The River S01E03 Recap: "Los Ciegos"
Last week, we gave the series premiere (well, the first two episodes) of "The River" a positive review because of its fast-paced storytelling, its admittedly frightening set pieces, because it used the "found footage" techniques really well, and, well, because it was just a lot of fun. With all that in mind, it has to be said that I'm usually a little easier on pilots, because it has to be recognized that everyone involved is new to that project at that point, chemistry has to be built and stories have to be set up, all while finding ways to entertain fans and keep them coming back for the upcoming episodes (or even to get picked up).
In other words, pilots tend to be shaky and uneven, but we balance our score knowing that this is usually inevitable. The strength of a show is in whether or not it can build on any momentum after a pilot, and on keeping things fresh and interesting as they move along. While the third episode of The River, "Los Ciegos" did manage to build on that momentum in certain regards, it also slowed things down a fair bit.
In "Magus" and "Marbeley", things moved at a relatively furious pace, as our characters went from the US to Brazil, to down the river and onto the Magus, to within the panic room, through the jungle and a creepy doll-infested clearing, and right back again, all within the span of two hours. It was quite an impressive feat, and it made us wonder how many freaky jungle creatures the writers had to burn off in the show's 8-episode first season run, and really where the show would take us in such a short span.
This week, we got a better idea of where the show seems to be headed, but the jury's still out on whether or not it's a good thing. To me, at least, it seems clear that we're looking at a "monster-of-the-week" type of mechanic until the show finally gets to finding Emmett (Bruce Greenwood). Depending on how they handle it going forward, that's not necessarily a bad thing. The show has only another five guaranteed episodes before ABC decides whether or not to pick it up for another season (and with mediocre ratings, the outlook isn't so certain just yet), and those five episodes have to give us more than just another creepy monster. I don't want to see 60 episodes of a show that essentially amounts to a supernatural procedural. Thankfully, Los Ciegos lies somewhere in the middle of procedural and truly story-driven horror, so there's still hope.
In the episode, the rescue team searches for another clue as to the whereabouts of Emmett and his team, and they discover that he spent a lot of time filming a certain cave, leading them to believe that there's something important there, and potentially another clue. When they get there, they find mysterious etchings on the walls of the cave. Young Jahal quickly informs the group that these are the markings of the Morcegos, or "Guardians of the Forest", a group of native warriors that aren't too often pleased when strangers intrude on their territory. Surely enough, they wake up the next morning to find similar etchings around their campsite. They also discover that Emilio has lost his sight. One by one, the rest of them also begin to lose their site, and they discover that these warriors are in fact poisoning them as punishment.
They figure out that they must find a bulb under a rare tree deep in the jungle to cure their blindness. The three remaining healthy members set out to find it, led by Lena. Unfortunately, the other two are Kurt and AJ, who has been bickering all episode. As we know, Kurt has actually been secretly working against the rest of the crew to hide the mysteries of the jungle from the world, and AJ's just kind of a pompous douche. Naturally, AJ is the last healthy one left, but only after he abandons his group and accidentally finds the tree. He conquers his fears and selfishnesh by crawling under the tree to find the bulb, but soon thereafter, he gets buried alive. Back on the boat, after Kurt accidentally stabs Clark, Lincoln has to perform a blind operation to save him, all while the Morcegos inch closer to getting to them.
The show takes them right to the end, but a rousing, selfless speech by Clark is enough to put the Morcegos off, saving them all in the process and allowing AJ to get back with the cure. In the end, they're really no closer to finding Emmett, but we get a few instances of some interesting character development, some redeeming moments from a few of the show's more annoying characters, and some pretty freaky moments that included no-eyed muddy warriors, slimy millipedes and plenty of shaky cam.
But it's not all good. The episode wasn't nearly as solid as what we saw last week, and felt too much like the writers were just burning off an episode, and only three weeks into a measly eight episode run, that isn't a good sign. It was still entertaining, but if anything, it was proof that The River has its limitations, and it's up the writers to jump that hurtle. While we got some decent character development and some good storytelling, the show is no closer to solving its main problem, and that's findning Emmett.
Speaking of Emmett and Bruce Greenwood, it was surprising to see that the actor had little to no screen time this week other than a brief flashback at the beginning. We knew that he wouldn't be around much, seeing as, you know, they're looking for him, but I really liked how they handled him last week, peppering the episodes with his mysterious recordings and old clips of him and his show. This week, nada. Although I guess it's convenient, since the major plot point was that everyone was losing their eyesight. Hopefully they change that next week.
In any case, we still see the inherent good in The River, but "Los Ciegos" was, if anything, a sign that it's not too far off from potentially being bad. Hopefully it's just a matter of the show finding its groove going forward, but with only five episodes left, they don't have much time left to do it. That said, I have no complaints with the show's production and directorial standards, which is impressive. The "found footage" and shaky-cam techniques haven't annoyed me, nor has the Paranormal Activity-esque "hey what's that weird figure in the corner of the shot" technique either. Even the bleeped swearing is actually kinda well done. And it's very interesting to see CGI blended with all of this found footage stuff as well. The show definitely has this going for itself, and not only because found footage is all the rage right now.
In any case, "Los Ciegos" gets 7 CGI millipedes out of 10.