Zombies overrun a research station. But in this Walking Dead territory did Emmet become the Amazon's Daryl Dixon? Or end up like Dale?

The River
Credit: Mario Perez/ABC
S1 E7
  • Movie

And you thought after last week The River was going to keep you hanging about the fate of Emmet Cole, right? Hanging like Jonas from a Boiuna vine. Well, didn’t you think wrong? “The Experiment” probably could have been the season ender, since it not only revealed Emmet’s fate but reunited him with Tess and Lincoln. And in spectacularly badass fashion, I might add. I mean, what’s more badass than a reality TV star holing himself up inside a makeshift chrysalis for six months only to emerge to blow away a zombie with a shotgun? Sitch, my main man, forget about the GTL shtick. Let’s see if you can do that. And have abs like Bruce Greenwood’s when you’re his age.

The episode opened to a flashback seven months ago, when Lincoln Cole first received the phone call from his mom telling him that Daddy Emmet had gone missing up the Boiuna. Lincoln was all like, “Come on, Dad’s just a glorified Jack Hanna, what could possibly have happened to him?” And Tess was like, “Um…you never heard of Steve Irwin’s little run-in with a stingray? TV wildlife experts are totally vulnerable!” Anyway, that’s how I imagine that conversation going down, but of course there’s really no room for imagination here since Lincoln’s frisky, bored-by-genetics girlfriend decided to record the whole thing on her cell phone.

Cut back to the present: The research base where the Magus crew knows Emmet was taken has been abandoned. Either some terrible jungle threat raided the compound and drove everyone away. Or these were drug runners who packed up shop. Or the world ended while the Magus went up the Boiuna, meaning that now they’re the only survivors. Which, I’m not gonna lie, I hoped was the case. It could mean a season two title change from The River to Up S— Creek. None of the above, I’m afraid. But something happened. Those cars hadn’t been used in months. And for the first time, Clark was really scared. He turned to Tess and told her that no one would blame her for wanting to turn back. But it was really him who wanted to turn back.

Kurt went off and used his satphone to call a woman named Hanna. But no response. It may not have been the German he was looking for, but all of a sudden Kurt, and everyone else, heard the plaintive German refrain of a Kurt Weill-ish song blasting out of the facility. Someone was in there! Time to go inside.

NEXT: Um, is this the same hospital Rick on The Walking Dead wakes up in to discover that world has ended?

Well, there wasn’t much to see. Power was out, paper was everywhere along with cups and discarded food containers. It looked like the abandoned hospital Rick wakes up into in The Walking Dead. Maybe it is the end of the world, and, to paraphrase R.E.M., they really don’t know it. Oddly enough, Lincoln discovered not only genetics books, but the exact same genetics books he’d been reading in class last year when his girlfriend Gillian wanted to make a, um, study tape of him in class. Most ominous of all were the bloody footprints that led to the kitchen. This is one of the few times I feel that the found-footage style really has enhanced our subjective identification with the characters, by limiting our perception of what’s going on to exactly what it is they’re experiencing at that moment. We’re truly going into the unknown with Lincoln, Tess, Kurt, and the rest of the Magus crew.

In the kitchen they found rotten food left out in the open. But none of it had been touched so it couldn’t have been jaguars that overran the facility. One other thing was also lying out in the open…Emmet’s hat. And it was covered in blood! Note that it’s the same type of quirky old-folks hat that Dale wore on The Walking Dead, and look what happened to him. Actually, all these Walking Dead references I’m dropping do have a point because The River finally decided to have its own zombie episode with “The Experiment.” Though I suppose these weren’t really zombies, since to be a zombie you have to be a reanimated corpse. What happened here was more akin to the “rage virus” that got out in London in 28 Days Later, turning otherwise decent, even-tempered human beings into mindless, bloodthirsty maniacs.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The group started to hear a buzzing sound—never a good sign–coming from within a freezer. Before even gazing inside you just knew it was going to be full of human corpses hung up on meathooks, right?

NEXT: A flashback to the similarly cluttered, though non-zombie-infested Cole family home when Tess first learned that Emmet’s beacon had been discovered.

