Wading through episode 206 of Project Blue Book a second and third time, I realized that my initial reactions to “Close Encounters” were spot on – I loved this episode. I suppose a large part of that is that it harkens back to my own youth and some of the things that helped nurture my enjoyment of sci-fi, space and what might lurk beyond. But there were plenty of enjoyable elements in this one, which I found fun.
Episode 206 used a very effective bit of time-jumping and flashback storytelling to bring about an interesting conclusion to the Robertson Panel investigation of 1953, and how that impacted Dr. Alan Hynek and his wife, Mimi, some 23 years later on a sound stage in Hollywood. It was certainly a twisted trail they traveled, complete with uninterested scientists, a quirky new associate, some unfortunate betrayal and a mom just trying to get her daughter back.
So if you haven’t seen episode 206 yet, be forewarned that there are SPOILERS ahead. Visitors from another galaxy worry that SPOILERS may SPOIL your enjoyment of the episode, so tread carefully from here on out. And with that SPOILER ALERT, we delve into episode 206 of Project Blue Book.
The year is 1976 and the place is a sound stage where a classic alien encounter movie is being filmed. A much older Alan and Mimi are part of what’s going as we learn that this is the set of the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” based on a scale for alien encounters that Dr. Hynek helped create. He’s in the movie – after all it is based on his work with Project Blue Book – and in that realm it gives him a chance to recount the proceedings of the Robertson Panel more than 20 years earlier, courtesy of a media interview on the set.
And with that, we jump back and forth between 1976 and 1953 as Alan and Mimi recount the story of what happened at that panel and how at the very last moment, as the program seemed to be falling off the rails, a new face provided just the right tilt to help Captain Michael Quinn nudge it – and the committee – back to the center. It’s a fascinating tale of government disinterest in the truth, cover-up, and sadly, government inter-agency jockeying for power and position.
Truthfully, I thought it was compelling stuff. My feeling is that Aiden Gillen and Laura Mennell (You are delight, Laura. Wink twice if you read this) really deliver an interesting and enjoyable run of good work in this episode. It’s clear that these two have created a pair of characters that are partners in the best sense of the word. So, within the backdrop of creating “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” Mimi and Alan discuss what the Robertson Panel really was about – after all it was put together by the CIA. In the end, we see that the “scientists” that are assembled aren’t really interested in the work. Things seem to be pretty well set in stone before Hynek and Quinn even walk in the room.
As the doctor talks about the events of the panel, it’s clear there’s still pain involved, a lot of soul-searching he was required to do during and after. But the decision that seems predestined to drop on our heroes is scuttled by a few interesting events that unfold. David Dobrowsky (played wonderfully by Bronson Pinchot) shows up at Mimi’s UFO group determined to pass along a message to Alan and Quinn. He has photographic evidence of beings from outer space that have sent him to help Project Blue Book before the panel.
It’s interesting that, in the end, he does just that, though you wonder if that’s possible as he tells his tale of the encounter – in the Blue Book offices and later on his property. He’s obviously a character and, perhaps, a bit of a con man. Quinn immediately thinks Dobrowsky is a skylarking nut-job, though Hynek is fairly intrigued. The truth is, CIA friend Daniel Banks has told them that they can’t just have compelling evidence, they need a slam dunk. That bit of advice from Banks, I think, resonated with the good doctor and that’s why he finds this new, strange friend so intriguing. Dobrowsky keeps telling them he’s there to help with the panel. But how?
Again, Bronson Pinchot does a great job of infusing this character with a tad bit of crazy, a small amount of unhinged, and more than enough sincerity to make you wonder how far the truth of this tale extends. I can see why it would be tantalizing, quite frankly. But how can it help? Ahh, that’s the interesting part. He helps in a backwards kind of way.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to really matter as we start walking through the Robertson Panel. The panel of scientists seems completely uninterested in the information and film that Hynek and Quinn are presenting. It doesn’t take too long to realize that the deck is stacked against our dynamic duo. The CIA wants control of the UFO investigation process within the government and they’ve fired a pretty impressive salvo across the Air Force’s nose.
I have to admit that this is when things get a little sad. I’ve been a Daniel Banks fan from his first appearance and thought he’d be a worthy ally when things got dicey. With things going down the toilet for Hynek and Quinn, our good doctor calls in a favor and asks for Banks help via testimony. After all, he’s seen what they’ve seen and experienced the last couple of weeks. His cred should carry some weight.
It seemed like a good move initially, but that nagging little doubt in the back of my mind was proven correct. Banks, standing before the committee, denounces the work and ethics of both Quinn and Hynek, a move that while pissing Quinn off, must have cut deep to the heart of Hynek, a man that values integrity in his work – and liked Banks. The pursuit of truth via scientific processes have been his calling card from the outset. Banks’ betrayal must have been not only shocking, but hurtful.
