Dark Skies: History As We Know It Is a Lie
In 1996, the NBC sci-fi drama Dark Skies suggested an even more sinister plot in regards to the president’s assassination—JFK was actually killed by aliens intent on world domination. Furthermore, elements within the US government knew about this threat ever since a UFO was gunned down in Roswell, New Mexico, and other historical events of the 1960s were directly related to the secret war being waged against this alien race.
From the Vietnam Conflict to the appearance of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, missing Civil Rights workers in Mississippi to riots in the Watts district of Los Angeles—all had direct ties to a government conspiracy surrounding the existence of aliens and their plot to enslave mankind. As the tagline for the series so succinctly suggests, “History as we know it is a lie.”
UFOs have been the fodder for conspiracy theorists even longer than the Kennedy assassination. The FOX drama The X-Files tapped into the American fascination with the possible existence of aliens and resulting governmental cover-up when the series premiered in 1993 and the show instantly became a cultural phenomenon.
The success of The X-Files inspired television producers Brent Friedman and Bryce Zabel, legitimate UFO buffs themselves, to meld the two greatest “conspiracies” of contemporary times into one fictional narrative with the creation of Dark Skies. The subsequent drama only aired for one season in the late 1990s but was able to effectively blend its own conspiracy theory into actual 1960s history nonetheless, as well as craft a relevant commentary on that tumultuous period of the country’s history and evolution.
In Dark Skies, the decade is seen and experienced through the eyes and actions of recent UCLA graduates John Loengard (Eric Close) and Kimberly Sayers (Megan Ward). Caught up in the euphoria of President Kennedy’s “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your county” call-to-action, they make their way to Washington DC filled with civic pride and an embodiment of the innocence of the times. Loengard gets a job with his local congressman and is soon tasked with determining whether Project Blue Book, the real-life US Air Force investigation into the existence of UFOs, was worth funding.
Although a skeptic in regards to extraterrestrials, the young congressional aide quickly becomes a believer after interviewing two abductees and is subsequently threatened at gunpoint by unknown agents of the government. Loengard refuses to back down, however, and is ultimately recruited into a covert operation know as Majestic.
John Loengard discovers that an alien race made contact with the United States at Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947 and demanded the government’s unconditional surrender. President Harry S. Truman retaliated by having their space ship shot down, creating Majestic and charging Captain Frank Bach (J.T. Walsh) with combating the threat. Instead of conventional warfare, the Hive—as the parasitic aliens came to be known—took “control” of human bodies by attaching themselves to the host’s brain. Although Majestic was overseen by a collection of twelve high-ranking government officials and private citizens, John Loengard soon realized that the current President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, was not aware of their existence.
“President Kennedy knows what he needs to know,” Bach explains to him at the start of the Cuban Missile Crisis. “Ike never trusted Kennedy. When Nixon lost the election, he gave us the authority to decide which future presidents should be told. It’s all perfectly legal.”
The idealistic Loengard does not accept this explanation, believing that not only the President but the people deserve to know the truth, and thus steals evidence of the conspiracy from Bach and gets it into the hands of JFK. While Frank Bach offered John Loengard a quick lesson on the reality of governmental proceedings, Loengard was given another by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. Yes, the president agrees that Majestic should be made public, RFK tells him, but he is up for re-election in 1964 and any public announcement needs to wait until his second term.
That second term never materializes as the Hive, aware of JFK’s intentions of revealing their existence, uses both Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby as their own personal “patsies” in order to eliminate the threat. When Robert Kennedy later tells John Loengard and his girlfriend Kim Sayers that they now need to wait even longer, until the Attorney General himself is elected president in 1968, the two go on the run from both the Hive and Majestic.
It turns out to be a road trip through history as Loengard and Sayers continue to investigate the Hive and their nefarious plots. Along the way, they prevent the aliens from using the television broadcast of the Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show to brainwash the masses, team up with a germ-phobic Howard Hughes in Las Vegas when it’s discovered that the Hive is using casino winnings to finance their operation, and end up in Meridian, Mississippi, after three Civil Rights workers go missing.
The more John Loengard and Kim Sayers witness, the more the innocence and idealism that they embodied at the start of the decade gets washed away. Even the Vietnam War plays a role within the Dark Skies narrative as the governmental funding of Majestic is secretly allocated from the military budget.
War inevitably means more money for the military and thus more for Majestic as well. When alien crafts are spotted constructing an underwater base in the Gulf of Tonkin, one of them is fired upon by the Soviet equivalent of Majestic, Aura-Z, which a nearby US battleship interprets as an attack. The military action in the area thus escalates, furthering the cause of Majestic.
Captain Frank Bach is also not above blackmail to keep his clandestine operation a secret. He uses photographs of J. Edgar Hoover with his homosexual partner Clyde Tolson to keep the FBI at bay and derails Robert Kennedy’s attempts at having John Loengard offer testimony to the Warren Commission with a compromising videotape of the Attorney General with actress Marilyn Monroe the night before she committed suicide.
The events at the Gulf of Tonkin, which officially launched the Vietnam War, are often considered to have been “distorted” by the Johnson Administration in order to escalate the conflict, while rumors of Hoover’s sexuality and RFK’s affair with Monroe have likewise existed but never been proven—all of which add to Dark Skies being a realistic commentary on the 1960s despite its fictitious main storyline.
“You know why you’re going to lose?” a Hive-infected African American preacher asks Frank Bach in Mississippi. “While you fight amongst yourselves, we assimilate, we blend in. We have no color, no conflict. Where you deny it, we are your every solution.”
Dark Skies thus suggests that the civil discord within the United States at the time, not only regarding race relations but protests against the Vietnam War as well, served the purpose of the invading alien Hive by distracting the nation against the real threat to its security. Men like Captain Frank Bach and the Majestic 12, meanwhile, viewed the unrest in the country as a means to keep their clandestine operation a secret and justification for their conspiratorial actions.
As John Loengard and Kim Sayers eventually realized, however, there is more to unite people as both a nation and a planet than inevitably divides them. Their journey through the historical events of the 1960s was not only a reaction to the coming alien invasion but a microcosm of the journey the nation experienced during the time period as well. History as we know it may or may not be a lie, but the alternative reality offered by Dark Skies is as informative as it is entertaining and offers insights into the past that likewise illuminates the present.