'In Search Of' episode 6 review: 'Sinkholes' shows us the human side of disasters
'Sinkholes' is an improvement over the preceding episodes and shows that 'In Search Of' is still searching for the right formula
History's second reboot of 'In Search Of' proved to be quite disappointing so far, getting off to an inauspicious start with its first three episodes. Though they had a few redeeming elements, poor production, over-dramatization, and excessive fluff meant that it didn't hold up to the high standards of its Leonard Nimoy-hosted predecessor. That being said, episode 4 and episode 5 have proven to be significant improvements, with Zachary Quinto and the team taking a more scientific approach and thus managing to make the premises more gripping.
The series' last episode 'Time Travel' did not get off to a good start. To tackle a topic that had been at the crux of science fiction for well over a century and had intrigued some of humanity's greatest minds, the producers decided they would interview Andrew D. Basiago, a man who claimed he had time traveled multiple times. Quinto, to his credit, expresses his skepticism at Basiago's claims and, after that nadir, it was smooth sailing.
Episode 5 took a meticulous and methodical approach to address such a perplexing subject matter, and viewers are treated to an atomic clock experiment that proves gravity's effects on time. From the U.S, 'In Search Of' moves across the Atlantic to research the topic further. In Liverpool, England, Quinto explores a phenomenon that's come to be known as 'Time Slips,' and which makes a person suddenly transported to the past for a brief period of time.
A short trip to Switzerland and the Mecca for physicists, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, Geneva, follows. It's here that you can appreciate how good a host the 41-year-old 'Star Trek' actor is. Aware that he is painfully out of his depth, he offers an attentive ear, chiming in now and then with questions to let his host know that her talk is not going to waste.
In the last segment, the episode asks a question that has crossed almost everybody's mind at some point in time: why does it feel as though time moves slower on certain days or during times of disaster? And there's no unnecessary jargon in the answer either; instead, we get one that pleasantly intelligible and understandable.
Review of episode 6, 'Sinkholes':
Mysterious music chimes in the background as Quinto proclaims, "For thousands of years, the fear of plummetting into the abyss has haunted mankind." Biblical images flash across the screen of man being condemned to the depths of hell, with the 41-year-old going into detail about how sinkholes terrified civilizations across the world because of their unknown origins. A little too over-the-top for my liking, but the topic was intriguing enough that I give it the good ol' college try.
'Sinkholes' unfolds with Quinto heading to interview with a man who had one of these sinkholes open up within the confines of his home, swallowing his brother in the process. Quinto manages to hold a conversation well enough, though it does become clear at one point that he's a bit taken aback by the story.
The situation was a first for the host as well, he's never previously had to talk to someone (to the best of my memory) who had experienced the loss of a loved one in the series. As his guest gets teary-eyed and emotional, Quinto can do little but offer a few comforting words, finding it hard to maintain eye contact. The actual footage of the incident is included as well, giving viewers a chance to witness the devastation first-hand.
It's quite a heavy opening for the episode, making one wonder whether this would be a theme that would be running throughout: what is the human side to some of nature's fury? Unfortunately, it was here that it took a turn for the worse. In the next segment, we hear the explanations of Michael Erevna, a religious scholar. Erevna goes to explain, with utter conviction, that sinkholes are a result of humanities sins and that the end times are coming.
He claims that these phenomena are a result of God's wrath and points to the fact that they're increasing in frequency around the world as proof for his proclamation. I'll be honest, if I had rolled my eyes any harder, they would have been stuck at the back of my head for the rest of my existence.
I understand the need to provide multiple perspectives, but why pander to the religious one that we can be 100% certain is false? In our race's long history, when has a natural disaster ever been the result of God deciding that the Earth needs some kind of cleansing? What's even more unfortunate is that this wasn't the only time we see Erevna on screen either. He makes another appearance at the end to reiterate his stance. Leonard Nimoy would be rolling over in his grave.
Another common theme through the episode is Quinto's proclivity to exaggerate. I lost count of the number of times he used the words 'deadly,' 'otherworldly,' and 'mystical.' Sure, in the context of sinkholes, they make sense, but he uses them while referring to Mexican free-tailed bats. And while there's nothing wrong in not knowing something, Quinto's lack of expertise does come off as a bit amateurish sometimes. For example, every expert he interviews, he asks the same question: can we predict where these sinkholes pop up? He gets the same answer every single time — no — but he soldiers on anyway.
The rest of the episode features Quinto visiting an 8,000-year-old sinkhole — nothing much to talk about there — and communities in Florida that have been warned they have built houses on unstable land. It's here that 'Sinkholes' delves into the human element of disasters once again, with multiple members coming out to tell their heartbreaking stories.
It also features two experts on the subject, Jerry Black and Dr. Tony Randazzo, who have set up a company that aims to improve our detection abilities of these disasters. It's interesting to watch how they offer a perfectly reasonable and scientific explanation to what was previously described as 'mysterious,' offering a jarring contradiction to practically everything else in the episode so far.
Quinto also takes them to meet two residents who had newly brought a house, only to be told later that it was at a risk of collapsing on itself. Not going to include too many spoilers here, so you should watch that segment for yourself to find out how it goes.
The last segment was probably the most interesting, taking viewers to a golf course that saw a sinkhole claim a large portion of the field. The owner, instead of packing up and moving on, approaches the disaster with a scientific curiosity. Goes to show, it doesn't necessarily have to be all doom and gloom as Quinto seems to suggest.
'Sinkholes' was not as bad as the first three episodes, but it certainly wasn't as good as 'Artificial Intelligence' or 'Time Travel' either. Except for a short intro, it doesn't detail or explain the world's most famous sinkhole: the Gateway to Hell in Turkmenistan. 'In Search Of' is still hunting for the right formula, and hopefully, they find it sooner than later.