Banks, of course, passes it off as “just doing his job.” But it’s clear that isn’t going to sail. There’s an interesting little moment after the panel recesses where Quinn confronts Banks about what he did and how he hurt the Doc – he’s not one of them. Banks agrees, noting that’s why Hynek needs to be “pushed off the field.” It’s chilling and ominous and offers an interesting view of the CIA’s view of someone like Hynek. Useful when there’s a use for them, but not really someone who should be part of the club.
It’s interesting to watch the 1976 interview process interspersed with the goings on in 1953. It’s clear that Hynek is still hurt and a little confused by what happened and the obfuscation that went on during the Robertson Panel. It was never about truth, just government machinations. It was a frustrating experience and I think it shook Hynek’s faith in the truth of scientific investigation. And that led him to call in Banks, who turned out to be a CIA operative that had that organization’s agenda as his first priority. Banks was going to be the star witness for Project Blue Book, but turned out to be the shovel that would bury them.
I actually think Banks likes our boys, but duty first turned out to be an attempt to discredit the work of Hynek and Quinn, thereby gaining control of UFO research. Again, painful to watch as he says “The work these men are doing for the Air Force…is careless, biased and full of discrepancies. The sad truth is the U.S. Air Force has completely mismanaged its investigation into the UFO phenomenon and its high time the CIA took that away from them.”
I’d like to think down the road he will redeem himself, but I don’t see how that’s possible now. It’s also a clear look into how ugly the inter-agency civil wars can get – and the casualties created along the way. But that’s not the most interesting part – that was to come a bit later. Mysterious David shows up and delivers a message to the panel that he says is from the recurrent alien visitors to his farm.. It’s quiet, sincere and short. And it opens the door for one hell of a shining moment for Quinn, who pounces on the oddity of David’s whole vibe to play to the panel’s fears of mass terror and hysteria.
He tells the panel to protect this country from a national panic and that if the panel doesn’t support Project Blue Book now, it will call all their previous work, all the closed cases, all the rational explanations of these happenings, into question. If Project Blue Book is not considered reliable in the study of UFO’s, everything is once again opened up to scary interpretation.
It was a brilliant bit of dialogue that completely turned the tide of the panel. He used the fear that Project Blue Book was created to contain to his advantage, making the panel admit to themselves that as the organization existed at that moment, it was successful in the hands of the Air Force. Quinn’s gambit also saved Dr. Hynek from possibly committing career suicide. The night before he’d prepared a statement that laid out his true feelings about aliens and UFOs, a statement that he would never make. It would reside within the files of Project Blue Book instead.
Again, the transitioning from the interview to the series of events was tremendously effective and I thought done really smoothly. I adored the fact that the backdrop of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” was the vibe for this episode. As a child of the ’70s, it resonated with me in a fun and nostalgic way, just as the events of the Robertson Panel still resonated with Alan and Mimi. A tough time, indeed. I enjoyed how as Alan struggled to continue the story, Mimi picked it back up. She was there, a witness to it all. Mimi is something pretty special.
But wait, that’s not all. We also got ourselves a little story arc with Susie Miller – and that’s always a thrill. She calls on Edward Rizzuto (Michael Imperioli), the guy she outed to her handler a few episodes back. You knew that something unpleasant was going to happen given she immediately lied about having told her handler Edward was working for the Americans. I felt that kind of sealed his fate, really. And I was right.
However, the visit was more than simply a “stop by for a kill” moment. Edward has contacts in the motherland and he is enlisted to help Susie bring her young daughter to America. For as cold-hearted a killer as Susie can be, I enjoy these moments of tenderness and compassion she displays at interesting moments. I think her time with Michael has only intensified her questions about what she does and why. And, I think she feels that she is best suited to the task of protecting her daughter.
Edward makes the call, the wheels are set in motion, and then the double-crossing begins. Edward snags a gun and prepares to kill Susie, who cool as you please pulls another gun out of the sofa. Turns out, Susie had been doing a little house-cleaning while Edward slept, going through the house looking for his guns and taking the shells out. Oops, that’s gonna hurt. Susie’s is the only loaded gun in the stand-off…which means Edward gets two in the back.
Susie has kept her promise to her handler and would appear to be thinking very seriously about setting up housekeeping in the U.S.A. We shall see if getting her daughter here is going to be easy or if she’ll need to enlist some help. Michael perhaps? Again Ksenia Solo brings a lot to like with this role. I’m delighted every time she’s in the frame.
What a wonderful look back at the past and how it continued to impact the Hynek’s over the next 20-plus years – and the pain it still engendered. I thought this was a wonderfully done episode and I enjoyed the hell out of it. Surprises, betrayals and the very cold realization that the UFO phenomenon was far more involved and personal than anyone realized at the time. And I think that’s compelling. Now, how does Project Blue Book move ahead in the wake of the Robertson Panel?
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