A cursed surfer dude threatens to bring doom to the Magus crew.
Credit: Mario Perez/ABC
S1 E4
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Four episodes in, and, I don’t know about you, but I might just let myself get swept away by The River. Last night’s episode, “A Better Man,” was another moody, character-driven ride. If last week’s installment was all about redemption via potential self-sacrifice, with über-producer Clark Quietly willing to give his life to the Morcegos in exchange for his crew’s safety, “A Better Man” was about what Quietly and his ilk would do if an outsider needed to be sacrificed to restore the Amazonian balance—and save their own hides.

We began in flashback, to a particularly drenched Magus five to seven months ago. Dr. Emmet Cole was hacking all the vines that had tangled around his ship. But just as soon as he had cleared everything away, they grew right back. Oh, there’s magic out there. You better believe it.

In the present, the new crew of the Magus finally found themselves stumped. They’d been on the Boiuna 16 days looking for Emmet and had encountered nothing but a discarded GPS locator, his abandoned ship, hostile ghosts, and even more hostile natives. But as Clark oh-so-delicately put it in his perpetual British sneer, that wasn’t their biggest problem: “I mean, the problem isn’t just that we don’t have a lead. It’s that we don’t have a leader. When Emmet was around, there was no question. He was captain. He gave an order and everyone followed. But this group? There’s just a lot of suggestions. There’s plenty of cooks…and not one chef.”

Clark went around the ship asking each in turn who they thought was in charge, and the answers said a lot about each character. Faithful mechanic Emilio said Doc is the captain, even when he’s not here. Tess said she’s the captain and pretty well deflected the idea that her son could lead with the (s)motherly “Lincoln? He’s my baby.” Kurt said that if he leads it’s because he does so by example. He who sticks his neck out gets it cut off, right? And Lena just believes that they can all work together! It was that hippie-ish, communal spirit that seemed to prevail when Lincoln pulled out his guitar for an impromptu Amazonian jam session, with Lena backing him up on accordion. A laid-back hootenanny is usually the fallback of people who have nothing better to do, after all. But just before Lincoln could kick his falsetto into gear, the Boiuna presented them a lead hanging from a vine like fruit. A living, breathing, surfer-dude lead, with Peabody pretensions. Oh, and he just happened to be hanging from a noose.

NEXT: Meet Jonas, the new waterfall diving, bruschetta making, tribal-rights disrespecting member of the Magus crew.

Amidst the screams of the crew, Kurt shot down this unfortunate hanging man. Turns out it was Jonas Beckett, a recent hire as Emmet’s cameraman. As you can imagine, hanging from a vine like a plantain, Jonas was pretty well dehydrated and suffering from malaria. Who was this unfortunate soul?

Flashback to his audition tape to be Emmet’s new Undiscovered Country cameraman. Um…when a cameraman auditions for a gig, shouldn’t he/she present a roll of footage they’ve shot, not just a clip of them goofing off? Well, the latter must have clicked with Emmet, because a video of Jonas saying he’d “do anything to get the shot” then jumping off the roof of a house and into a swimming pool clearly landed him the job. Especially after he interviewed with Lena and he showed off his (barely visible) scars from his life as an adventurer—a broken arm from diving off a waterfall near Phuket to impress a French chick; a broken leg in a scooter accident in Santorini; a scarred thumb from an ambitious bruschetta recipe; a few ribs from landing in a patch of razorback coral while surfing. Okay, the latter was just so that Lena could see his abs. You could imagine…Clark wasn’t too thrilled. I mean, Emmet fired him and his crew just so he could hire this flaky dude?

But back to business: Kurt set about making quinine against Lincoln’s wishes. The quinine in an improper dose could combust with the antibiotics Jonas was taking and put him in cardiovascular arrest. Kurt was really insistent, though. And who could resist Thomas Kretschmann’s inimitably laconic Teutonic drawl of the line “I’ve treated malaria. I’ve survived malaria. How many cases have you seen…in Chicago?” Lincoln relented, then went off to let Lena stitch him up once again and reassure her about the rightness of hiring Jonas with a tried-and-true “You know, this isn’t your fault” speech. Tess, meanwhile, set about scouring Jonas’ cell phone for clues. You’ve just got to love a show that presents lines like “A cell phone holds GPS coordinates like breadcrumbs” with the utmost conviction.

Clark saw that Jahel was arguing with Emilio. Something about the arrival of Jonas seemed to set off the young lady, who’s quickly becoming the Cassandra of the Amazon with her visions of doom and crewmates who never quite take her seriously enough. Her oracle status is her one defining characteristic. But as sole defining characteristics go, having deep intuitive insight is better, I suppose, than just being, say, the pretty-girl love-object of a nerdy/needy male character, like Maggie on The Walking Dead.

