now. Lincoln thought he would call in an evac to get her out of there. “Can you imagine what Lena’s going through?” Tess asked her son. Um, yes, since Lincoln had written off his father for dead six months ago. Lena interrupted and said she wanted to go with them to the falls first, where Russ had said Emmet was headed to find the Zulos, the magically healthy, possibly angelic Amazonian tribe that guards the Source. Well, it turns out there was nothing to be found at the falls other than some tasty bacon-flavored leaf-cutter ants and Russ’ camera bag with tapes inside. At last! We can justify having a flashback to what really happened to Emmet, since, thankfully, even when starving, feverish and nursing a broken ankle, he thought to videotape his every moment.

Flashback six months…camerawoman Rabbit Fischer is wondering how long she and fellow videographer Manny will have to wait until Emmet finds inspiration. Emmet was just sitting around in his cabin ruminating on the “magic” out there when one of those creepy dragonflies crawled into his mouth and showed him the way. Unless I was totally blind…I never saw that dragonfly crawl back out, so could everything that we saw Emmet do for the remainder of the episode have been him under the influence of some Amazonian insect-spirit? Mysteries! With the dragonfly controlling his consciousness, Emmet turned to the camera and said he knows where “They” are: the Sahte region! Near the falls! And it was by those falls that Emmet remembered he could hear a song emanating through the jungle, a particular chord progression that seemed to have special significance, like the five-note theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind or the tune that’s really a secret code in The Lady Vanishes.

NEXT: Russ and Emmet have fisticuffs, and Rabbit wants some Amazonian lovin’.

Russ, down to earth and sensible as always, thought Emmet was crazy. The Magus had run out of gas and they’d lost Cam and Jonas to the jungle. In short, they had found too much magic out here. Emmet told him that Lena would be ashamed of him, that she would understand why they needed to go on, because she’s “marked.” “I gave up my life for your dreams,” Russ shouted back, ultimately locking fists with him. Emmet took off in a skiff with Rabbit and Manny, and left Russ behind to his ultimate fate as the prisoner of a ghost ship.

Rabbit was particularly enthused about her adventure with Emmet Cole, an enthusiasm that you might think would be tempered after having one crew mate transformed into a “dry spirit” and having another left hanging in a tree. But girlhood crushes can overcome anything! And now that Emmet and Tess had broken up, Rabbit might have a chance to consummate that crush after all. Well, not really. Emmet was pretty oblivious to her longing, choosing to spend his time mugging for the camera, reciting Kipling poems, and taking potshots at how Clark for how he would surely omit said Kipling poems from the broadcast. So around their campfire one night Rabbit decided to make her move: she put her hand on Emmet’s leg! Emmet was shocked and said that, though he and Tess had broken up, he hadn’t broken up with her “in here,” pointing to his heart. Well, of course we know Tess will be more hellbent to find Emmet now than ever after seeing that! This tender scene was quickly ruined when Manny noticed the hide of the monkey they had seen earlier. And, up above, hanging from the vines, his flayed corpse! Take about the proverbial cold shower.

Emmet said he thought it was a spirit called Il Tunchi, which totally freaked out Jahel. And when Jahel is freaked out, you better listen. She said that Il Tunchi wasn’t in fact a spirit, but rather a demon. A demon that comes to kill you.

Meanwhile, back in the present, the new Magus crew decided to take a brief break from their marathon viewing session. Lena had a confession to make to Jonas. Remember how everyone came flying down to the Amazon because of that beacon from Emmet that was suddenly activated? Well, Lena set that beacon off herself just so she could get people looking for her dad again, because everyone else had given him up for dead. And she hadn’t.

NEXT: Emmet finds himself alone in the jungle with only a demon for companionship. It’s like an Apitchatpong Weerasethakul film, if Weerasethakul decided to go all Blair Witch on us.

Back to the tapes! Emmet decided to open up a little more to Rabbit. He said that he and Tess had been sailing around the world, when she got pregnant. He was ready to settle down, sell the boat, buy a house, trade in the pith helmet for a business suit and all that. But poor baby Alice died of a heart defect a week after she was born. As Emmet said, “It felt like the end of dreaming.” So Tess canceled the sale of the boat and got Emmet out filming just so he had something to do, and eventually he had enough footage to pitch a TV show to a network. With The Undiscovered Country, Emmet was able to become himself again and this time make the world his family. It was a poignant story and added a sympathetic dimension to Emmet’s exploratory obsessions that’s mostly been missing. Too bad Rabbit had to immediately punctuate his story with her own recitation of “There’s magic out there.” On the nose, Rabbit.

Whereas that previous tender scene between Emmet and Rabbit was interrupted by the discovery of that flayed monkey, this one was interrupted by a flayed Manny. Yes, Il Tunchi struck again, rattling the trees with a ferocity that only the smoke monster from Lost would truly appreciate, and killing Manny. Emmet was only able to make the demon flee by whistling that tune he got stuck in his head from way back at the falls. Okay, maybe the mysterious “deaths” of her two other colleagues hadn’t already done it, but after the death of Manny, Rabbit was well and truly freaked out. I guess death really does come in threes.

Rabbit took off the next morning, stealing away Emmet’s rations, gear, and pack. All she left him were the cameras, batteries, and a solar charger, so at least, thankfully, every one of his movements would be documented and The River would be justified in showing us what “really happened” to the good doctor. He had a long hike ahead of him though. It was 80 kilometers back to the falls. In this steamy Brazilian climate he’d probably make only five klicks a day, and even still that would burn about a good 2,400 calories. Ah, nothing like a 16-day survival trek through the Amazonian jungle to get you in shape, huh? The more desperate his situation seemed, the more Emmet beamed those pearlie whites. When faced with overwhelming odds you’ve just got to cling more and more to your convictions, even if it makes you seem like some unholy combination of Tony Robbins and Coach from Survivor.

NEXT: Dogs are tasty!

Things only got worse for Emmet from there. He was feverish—damn that river water!—and he couldn’t get a fire going for his life. Well, at least he could use his magical incantation to create fire in his hands. But worst of all, he called Lincoln on his satphone, and his son’s only real response to anything was to shout to a third party, “I’ll be right there!” I mean, a packed hall was waiting for his genetics lecture. Come on! But Lincoln in the present realized that that was the last time they had spoken to one another. And he was pretty broken up about it. And then, if things couldn’t get any worse, Emmet climbed up a tree to reach some tasty mangos and ended up falling, breaking his leg. Now he really couldn’t get any food.

What to do? Hmmm….that dog, Sasha, looks mighty nutritious. And so tasty too! Emmet was going to slaughter his dog, just the feel-bad ending the Lincoln and his mom needed to their epic viewing party, right? But Emmet just couldn’t do it. So, with Il Tunchi closing in, he lay down on the jungle floor and awaited his fate. But instead of flaying him, Il Tunchi fled once again. That’s because—at last!—the Zulos found Emmet, took him back to their village, patched him up, chanted over him, and dumped him outside the barbed-wire fence of an Amazonian research station full of jeeps and people in lab coats. That can only mean one thing: Emmet’s alive!

Lincoln, Tess, Lena, Clark, and the others made their way on foot to where that research base should be…but once they arrived, the only living soul they found was Sasha, the dog, who still hadn’t ended up as anybody’s meal. Everybody else was gone, as if all of a sudden this facility was run by the Dharma Initiative and had been purged. Alas, after all of that, another dead end.

What did you guys think of “Dr. Emmet Cole”? When exactly do you think we’ll find the good doctor, anyway? And are you finding yourself drawn in more and more to The River?

Episode Recaps

The River

  • Movie
  • Mark Rydell