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RCVR Review

on Fri, 08/03/2012 - 00:00

Before there was The X-Files, there was SIGMA. In the early 1970s, this fictitious secret government agency investigated UFO sightings across the United States. Unlike Fox Mulder, however, it was Luke Weber’s job to dissuade witnesses in regards to what they saw, offering lightning balls and experimental aircraft as the more plausible explanation. Whereas it was Fox Mulder’s mission in life to prove that there was a governmental conspiracy surrounding the existence of extraterrestrials, Luke Weber and his fellow SIGMA colleagues were actually part of that very conspiracy. “At least we really know what’s going on,” one of them remarks during the sci-fi web series RCVR. “It separates us from all the suckers.”

RCVR follows Luke Weber (Daniel Bonjour) and his direct superior Sandy Bergson (Catherine Kresge) as they investigate a UFO sighting in rural Arkansas. Although part of their assignment is indeed to spread false information regarding the nearby crash of an experimental aircraft—going so far as to even litter the area with debris to support their claim—the pair of SIGMA agents are also on the lookout for a newly activated RCVR (pronounced “receiver”). It turns out that the aliens in question are capable of communicating with a small percentage of the population, filling their minds with random numbers and scientific equations. The last RCVR died a few years earlier, and all evidence points to a new RCVR within the vicinity of the Arkansas UFO sighting.

When RCVR was first released online in September 2011, an alternative reality game component was likewise launched on the World Wide Web at the same time. The corresponding ARG website ProjectRCVR thus reveals additional insight into the narrative that RCVR itself does not contain, adding to the overall mythology of the web series. “Now China has one and the Soviets probably have three,” Sandy Bergson tells Luke Weber on RCVR, only to be then told that one of the Russian RCVRs is a fake. “Two then. That’s two more than we’ve had since Helen died. Think of how far ahead of us they’re getting.” While the discovery of a new RCVR is thus obviously important to the Cold War environment of the 1970s, it is the ProjectRCVR website that provides the answers in regards to why.

“If you’ve ever noticed, in the history of the human race, there have been moments where there’ve been tremendous leaps—quantum leaps—in our technical abilities, starting centuries and centuries ago,” the fictitious Alvin J. Peters explains in one of many short video documentaries contained on ProjectRCVR. “RCVRs are individuals that, for whatever reason, are communicated with by the alien intelligence, and they are given information. It would be against their will, but they are given information which is used to usually make a massive, giant leap in our technical skills.” In short, the vast majority of technological advancements throughout the course of mankind’s history has actually been alien in nature and passed on via a telepathic connection to the extraterrestrials. In addition to such revelations, the ProjectRCVR website also contains brief biographies of both Luke Weber and former RCVR Helen Pinkus, but recounted in the present day as opposed to the 1970s setting of RCVR.

While ProjectRCVR offers the proper context for the mystery, it is still the RCVR web series itself that provides the narrative meat of the story. Luke Weber is the last person to interview the previous RCVR, the aforementioned Helen Pinkus, and he obsessively listens to the recordings of that interrogation while sitting in his motel room, getting drunk on a bottle of whiskey. Weber also becomes protective of young Tommy (Garrett Ryan), one of three children who witnessed the UFO in Arkansas, despite Sandy Bergson’s belief that Tommy might be the next RCVR they are searching for as part of their overall mission. “When RCVRs turn, they’re confused and agitated,” Weber tells her. “They’re heads are full of concepts they’ve got no cognitive basis for processing. That’s not Tommy. RCVRs can’t hide what’s happening to them. If Tommy had turned, we’d know it.”

RCVR was produced by Machinima, the YouTube-based company that has created such high-end web series as Dragon Age: Redemption and Mortal Kombat: Legacy, and it should be of no surprise that the production qualities of RCVR rival those of a major Hollywood studio. In addition to the obvious alien connection, RCVR also shares the same visual aesthetics of an early X-Files episode. The FOX sci-fi classic was originally filmed in Vancouver and often utilized the dark skies and wooded regions of the Canadian metropolis for effect, as opposed to the lighter tendencies of later seasons when production relocated to Los Angeles. RCVR contains the same grayish tones and texture as the initial X-Files, and placing the “crash site” in the woods of Arkansas only adds to the similarities between the two shows.

In The X-Files, the government conspiracy that Fox Mulder spent the better part of his FBI years attempting to expose included a hidden agenda by a secret organization to facilitate the eventual invasion of the planet by an alien race bent on mankind’s enslavement. The government conspiracy of RCVR, meanwhile, is part of the Cold War mentality of staying ahead of the technological curve and preventing any sort of “gap”—whether it involves weapons, a space race, or alien RCVRs. The mission of SIGMA agent Luke Weber, meanwhile, is to ensure that the secrecy surrounding the existence of aliens remains intact while likewise searching for additional RCVRs.

How far Weber is willing to go—or, to paraphrase Fox Mulder, how far he is willing to “believe” in what he is doing—is the central storyline of RCVR. Add the additional information available on the ProjectRCVR website to the conclusion of the RCVR web series, and one has a mythology that might not be as complex as the one woven on The X-Files, but is equally intriguing and entertaining nonetheless.

Anthony Letizia (August 3, 2012)

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