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Project Blue Book - The Fuller Dogfight - Review



Project Blue Book premiered this week with “The Fuller Dogfight” written by creator David O’Leary and directed by Robert Stromberg – and should I add the cinematographic repertoire of Robert Zemeckis? For me, this show is the complete package – beautifully shot, expertly acted, and tightly written. While it is a dramatization, it is based on the real Project Blue Book of the US government and the two leads are based on real people. Aiden Gillen plays Josef Allen Hynek – the real astrophysicist who coined the term “UFO” and worked on PPB. Michael Malarkey’s Captain Michael Quinn is actually based on a few of the military men who served on the project, but primarily on Edward J Ruppelt. I thought this episode did a great job establishing background, time period, and what will, no doubt, be the basic format of the show going forward.

The episode begins with the Fuller dogfight as Lt Henry Fuller (Matt O’Leary) deviates from his fighter plane’s flightpath to buzz a football field. His radio then starts mysteriously playing the radio station from his hometown – he’s over Fargo, North Dakota – and as he’ll later say, communicating to him through a song. Eventually, the scene ends with Fuller screaming and his plane in dire straits.

The action picks up with a group of men in a darkened chamber – which really reminded me of the room in Dr Strangelove – watching The Day the Earth Stood Still. There’s a real Rocky Horror Picture Show shout out as we move through the lyrics of the introduction from Michael Rennie, to everyone telling us where they stand, to Flash Gordon (in comic book form) and finally, the invisible man – in the form of the mysterious figure that Hynek keeps seeing! It’s also a science fiction double feature in that it is a dramatization of real events – a doubling of them if you will – and then there’s also the reality of what’s going on and what they want the people to know… Maybe I’ve given this too much thought?

This scene immediately sets up several players trying to control the alien narrative. The government is represented by Secretary of State William Fairchild (Robert John Burke) while General James Harding (Neal McDonough) is primarily in charge of the military response, supported by General Valentine (Michael Harney). Harding wants to control the narrative – not Hollywood, but Fairchild is happy with Hollywood being the distraction.

Harding goes to Quinn, and Malarkey is terrific. He does a lot with body language – so do pay attention to him on the screen. I loved his snapping to attention when he sees Harding. He is the consummate military man – and that carries a bit of baggage. It’s going to take some time for him to really warm up to Hynek for instance, which we see later in the interrogation scene. He also says little – so watch his facial expressions for nuance! Harding wants Quinn to partner with Hynek and tasks him with getting Hynek on board. Harding tells Quinn that Hynek is a bit odd.

Our first look at Hynek has him struggling through a funding pitch at Ohio State University in Columbus where he teaches and does research. One of the panel gives him a hard time over finding Hynek’s son’s Flash Gordon comic in his file. Hynek is too smart to have his presentation derailed, however, and focuses on the difference between informed speculation (his research) and actual science fiction. His pitch is interrupted by a call from the Air Force. It’s enough for us to see that Hynek is frustrated at work – and is probably always going to be the smartest guy in the room.

Quinn tries to use psychology on Hynek – which Hynek sees through immediately. He’s pretty bemused by it, and Quinn isn’t particularly put off by being found out. I thought this was a great introductory scene between the two as they size each other up and start to get an appreciation of the other. We also get a sense of the political environment of the times. And while I’m thinking of it, a big shout out to the amazing production values on this show and its attention to the details of clothing and setting. Gorgeous doesn’t begin to describe it.

Quinn has a number of files, all on debunked “sightings.” They discuss the current mass hysteria that seems to be sweeping the country – and they bring up the Russian nuclear threat. Quinn prioritizes quelling interest in aliens because they can’t have people jamming communication channels that may be needed for a nuclear warning. It’s rather timely given some of the recent concern about the same topic.

Hynek goes home to tell his wife – Mimi (Laura Mennell) that he has to go away. He tells her he only took it under three conditions: he keeps his job at the University, he gets funding for his project, and he will get recognition for his contributions. Mimi mentions that she knew she saw something in him when she married him – that he was a little crazy – and Hynek clarifies, “I am eccentric!” As Hynek and Quinn drive away from his house, we see that that invisible man is watching…

The two arrive at Hanger 18 – which was a notorious hanger said to contain alien artifacts hidden by the military – in Fargo, ND. Men are examining the plane, and Fuller is waiting for them to interrogate him. Quinn steps in and insists that as military men, Fuller is more apt to talk to him – and sends Hynek to look at the plane. Quinn clearly thinks that Fuller is more likely to raise questions, and the point is to get Hynek to help debunk the reports with science.