This was a shock. A shock that demanded a brief flashback to one month ago in Silver Spring, MD, when Clark arrived to tell Tess they’d found Emmet’s beacon. “Let’s sell a TV show,” he mugged at the camera before knocking on Tess’ door. Somehow Clark and doomed cameraman Sammy just let themselves in, because Tess was lying on a couch in despair, totally motionless, having wrapped herself cocoon-like in a blanket. Junk abounded everywhere, leading Sammy to snark, “It looks like the maid went missing too.” Clark told an incredulous Tess that he wasn’t there for an interview, he was there to tell her that Emmet’s beacon had been found. The subtle way that Leslie Hope first pulled down her blanket away from her face to indicate shock, then buried herself into it further in relief, was pretty great acting, and totally justified the found-footage aesthetic with her stark naturalism. Clark said that he’d raised the money for the expedition. There was only one catch…

Back to the meat locker…Lincoln, being a doctor and used to corpses and all, volunteered to go into the freezer and see if Emmet was in there. If he was, wow, that would be a bummer of an ending to their expedition, right? Jonas agreed to come in with him, but left almost immediately to get sick.

AJ meanwhile, totally back to his mercenary ways prior to his test of character at the hands of the Morcegos, noticed that Kurt had snuck off. The security chief tried his satphone again and this time, as soon as he finished dialing, he heard a phone ring somewhere else in the station. He was calling someone here! This Hanna who he knew worked here! Could this mean that these researchers, the ones who rescued Emmet, are the secret employers he’s been working for to bring down the Magus’s expedition from the inside? The ones whom he told that the crew would be “dead in days” and that “Cole would never find The Source”? Or had his employers already gotten here and exterminated everybody? He went into a dormitory and picked up a photo that featured a beautiful woman…and him! Ah, so this Hanna was his lover. But was she something more?

NEXT: Oh yeah, Kurt wants to make a sex tape with Hanna. Found footage indeed!

Flashback four months ago to an apartment in Berlin, where Hanna is just waking up. Naked. Kurt’s the cameraman this time, and he wants to videotape her in the buff to have something to remember her by. Oh yeah, some Teutonic sex tape action here. Well, before Kurt could be the Tommy Lee to Hanna’s Pam Anderson, he decided to take things in a more romantic direction and presented her with a ring. That Kurt, what a softie!

Back at Hanna’s decidedly less chic quarters in the Amazon, Kurt realized someone was hiding out in her bathroom. Lincoln finished his foul-smelling sweep of the freezer and, to the relief of all, Emmet was not inside. But he did think that those bodies were stacked up in the freezer to be food. Cannibals were afoot! And in 2012, cannibals can only mean one of three things: an anachronistic, highly-stereotypical portrayal of a native tribe; a suave serial killer; or a zombie epidemic. The River opted for the third choice. Though these researchers weren’t any less murderous before being inflicted with their “rage virus.” Apparently they had found and killed a member of the Zulos and pickled him in a vat. Lincoln pointed out the strips of flesh he’d flayed off his back, bony protrusions which some had thought meant that the Zulos were angels who’d cut off their wings. This Zulos also had the same mark as Lincoln’s necklace…and the birthmark Lena has on the back of her neck.

NEXT: Silly Rabbit, human flesh is for zombies.

Before they could tarry any further in the lab, Kurt came back…with Rabbit. Yes, the exuberant-camerawoman-turned-terrified-scream-queen played by Katie Featherston from Paranormal Activity had indeed found “magic out there,” but not a way out of the jungle. Just like Emmet, she’d ended up at this research station and had seen unspeakable horrors. All she could whisper was, “They’re coming. They’re hungry.” At that moment a drooling, hunched-shouldered goon appeared at the end of the hallway and began a mad charge toward them. Kurt fired and fired his handgun, but only on about the sixth bullet did the zombie drop dead. Dude, Kurt, headshots only when firing at zombies. You have to destroy the brain stem, it’s a known fact.

