In Search Of… S04E18 Ghost Ship (aka The Mary Celeste)
Okay, the Mary Celeste! One of the big ones. The earlier seasons of the show are jam-packed with the big name weird mysteries – Bigfoot, UFOs, Nessie. But as the show goes on, there are fewer and fewer of these first-string cases and we go increasingly to generic or niche subjects. But the Mary Celeste – that’s a name! So what’s the reason the ship was abandoned? Aliens? Time travellers? Sea monsters? Dimensional rifts?
To my surprise, none of these things are even mentioned. To be completely fair to this show, I had a whole little mini-essay prepared on the reality of the Mary Celeste, but I don’t need to include it. The show does it all for me. Sure, the reenactments are a little wooden, there are a couple of omissions and I’m not sure why the actors who play officers on commercial vessels are dressed in what appear to be naval uniforms, but this is just nitpicking. In Search Of goes for a straightforward description of the case and offers a realistic (if unprovable) solution to the mystery
So what does the show say? The brig Dei Gratia discovered the Mary Celeste, abandoned but afloat and seaworthy. They took it to Gibraltar, to have a British court declare it as legal salvage. One of the officers of the court thought the whole thing was suspicious and kicked up a fuss, believing that the abandonment of the Mary Celeste was possibly a case of piracy–or, more likely, a case of insurance fraud. This court official ordered a forensic examination and publicised the case to the global press. While the press were beating up the story, the forensics people were finding basically nothing suspicious.
Why did the crew of the Mary abandon her? In Search Of suggests a theory which – to my inexpert ear — frankly doesn’t sound implausible, based on leaking cargo and weather conditions rather than black holes and tractor beams. Their attempt to solve the mystery of what happened to the crew is less likely, being based on a newspaper story of dubious provenance.
It’s… good? It’s a good episode? Honestly, if I saw a History Channel documentary on the Mary Celeste that was made yesterday, I’d expect more nonsense. The biggest omission I see is that the episode doesn’t mention Arthur Conan Doyle, whose short story “J. Habakuk Jephson’s Statement” was arguably the greatest force behind turning the Mary Celeste from a nine-day wonder into an enduring legend. Otherwise no complaints. The reenactments are a little wooden, the actors’ accents highly variable, and the voiceovers are extremely dull. On the other hand, the producers seem to have gone all out on other elements of production, shooting on an actual sailing vessel on actual water.
So, I guess I should be happy? I mean, I’ve complained time and time again about the sensational and fanciful explanations this show has offered for the most mundane things. This time, they give a mundane explanation. This is what I wanted. Victory to me.
Why does it ring so hollow?
Nimoy: The Advocate-General was convinced he was on the trail of a sensational crime…. As the inquiry proceeded, however, it became increasingly evident that the Advocate-General had let his imagination run wild.
Accuracy: 9/10, Nimoyness: 8/10, Reenactments: 6/10, Production values: 10/10, Satisfying nonsense: 0/10. Overall: 33/50. Credit.