Expedition Unknown – Beale Ciphers – S01E08

imageFor this episode, Josh is on the trail of a haul of gold that could be worth more than $65 million. In 1817 a Virginia adventurer named Thomas Beale lead an expedition that found huge plunders of gold and silver. It’s claimed the haul was over 8000 pounds worth of treasure and to keep the treasure safe, Beale devised a way to code three documents that listed the names of the people who found the treasure, the contents and the exact location. These documents were then locked and handed over to an innkeeper for safe keeping with instructions to open the box if Beale never returned. Beale never did return, the box was opened and what they found were the coded messages. These were then handed over to James Ward who then published the coded messages in the Beale documents.

Ward was able to decode and publish the second document which detailed where to start looking for the treasure. He used the Declaration of Independence as his "key". The first letter of each word is given a number and those numbers are listed throughout the page. Josh is hot on the trail and heads down to Virginia to see what he can learn. But first, he needs to make a stop at the world famous Foamhenge, which is a replica of Stonehenge. Say what you will, but it’s really quite lovely.

The center of the search is in Bedford where the Beauford Inn is listed by name in the decoded text. It is believed the treasure is within a 4 mile radius of the Inn. Josh meets up with Mike Evans who has been searching for the treasure and believes it is hidden off an old wagon trail. He uses his trusty plane to try and find a suitable location and then he and Josh head out into the back woods to try and make a discovery. They believe the treasure will be near a waterfall since that is one of the words they’ve been able to decode. With that in mind they search down the river, which turns out to be quite dangerous as the other partner Steve is sucked into quicksand.

Their hopes are raised as they find a horseshoe which would have been from the right time period. This means cargo was shipped through the area. What’s more, they find a coin from the late 1700’s. It seems they might be in the right place and with the right time period in mind. It’s a nice discovery, but they’re not able to come up with any more treasure.

Realizing that James Ward was a member of the Masons, he heads to Philadelphia to see if he can uncover more information. If Ward was a member, did he by chance use any of the Masonic codes or processes for creating his messages. Remember, Washington and Franklin were Masons and were heavily involved in writing in code.

Josh learns the Masons are steeped in codes and that Ward was a member. He may have some of his knowledge to decode the message. But not much more is able to be learned and Josh is back on the trail and meets up with Justin Cannady.

Justin tells the story of an old tin box his family had that broke open one night and revealed a false bottom. Hidden within was an early copy of the Declaration of Independence. There were lots of "drafts" but this one had the initials TJB in the corner and was torn across the top in a peculiar way. Justin believes this tear represents a mountain range. Since there is the Egyptian symbol for water on the back of the document, Justin feels if they find the mountain range, they will be a step closer to finding the treasure.

Justin and Josh head down the river that is within the four mile radius of Beauford Inn to see if anything matches. Oddly, they eventually come across one that might fit the bill. It does appear to be a match to the tears so they head in to investigate. To their surprise, they find a massive cave that could easily contain a huge haul of buried treasure. They repel down and find some evidence that people have been down here before. Josh and Justin discover an old nail and what appears to be the top of a lantern. It’s a huge area, but their search doesn’t reveal any treasure. But it looks like someone was down here at one point so who knows what they will find with more investigation. And what a fantastic discovery on it’s own.

Josh has some nagging questions though. The second document has been decoded, but in the past 100 years no progress has been made on the other two. Why is that? If we have all this massive computing power, shouldn’t we have cracked it by now? Josh heads to the National Cryptologic Museum to meet with Todd Mateer who’s a Cryptanalyst. He developed a program to use the Declaration as the key for the second document. It starts to work, but there are some issues. It doesn’t really line up that well. This means the translation or decoding of the document is inaccurate. In essence the decoded message isn’t really what the document contains.

Mateer takes the first and third documents and does the same analysis using the Declaration. What he finds is that the document has patterns of ABF DEFGH IIJKL MMNOH PP. Mateer believes the first and third ciphers were never meant to be solved. The creator of the first and third documents filled the page with  random numbers. But oddly, these random numbers are from the Declaration going in alphabetical order. This means he went down the list of numbers filling in the alphabet which isn’t a code at all.

So what we have is the person who wrote the code and the person who broke the code are the same person. In this case, that’s James Ward. Based on his findings, Mateer believes the entire Beale legend is a hoax and was put together by James Ward to sell papers. He created this legend, which may have had some basis in fact, and offered the coded letters as proof of buried treasure. He then decoded one cipher and sold his "book" so people could try to solve the other two. There may be no treasure at all and this was dreamed up as a marketing ploy.