A bunch of other zombies lay in wait in the courtyard outside. But Rabbit chose this moment to begin her contrition for abandoning Emmet, her girlhood crush, to the jungle. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” she said. “I left Emmet, but I didn’t mean to.” Sure, Rabbit, you didn’t mean to. That’s why you left the good doctor with only his camera to document his suffering, right? Then she apologized to Jonas for leaving him behind, swinging from a vine like Jonas of the Jungle. “I don’t blame you,” Jonas said. “I blame Emmet. You don’t blame the sheep for following the shepherd.” She said that Emmet was being treated by the doctors when she got here, and that they said he was going to be okay.

Lincoln found a laptop that was possibly full of data about what the researchers were doing here. Lena offered her assistance with a dismissive “You’re really good with the blood and guts. But electronics? Not so much.” Up popped the video. Turns out, this was a lab where researchers were honing in on a cure for cancer. They were looking for a particular gene sequence in that Zulos they’d killed. The dude was over fifty yet still had the cardiovascular system of a teenager. They were working on manufacturing a retrovirus that could give the Zulos’ gene sequence to everyone, basically preventing cancerous cells from ever spreading. Of course, before the head researcher could shout “Eureka!” the head of security—Hanna!—marched in and shot all the doctors, breaking open the retrovirus containers in the process. This virus was indeed airborne so everyone in that room would be affected. And it hadn’t been fine-tuned, so everyone affected, Hanna included, might would go insane as a side effect of being rendered immune to cancer. You’d think Kurt’s girlfriend would have better judgment, but I’m afraid not.

NEXT: The insensitivity of sporting goods customers is finally laid bare, and Emmet is found hanging inside his own chrysalis.

The group saw a flashing light from across the courtyard. A signal mirror? And it was coming from where the infirmary was located! It could be Emmet! Flashback to Boulder, Colorado two months ago where Lena was working at a Sports Warehouse. An obese fan recognized that she was “the girl from that show.” Note to movie and TV fans everywhere: if you see an actor you recognize working in a sporting goods store it’s probably best just to leave them be rather than rub their life of former glamour back in their face. Lena’s reaction is really the only one they can leave you with: “Is there something I can help you find?” The dude only says, “I’m sorry about Dr. Cole,” when her dad, Russ, is missing as well. No wonder she promptly went into a seizure as soon as he left. But oddly enough that seizure seems to have been some kind of psychic impulse, because the moment she woke up she realized that Emmet—and possibly her father—was still alive.

In order to get to the infirmary, the group had to pass over the collapsed bodies of rage virus-infected doctors. Apparently, their cannibalistic frenzy causes them to expire briefly every now and then. Kurt spotted Hanna in just such a state of hibernation. He told her he loved her, then fired at all of the infected, including, presumably, his fiancée.

Alas, there was no signal mirror at the infirmary. It was just a windchime. Tess finally despaired. “He isn’t here?” she asked. “He’s gone, isn’t he? He’s dead.” Lincoln and his mom shared a hug. Then a dragonfly appeared. You know what that means! Lincoln himself even realized that every time they see a dragonfly it means they’re a step further to Dad. This one led them onto the roof. The music was all Bear McCreary mysterious. (Question: Is all the music supposed to have been added in to the “TV show” the Magus crew’s footage has since become? If not, cheat.) They found a door on the roof, passed through a labyrinth of cobwebs and finally, suspended in some form of amber, aqueous chrysalis in a dark, dank corner, was Emmet. Quickly we saw footage of Emmet in 2002 talking about how “Nature always offers a way,” how moths and butterflies retreat into a chrysalis when they most need to conserve resources…and transform from a caterpillar into their winged state. Hmm…dragonflies too? They cut open the gooey sack and Emmet spilled out. He was alive, but barely. They dragged him back through the jungle to the Magus, pursued by zombies that Kurt dispatched with his ace marksmanship. But oddly enough, Emmet’s beloved dog Salsa, the one he spared from becoming a tasty feast in his most desperate hour, refused to come on board the ship. So they left without her.

NEXT: Zombies invade the Magus! And they want to feast on Rabbit!