I loved Hynek giving the technician a lesson on radiation! He’s not afraid to go toe-to-toe with someone. And of course, what Hynek finds – the scoring on the bottom of the plane included – actually raise more questions – and lead him to ask Quinn to take him up in a plane to see for himself – even after Quinn tries to convince Hynek it was just a weather balloon.

I loved the diner scene. Quinn keeps insisting that the case is closed, and Hynek just keeps running the numbers. Quinn goes to pay and tells the Cashier (Janet Glassford), who tells him everyone in town is on edge, that it was just a weather balloon. Controlling the narrative as he was instructed to do. On the way back to the table, Quinn puts on the song that Fuller has been listening too. Hynek immediately calls Quinn on it – he doesn’t mince words and essentially accuses Quinn of trying to intimidate him by putting on the song that warned Fuller he was in danger. Hynek isn’t backing down though.

Quinn is determined to make the flight unpleasant for Hynek. It’s a well-known fact that many people experience motion-sickness, and Quinn telling Hynek to read Fuller’s report in the plane would almost definitely result in him needing to throw up! Hynek, however, manages to impress Quinn by telling him that he’s already read and memorized the report. We get some great banter and humor between the two in this scene. They definitely have great chemistry. Quinn asks if Hynek is the alien, and Hynek teases him back with “maybe I am!”

In the air, Hynek asks Quinn if in all the time he’s spent in planes if he ever saw anything. Quinn tells him he knows lots of pilots who claim to have seen “foo fighters” – strange lights – but he never has. Quinn makes his own point that Fuller is just covering up going awol and it didn’t happen by trying to recreate what he said. It results in them hitting the weather balloon – and then crashing! Hynek sees the mysterious man again when he wakes up near the crash site.

Quinn only suffers an injury to his arm, but Hynek wakes up in hospital – more shaken up than anything though. Hynek is furious and accuses Quinn of trying to prove something. Quinn insists he just proved Fuller was lying. Quinn says he’s going to call his wife, but goes to see Fuller instead.

Hynek finds Fuller still listening to the song and tells him that they recreated his report and crashed. Fuller reveals that he didn’t crash because the light was flying his plane. He also insists he heard the DJ from his hometown. Hynek insists it’s not logical, but Fuller tells him that they aren’t dealing with something that logic can explain. Hynek confirms that the DJ from San Diego was playing the song when Fuller said he was!

Harding shows up and reads Quinn the riot act. He tells him that for their purposes, flying saucers don’t exist. He tells him to stop indulging Hynek’s “bullshit.” He needs Quinn to write reports and close cases – NOT prove or disprove theories.

The next day, Quinn tells Hynek that he’s flying back to Washington. The report’s already been submitted, and Hynek can drive home on his own. Then on a remote road on the way back a car bumps him from behind – it’s the mysterious man in the hat (Ian Tracey – and as he’s one of my favorite Canadian actors, I was thrilled to see him in this cast!). He leads Hynek to an abandoned amusement park – where nothing amusing seems to be going on. He finds a film playing with numbers and diagrams that he carefully writes down. It’s not clear what is going on…

Laura Mennell’s part seems somewhat thankless at first. Is she just a stereotypical housewife? You’ll be happy to hear that she’s not – and she’s going to have lots to do going forward. In this episode, however, she makes a new friend – Susie (Ksenia Solo) – while out shopping. And we see by the end of the episode that Susie is more than she seems too – in case, that whole sudden best friend while shopping wasn’t a tip off! But don’t expect Solo to be a stereotype either….

Finally, on the home front, we get to see a little bit of that mass hysteria coming through – and it’s not about aliens – or at least, not space aliens. Mimi comes home from shopping to find Joel (Nicholas Holmes) watching kids on tv doing nuclear bomb drills, and he’s clearly freaked out about it. When Hynek comes home, Joel mentions that they are starting to do duck and cover drills at school – as if hiding under a desk would protect you! If you aren’t old enough, google it. That is literally what kids were trained to do. Again, the government was doing their best not to let the general public really know what was going on. I love how the various threads really parallel each other!

When Hynek comes home, he doesn’t tell Mimi about the plane crash, just brushing off his injury as his absent-mindedness. When he finds out about the radio station, Hynek calls Quinn to tell him. Again, Quinn insists the case is closed and to let it go. Hynek keeps the amusement park to himself. There’s clearly a trust issue between the “partners.” Hynek tries to get Quinn to tell him what he’s hiding.

The episode ends with Susie taking pictures of the Hynek’s under cover of darkness from her car. Fuller is given a shot and dragged off from the hospital. Harding reports to General Valentine, that the Fuller matter has been taken care of… All of which sets up lots of intrigue going forward! Who do we trust?

I really liked this episode – and I’ve had a peek ahead, so get ready for the ride to only get more exciting. Lots of groundwork to lay in this premiere episode. What did you think of the show? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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