While zombies may still be a novelty when it comes to primetime television, as a horror device they're about as played out as Tyra Banks. That's why it's important for any new zombie portrayal to bring a fresh spin to the meme. Running! Speaking! Rage viruses! We've basically seen it all. So congratulations to The River for introducing a zombie innovation of its own: Napping! That's right, the zombies of The River stop for a nap every ten minutes or so. That sounds ridiculous—and it definitely is—but like much of the rest of "The Experiment," it oddly just worked. I'm just as shocked as you are, but this was a pretty solid episode of The River! This was certainly the first episode where I thought to myself, "You know, I could watch a whole movie of this." A high compliment for a TV show with such an unrepentant crush on horror films.
We picked up right where we left off last week: The crew of the Magus emerging from the jungle wide-eyed at an eerily abandoned facility of some kind. I'd guessed the place was related to deforestation but the truth was far more Dharma Initiative: It was an abandoned research facility. Mysterious German Kurt decided the place had been empty for months and its dark, disheveled interior suggested foul play. At this point The River turned into BioShock as old-fashioned music echoed through dark, sinister hallways. It was genuinely scary! And I don't know about you, but I really enjoyed not having to deal with the Magus' security camera footage for most of the episode. The handheld footage of Lena, Tess & Lincoln looking terrified in darkness felt more organic and believable than any of the found footage we'd seen so far.
Needless to say, not ten minutes went by before Lincoln definitively concluded that the research facility had been attempting to find a cure for cancer before everything went to heck. Suddenly everyone was following a trail of bloody footprints and a terrible odor toward a mysteriously "buzzing" walk-in freezer. And before you could say, "Um, don't?" Lincoln opened the freezer to unveil one of the more horrifying images ever seen on primetime television: Dozens of rotting corpses! Seriously: Though it was artfully framed to obscure the full horror, I can't recall seeing such casual carnage on TV since, I don't know, the mass grave scene from Lost? Seriously scary stuff, and I immediately respected The River for going there. And go there they did, as what followed was as logical as it was appalling: Lincoln and Jonas had to go GO INSIDE and see if any of the rotting bodies were Emmet! Cue flies and puking. "Is it Friday yet?" - Everybody involved.
Meanwhile Mysterious German Kurt had snuck off to investigate the living quarters, and though he seemed to be using his best instincts to detect the presence of life, he somehow missed the man with the huge camera tailing him. Fortunately for us, A.J. got the scoop: Kurt was looking for his fiancée Hana, who we'd learned in a (surprisingly risqué!) flashback had been stationed in the Amazon to do some nefarious security work of her own. Kurt was disappointed to learn that Hana wasn't in her bedroom, but he DID end up discovering the demon lady from Paranormal Activity hiding in the bathtub. Really not much a consolation prize, if you ask me. Since we last saw her abandoning Emmet in the Amazon, Rabbit had gotten a makeover into a shivering crazy lady who knew just enough to clue in the Magus crew but not enough to give anybody definitive answers about Emmet's whereabouts.
And that's when the zombies attacked!
Now, these zombies are closest in nature to the 28 Days Later variety: They seem to be technically alive and they're also fond of running. After the first attack, our heroes barricaded themselves in somebody's office who just so happened to have the research facility's security footage on his or her laptop! And the battery was still charged! A month later! (Oh, The River.) Anyway, then we got the exposition dump: These researchers had kidnapped and dissected nearby natives (the ones who believed themselves to be angels) in order to isolate the gene that gave them their youthful good looks. Then, immediately upon creating a retrovirus version of it, Mysterious German Lady Hana busted in and shot everybody all up! If you ask me, you should probably wait to shoot up a dangerous lab facility until AFTER the virus has been placed in a sealed container, but that's just how Hana rolled apparently. As a result, she and the doctors' faces began to bubble and melt and so began the facility's zombie shenanigans. Cool plan, Hana!
The best part about the zombies retreating from pounding on the door so that they could lie down and take a nap was a seriously suspenseful moment when the crew had to gingerly step over their sleeping bodies in order to bypass them. The second best thing about the napping zombies was an intensely bad-ass moment where Kurt single-handedly massacred them all with a submachine gun. (Well, all of them except for Hana, who to everyone else was just another ugly face in the ugly crowd.)
After a false lead led the crew to suspect Emmet was hiding out in the infirmary (seriously, mirrored wind chimes?) we suddenly came to a scene that, to be honest, I may have dreamed up? I mean, did the cocoon thing really happen? It couldn't have, right? That was just my imagination? Anyway, in the infirmary a CGI dragonfly caught Lincoln's attention and led the team outside and onto the roof where they found a utility closet (?) full of cobwebs and tons of dragonflies and, oh yeah, a HUMAN-SIZED GELATINOUS COCOON. In another tiny flashback, we saw Emmet talking about how dragonflies and butterflies will often retreat into a "nympha state" chrysalis when they're endangered. So, um. Basically... Emmet sensed a zombie outbreak and created an enormous, translucent, presumably mucus-based shell which he then HID INSIDE. At this point? Fair enough.
But The River wasn't over! In what would seal this episode as being remarkably jam-packed, the crew fished Emmet from his shell, dragged him back to the ship (while Kurt shot up all the zombies) and then enjoyed one last terrifying encounter: Zombie stowaways! The intruders included Hana, who immediately ate Rabbit but annoyingly did NOT eat Tess. After a presumably emotional moment (I have to presume since Kurt is a Mysterious German after all), Kurt finally shot Hana in the face. Then after a second zombie busted in and attacked everyone else, a suddenly awakened Emmet emerged from his cabin, murdered that zombie good, and then gave the laugh-out-loud action movie one-liner of our time: "So how was my funeral?" Perfect. And I mean that: That would've been my first question too!
So now there's only one episode of The River left (possibly ever) and ABC promises it'll be the most terrifying yet! Honestly, this episode definitely gave us reason to trust that claim. It was just the right amounts of terrifying and insane, with little dashes of genuinely compelling moments (like that seemingly random flashback of Lena having a seizure at a Foot Locker). Tess remains awful and Lincoln is still a pretty bad character, but at least everybody seems realer now. And we learned that Kurt's primary objective is to kill Emmet, which is quite a plan. Speaking of whom, it'll be nice having Emmet Cole as a living, breathing character instead of a walking myth. Fingers-crossed the finale will finally capitalize on all these threads!
Please no cliffhanger, please no cliffhanger...
... Best episode yet?
... Seriously, did that cocoon thing really happen? Be honest.
... Is Lena literally an angel or what?
... What do zombies dream about?