Some children in white night-robes run, panicked, into their mother. A hunter encounters a mysterious figure. Nimoy assures us that these people were alien abductees, aka UFO captives. And season three hits the ground running.
Alien abductees. It’s hard to imagine a modern day In Search Of like series leaving this one until the third season, the idea having become almost synonymous with the UFO phenomenon itself. I guess in the 1970s, sightings were still the big deal, with abductions coming in a distant second.
We move onto a photo of a star-field while Nimoy – firing on all cylinders – gives a speech the vastness of space. We all know it – the beats, if not the words. It’s been done dozens, hundreds of times since the 1950s at least. But Nimoy hits it out of the freakin’ park. We move past radio telescopes as the improbability of alien contact is brought up. Inevitably we cut straight to footage of a UFO in Arizona. And then onto Nimoy standing in front of a tree in a costume that honestly wouldn’t look too out of place today. He neatly sums up the concept of alien abduction, and we’re moving on.
It’s a lovely segment. This show can be packed full of padding at times, but here we see just how economically it can communicate ideas when it wants to. Simple, powerful and effective.
An oil derrick. A bunch of guys in hard hats working on said oil derrick. Nimoy sums up just what an average, hardworking guy the foreman is, emphasising his ordinariness. He’s a hunter and something odd happened to him while out hunting.
Reenactment time! The hunter goes into the forest in his hi-vis gear. He’s a handsome, craggy looking guy, like a character from an old Western. He had just shot an elk thiiiiiiiiiis big, when “something happened beyond the range of his experience”. We see a man silhouetted on a hill. He passed out. On awaking, he “stumbled through the forest in a dazed condition”. The hunter (who is re-enacting his own story) is not a great actor, and his desperate stumbling looks quite similar to his ordinary walking.
The hunter’s wife calls for help. We cut between her on the phone and headlights driving through the night. The hunter’s friends find him, dazed and rambling, in his truck. He’s rushed to the emergency ward in an amnesiac state. We’re told that a nurse tended him for three days, but we don’t talk to her. When the hunter recovered, he found he couldn’t concentrate or work, so he contacted the UFO group APRO.
The guy from APRO drives through town while explaining that he basically does recovered memory hypnosis for UFO abductees. Maybe I’m wrong and the UFO abduction thing was a bigger deal in the 1970s, but it’s just that this show didn’t cover it. Actually, looking back over past episodes there’s less alien stuff in the first two seasons than I remembered. There’s a straight-up UFO episode in season one, and a few ancient aliens bits scattered through seasons one and two, and then nothing until this.
Anyway, the scene of the ARPO psychologist driving is nicely done. This whole episode has a sort of movie-like quality to it. The psychologist hypnotises the hunter while in the voice-over he talks about time loss. There’s an awesome montage of the hypnotised hunter muttering about what he saw, inter-cut with shots of him hunting and the silhouetted figure. It’s super cool, disjointed and creepy like a nightmare. Then the hunter remembers being in a white cubicle, looking down on the forest from above.
I can’t really do it justice. It’s just as creepy as hell. This show at its unsettling best.
Now we’re back at the hospital, talking to the nurse. Okay, I guess I was wrong about her not talking. Not that she says much, I guess.
Anyway, the hunter is strapped into a polygraph. Polygraph says he’s telling the truth. The psychologist basically says that people who say they’ve been abducted by aliens have been abducted by aliens. We cut to the hunter at the local diner. He thanks the psychologist for his help, saying it allowed him to get over his experience and return to work. He says he doesn’t mind if people believe him or not, and we watch an oil company truck drive off to the strains of creepy music as we wrap up his story.
Now we move to the steel mills outside of Salt Lake City. A woman with big glasses who works at the steelworks. I assume she’s a secretary but actually she does machinery repairs. So take that! my own unconscious sexism.
She drives her pickup home, for a recreation. I suddenly realise that the shot of her leaving the plant includes a lot of other plant workers walking behind her. Extras. This documentary has extras. That is brilliant.
She discusses sleeping in her bed, her young son climbing in too. A simple flashlight shines on the darkened exterior of the house, suggesting an outside observer. Nimoy narrates the people sleeping. That’s right. He narrates sleeping. And it works.
Sinister electronic chords play — unsettling, unnatural tones. The family run through the silent house in their bare feet. A door opens with a light behind it and a child looks out. Zoom out on the house and cut to a police siren.
We see a be-sunglassed cop driving along the highway and we’re told his investigation of an alleged break in turned up nothing, so he left the case open. He ignored the daughter’s claim that the house had been invaded by spacemen.
Some kids with long hair and flares play Frisbee in a park. It’s so 1970s that I have to assume their parents are disco-dancing at a fondue party at James Caan’s house. Nimoy talks about how UFO investigator believe that abductees are programmed to forget their experiences, but that children have the best chance of retaining some memories. The mother/tool repair person from the story says that she only investigated a UFO angle to her story only because her children insisted.
She talks about reading up on UFOs and finally deciding to talk to another APRO psychologist. APRO stands for Aerial Phenomena Research Organisation. Don’t know why this wasn’t stated earlier.
We see the psychologist walking through a field with the tool repairer, with the Wasacht Mountains in the background. Stunning. And then he’s putting her under hypnosis. Eerie music as the camera plays dramatically over her and her flannel nighty. She tells her story of being on a spaceship. Montage of her and her family running, lying down. Just audible under her voice and the dramatic chords is this line of what sounds like an electronically distorted voice speaking an unknown language. Oh, man, it’s as creepy as hell!
Summing up now. Nimoy talks about the theory that contact with aliens must be long distance, through radio telescopes. But, he says, some ordinary Americans believe that contact has been made.
UFO abductees is a weird topic. It’s kind of why I think of myself as a small ‘s’ sceptic. It’s one thing to tell people that they misinterpreted what they saw, or that the vague shape they recorded in a cellar is just a vague shape. But to tell people that they didn’t experience what they believe they experienced… Maybe I’m softhearted, but it seems a little harsh. No I don’t think it was aliens but… well, it’s just a little harsh, is all.
So I don’t think I’ll even bother getting into worrying about the truth or otherwise of their stories. I’d rather talk about just how cinematically this episode is filmed. Beautiful establishing shots, clever use of montage, great low key sinister electronic music and Nimoy just at the top of his game. I’ve seen big budget movies that fail at what this single episode of a cheap, low-key documentary series does with this episode. This is the show at its best. Just sublime.
“He said, the sun burns him. He’s going to take me, take me back.” – The first abductee, the hunter. There’s something poetic about this line that I just like.
“I’m left with the mysterious and sometimes uncomfortable feeling that the cases are happening as the individuals describe.” – The first psychologist.
Nimoyness: 9/10, Music: 9/10, Montage: 10/10, Interviewees: 8/10, Creepiness: 9/10. Overall: 45/50. High Distinction.