Project Blue Book, Episode 1 Review: The Fuller Dogfight
by Rachel Bellwoar
Based on investigations that were carried out by the US Air Force in the 50’s, Project Blue Book is the anti-Supernatural. Instead of the Winchester Brothers appearing to assure you that you’re not imagining things and monsters are real, Captain Michael Quinn (Michael Malarkey) and Dr. J. Allen Hynek (Aidan Gillen) show-up to tell you how science can debunk the existence of UFOs. To some viewers this will make them buzzkills, which may explain why the show doesn’t seem to trust its own concept to satisfy viewers without adding a conspiracy.
Unless that’s part of the real story, too (truth is stranger than fiction), but that doesn’t seem likely and certainly doesn’t come across in this episode. The cases themselves appear to come from declassified files (for more information on the one that inspired “The Fuller Dogfight, there’s an article on the History Channel’s web-site) but as for Hynek being followed, and Fuller (Matt O’Leary) being injected by white coats to forget his alien encounter (only future episodes will tell whether that’s the extent of his “initiation” or if Fuller’s going to be held up somewhere so he doesn’t talk), plenty of shows have branched off from true stories before to become their own thing. Airing on the History Channel comes with certain connotations. UFOs are already questionable, and they’ve already been tackled on fictional dramas. What made Project Blue Book stand out is that it was true. The further the show strays from that truth, the more conventional it becomes.
But what was this encounter Fuller had? He claims a UFO damaged his plane, and his plane is beat up, but Quinn thinks a weather balloon is responsible. Quinn isn’t the only one writing the reports anymore, though, and part of the episode is him having to hire Hynek, a teacher at Ohio State.
If this sounds like the start of your new favorite odd pairing, think again, because Hynek and Quinn do not warm to each other this episode and, where Quinn is concerned, I hope the show doesn’t think we’re supposed to find him charming, because he’s not. That doesn’t make him a bad character, but I don’t see him being someone with much room to change, and that’s usually what you look for on TV. That may seem like a harsh call to make about a person after one hour, but he’s so enamored with his own bs. There are way worse characters on TV, but he’s completely un-self-aware. Pair that with self-confidence and it’s a dangerous combination, and Hynek and Quinn almost die this episode when Quinn takes a point too far and crashes their plane. Instead of being remorseful about it, Quinn seems pleased.
A person so assured of their rightness that even an incident like that can’t rock them? Not someone you want to be around. Paradoxically, what I like about Hynek is he doesn’t take the bait. If you asked Quinn why Hynek agreed to join the team, he’d say he was responsible, but an insulting attempt at reverse psychology (Quinn pretends he doesn’t know Newton discovered gravity) isn’t going to change Hynek’s mind. The truth is he had three conditions before joining the team and they were met. Hynek lets Quinn think what he wants.
Where many dramas like to show scientists putting their work above all else, Hynek is the first to suggest they call the test flight off due to bad weather. He’s wrong about why he was chosen for this project, though. Quinn’s superiors don’t want the truth, they want Hynek’s credibility, and in the end, it doesn’t matter that Quinn’s weather balloon explanation doesn’t add up. He submits the report on his own anyway.
The lack of resolution to the case is disappointing, if fair in light of the fact that the real Fuller case wasn’t squared away either, but the use of that open ending to elevate the conspiracy angle doesn’t work. Gillen as Hynek is reason to keep watching Project Blue Book but I hope they keep their eye on the history, and not whoever’s following Hynek around.
Other thoughts on “The Fuller Dogfight”:
- While Hynek’s wife, Mimi (Laura Mennell), gets a subplot this episode, it’s almost worse than no subplot at all – a pointless shopping trip that results in her not reaching ice queen Betty Draper levels, but ‘use the TV as a babysitter’ levels at least. The show is very testosterone heavy right now, playing into all the army clichés and 50’s patriarchal ideals, and while the reveal that Mimi’s new friend, Susie (Ksenia Solo), is tailing Hynek indicates that the series has plans for that to change, it’s not the most above board reveal, what with the driver suddenly bathed in light, blonde hair exposed (and that’s assuming she’s the same driver and not working with someone else, which I wouldn’t).
- To flip things on Hynek for a moment, while the episode plays up the fact that he’s a father at the beginning (with the Flash Gordon comic left behind by his son (Nicholas Holmes)), how much of a family man is he, when he uses the pretense of calling his wife to sneak into Fuller’s room, and then lies to her in-person about being in a plane crash?
- Overall Hynek is a refreshing portrayal of a scientist yet there a handful of times where the show seems reluctant to let go of tired stereotypes: Hynek dropping facts, or his wife calling him crazy, followed by Quinn proposing that Hynek may be an alien. He doesn’t come across as that crazy, so the remarks really aren’t called for – something to say, rather than inspired by his actions.
- The generals don’t get to do much this episode except meet and act duplicitous, but they cast some good actors in the roles: Neal McDonough (Justified), Michael Harney (Orange is the New Black), and Robert John Burke (Rescue Me).
Project Blue Book airs Tuesdays at 10 PM EST on History.