'In Search Of' episode 7 review: 'Mind Control' delves into a rabbit hole of controversial experiments and conspiracy theories
'Mind Control' was impeccable but for a few faults in production and Quinto's insistence on asking the same question repeatedly.
The last three episodes of History's 'In Search Of' have proven to be marked improvements over the series' first three, with the most recent detailing one of nature's more mysterious phenomena: sinkholes. Though the introduction was a little overdramatic for my liking — the epilepsy-inducing flashing images of man being condemned to hell and a plethora of other biblical and medieval references were quite over-the-top. The rest of the episode, however, redeemed itself well by exploring the human side of the natural disasters that seem to be increasing in frequency across the world.
Host Zachary Quinto has had Leonard Nimoy's enormous boots to fill, and so far, he's done an excellent job. 'Sinkholes' arguably confronted him with his biggest challenge yet as he interviewed a man who lost his brother to one that opened up beneath his Florida home. Despite being taken aback by the story, the 41-year-old soldiers on, offering an empathetic ear and some comforting words. Actual footage of the incident was included as well, giving viewers the chance to witness the destruction first-hand.
Quinto also takes the help of an expert to explore an 8,000-year-old sinkhole, attempting to glean what some of the causes behind these phenomena may be. The series' more scientific approach in recent episodes is a refreshing change and for 'Sinkholes,' the producers managed to secure Jerry Black and Dr. Tony Randazzo who have set up a company that is attempting to streamline and improve our detection capability of the sinkholes.
Another segment sees the 41-year-old 'Star Trek' star visit a golf course that saw one of these sinkholes claim a large portion of the field. It was probably the episode's most interesting bit as well, with the owner of the land taking out time and money to hire excavators that explored the area in search for answers.
But as has been the pattern, episode 7 had some major drawbacks as well, with the most irksome one being how it entertained the ramblings of Michael Erevna, a religious scholar. Erevna explains with utter conviction how these sinkholes are a result of God's wrath and that the end of times is coming, pointing to their increasing frequency as proof of his theory. Furthermore, Erevna would go on to feature in another segment as well, reiterating his previous claim. Pandering to such non-sensical points of view does the series little good and it ruined an otherwise good episode.
Review of episode 7, 'Mind Control':
In my opinion, 'Time Travel' was the series' best episode yet, so I was hoping that there would be another along those lines that would address a similar subject matter. So, you can imagine when I hear Quinto introducing us to the concept of mind control, I was very excited. It's something that scientists, as well as humanity as a whole, have been obsessed with since medieval times. It has been the topic of discussion for decades and the running theme of countless science fiction movies over the years. It was a topic I've spent a fair amount of time researching myself, so I had my fingers crossed hoping 'In Search Of' would do it justice.
But when the first segment introduces one James Walbert, a man who claims he's been mind-controlled after having chips implanted in his neck and ear, that hope all but evaporated. Goes to show, you should never jump the gun. As it turns out Walbert's claims had merit, unlike those made by Andrew Basiago in 'Time Travel.' An MRI scan reveals that he had chips lodged in his brain and neck, and his subsequent court case made history in the country, setting the tone for over 20 laws on illegal implantation.
And I'll be honest, if an episode that was named 'Mind Control' did not address CIA's infamous 'MKUltra' program, it would have been a farce. Fortunately, it's an issue that the episode tackles in the second segment, though it does skim over the agency's most blatant attempts to control citizens through the usage of LSD. But that can be forgiven, considering there's only so much you can cram into a 40-minute episode, and that as far as mind control programs are concerned, it is one of those that is reasonably well known.
Despite Quinto's likeability and affability — his knack for making all those around him feel comfortable at all times is commendable — a running issue I've noticed with him is that he ends up asking every single expert he interviews the same question despite pretty much getting a similar answer every time. It's more of the same in episode 7 as well as he asks every interviewee what they think will be the negative implications of humanity perfecting mind control. It's a minor flaw that becomes more noticeable as the episodes go by, but I'm also sure it's one the 41-year-old should have little problems rectifying.
That being said, his child-like excitability is contagious. When he pays a visit to neuroscientist Dr. Greg Gage, he's shown a contraption that allows Gage to control his arm with his own through the use of electrical impulses. Quinto seems completely bowled over at the prospect and giddily reacts as Gage puts his creation into use, controlling the actor's arm and fingers. While it's all fun and games here, the implications of such a device could be heavy in the future, as Quinto rightly points out.
Wouldn't be an 'In Search Of' episode without the conspiracy, tinfoil hat angle, however, and this time around, it's about US diplomats in Cuba who had reportedly been the target of attacks that resulted in concussion-like brain injuries. The culprit is apparently sonic waves, and it is pointed out that these attacks conveniently coincided with Russia's return to Cuban soil. As far-fetched as it may seem, the possibility remains, especially considering the country's history of poisoning and killing dissenters and those they viewed as 'enemies of the state.'
Unlike previous episodes, the producers kept it reined in, not going overboard with spectacular claims and even gave viewers a glimpse of these waves' positive effects. Quinto, as willing as ever for the scientific cause, agreed to be a test subject for an experiment that depicted their benefits. Surprisingly enough, they did seem to improve coordination (even though the results were by no means conclusive).
But the two most interesting segments were an angle that I not previously considered myself: brainwashing and mentalism. Quinto delves into the first by broaching the infamous topic of the Jonestown massacre and how Jim Jones convinced hundreds of his followers to kill themselves at the same time, as well as interviewing a former Al Quaeda recruiter turned informant. It was one of the rare instances where the show went out of its way to provide detail into a little-known issue, and for that, I have nothing but praise. Quinto's interaction with mentalist Matt Cooper is eye-opening as well. While I can't speak for how much of their interaction was staged, Quinto's reactions and surprise at Cooper reading him like a book seemed genuine enough.
If I had to nitpick for a negative, I would point at what I felt was the overly-dramatic production. When Quinto is waiting to see whether Cooper has predicted correctly, there's a series of threatening superimposed images that flash across the screen, all pertaining to mind-control. It makes it seem as though the actor is in some kind of terrific danger and not sitting in a room with a few cards in front him. But it's but a blot in an otherwise impeccable showcase.