'In Search Of' episode 8 review: 'Life After Death' takes on human mortality from a scientific as well as philosohpical perspective

'Life After Death' sees the series tackle a subject matter that humanity has obsessed with for millennia.

'In Search Of' episode 8 review: 'Life After Death' takes on human mortality from a scientific as well as philosohpical perspective

'Time Travel' had been the best episode of the season so far, though the introduction of 'Mind Control' had me hoping there would be a new challenger to that throne. A concept that has intrigued both the scientific community, as well humanity as a whole, for centuries, there were umpteen possible angles at which 'In Search Of' could have chosen to explore it. And, despite its 40-minute running time, it manages to address several of these in a well-researched and understandable way.

It appeared as though the episode had kicked off on a bad note — the parallels between Andrew Basiago claiming he had time traveled and James Walbert claiming he had been mind-controlled were there for all to see — but that proved to just be a case of me jumping the gun. And to my delight, the producers did not forget to include one of the most infamous mind control experiments in history: MKUltra. The CIA's program's usage of LSD is skimmed over, but there's only so much one can cram within the confines of a single episode. 

'Mind Control' looked as if it kicked off on a poor note (Source: History)
'Mind Control' looked as if it kicked off on a poor note (Source: History)

The best segment in 'Mind Control' comes with host Zachary Quinto visiting neuroscientist Dr. Greg Gage. Gage experiments with a contraption that allows him to control a test subject's arm with his own, possibly showcasing one of humanity's most significant strides in the controversial field. But the episode would not be complete without the 41-year-old sporting the tinfoil hat and delving down the conspiracy theory route. And this time around, it involved US diplomats in Cuba who were reportedly the target of attacks that induced brain injuries similar to those experienced by concussion victims. That, combined with the possible Russian involvement angle was quite outlandish, but possible nonetheless because of their checkered past with poisonings and assassinations. 

'Mind Control' also tackles the subject matter with an approach I had failed to consider: brainwashing and mentalism. Quinto finds himself face to face with a former Al Qaeda recruiter who now serves as an informant for the government and is explained how terrorist organizations specifically target those who may be mentally vulnerable to carry out their suicide missions.

The host also interacts with mentalist Matt Cooper, who proves how easy it is to manipulate one's thought processes with the most minute of cues. Quinto's penchant to repeat the same questions notwithstanding, the episode was one of the series' better ones.

Review of episode 8, 'Life After Death'

Quinto talking to Pat Johnson, a man who claims he experienced the afterlife (Source: History)
Quinto talking to Pat Johnson, a man who claims he experienced the afterlife (Source: History)

One can't fault 'In Search Of' for lacking ambition. It's first seven episodes — 'Aliens,' 'Superhumans,' 'Monsters of the Deep,' 'Artificial Intelligence,' 'Time Travel,' 'Sinkholes,' and  'Mind Control' — have all tried to broach concepts and subjects that are still not very well understood amongst the scientific community. But what has become quite apparent is that the execution has been haphazard and lacking. Whether's it's the people they choose to interview, their often non-methodical approach or by far the worst, their pandering to nonsensical lines of reasoning, the series has often shot itself in the foot. A steady improvement has been visible with its last few episodes, and 'Life After Death' looked to continue that trend.

The human race's mortality, as well as our impending deaths, are something that has intrigued and petrified us in equal measure over the course of our existence. It is arguably the one aspect of life on Earth we can never wrap our head around, and as it is with all such things, we try our best to run away from it. Since medieval times, we have tried to concoct potions to extend life or adopted measures in the hope that the afterlife finds us well and healthy — one only need take a look at the pyramids or the hundreds of thousands of hieroglyphics for proof — and it's a quest that we still find ourselves on to this day. Considering the enormous weight of history, both philosophical and scientifical, behind it, how would 'In Search Of' reasonably pursue such a topic? The answer as it turns out, was pleasantly surprising.

'Life After Death' starts with Quinto interviewing Pat Johnson, a man who claims to have experienced the afterlife in the brief moments he was drowning underneath a river. Johnson explains in vivid detail of what the other side looked like, painting imagery of tunnels and long hallways, and blinding lights — the likes of which are expressed by several thousand others any given year.

The similarity of the depictions, irrelevant of country, sex, gender, religion, is a curious phenomenon and does make you wonder whether there is any truth to it. And the episode does attempt to answer that question further through the lens of Dr. Jeffrey Long, an oncologist who seems to be assured of the fact that humans inhibit more than just a body, that they boast of a soul. And considering a conclusive answer was never an option, it is commendable they've tried to at least give the audiences a semblance of one. 

Quinto's skepticism is good to see (Source: History)
Quinto's skepticism is good to see (Source: History)

Another interesting angle at which 'In Search Of' approaches the theme is by bringing up cryogenics. Once a science fiction dream, advancements in technology has meant that preserving your body for the future is now a reality. But instead of having Quinto 'ooh and aaah' at the fancy equipment at Alcor, the company that facilitates the process, 'Life After Death' walks us through the steps that make doing so possible. Max More, the President and CEO, explains in easily digestible terms how they ready a body for possible future resurrection, and you come out the segment having learned something you would have otherwise taken ages to understand or comprehend.

An introduction to the 'Fountain of Youth' had me worrying we'd see Quinto visit some shady underground flea market where he haggled with wizened old ladies for healing crystals, but that quickly evaporated when the 41-year-old meets up with Harvard University geneticist Dr. David Sinclair. Sinclair talks Quinto through the university's advancements in anti-aging tech, showcasing an experiment that successfully isolated the cell responsible for aging and then used it to speed the process in rats. 'Life and Death' also takes to answering the possible ethical dilemmas that arise, bringing in Matthew Liao, the director at the center for bioethics to explain the pitfalls of extending one's mortality.

But for me, the most captivating segment had to do with Gary Galka, a man who claims his deceased daughter communicates with him from the afterlife. I've always been very much a buff for the supernatural and the paranormal, and in Galka, it seemed as though in 'Life after death' had reined in a guest with evidence that proved its existence. Security camera footage, as well as audio that hinted at lucid communication from these otherworldly beings was quite something to behold, though it did leave you with the feeling that Galka had a pretty heavy case of confirmation bias. It was much like the infamous 'Laurel and Yanny' audiotapes that went viral earlier this year, and you hear what you want to hear and nothing else.

While Quinto has proven himself to be affable, understanding, empathetic, wildly enthusiastic, and likable in equal measure, we saw a side to him that we'd rarely seen before here. Quinto the skeptic was on full show and, despite being presented with a host of proof that seemed to point towards the actuality of the afterlife, refused to rule out other possibilities and avenues. It was a facet he needed to add to his repertoire, lest all his interviewees take him for a fool, and the 41-year-old showed he would not be convinced quite so easily.

That being said, he still does need to work on his voice modulation. The 41-year-old does have a tendency to maintain the same, droning tone no matter what the context, and it can sometimes make you wonder if it was appropriate, though it's something he's sure to improve upon as he gets more experience. The production can be singled out for improvement as well, not in terms of how well polished everything looks, but for its proclivity to build up unnecessary tension and drama. It's a television show that involves Quinto going around talking to people. He's never going to be in any real danger. They need to cut it out because right now, it's only serving to give interested viewers twitchy eyebrows and a mild headache.