In a quiet moment, Lincoln thanked his mom for bringing them out here. They had Emmet back because of her determination. Now that they were safe, Lena offered Lincoln food…and her love. Regarding the food, Lincoln said, “After today it’s gonna take me a little while to get my appetite back.” Regarding her love, he explained he has a girlfriend, Gillian, the genetics un-enthusiast, back in Chicago. Okay, Lena didn’t approach Lincoln quite that directly, but she was visibly disappointed when he told her that. Rabbit was in for an even bigger disappointment. Tess told her that they were going to stop at the first village they found and get Emmet to a hospital, and, well, Rabbit had better find her own transport from there.

But as soon as Rabbit let Tess’ rejection sink in, she was attacked by a zombie! Loved that overhead security camera shot of Rabbit as she was slowly dragged offscreen, with finally only her shoe visible at the lower edge of the frame, spasming gently as Rabbit departed this world. What surprised me, though, was that Jahel, all the while at the helm, didn’t sense this terror descending upon the ship. Has she lost her powers? The usually vigilant Kurt was oblivious as well, as he came stumbling drunkenly into AJ’s quarters. AJ, morally bankrupt as ever, said that he’s going to be on his next job soon but before he leaves he wanted to know what the hell Kurt is doing here. Not for the show, but for his own satisfaction. Kurt replied in German, “I’m going to kill Emmet Cole.”

Finally, Jahel came screaming that one of them was on the ship. Kurt ran to investigate and encountered the one near the bow of the Magus that had probably dispatched Rabbit: Hanna. Kurt spoke to his fiancée, offered her help, then shot her through the glass, twice. Then a second one attacked Lena, Lincoln, Tess, Clark, and Jahel where they had holed themselves up near the sickbay. But a mysterious stranger emerged from the shadows near the infirmary, wrapped in bandages, and toting a shotgun. He pretty neatly blew the zombie away with one blast of his sawed-off, blue-steel beauty. Emmet. “So, how was my funeral?”

Like I said: badass.

NEXT: A theory based on puns and wild speculation.

A Theory: The Lincoln Geneticist

Obviously, for the Spielberg-endorsed family drama at the heart of The River, the search for Dr. Emmet Cole, father, husband, and employer that he is, has been paramount. But I wonder how relevant it will ultimately be when the full mythology of the series is revealed? So he went on an expedition up the Boiuna to find “The Source.” But basically he wanted to find and make contact with the Zulos, which is exactly what the researchers of that lab wanted to do, though they had murderous intent even in their pre-zombie state. The Zulos are impossibly healthy and fortified, right down to their basic genetic structure. But Hanna wanted to kill the researchers before they could mine the corpse of that one Zulos of all its secrets. Whether that’s because she knew the retrovirus they’d concocted was dangerous, or she opposed their strategy of killing their lab subjects, or on some deeper level she opposed the idea of finding a cure for cancer, we’re not certain. However, if Kurt’s goals are the same as Hanna’s, it seems to me the greater threat he should perceive at this point should be Lincoln, not Emmet. It’s Lincoln who’s the only one aboard the Magus capable of furthering the research those scientists were conducting at the lab. Remember, he’d even read all the books he saw in the lab that previous year in class.

I’m wondering if everything we’ve seen has been one big plot to get Lincoln out to the Boiuna where his expertise is most needed. Possibly the scientists at the research station held Emmet there longer than needed in order to lure Lincoln down South America Way to assist them with their work. Or maybe Emmet himself realized he needed his son to help him bring the miracles he’d discovered among the Zulos back to civilization and planned his own disappearance to prompt his son to come after him. Either way you look at it, Lincoln is the biggest threat to Kurt and whatever his mission may be at this point, no matter whether Emmet has a big ass gun or not.

What do you think? Could this all have been a plot to get Lincoln upriver? Has Emmet somehow changed, prompting Salsa’s refusal to board the ship? Or is it just that the pooch was spooked by the zombies bearing down on them? Will Jonas plot revenge against the man who left him for dead? Has Jahel lost her powers? And what exactly does Kurt want?

Episode Recaps

The River

  • Movie
  • Mark Rydell