In an extra blog for this week, I’m reviewing Dark Skies, a conspiracy theory-based sci-fi series from the 90s, which followed in the footsteps of The X Files but was cancelled before its time. Spoilers ahead.
I try to avoid cancelled TV shows unless I know they’ve ended properly, which often means waiting for a show to become really popular. So many shows are cancelled after the end of the season, ending on unsatisfying cliff-hangers. With all these serialized shows around nowadays, it’s like putting on a movie and having it turned off fifteen minutes before the end.
But in 1996, I was – ahem – ten years old. I had no idea Dark Skies was just going to stop before it had really gotten going.
Dark Skies is set in 1960s America and posits that aliens have secretly invaded and are among us, and their presence is being covered up by the government. It features the popular ‘Grey’ aliens that are so often associated with the Roswell UFO Incident and other UFO sightings. But the interesting twist is that the Greys are not the real invaders. They’re being controlled by another alien race called the Hive – parasitic creatures dubbed ‘ganglions’, which live inside hosts and are reminiscent of the facehuggers in the Alien movies. (It’s possible the Hive and the ganglions were also inspired by very similar creatures in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Conspiracy.)
The other twist is that, unlike The X Files, many of the events in Dark Skies are drawn from real life. Real people are characters in the show, like Carl Sagan, The Beatles and Jesse Marcel (who I talked about in my Roswell article a few weeks ago). Real events like the 1965 Northeast blackout, the assassination of JFK and Roswell are re-explained as being associated with the Hive’s invasion and the conspiracy of silence controlled by Majestic 12. (Again, instead of the purely fictional ‘Syndicate’ that are behind the conspiracy in The X Files, Majestic 12 is based on a real-life alleged division of the government.)
Elements of my own writing owe a lot to Dark Skies. Incorporating real-life events and looking at them through a different lens is exactly what I do in Million Eyes. I have to credit Dark Skies for inspiring the name of this blog too. The tagline for the TV series is “History as we know it is a lie.” But I digress… *
Dark Skies follows John Loengard and Kimberley Sayers, a couple who end up on the run from Majestic 12 and the Hive. They don’t believe that Majestic 12’s conspiracy of silence is the best way of going about fighting the Hive. The third main character is Frank Bach, played brilliantly by the late J. T. Walsh, who runs Majestic. The series follows a half-episodic, half-serialized approach. While you need to watch the first few episodes to understand the set-up, subsequent episodes have their own plots that don’t necessarily continue from one episode to the next. However, if you miss several episodes, you’ll miss learning things about the characters, the Hive and the Greys that become crucial later on, which means it’s not truly a dip-in-dip-out show.
The theory is that during the 90s, when episodic shows were more popular, the partially serialized format of Dark Skies was what killed it. It was also competing with the frankly huge X Files.
The show is not without its problems. It has its share of slightly dodgy acting, weak dialogue, a bit of ham-fisted editing, some shaky special effects (in particular some awful CGI in the pilot) and the odd boring episode. But it’s still better than a lot of first seasons, including that of The X Files.
Another criticism that was levelled at the show is the blandness of the two leads. In part, I agree. John and Kim are very nice characters, but they’re not hugely compelling. Things change in that department when Jeri Ryan joins the cast as Majestic agent Juliet partway through the season. Juliet is feisty, strong-willed and more complex, and she adds some much-needed drama to the proceedings. Everyone remembers her introduction in superb episode The Warren Omission. When she bursts into the house where John and Kim are staying, beats up several agents, pulls Kim off the stairs and hurls half-naked John against a table (before cheekily stealing his towel). Ryan’s stint in this led her to win the role that made her famous – Seven of Nine in Star Trek Voyager.
Another thing Dark Skies does is it takes one of its leads – Kim – and turns her evil. She ends up joining the Hive several episodes before the end of the season, and Juliet basically becomes her replacement (and ends up in a relationship with John). This hardly ever happens in TV shows, and it’s a brave thing to do. When I was a kid, I didn’t like it because I liked Kim. As an adult, I appreciate it was a good shake-up for the series. I only hate that they never resolved it. Kim’s fate was one of the major storylines left hanging when the series was cancelled. (And it wasn’t only her fate that was left agonisingly unresolved. John and Juliet were left trapped aboard the Hive mothership, and Frank Bach was shot and presumably killed – but we’ll never know.)
It’s a shame. The show was supposed to last five seasons, with the final season taking place during the present day. I continue to hope that one day someone will have the sense to revive it.
This Wednesday: Are time travellers among us?
* UPDATE – This article was written when the blog was called, “Is Our History A Lie?”