The OH&S orientation went on even longer than expected, as Thag had somehow found six additional points to cover. Because of this, June missed her meeting with Captain Pete and with it her chance of seeing a trilobite. Disappointed, she decamped to the nearest café for lunch. This turned out to be surprisingly hip little place at the South Hertling Super Centre, just across the road. There she drowned her disappointment in a latte and a chicken Caesar wrap, which both seemed too good for a little coffee shop wedged in between two carpet shops and across the way from three more carpet shops.

"Hey, hi," said a greasy looking young woman from the next table. "Are you working at the new place? The Park, I mean?"

"Yes?" June said, suspicious.

"Dude! I thought I saw you there! I was getting my orientation too. I'm the new manager of the Trilobite Park café, and I am like, whoa!"

June looked the stranger up and down. She was a skinny young woman of perhaps eighteen, pale, and acne ridden. She wore a t-shirt advertising a band that either had a very difficult to pronounce German name or else a lot of random umlauts.

"You're the manager?" June said. "You seem a little young. And inexperienced. And greasy. And kind of stupid."

"Oh, that," the greasy girl grinned. "I lied about my age. And experience, qualifications, intelligence, general cleanliness levels, punctuality, spelling..." ...continue reading "Trilobite Park — Chapter 2: The Kids are All Right"

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Dogon artwork from In Search Of S04E13 The Dark Star
Trippy.

We open on African ritual dancers and a driving rhythm of drums. Nimoy informs us that the dance has meaning, which of course is true. It's a dance of religious significance, so Nimoy is correct when he tells us that it depicts the relationship of the dancers to the heavens. However, he claims that that it maps that relationship 'precisely', and straight away I am worried. Next we're looking at something in a cave and being told that this tribe believes it comes from a distant star, and then we're looking at a radio telescope.

I don't know where we're going this episode, but I'm guessing it will be weird, and also at least a little insulting. Sure enough, we're asked how a 'primitive' people found a 'dark star'. ...continue reading "In Search Of… S04E13 The Dark Star"

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Trilobites.

Dr June Kim could hardly believe her luck. Trilobites! An entire museum dedicated to them and her, June Kim the chief educational officer! but no – it was not a museum. It was a zoo! An aquarium full of real, live trilobites. Her whole life had been leading to this job. She smiled internally, all the while maintaining a businesslike expression.

"This is where your office will be," Thag said, as he pointed to a semi-complete room, not very dissimilar to the dozens of other semi-complete rooms in the construction site. "Adjacent to it is the main education room. This is where you will interact with school groups, et cetera."

Thag was a short, burly, dark-skinned man with a thick beard, a heavy brow and a perpetually annoyed look. June had met him once before, when she had been studying at the University of Sydney. This had been shortly after Thag had been thawed from a glacier and was still being shown off at paleontology departments around the world. Thag had had stuck in her memory as the only Neanderthal she had ever met, but he hadn't remembered her at all. Granted, he must have met hundreds of science undergrads before he'd tired of being a valuable specimen and left to study Human Resources management at the University of the Gold Coast. ...continue reading "Trilobite Park — Chapter 1: Things Start Out Suboptimally"

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Two months ago.

What exactly the Great Pyramid of South Hertling was, no one knew. No one could say where the cyclopean structure had came from, or why it had flattened the South Bannerman Mega Centre on Wellington Road. All the good people of South Hertling knew was that it was there, glowering down upon them with the eye in its capstone, and that their best option was to pretend that it wasn't there or looking at them.

Looking up at the Pyramid was Valerie Cenwicz. She had stood in its shadow before, but could never shake the feeling of soul-chilling dread she felt when she did. Valerie was an up-and-coming young agent of a local real estate concern. It was easy, she was finding, to be an up-and-comer in South Hertling -- mostly because many senior agents went looking for work outside the suburb just as soon as they became senior. Now, as she stared at a property which was basically buried beneath an unfathomable anomaly, she was beginning to understand why that was. ...continue reading "Trilobite Park – Prelude: Agent Valerie’s Lambo"

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The skeleton of St Stefan Leonard Nimoys; In Search Of s04e12 The Ten Commandments
Hi! I'm St Stefan... No, I'm not related to the Crypt Keeper, but don't worry I get that all the time. Anyhoo, you may be wondering what I have to do with the Ten Commandments. Read on!

We open on a shot of a mountain – 'Sunrise at Mount Sinai' Nimoy intones. I'm not a religious man, but seriously – chills. There's a shot of some tourists/pilgrims at the mountain while Nimoy tells us that this is supposedly the mountain where Moses was given the Ten Commandments. Nimoy wonders if they're coming to the right place.