NEXT: Dude, where’s my card?

All of a sudden, debris littered the ship from the sky. It’s a bird, it’s a…No actually, it was a bird. A lot of birds. Jahel knew what was going on, though. She kept telling her father over and over that this was because of El Colgado, The Hanging Man. Emilio wrote off El Colgado as a fairy tale they tell children so they won’t steal. But they also told stories about the Morcegos so their children wouldn’t steal, and look how that turned out. Jahel was on to something, because the moment Jonas awoke from his post-hanging, malarial stupor, he crawled into the edit bay and stole a tape that showed him filming a tribal funeral rite, one that had never before been caught on film, where an old man agrees to walk into the jungle to die. Emmet bade him turn off his camera because death demands dignity. Screw that. Jonas was going to get his Peabody, so he recorded the old man’s dying moments on his cell phone. Which meant he stole the old guy’s soul! And now it lives in his cellphone. That means the Boiuna demands payment. Ah, like last week, we have another redemption narrative on our hands.

As Jonas left the edit bay, Lincoln cornered him to ask exactly what happened out there. Jonas got all mysterious and was like, “What story do you want to hear? I could lie to you…” Then, when Clark discovered from the tapes that he’d been gone for over five months, Jonas abandoned his mysterious surfer-dude persona for a more relatable aw-shucks surfer-dude persona: “I guess somewhere after eating the 1000th earthworm it all blends together.” Of course, that meant he didn’t even know Emmet and the rest of the crew had gone missing, because he’d been separated from them well before they vanished.

Then the next plague appeared: giant cockroaches! They swarmed over the Magus, and this time Clark suggested that Jonas was to blame. Clark must also be among those who thinks that the mere presence of Melanie Daniels in The Birds is enough disruption to the ecological order of Bodega Bay that all avians just have to begin their war on humanity. Judgmental! “Emmet thought he was a d—k,”Clark told Tess. “Emmet thought you were a d–k,” she shot back. Jonas chose that particular moment to OD on quinine, perhaps to deflect suspicion from him, perhaps because our mole Kurt had intentionally given him too much hoping he, their best lead so far to Emmet, would kick off. As Lincoln prepared to inject epinephrine straight into his heart like Mia Wallace, Jahel asked Lincoln to pick a card, any card, because that’s how the Boiuna communicates with outsiders. Three times in a row, Emmet picked “El Colgado.” Damn.

After the roaches, a storm was next bearing down on the ship, because death would destroy all in its path in order to get back its Hanging Man. Jonas would have to hang again from a noose made of vines, forever feeling the torment of dying without the satisfaction of death. Yes, he had in fact been hanging the entire time since the Magus had abandoned him, in penance for photographing that funeral rite and stealing that tribal elder’s soul.

NEXT: Let him hang!

Clark, Kurt, and Jahel wanted to give Jonas back to the Boiuna and let him hang. Which was a tad hypocritical of Clark, since we all know he’d be willing to do anything for a shot, as well. But I suppose since he was willing to give himself up to the Morcegos last week in payment for trespassing on their sacred land, Clark felt that gave him the right to decide the fate of another who had seriously PO’d the Amazonian powers-that-be. Lincoln was horrified and said that they could definitely do better than Emmet and not just abandon the poor kid. I mean, like Jonas they’re arrogant, greedy, and scared too. But they can’t just leave someone behind. Before making up her mind, Tess wanted to grill Jonas about what exactly he knows about Emmet’s last location. He said he didn’t know, but that Emmet was desperately looking for The Source. So she was like, “Throw him overboard.” Tess is so hellbent on finding her husband—and facilitating her own redemption—that she’s willing to sacrifice a few souls along the way. Better to find Emmet than have everyone die for Jonas. In the midst of all their bickering, the storm began to rage and nearly consume the ship, and Jonas, making the decision for everyone else, called out to the Boiuna to take him, so that everyone else would be spared. Ah, that was the ticket. A bright light rose out of Jonas’ cell phone—the old Amazonian man’s soul!—and the noose uncoiled from around Jonas’ neck. His willingness to sacrifice himself was his redemption, so the Boiuna let him go free.

Still, this was little comfort for Lincoln, who now knew that his crewmembers were willing to leave someone behind. And that so was his dad. Luckily for him, he just then found a video in his edit bay of Emmet saying that he regrets abandoning Jonas. And that he was sorry for also shutting Tess and Lincoln out of his life because of his choice to search for “magic,” whatever the cost. Maybe a better man would have chosen differently, but this was his choice.

What did you think of “A Better Man”? Are you now officially hooked on The River? And what do you think of the addition of Scott Michael Foster’s Jonas to the cast?

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