I've written before that In Search Of… is an odd duck of a show, because while mostly it's about wonderful, glorious nonsense, sometimes it comes down to Earth and looks at something actually real. This episode looks at killer bees, while next episode is about earthquakes, and then we're back to the Mummy's Curse in episode S01E08.
After the last few weeks, this episode is almost strange in its absence of leading questions and abundance of actual names, places and dates. I'm going to come right out and say that I don’t know enough about the history of Killer Bees to tell how accurate any of this is, but like I say it's straightforward enough that anyone could check the show's facts if they wanted to.
What are killer bees? Basically, a hybridized bee developed in Brazil and accidentally released. Breeding more prolifically and attacking humans more readily than existing bee colonies, the new strain spread throughout South America, and Americans have been concerned at the possibility that they will spread into the USA for as long as I can remember.
Was this a real possibility? Maybe. But added to the very real, practical threat posed by the bees, the creatures played into White American fears in two big ways. Firstly, the bees' aggressiveness supposedly comes from their hybridization with African bees. Secondly if they came to the US it would be from, you know, Mexico.
In Search Of…, to it's credit, doesn't play up either of those aspects; or at least not so much as other American media that I've seen. It is a somewhat sensationalist, particularly in the re-enactments of bee attacks, and in Nimoy's final summing up. Other parts though are not intended to scare, and seem truly fascinating. The beginning of the episode is mostly wildlife documentary about bees, and it's really quite well done, as is later footage of etymologists at work. What's more, there's a great contrast between Nimoy's 'bees are wonderful' opening monologue and his 'stop the bees!' conclusion.
This dichotomy can, I think, tell us a little about the thinking behind the show. It's a mix of groovy seventies weirdness and hard-nosed 'lets get the ratings!' sensationalism. Usually these two motivations are complimentary, but here the hippy 'isn't nature wonderful?' aspect runs head-on into the TV exec 'watch this episode or you might die' imperative. The result is a wonderful jumble with some really interesting visuals, some delightfully crappy re-enactment, and some actual science from Mr Spock.
I find I have less to say this episode, simply because I am less inclined to argue with it. It was probably informative in its time, but it's forty years out of date, and there have been better bee documentaries made in recent years. Still the view of a stinger through an electron microscope was pretty cool. And most modern docos don't have Nimoy in a field of flowers in a safari-suit and turtleneck combo, so it has that going for it.
Has to go to Nimoy, who has the only lines, other than a single bee expert.
From near the beginning of the episode: "A fierce new breed of honeybee now threatens the once happy partnership between man and bee. It is a threat, however, that must be met with understanding, not fear."
From near the end: "Killer bees are unlike any honeybee we have known. Unless stopped, they will live up to their name."
Eccentric Interviewees: 3/10, Electronic music: 5/10, Nimoyness: 6/10, Actual facts: 7/10, BEES!: 10/10. Overall: 31/50 Pass