There are several flavours of In Search Of… episode, and I don't think I've made any secret of the fact that the Biblical episodes are my least favourite. There's a terrible saminess to them. Lingering shots of the desert, pseudo-Middle Eastern music and the weird and patronising insistence that little has changed in the Holy Lands in thousands of years. ...continue reading "In Search Of… S04E12 The Ten Commandments"

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ID art of DB Cooper from In Search Of S04E11 with Leonard NimoyThe intro for this episode is very different from the usual In Search Of… into. There's the usual quick cutting between images and even a re-enactment (of a parachute jump) but it's all done in that driving, matter-of-fact style of true crime reporting – a quick walk rather than the show's usual ambling gait. Nimoy's narration takes on a hard-edged, somewhat urgent tone as he gives a quick overview of the case of DB Cooper.

I don't know much about the DB Cooper skyjacking, other that the name of the hijacker 'DB Cooper' was an alias, he was a robber rather than a terrorist, he was never captured, and got away with the then-princely sum of $US200 000. Is this episode going to be straightforward crime reporting or is are we going to discover that he was a Minoan agent of the Martians? ...continue reading "In Search Of… S04E11 DB Cooper"

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Night had just fallen as Carl Wintergreen reached the Pyramid. A Greek demi-god, a robot truck, a water-witch were escorting a lady gunslinger off of the vast structure. A frumpy looking middle aged couple were standing a little higher up, and wearing silvery uniforms that, Carl thought, should probably have been fitted a little less tightly.

"Oh," Carl said to the Water-Witch. "I was just about to report that my attempt to crack the Pyramid open failed because of a second time distortion. But it looks like you have everything in hand, so..."

"Yeah, about that," said the Water-Witch, whose name was Fiona. "Yeah, Carl, I'm not going to lie to you. I didn't really need you to do that. I just wanted you out of the way so..."

"So when you say you 'don't want to lie to me,' you mean 'any more'," Carl grumbled.

"Yeah, well," Fiona said. "For a guy who's super paranoid, you're really kind of gullible." ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 54: Finale"

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The water came rushing through the corridors of the Pyramid, like a river somehow running uphill. The flinty-eyed Ma Dusty was so shocked, she lowered her six-shooter. Delia took the opportunity to elbow the horrible woman in the ribs, before both of them were swept along by the raging torrent.

Darkness fell as Delia and Ma were swept away from the huge robot that was the source of the light. And then even Ma was gone, and Delia was alone, buffeted down a stone corridor by a raging stream. Perhaps she heard the shouts of human voices behind her. Perhaps she did not. Most of her mind was concentrated on keeping afloat while also protecting her face from impacts with the unseen walls. For the walls were of rough stone which scratched and abraded bare skin. Delia's silvery space costume protected most of her body, but keeping her face and hands clear was not easy.

Delia hit a wall as the stream turned a corner. A struggling body hit her as she adjusted. Whose body? Friend or foe? Human or… ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 53: Cosmos"

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In Search Of S04E10 Pompeii
Look up in the sky! It's a cloud of ash! No, it's a gout of lava! It's... VESUVIUS!

We open on some re-enactors in tunics playing with a baby in a Roman style sandpit. Sure, why not. There are some columns in the background so, you know, Roman. The people look stupidly into the distance, apparently not recognising the stock footage of volcanic eruptions that is the reverse shot.

Pompeii! Nimoy gives a sweet narration about the eruption, then we get to the big question – is this cross-like object found in the ruins of Pompeii a Christian cross? I'm no archaeologist, but I'm going to go with: "I guess. Maybe. Why not?"

Camera pans across the ruins of Pompeii, while Nimoy waxes lyrical about the grandeur of Rome. It's a little lacklustre, honestly, as if Nimoy is tired of proclaiming the greatness of one ancient civilization after another.

Some really nice shots of Pompeiian frescos, then a helicopter shot of Vesuvius, and now we're joining Nimoy by the sandpit in front of the columns. This is some minor producer's house in Beverly Hills, isn't it? Again, Nimoy seems slightly uninterested in his grandiose narration, possibly because it contains at least two really obvious factual errors – that there were a 'thousand' Egyptian dynasties, and that Pompeii was the farthest city from the Holy Land in distance.

Anyway, point is, Christianity was taking off at the same time as Pompeii went kerflooey.

Talking now to Prof Edward Vendel (?) an expert on Pompeii, who delivers a very lecture-y lecture from the lip of Vesuvius. If I were to transcribe what he said, it would probably read okay, but it's so stilted when he says it. It's a relief to get back to Nimoy talking about volcanoes and Pompeii over electronic music and a rumbling noise.

There is a three or four second shot of a Roman-style bust, shuddering on a fencepost, and I will now refuse to hear anything against this episode because holy crap that's funny.

History comes alive.

SFX footage of a city crumbling from some movie and… oh no! The bust has fallen off its plinth and cracked on a mosaic floor!

There's a bit from a movie of extras yelling at Roman senators, intercut with In Search Of... actors playing Roman scientists at work with the only apparatus they had -- set squares. There's a clever sequence about an augur reading the entrails of birds, shot so the bird doesn't die -- presumably so the producers can return it to the pet shop for a refund. Sometimes I really love this show. Oh, and then the augur measures a chicken liver with calipers. Delightful!