Is there treasure or not? It’s strange how some of the clues link together. The map seems to fit. There is a fantastic cave which could easily hold the loot. Josh found the old horseshoe and the old coin. Pure luck or does this point to a bigger treasure waiting to be discovered?

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Expedition Unknown – Temple of Doom – S01E02

image So the story of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is just a story right? No bearing on any sort of real life events? Well, that may not be entirely true as Josh heads to Cambodia to investigate the lost city of the Khmer Empire and search for a mystical relic that turned King Jayavarman into an unstoppable force. It is believed that King Jayavarman was able to call down the powers of Kali and use those powers to conquer and incinerate those who stood in his way. Sounds pretty impressive! The source of his power? The Linga, similar to the mystical stones we saw in the movie. You basically take the Linga (male) and combine it with the Yoni (female) and then all hell breaks loose.

Like all good adventures, this one starts off with a trip to the market. Josh indulges in some fresh vegetables, fresh fish that won’t stay in the basket and takes a sample of some mutant bugs. Josh also pays a visit to the Cambodia War Museum and has a look back at some of the darker times of the area. It’s quite shocking to see pictures of children, held in chains, posing for their last photograph. Power does strange things to people.

And if that weren’t enough, there is still the grim reality that the land is covered in million of active land mines. Josh pays a visit to a man who personally laid thousands of mines in the area, but is now trying to make amends by going out and defusing as many as he possible can. And just because the mines are small doesn’t mean they aren’t deadly as we see when Josh heads out with the team, discovers a mine and detonates it in a safe clearing. But pay attention to their technique. These guys have the most flimsy bomb suits I’ve ever seen, they handle the mine with their bare hands and just explode it in an open field. That just a bit on the nutty side.

To get an idea of what he’s up against, Josh meets with a few locals and realizes he’s in for a multi-hour 4×4 adventure and then a trek up a mountain that is most likely littered with live land mines. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, what happens when you run out of road? You jump on a make shift train of course. Seems there is plenty of railway lines left behind and the good citizens have built their own transportation using rotting wood, rubber bands and repurposed lawn mower engines. And these vehicles are easy to take apart too, as we see when there is a minor traffic jam on the rails and the villagers simply pick the tram up, move it out of the way of oncoming traffic, reassemble it and go about their journey. To be honest, riding along on that motorized cart looked like wickedly good fun!

Once he reaches his destination it’s time to check one of the natural features of the area which is a cave with a rather indecent looking opening that is home to millions of bats that make a food migration each night as the sun sets. And as if on cue, the bats stream out and darken the sky. While amazing to see from the comfort of distance, that would have been both creepy and skin crawling to be under.

Josh then speaks with one of the locals who is familiar with the lost village and with the suppose power of King Jayavarman. They would prefer to keep the location of the dig and the site a secret since people have been known to steal relics from the site and sell them on the black market. It seems the idea of tomb raiding is very much real and happens all the time.

Going by helicopter and by less than impressive motorcycle, Josh makes his way to the dig where he gets a quick tour of the excavation in progress. While the conditions don’t look ideal, the work and the discovery they’ve made look amazing. At the dig, Josh talks with Pich who takes him to a brand new site they’re working on and shows him a massive Yoni where it is believed rituals took place. Is this the one used by King Jayavarman? Most likely not, but it does prove rituals took place and the power of magic was very real to the people in this area. Amidst the massive thunderstorm that bears down on them while they investigate some caves by torchlight, Pich and Josh make a getaway through the darkness and hold up in Pich’s house for the night. It seems a nice little place powered by a small generator that turns off at 9:15. Lights out Josh, good night!

While Josh didn’t find the Linga and Yoni that could give him ultimate power, he did give us a grand tour of a beautiful country and a wonderful people that live out a simple life. There is plenty evidence out there being uncovered as we speak. Perhaps in another couple of years, when the dig is further along, we will get more chapters of this wild and interesting story. Does this Linga exist? Can it really bring about destruction? Who knows, but people have looked for stranger things haven’t they?

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Constantine – Master of the Dark Arts

image I’ve been tuning in for this new show called Constantine and so far it has proved to be quite amusing and interesting. It’s an adaptation of the comic Constantine which I’m in no way familiar with. But I am familiar with supernatural forces, demons, demon hunting and the occult – from a purely television and fiction perspective I assure you.

