Literary Analysis: "Project Blue Book" and the Subversion of Expectations
Updated: Feb 4
CONTENT ADVISORY: disturbing material.
"Project Blue Book" is a drama produced by the history channel, loosely based on the real-life US Government operation by the same name that investigated UFO-related phenomena in the 1950s. The show skirts the edge of declaring UFOs and aliens as real phenomena and portraying it all as hoaxes and naturally explainable events. A typical episode involves protagonists Dr. Hynek and Captain Quinn being sent to investigate some seemingly otherworldly event or object and then getting caught in a tangle of clues and misdirections. Their efforts are usually hindered by their supervisor, General Harding, a volatile and unpleasant man who just want them to figure out some natural explanation that can be fed quickly to the press. The show involves cover-ups, top-secret technology, swamp gas, weather balloons, alien remains, diabolical Russian spies, and only slightly-less diabolical shadowy figures in the US government.
The latest episode (S2.E2 'The Roswell Incident - Part II") presents a masterful case study in subversion of expectations, giving an unexpected angle on the events of the entire series up until this point.
The episode opens with the protagonists rushing to the middle of town at reports that a second UFO has crashed. (The first allegedly crash landed a few years before in 1947.)
General Harding, who was present at the original Roswell incident, and who previously explained that he was involved in the cover-up of top-secret experimental technology during that event, is shocked by the craft's presence in the middle of town.
Harding angrily commands Dr. Hynek to step away from the craft, but the doctor senses something out of place and continues to move forward. He recognizes the craft as a life-size model made by a disgruntled local.
The hoaxer admits that it's all just a publicity stunt, but he really does have some real evidence from the 1947 Roswell incident which is going to be released the next day. He's arrested and they all return to the air force base. Harding's superior tells him to get to the bottom of it all. Does the hoaxer really have any hard evidence?
Harding then proceeds to torture the hoaxer in order to get him to tell him what he knows and what evidence he has. Harding has a history of beating and harassing this man, who was also a witness of the 1947 event.
Meanwhile, Hynek and Captain Quinn have uncovered what appears to be incontrovertible evidence that aliens crash-landed in 1947.
They do not immediately reveal this evidence to the general, however, who has just come to an agreement with the hoaxer to make a joint public appearance on TV where the hoaxer will admit to it all being fake. Harding is overjoyed that soon this will all be behind them.
Harding's joy is short-lived as Hynek self-righteously accuses him of being a coward for covering up the truth, whatever it is.
Harding fires Dr. Hynek, who leaves with Quinn to pursue another lead. They find a gruesome alien autopsy video possessed by the hoaxer's ex-wife, who used to be a nurse at the air force base.
Hynek and Quinn quarrel over what to do with the tape, with the outcome left uncertain. Harding and the disgruntled townsman prepare themselves for their national TV broadcast.
The broadcast begins.
Harding suddenly become uneasy when the hoaxer begins revealing the cover-up, including the hush-money he's been given.
Harding's shock turns to rage when the alien autopsy begins to play and he realizes the entire TV studio must be in on it.
At the last moment, Hynek bursts in, revealing that he cut the transmission before it even started, and he's discovered that the alien autopsy video was staged right there in the TV studio. (There's still the actual alien body he discovered, but that's locked up safely somewhere.) Harding's relief is palpable and he practically deflates while thanking Hynek and Quinn for their assistance.
Up until this point in the series, we have been led to believe that General Harding is a coward and a liar with no moral qualms about using extreme force to conceal the truth about UFOs and alien phenomena, but in the denouement the final scene of this episode presents some information that suddenly transforms Harding into a figure worthy of sympathy, and sheds new light upon his actions up until this point. His behaviour, though still questionable, suddenly becomes understandable; and his rage becomes justifiable.
While Harding and his superior review the fake autopsy tape, it is revealed that there really was a saucer and some alien bodies involved in the 1947 event, but that it was all an extremely elaborate hoax perpetrated by a hostile foreign power in an attempt to destabilize the United States. The bodies that were recovered were in fact children who had been surgically altered by Dr. Josef Mengele to appear inhuman, and that some of them had briefly survived the crash landing. The horror of this discovery left Harding deeply disturbed.
This revelation explains the unbridled hatred that Harding has expressed for all things UFO-related, including any "evidence". He associates it all with the greatest cruelty he has ever witnessed. This new information also serves to reveal that all this time he may have been viewing himself as a defender of the dignity of innocent children.
Harding's anger and his look of fear upon the discovery of the second crashed ship also becomes understandable. He is wondering if horribly mutilated children are about to crawl out of the wreckage.
True to the show's form, other interpretations are left open to possibility, but regardless Harding has been transformed and the viewer's expectations have been subverted. The general is not the heartless monster we've been led to believe.