More shots of Roman-style fountains… Probably the same garden. Extras in tunics and stock footage of volcanoes again. The re-enactors finally stop gawping at the coming darkness and move. A little. Someone drops gravel on a goblet and half a melon. Extras hide. Footage from a big-budget Pompeii movie is cut in, just making the re-enactment look cheaper. Two of the re-enactors are buried under 'ash'.

And Nimoy is back in a shirt with a collar sooooo wide… He fills a little before we get onto the discovery of the city, and the promise of what might be the first Christian cross.

I'm looking this up now… the cross has been a symbol of Christianity since the second century -- so at least a couple of generations after Pompeii. Why wasn't the cross in use earlier? Again, I'm no expert but the phrase 'too soon!' springs to mind.

Prof Vendel lectures some more. Reenactment of an Italian digger discovering a suspiciously new marble bust in a well he was digging. Shots of tunnels under the city. I'll say this for In Search Of…, if you like under-lit footage of tunnels, they've got you covered. Now footage of the digger finding a broken sign that reads 'Pompeii'.

Nimoy points out that early explorers were basically just treasure hunters, and scientific study didn't begin until later. Re-enactor playing Giuseppe Fiorelli figuring out how to make plaster casts of the hollows left by decaying bodies… He seems to be working near that mosaic where the bust shattered. I hope they cleaned this poor guy's garden later. Anyway, it is quite a well done illustration of Fiorelli's process, even if the 'cast' that they 'dig up' is impossibly detailed. This is especially obvious when it's followed by shots of some of the actual casts with some nicely low-key music and minimal narration. Classy, for once.

Shots now of the interiors of Pompeiian buildings, with Nimoy telling little stories about what is known or suspected to have gone inside them. Nice… Oh God. Here comes Prof Vendel again. Sigh. He sounds like Orson Welles doing an impression of a boring lecturer. But then he explains how wealthy Roman couples didn't sleep in the same bed because 'it lead to bad marriages' and he pauses and gives a little shrug. He's starting to grow on me.

Nimoy explains disapprovingly about the city's 'many lewd murals'. How shocking! Let's watch… Oh. He's only going with some of the tame ones. 1970s TV, dude. Now Prof Vendel standing in the arena talking about gladiators. The dramatic music and sound of applause contrasts nicely with shots of empty seats.

More frescoes… Four minutes to go, and still no Christianity in Pompeii. We're talking about Pagan gods… Oh, and now we're talking about Christianity. The church was only fifty years old when Vesuvius blew. Nimoy says that we wouldn't expect to see that the faith had spread all the way to Italy.

Wouldn't we? Why not? The Roman Empire was many things, and one of those things was basically a massive transportation network. Goods, people and ideas traveled around Roman territory surprisingly quickly. St Paul's mission to Rome was decades past. In addition, just ten years before Pompeii, there had been massive Roman military operations in Judea, and who knows what returning soldiers might have brought back?

Anyway, we finally move onto the alleged cross. In Herculaneum, not Pompeii, but hey. Interestingly, the 'cross' is carved into the stone, rather than being the free-standing cross we might expect to see on a Christian altar. A little research shows that it this cross is now thought to be a the socket where a shelf was stuck into the wall, and that hard evidence of Christian organisation in Pompeii and Herculaneum has yet to be found.

Prof Vendel – a little more animated this time because he's answering a question rather than speechifying – says that he doubts that the 'cross' was an object of Christian worship. He point out that the main symbol of Christianity at the time of Vesuvius' eruption was the fish. [Insert bumper sticker joke here.] Had there been a fish at the house, he says, he wouldn't doubt that the occupants were Christian.

Next, we talk to Dr John Ray, a theologian from Anaheim. He says that it looks like a cross, and the depression could have been where a wooden cross was nailed to the wall. He claims it's "good evidence of a Christian person worshipping."

All in all, this was a pretty decent episode. As an in-depth look at Pompeii, it's not great. But as a little taster to get people interested, yeah, you could do worse. The argument over the cross is presumably to add controversy. Honestly, in researching, I was surprised to learn how little evidence there is of Christian worship in Pompeii. I wonder where I got the idea that a Christian presence in Pompeii was not just plausible, but know. Sadly, I think the answer to that is The Last Days of Pompeii, Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton's turgid 1834 historical novel, which has Christians all over the place. Somehow I'd assumed that, though it's a terrible novel, it had a stronger basis in research than it does. A lesson for myself in humility, I guess.

Quote

Prof Vendel: "Pompeii's place in history is quite unique in that in one day it was completely hermetically sealed. In other words, time… stood… still."

Overall:

Crappy reenactments: 9/10, Frescoes: 10/10, Lectures: 8/10, Nimoyness: 7/10, Electronic music: 9/10. Overall: 43/50. High Distinction.

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