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"Downstream"

Episode 04

Airdate: 1974/09/28
Writer: Larry Niven
Director: Dennis Steinmetz

The Marshall family is finishing up work on a raft down by the swamp, which they hope will be their ticket out of the Land of the Lost. While the kids load up the raft with supplies, Dad explains that by taking the swamp downstream to the river, they should eventually come to an ocean, if not a city first. Once Holly has been prodded to put on her life vest, the family begins their journey.

With Will steering and propelling the raft with a large bamboo pole, they head out across the swamp. Holly bids farewell to Dopey who is grazing along the shore. She wishes they could take Dopey with them, but Will disagrees -- he'd probably eat the raft! She also says goodbye to Grumpy, who chases the raft as far as he can along the shoreline, provoking Will to pole the raft at top speed. Once down the river, Dad takes over for his son.

The river soon heads into a narrow gorge, and then into a huge cave opening. By the time the Marshalls realize that something is wrong, the current has strengthened and leads to a waterfall ahead. With no shoreline in the underground riverway, their only hope is to steer toward a hole in the wall and jump through. Dad plants the pole into the downstream wall of the side passage to hold the raft against the current long enough for the children to toss the supplies and themselves through the opening, but the pole then breaks under the stress, nearly sending Dad to his death. Will catches hold of his father's hands, pulling him out of the raging river and saving his life. After a brief rest, the Marshalls have no choice but to continue on through the underground tunnels.

Not after long, the family hears another human being singing quite badly down the passage ahead. Following the noise, they enter into a huge, bejewelled cavern, inhabited by an aged, civil war veteran mining the precious stones. The soldier soon notices his visitors and orders them (with the persuasive use of his cannon) to come out holding hands high. After introducing himself as Jefferson Davis Collie III, a confederate soldier, he interrogates the Marshalls on their military alignment in the civil war, and how they arrived in his cave. When the family explains that they are trying to return to California, the soldier suspects that they would file on his mining claim; he ignores their question about the location of the river. The soldier instead offers to feed them in exchange for their help and company; Dad reluctantly concedes, noting Mr. Collie's influential possession of "Sarah", the cannon.

During a short break from jewel mining, Will whines about their enslavement. Dad picks up a jewel, noticing that they are just like the crystals they've found in other caves except brighter. Meanwhile, Holly unearths a Sleestak skull and bones (exoskeleton?), getting shot at with crossbow bolts in the process. After Dad hypothesizes to Will about the large glowing crystals in the cavern being mere chips off of a mother lode that may be the power source to the time portal they passed through, Holly shows them the Sleestak remains she's just found (Dad refers to the Sleestak as "big insects"). Dad looks for Collie, who has just returned from gathering up supper, to warn him about the Sleestak. Collie inspects the jewels they've mined, tossing out a blue one (they'll make you sick), then demonstrating the nearly blinding but temporary light created when a yellow crystal contacts a green one. When Dad shows him the Sleestak bones, Collie comments that he's shot three of them his first year here, that they tasted like lobster, and that they don't bother him much anymore. Realizing Collie's lack of concern for his own safety, Dad emphasizes their concern about the cave's dangerousness and presses him to reveal the location of the river. Collie finally makes clear his loneliness and need for their company, but ignores Dad's plea. Dad argues that Collie fought a war for his freedom, and his family wants their freedom, too. During the debate, they are again shot at by Sleestak, prompting the veteran to fire back with Sarah. The attack scares the Sleestak away.

During another break from digging, the Marshalls consider wandering off into the tunnels to find the river, but the unknown size of the maze and the threat of "those yucky Sleestaks" (as Holly puts it) discourage them. An attempt to strike until Mr. Collie tells them the river's location is rebutted by the alternative of starvation, leading Dad to wonder if Collie has gone mad from possible hallucinogens in the mushrooms of his diet. Holly then whines for a drink of water because their canteens have run dry. She refuses the war veteran's initial offer of fermented mushroom and fish juice from his wineskin to whet her whistle ("puts hair on your chest!", he claims), so Collie is forces to go refill her canteen from the river. Dad again warns about the Sleestak, but Collie says some light-crystals should protect him. During the discussion it is revealed that Sarah is out of ammunition until more saltpeter is filtered and another batch mixed. The Marshalls don't feel safe being left behind unprotected, so they grab their gear and follow quietly in near darkness behind the soldier to the water source. Ominously, a stiff-legged Sleestak stalks them all.

Once at the river, the family comes out into the open, having found their ticket out and no longer needing Collie, who is busy filling the canteens, but they are suddenly attacked by a band of crossbow-wielding Sleestak. Dad uses a yellow crystal to create a blinding light, briefly deterring the Sleestaks' missile attacks, but the glow soon dims. Will then hastily throws together a different combination of crystals, which Collie recognizes as dangerous; he orders Will to toss them away quickly, where they promptly explode. Everyone is forced to jump into the river to escape the pathetically weak and clumsy crossbow fire, and once out of range, the Sleestak finally relent in their fruitless assault (what kind of marksmanship can you expect from monsters with pincers for hands?). The Marshalls help Mr. Collie, who can't swim, down the calm river which outlets back into a jungle.

After reaching the shoreline, Collie is terrified by Grumpy, Will sees the pylon, and Holly spots Dopey. Dad concludes that the river starts and ends in the same swamp; they're trapped in a small, closed universe. Mr. Collie doesn't take well to the swamp and the large dinosaurs, and so returns to Sarah and his own cave by heading back downstream.

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