See recap: To The House Of Enlightenment we go
The nomadic life reigns supreme in See’s fourth installment (“The River”), which finds all of its characters beginning, or continuing, treks through a perilous wasteland where rest and relaxation are costly luxuries. Too bad, then, that this episode is the first to truly spin its wheels, moving the narrative forward in only minuscule increments.
With Tamacti Jun’s forces encroaching on Alkenny, it’s time for our heroes to flee. Yet before she departs alongside Baba (Jason Momoa), Kofun, Haniwa, and Paris (as well as a trio of warrior comrades), Maghra makes sure to grab a small pouch that she’s been hiding in her home’s secret floorboard compartment. Kofun also decides to take something along on this trip — Gether, whom he abducts at knifepoint and drags into the forest. Always the most ruthless of the bunch, Haniwa tells her brother that Gether deserves to die for his attempts to throw them to the Witchfinder General’s wolves, but Kofun — intent on proving that “we’re not that kind of tribe” — instead knocks him out, thereby allowing him to crawl back home once he’s awakened.
Tamacti Jun isn’t happy he’s once again failed to grab Haniwa and Kofun, and expresses that frustration by making Alkenny’s inhabitants kneel before him (“Until proven otherwise, you’re all witches”) and savagely murdering Bow Lion’s mom. He then resumes his pursuit, which is complicated by the fact that Baba has made advance preparations for the possibility of an invasion (and need to escape) by building a big raft-like boat — and, now, he’s piloted his crew out onto the river. This is, let’s say, a convenient plot twist, though it hardly guarantees the characters’ safety, since Tamacti Jun’s minions are soon lining the shore, listening intently for any sign of Baba and company’s passage.
In a world where everyone’s hearing is finely tuned, even the subtle creaking of Baba’s boat is a dead giveaway, and Tamacti Jun’s forces quickly and brutally lay siege to the craft. This results in a skirmish most notable for Baba slicing a man’s throat while quietly lurking in the water, and the untimely death of two of Baba’s most trusted allies. As with prior action set pieces, this sequence proves that See is reasonably adept at wielding silence to suspenseful — if not quite innovative — effect; there’s modest tension to be found in the lead-up to this conflict, but once the weapons start swinging, it feels like countless similar battles one has seen before.
At least Gether, who’s rejoined Tamacti Jun on the riverbank, doesn’t live to see another backstabbing day, because at the conclusion of the melee, Haniwa shoots him with an arrow, and Tamacti Jun — after learning that catching up to Baba will be a challenge — finishes him off. Tamacti Jun then does what he does best: sends a message to Queen Kane informing her of his latest failure, which disappoints her but truly infuriates the royal cabinet, which relays that the populace is tired of this “fruitless crusade.” In response to this groundswell of opposition, she reminds them that the royal constitution says she’s in charge until she dies, and “I’m not feeling unwell.”
That doesn’t dissuade Lord Dune, who gives Kane a figurative slap across the face by claiming that her hunt for Haniwa and Kofun is less about squashing the “vision heresy” than about her misery over Jerlamarel’s departure. “They say we are a nation governed by a broken heart,” he asserts, which cuts deep because it’s true — even if, skeptics be damned, Haniwa and Kofun do have the magical power of sight.
Out of immediate danger, Kofun reads Jerlamarel’s final message. It states that they’re to follow the river to the great lavender road, and onward to the House of Enlightenment, where they’ll build a new kingdom that will stand as a “bright shining light in a world of darkness.” Maghra has had enough of Jerlamarel’s prophecy, however, and holds a vote about whether to follow the river further toward Jerlamarel or to set up a camp (hidden from Tamacti Jun) in the surrounding area. Baba votes with his angry wife to stop — as he later admits to Paris, he feared what she might do if he went against her — but everyone else elects to maintain their current course. The tie-breaker turns out to be Bow Lion, whose ensuing chat with Kofun (in which she justifies her choice by saying she has nowhere else to go, now that Alkenny has supposedly been slaughtered by Tamacti Jun) suggests that a romance between the two might someday blossom.
Change thus wins out over stasis, at least on the river. Back at the palace, Kane’s handmaiden Nyrie (Lauren Glazier) overhears the royal cabinet plotting to assassinate Kane. She reports this to the queen, who subsequently visits the treacherous Lady An and Lord Dune, who present her with a rare, newly captured songbird that will only croon its tune when sitting in one’s hand. The bird is, actually, a deadly spider. Kane doesn’t fall for this tricking-the-blind ruse, killing both of them with the aid of her servant while declaring, “I won’t die for this city. This city will die for me.”
Baba’s troupe stops for the night on the shore. Haniwa tells Maghra that she hopes Jerlamarel’s House of Enlightenment will be a beacon of hope where the past is remembered and that knowledge can be used to improve the present. Maghra wonders where her place in this glorious kingdom will be — to her mind, she’d be the blind queen alongside a king, prince, and princess who can see — and Haniwa tries to convince her mom that her motivations are altruistic in nature. That night, Kofun watches over his sleeping family, and yet in the morning, they discover that all of their weapons have been stolen. More troubling to Maghra, though, is that her pouch has also been pilfered. While she won’t reveal its contents to Baba, she demands that it be recovered at all costs, because it’s the only thing of her father’s that she possesses.
Before anyone can search for their belongings, Kofun and Haniwa spot a shadowy figure amidst the forest trees (it’s almost certainly Jerlamarel). At the same time, Kane hears from Nyrie that protests have sprouted up outside the palace (over the assassination of the cabinet lords). She reacts by shutting down the machines that power the dam, causing the water to stop flowing to the river, and the palace to crumble — all as she departs on her own journey to find Jerlamarel.
- As a callous, deformed leader whose source of power over her people is water, and who demands sex from her subjects, Kane shares some distinct similarities with Mad Max: Fury Road’s monstrous Immortan Joe.
- Nyrie appears to be a Shadow as well, meaning that both our heroes and villains have a stealthy magical partner by their side.
- Kane turns down Nyrie’s invitation to pray (made by placing her hand over the queen’s crotch) — the first instance in which we’ve seen the ruler restrain herself from pious self-gratification.
- We now know that the wall of ropes in the royal cabinet chamber are this monarchy’s “constitution.”
- Baba proudly boasts that, by building the boat, he’s proven he’s the equal of Jerlamarel (who constructed a bridge) — suggesting his jealous insecurities are still simmering.