Television/Streaming review: “Project Blue Book – Episode Ten – The Washington Merry-Go Round” (2019)

“Project Blue Book – Episode Ten – The Washington Merry-Go Round


Ten Episodes

Created by: David O’Leary

Featuring: Aidan Gillen, Laura Mennell, Michael Harney, Ksenia Solo, Michael Malarkey

Alien Abduction: “The alleged abduction of a person by an extraterrestrial being.”

This new series revolves around secret U.S. Air Force investigations into supposed UFO encounters and unexplained phenomenon, undertaken by astrophysicist, and eventual ufologist, Josef Allen Hynek in the 1950s and 1960s.

This week’s finale, is both a direct continuation of last weeks episode as well as a cliffhanger of sorts that sets the series up nicely for a second season that is definitely on its way. It does take a real case from the files but it does exaggerate the event itself which is not unlike previous weeks installments. The episode, as with the previous, seems to be realistic in how it portrays all the happenings, however it takes a sharp turn when dealing with what happened as well as the possible importance to UFOlogy that this case would ultimately have.

“The Washington Merry-Go Round” is based on an event when UFOs swarm the National Mall in Washington, DC. According to records, in July 1952, a DC air traffic controller improbably named Edward Nugent was the first to notice something truly unique as well as completely unprecedented. He would be far from the only one to send in a report, and in fact, the sightings would continue the next weekend.

After the UFO Washington, D.C. incident of July 19, 1952, the headlines from The Washington Post’s Mdeclared, “’Saucer Outruns Jet, Pilot Reveals.” The article stated that the Air Defense Command sent a jet pilot up “to investigate the objects,” but was unable to overtake the moving glowing lights.

According to The Washington Post, the UFOs hovered only 1,700 feet above the White House lawn. An Air Force spokesperson said that their organization took steps to properly investigate the event, but the newspaper found the investigation veiled in secrecy. An unidentified traffic controller said the radar signals ruled out the possibility that the objects were due to weather conditions. He noted that they looked like an “aircraft in flight” on the radar screen.

As luck would have it, Air Force Captain, Edward J. Ruppelt, supervisor of the Air Force’s Project Blue Book, was in Washington, D.C. He learned of the UFO incident from reading the newspaper and discussed the situation with Captain Roy James, a radar specialist. James thought unusual weather conditions could have been responsible for objects appearing to show on radar.

On July 29, 1952, Air Force Major Generals John Samford, Director of Intelligence, and Roger Ramsey, Director of Operations held the largest press conference of any since the end of World War II. The official explanation of the July UFO sightings was that:

  • The objects were “misidentified aerial phenomena,” which could mean they were stars or meteors
  • The blips on the radar were due to temperature inversions Samford also said that the since the radar blips were not caused by any solid material, there was no threat to national security. He explained that when a weather inversion occurs, lights that are really on the ground may look like they are in the air and this caused the radar to misreport ground objects being in the sky.

The explanation was not well-received. Ruppelt, from Project Blue Book, noted that during the months of June, July and August in Washington D.C. “hardly a night passed” where there wasn’t a temperature inversion and there were not routine UFO sightings on the radar. All air traffic controller involved stated that even if the weather could cause a blip on the radar, it would be as a straight line and would not appear as lights.

As we move further through this first season (now renewed for a second) it is starting to become apparent what kind of show this is turning into, that is a Cold War version of the “X-Files” (1993-present) which as I have stated in the past is not a completely bad or negative thing to be, especially in this day and age of ‘fake news’. What I mean by that is that “Project Blue Book” (2019) is taking real events, or at least real reports of reported events that really have not been substantiated, then making narrative leaps in terms of showing them onscreen as well as creating new stories about how they fit into a wider narrative, albeit something of a conspiracy revolving around new technology as well as Cold War paranoia. For some people who have watched the “X-Files” some of the stories as well as the narrative flourishes may seem all to familiar but I am actually enjoying it as it is similar to viewing something I enjoyed from a new angle, but I can understood others who may think this is a little bit of a ripoff.

This episodes actual events fall in line nicely with the ongoing Cold War motif that has permeated the series so far. The extremely high numbers of UFO reports in 1952 disturbed both the Air Force and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Both groups felt that an enemy nation could deliberately flood the U.S. with false UFO reports, causing mass panic and allowing them to launch a sneak attack. On September 24, 1952, the CIA’s Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI) sent a memorandum to Walter B. Smith, the CIA’s Director. The memo stated that “the flying saucer situation . . . [has] national security implications . . . [in] the public concern with the phenomena . . . lies the potential for the touching-off of mass hysteria and panic.” The result of this memorandum was the creation in January 1953 of the Robertson Panel. Dr. Howard P. Robertson, a physicist, chaired the panel, which consisted of prominent scientists and which spent four days examining the “best” UFO cases collected by Project Blue Book. The panel dismissed nearly all of the UFO cases it examined as not representing anything unusual or threatening to national security. In the panel’s controversial estimate, the Air Force and Project Blue Book needed to spend less time analyzing and studying UFO reports and more time publicly debunking them. The panel recommended that the Air Force and Project Blue Book should take steps to “strip the Unidentified Flying Objects of the special status they have been given and the aura of mystery they have unfortunately acquired.

As far as last episodes of first seasons go, especially in regard to genre television this one is actually fairly standard, it is nothing less than one would expect taking into account the early news that this series was guaranteed a second season. This means that not only does there have to be any meaningful resolution to any of the plot threads that have been started, but it is possible to introduce entirely new strands to keep audiences guessing as well as enticing them back for future seasons.

In fact this final episode is eerily similar to the aforementioned “X-Files” first season cliffhanger in that it points to a future that has a solid point of view, like that “Project Blue Book” is definitely embracing conspiracy as its prime mover with hints at aliens as well as other things that that mean the future is heading into the extreme fictional universe of UFOs and all that entails. The final scene is a sign that any tip of the hat to reality is going to be left in the rear view mirror.

Episode Ten – The Washington Merry-Go Round

Directed by: Alex Graves

Written by: David O’Leary

Washington D.C. is invaded by UFOs, and Hynek and Quinn must uncover the true nature of the threat before it’s too late.

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