I’ve said it before and I’ll say it now: In Search Of… is a very weird show. In between an episode about tidal waves and an one about the Amityville Horror comes an episode about Carlos the Jackal. There’s some dodgy reenactments but otherwise it’s a topic that could have appeared on any legit news/current affairs show of the late 1970s.
To the viewer watching now, it’s a bit of an interesting historical oddity. Carlos basically was a terrorist mastermind of the 1970s. Basically, he’s portrayed in this episode as a slightly crap supervillain, which is not so far from the truth. These days, terrorists are basically one-shot weapons. They do what they do, and either die or get caught doing it. Carlos comes from a different time, when a single terrorist might strike several times. As such, a terrorist might actually gather a bit of cred in his career. Rather than just being forgotten when the next murderous idiot comes down the pike.
The big set-piece this episode is a re-enactment on this episode is of Carlos’ attack on an OPEC meeting in Vienna. It’s shot like a movie – an exceptionally cheap, badly acted movie with pretty sweet narration – but a movie nonetheless. It shows in crapulent detail Carlos’ daring and yet half-arsed masterstoke. Basically, there was no one really guarding the OPEC meeting and the Austrian government hadn’t received the ‘never negotiate with terrorists’ memo.
There’s tense music and scare cuts and things of that nature. There’s also some actual film of Carlos leaving the OPEC attack, which looks disappointingly like some average looking people shaking hands. An interview with a psychiatrist follows, and he basically explains Stockholm Syndrome. Then back to the old Austrian news footage of Carlos’ decidedly non-dramatic escape.
There’s some interviews with the Austrian Chancellor who agreed to let Carlos go, and a captured Iraqi diplomat who agreed to act as a go-between from Carlos to the Austrians. Neither has much interesting to say other than that Carlos and his gang would have killed everyone if he hadn’t been placated. This is followed by footage Carlos in Algeria, ransoming back the Iranian and Saudi oil ministers, which Nimoy tells us put him offside with the other terrorists.
Sitting behind a desk and wearing an impressive moustache, Nimoy explains that Carlos is still out there and dangerous. Hilariously old fashioned Interpol machinery is brought to bear to explain how Carlos became a terrorist mastermind.
The rest of the episode is about Nimoy telling Carlos’ life story. It’s kind of interesting. He came from a wealthy South American family and lived in swinging London, until his father had him sent to a Soviet terrorism school (which Wikipedia tells me is not 100% true, but close enough). The Soviets got sick of him and he went off to train to be a terrorist in Jordan. He was then involved in a bunch of 1960s and 1970s terrorist incidents. The tense music is fun, but this isn’t as enjoyable as the crappy reenactments.
We get into how Carlos manipulated women into assisting him with the old terrorist game. There are details of a couple of his ex-girlfriends getting caught, though the sentences they get seem bizarrely light in this day and age of fighting terrorism through massive overkill.
And back to talking to the psychologist who explains the attraction. What he has to say is so obvious it’s silly. Other than that, things look mostly factual (factual being defined here as ‘more or less in line with the Wikipedia article on Carlos the Jackal’).
Unlike the Dr Mengele story, this one has a happy post-episode ending. Carlos was arrested and tried. I recommend Googling pictures of the trial, because Carlos’ safari jacket/ascot combo makes him look like a lesser 1960s Batman villain.
But there’s also the less happy part of the ending. Nimoy shows the growth in elite anti-terrorist squads and talks about how they’ll deal with people like Carlos in the future. And didn’t that go well?
Dodgy reenactments: 7/10, Nimoyness: 7/10, Dramatic music: 8/10, Interesting back half 6/10, General likeability: 5/10. Overall: 33/50. Credit