A young girl goes missing during what seems to be a UFO encounter in Texas. Harm and Meg are sent to investigate after a rumor is spread in the news about secret military aircraft tests being done at an abandoned airfield there. As they proceed with their investigation, they begin to raise more questions than answers, while trying to find the girl and figure out what is causing the UFO sightings.
"Sightings" contains examples of the following tropes:
- Abandoned Area: The Naval Air Station at Del Rio, which was shut down after the Cold War. Truth in Television for many military installations, which have a history of being shut down and reopened and shut down again depending on the needs of the military. Some get turned into civilian airports or put to other uses if there is any demand for the real estate, but others simply gather dust.
- Agent Mulder and Agent Scully: Meg and Harm, respectively. They spend most of the episode arguing over what may be going on.
- Alien Abduction: Harm and JAG debate the possibility of this, given the blinding lights in the sky, deafening noises, and strange smells people have been reporting. Harm is dismissive of it and tries to find mundane explanations, while Meg is more open to the possibility. Harm is right, as it is revealed to be drug runners employing an elaborate cover-up.
- Area 51: Comparisons are made between the nearby military base and Area 51, with some folks claiming the military is hiding a UFO there. In Real Life, Laughlin Air Force Base (located in Del Rio) did serve as a base for various secretive reconnaissance planes such as the U-2.
- Artistic License Military: There are no Naval Air Stations in Del Rio, Texas, although there is an Air Force base there.
- Blinded by the Light: One of two methods the UFO has of rendering people helpless.
- The Cartel: Running a secret operation in a facility beneath the airfield.
- Deceased Parents Are the Best: Cathy's parents both died some time in the Back Story. J.D. does his best as a Parental Substitute, but he admits he just isn't able to connect with Cathy.
- Elaborate Underground Base: The airfield was built with underground aircraft shelters, being used by drug runners to conceal their operation.
- Emergency Impersonation: After Meg is captured, she is made to announce over a loudspeaker that Lt. Rabb should hand himself over or she will be killed. Since they don't know J.D. is there as well, and haven't seen Harm yet, J.D. and Harm change clothes, allowing J.D. to serve as a distraction while Harm sneaks in to do his hero thing.
- Fingertip Drug Analysis: A variation: Harm notices a puddle on the tarmac and touches it before rubbing it between his fingers. It's aircraft engine oil. Which wouldn't be weird to find at a military airfield except that it should have dried up long ago unless a plane was there very recently.
- The Illegal: A terrified Mexican man in tattered clothing appears outside J.D.'s trailer just before the bright lights and deafening noise hit (and Cathy's disappearance). It seems he was trying to escape from the Cartel's underground base, where illegal immigrants were being forced to work in the drug running operation.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: J.D. likes to troll people by acting far more ignorant than he actually is. This causes problems with his niece, who thinks he genuinely just doesn't pay any attention.
- Out-of-Genre Experience: The first few acts of this episode play more like an episode of The X-Files.
- Parental Substitute: J.D. is a legal guardian for his niece Cathy. Unfortunately, his standoffish attitude and emotional baggage serve as a barrier between them.
- Police are Useless: Sheriff Polk tries, but he's a one-man department responsible for patrolling the entire abandoned base and the surrounding area. It doesn't help that J.D. has a reputation for outlandish claims anyways, and that the only explanation he has for Cathy's disappearance sounds like something out of a sci-fi film. He does eventually find Cathy (trying to call for backup for Harm and Meg), but is killed by the drug runners almost immediately after.
- Refuge in Audacity: The villains' plot: Run an illegal drug refining operation at an abandoned American military base in Texas, knowing that the authorities expect to find any such facilities in Mexico or Central America, and use a flashy attention-getting setup to make locals confuse it for a UFO sighting, in turn making the authorities dismiss it out of hand.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: J.D., a former Navy SEAL who harbors a very strong distrust of the Government in general.
- Sonic Stunner: The other method used by the UFO to subdue and intimidate people.
- Stealth Pun: The entire operation was run by aliens. Aliens in the immigration sense. The cartel personnel were from Central America, and their slave labor from Mexico.
- Stereotype Flip: J.D., a drunken drawling man living in a trailer near the border, dismisses the possibility that the Mexican man he saw near Cathy could be responsible for her disappearance. In this case, because he could see the man was scared out of his wits.
- Sufficiently Advanced Aliens: Harm discusses this as part of his Agent Scully argument:Harm: You expect the spaceships to be lined up along the tarmac?Meg: Very funny.Harm: Seriously. If there was a race advanced enough to travel millions of light-years to Earth, I truly doubt we could catch them, no matter how much we wanted to.
- Take a Third Option: When they find Cathy, she dismisses the possibility that they could be dealing with aliens. Because they're obviously dealing with ghosts.
- Troll: J.D. seems to do this partially as an emotional shield. This has a detrimental effect on his relationship with Cathy, as she doesn't know how he actually feels about anything. When he is captured by the bad guys (thinking he is Harm), he proceeds to inform them that the Navy SEALs are coming as backup, and once Harm starts picking the bad guys off, J.D. can be seen grinning gleefully at the Big Bad and mouthing the word "SEALs".
- We Need a Distraction: The UFO turns out to be a helicopter modified with spotlights and sonic weapons to distract and scare people so they don't notice a transport plane making a secret landing at the airfield.
As you were...