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The River: Season 1, Episode 4 – A Better Man

This week starts with a flashback that’s much more recent: Dr. Cole is trying to cut the Magus free from the jungle vines, only to watch the vines grow back seconds after he removed them.

On today’s Magus, there’s dissention among the crew. Without a leader, the team is bickering and Clark seems to be sowing even more discord with his personal interviews. He seems to want Lincoln to step up and lead the team. I can’t figure out his angle here. I think he’s just mad at Tess.

We’re finally seeing what life aboard the ship is really like—the team fishing, preparing meals. It seems almost like a vacation … until they find the body of one of Cole’s cameramen, Jonas, hanging from the jungle vines.

He’s not dead, but he’s really sick—suffering from malaria, dehydration and general douchiness. Luckily, he has a smart phone that might help them find Cole, so everyone is happy to see him despite his bad haircut and disrespectful attitude (as seen in old footage). But Lincoln can’t treat him onboard, so they turn the Magus around and head back toward a hospital.

And then birds start falling from the sky. Dead ones. Lena believes it’s the result of an oncoming squall. It’s more gross than scary, but Jahel gives the camera her haunted look anyway. This time, she’s afraid of Colgado, “The Hanging Man.” They really should have left her home.

As the team batons down the hatches for the storm, Jonas proves his jerkitude, sneaking around the ship and stealing tapes. He also proves his uselessness: he claims to have no idea how he got out in the jungle or even that the rest of the crew has disappeared.

But there’s no time to punch him in the face because a swarm of bugs attacks the ship, riding the headwinds away from the coming storm. I’m all about religious overtones, but could this be any more reminiscent of the plagues of Egypt?

Safe inside the Magus and with nothing to do but wait out the bugs, it’s story time again. This is quickly becoming my favorite part of the show—I find these myths fascinating, and I wish the show would spend less time running around and screaming and more time delving into what they mean. I usually end up pausing the show and Googling for 15 or 20 minutes to get the full backstory and cultural implications.

This week’s tale is The Hanging Man, as told by Captain Kurt. He’s pretty terse but here’s what we learn: the story’s title character is a vain grave robber who was punished by living the torment of death without dying, forced to hang from the gallows forever.

From the context clues and snippets of old footage, we learn that Jonas is The Hanging Man, punished for “stealing” the soul of a dying man by filming the local death rights, despite Dr. Cole’s insistence that he stop. And it was Dr. Cole himself who put Jonas off the ship, sacrificing him to the jungle so that the rest of his team wouldn’t be punished for Jonas’ mad-dash to win a Peabody.

The crew wants to serve Jonas back up to the jungle, and with his life on the line, Jonas finally opens up: Dr. Cole was looking for The Source, the place where all magic comes from. He even shows the team where it is on their map. Struck by guilt, Jonas smashes his cell phone and gives himself back to the jungle. It’s very dramatic, but the jungle doesn’t want him anymore. By smashing the phone, he released the soul he “stole,” and so everything’s fair and even again.

That’s one thing I’ve very much learned from this show: the jungle just wants fairness in all things. It doesn’t want to punish us; it just wants us to be a little bit more humble, more honest with ourselves. In the jungle, it’s enough to want to do the right thing; you don’t necessarily have to give anything up. Like Clark sacrificing himself to the Morcegos last week, Jonas just needed to destroy his camera phone footage and the team got themselves a second cameraman again. It’s a really great life lesson.

The episode ends with Lincoln and Tess finding a personal video message from Dr. Cole, a tender family moment that breaks their hearts and redoubles their desire to find him. Hopefully, with Jonas on board, they have a better chance at success.

Mortal Wounds: 1
Cumulative Mortal Wounds: 1