So, who is this John Constantine and what does he do? He’s a Master of the Dark Arts, or so his business card says and he’s out to find and contain the oncoming onslaught of demons. How does he know about these demons? Well, he can see them. Something is stirring in the Underworld and Constantine is looking to put a lid on it. What’s causing this bit of uprising? He’s not quite sure yet, but with the help of his partner who’s two main jobs are to drive him to the next job and keep him out of jail once they get there. They’ve also got support from a psychic who’s learning to hone her powers and helps the team see what dangers lie ahead.

Sort of lingering on the fringe is an angel who pops in from time to time to help lend a hand and point them in the right direction. Angels aren’t allowed to directly influence humans and their "freewill", but that doesn’t mean you can ask for a wee bit of help and advice from time to time. And let’s not forget that John has plenty of demons of his own. He’s been at this awhile and not every exorcism has gone according to plan. He’s lost a few along the way and a young girl is currently gnawing at his soul. He plays pretty fast and loose with his own life, but he will for damn sure stand his ground to save the life of another.

If this all sounds a tiny bit familiar, there could be a reason for that. There was a little show you may have heard about called Supernatural that had some similar themes. I thought the first season of Supernatural was quite a bit of fun so this show appeals to me. Plus, John Constantine has this devil may care attitude which is quite amusing to watch. "What could possibly go wrong? We’re all going to be consumed by the darkness anyway."

It’s well worth a try if you want to get mixed up in some demon hunting and spell casting. And who isn’t up for a little bit of that now and then eh?

And as an aside, this is now the second show I’ve seen where the main character gets to use their natural speaking voice, or at least not dull it down which is nice to hear. Goodness me, we might be on a trend!

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Penny Dreadful Season Finale

So, which one of these characters is Penny Dreadful? Well, there’s the rub. If you recall, a penny Dreadful was the name given to the 19th horror stories that were serialized in different publications. With that in mind, this series brings to life serial interesting literary characters. First, we have the hunt for what we assume is Dracula since Mina Harker has disappeared. Vanessa and Mina were childhood friends until Vanessa did a bad thing and seduced Mina’s fiance on the taxidermy table. Not a good way to keep friendships I’m afraid. She is aided by Sir Malcolm, who just happens to be Mina’s father and the mad who seduced Vanessa mother. Oh dear, what a tangled web we weave.

Next we have Dorian Gray, who lives a life of excess and decadence knowing his image will bear the brunt of his abuses. He has a fancy for Vanessa and a few other characters.

Helping to hunt down Dracula is Victor Frankenstein who has his own demons to wrestle with. Victor has a habit of dabbing with the undead and cobbling people together. It appears he just wants a friend and strangely enough he makes one. But the bromance doesn’t last as his previous creation comes back seeking vengeance for being abandoned by his creator. Now this new, unamed, creature wants a bride and has set a deadline for Frankenstein. This monster has no problem in ruining everything Victor has worked for.

And finally we have Ethan from the Bill Cody Wild West Show. He provides the muscle for this rag tag band and he happens to have a thing for his tuberculosis ridden love interest Brona. It’s a fairy tale romance of boy meets girl, it just happens this girl coughs up blood on a regular basis. She does have a tendency to put a damper on the evening but Ethan is willing to look past that.

So the search for Mina continues. The gang has run into several creatures that seem to stalk the night, but they haven’t found their king yet. Reinfield may hold the key, but he’s a little punch drunk at the moment to really offer anything solid.

Overall this is a slow moving show that is still introducing characters and building the plotline. It’s been a very short season with only 8 episodes, but that’s not a bad thing. That is just enough to get the main points across and set the wheels in motion. This isn’t a high action drama and there won’t be big explosions or car chases or ridiculous fight scenes. This is the 1800’s, things happen a little more slowly. You have to be patient. You can’t search through documents on a computer and you can’t just zip down to the lab to get something analyzed. That’s actually why I like these sorts of shows, you actually have to think a little bit.

In many ways this feels like Dracula or at least where I think Dracula was headed. That show had a slow build as well. It was trying to build layers and give the characters a solid background. I think they should have extended that show for a second season.

But anyway, an interesting show that should yield an interesting story for next year. I wonder which characters they’ll introduce next time around?

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