When Dark Skies debuted on NBC in the fall of 1996, it was almost 50 years after the infamous Roswell UFO Incident. The report that a UFO had crashed in New Mexico — and the subsequent cover-up of the story — is a watershed moment for the UFO community and those who believe it began a campaign of misinformation by the U.S. government.
They're here. They're hostile.
Set in the 1960s during the administration of President John F. Kennedy, the series revolves around a young idealist named John Loengard (Eric Close). A fresh recruit to the congressional offices on Capitol Hill, Loengard is tasked with auditing certain government programs. This leads Loengard to investigate Project Blue Book, the Air Force study of UFOs.
After interviewing UFO abductees Betty and Barney Hill, Loengard encounters Captain Bach (J.T. Walsh) and the men of Majestic — a top-secret organization that has been fighting a hidden war against aliens since the Roswell Incident in 1947.
Kevin Wohler writes about film and television for FilmGuru.Net. In addition to being a fan of Dark Skies, he created one of the show's first fan websites, Dark Skies Over Kansas. He's still waiting for a second season of the show so he can find out why the Hive created disco.
Together with his girlfriend Kim Sayers (Megan Ward), Loengard eventually turns over evidence of this cover-up — and Majestic — to President Kennedy. Soon after, Kennedy is assassinated, pushing Loengard and Sayers to run from Majestic and find the truth.
To say that Dark Skies was an ambitious undertaking would be a major understatement. Co-creators Bryce Zabel and Brent Friedman took 50 years of UFO mythology and wove it into American history.
History as we know it is a lie.
Each episode of Dark Skies not only tackles a new piece of UFO mythology, but also places it in time with an important historical event. Whether the Beatles performing on The Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964 or the death of three civil rights workers in Mississippi in June of that year, Dark Skies ties its stories to the events of that decade.
But our knowledge of history is a lie — as Loengard repeatedly reminds us in the show's opening.
The stories in Dark Skies are not merely set in the '60s, they become an underlying cause to the events of the decade. The UFO mythology takes on a historical tone, and the alien conspiracy is woven into the fabric of history. The turbulent decade becomes a metaphor for the fear, anger and frustration of the UFO movement. And it's not without controversy.
Dark Skies immediately creates a sensation in the first episode "The Awakening" by tying the UFO conspiracy to the greatest conspiracy of a generation: the assassination of President Kennedy. But that's not the only bold statement the series makes.
In "We Shall Overcome," Loengard and Sayers help a former co-worker who has become embroiled in alien Hive conspiracy amid the civil rights demonstrations in Mississippi. What's shocking about the episode is that it portrays the civil rights workers as the enemy Hive.
The aliens, it seems, are big on civil rights. They want to make us all equal, with one goal in mind: to serve the Hive. So it's a bigoted Southern man whom we are forced to root for, hoping he keeps his humanity — no matter how flawed his hatred may be.
And when Loengard and Juliet (Jeri Ryan) investigate the drug counterculture in San Francisco in "Bloodlines," they aren't there — as Timothy Leary first suspects — to arrest anyone. They want to help Leary by stopping the Hive, which is using a tweaked version of LSD to plug humanity into the Hive mind.
The beauty of the series isn't just in the big plot points, but also in the tiny historical details. The inclusion of real people from history adds a sense of time and place to each episode. In addition to the aforementioned Timothy Leary, the show introduces us to other notables.
• Jesse Marcel, who played a significant role in the Roswell Incident, becomes John's contact in "Moving Targets" and "Hostile Convergence" following Kennedy's death
• Dorothy Kilgallen, a newspaper columnist who had her own brush with UFO mythology in the 1950s, prepares to break the story of the alien conspiracy in "To Prey in Darkness"
• Howard Hughes, the eccentric aviator and engineer, helps John and Kim fight a growing "communist" threat in Nevada in "Dreamland"
Along the way we also meet Jack Ruby, John Lennon, Jim Morrison, Simon Rodia, Carl Sagan, Jerry Rubin, Ronald Regan and — in a nice twist on one of the central characters — Charles Manson.
Powerful people don't want you to know.
Throughout the series, John Loengard's quest for the truth takes several unexpected turns.
In the beginning, his desire to get the truth into the hands of authority seems noble enough. He feels that the Majestic needs to be accountable. And his trust in government leads him to disclose the information to the president and the attorney general.
After the president's death, however, John turns his crusade toward a less tangible goal. He wants to get the "truth" out to the masses. And, at times, it seems as if Loengard's crusade causes more problems than it solves.
The question of disclosure is not easily answered. Even in the fictional world of Dark Skies, there are concerns about the wisdom of telling people the truth about aliens. We have no certainty how proof of alien life would affect our culture, our government, and our planet.
Thirteen years after Dark Skies, people still report lights in the night sky. Abduction stories are still the basis for books and movies. And the entertainment industry has produced several television series over the past decade dealing with alien invasion.
Are aliens and UFOs so much a part of our culture now that they have become commonplace? Or is the Resistance continuing to feed us pieces of the truth disguised as fiction?