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Project: Blue Book's Aidan Gillen and Harley Peyton prepare us for Earth-shattering season finale
The first season of HISTORY's Project: Blue Book has been full of incredible stories — from the government's coverup of the otherworldly to a strained working relationship, an eroding marriage, and a budding friendship with dangerous stakes. It's been nine episodes of questioning what is hovering in the skies, what's being done to our servicemen, and what's being kept from the public in the name of controlling widespread panic.
Tuesday's exciting season finale, "The Washington Merry-Go-Round," promises to be a thrilling one as the setting moves to the nation's capital, where events will affect the lives of Dr. Allen Hynek (Aidan Gillen), Captain Michael Quinn (Michael Malarkey), and all parties involved. SYFY WIRE spoke with co-showrunner Harley Peyton and Gillen about the episodes leading up to the big finish.
In the front half of Season 1, Hynek and Quinn are chasing testimonials. The series irreversibly changes when they become active players in experiencing things, and being handlers of secrets heading into the finale, right?
Harley Peyton: You get to a point of comfort where you understand who these people are and I know what they should be doing. It's not like we sat up one day and thought, "We should stop having them being a step behind, let's get them more directly involved." I think that was more of an organic process. We did get better as the season went along. You're right, though, it does take a turn.
Aidan Gillen: Particularly in Episode 8, "War Games," to really see something that isn't of this world. In Hynek's excitement more than fear, to lay down his cards on the table in the finale. These guys are going to pursue the real truth behind these UFOs, still with the knowledge of these findings will be explicable and will be based on natural Earthly or astronomical phenomenon, but there's more out there. It ends in a fantastical fictional way, but that's okay, it's a TV show. I don't think it's going to tip it into total science fiction, it still has to retain the same bones, but the game has been changed somewhat and we have to deliver on that front too.
HP: When your mission statement is to deny what's true, there's a dynamic tension between you and objective reality. You want to play this out for several seasons, the notion is: Do they believe, do they not believe? But we thought to ourselves in the writing of it, like anyone would, that they're seeing these things on a weekly basis, it has to impact who they are and what they believe in. If you buy into that, and want to communicate that, you have to plan out narrative and character development that takes them to that next step, which is what happened in the second half of the season and what we'll (likely) be focusing in on in Season 2.
Harley, could you speak to the restraint utilized in the writers' room to space some of these big UFO concepts out — like the discussion of belief, abductions, etc. — so that it's not too much for the viewer?
HP: There were certain things we talked about a lot, like "How soon would we do this?" Sometimes it would be plot points like "Would we show an alien? Do we show a variety of spacecraft?" At one point, they do have to start talking about what they believe in and what they don't. The restraint is sometimes the function of simple production, or notes from the network/studio wanting to lay certain reveals down, but I think we found a nice point to start to have those conversations, and it allows Project: Blue Book to change too, that will make it fun moving forward.
In Episode 9, "Abduction," Hynek asks Quinn, "Did you believe anything that Thomas said?" Which could be the crux of the entire first season, no?
HP: You start to build towards that early on when you have two men looking up at the sky and wondering what’s up there or if it’s just stars. When you go deeper in the season, there’s that tension with Hynek and the science, and Quinn with the Air Force hierarchy, and that’s a fun thing to work with, the bigger issues of belief, and that’s one of the main attractions of the show. What do you believe in, and what do you think is possible?
AG: I think one of the real characteristics of the real Hynek, and the characters we’re presenting, is regardless of if somebody has really had the experience, or are trying to create a hoax, or really think they’ve seen it, or is a mental disorder — if someone tells him something, he’ll take it at face value. What Thomas is saying happened to him, Hynek believes him. I think the way that that was presented, it was pretty convincing.
Having a quiet episode (albeit with a fistfight between our leads) as a lead into the big finale is a really interesting change-up, since most of it takes place in one setting.
HP: Episode 9 is as a classic bottle episode. Every show there’s going to be an episode where you’re going to limit the production to, quite frankly, save money and meet a budgetary limit. The trick is how you turn that into a positive. Fellow showrunner Sean [Jablonsky] and creator David [(O'Leary] turned that into an asset. We hadn’t really thought about or planned to do an alien abduction story, initially. Usually everything happens in the penultimate episode and everyone picks up the pieces in the finale, but we reversed it. I really liked the hesitation and focus on the couple’s story, as a nice way to head into the big, possibly Earth-shattering events of the last episode.
Harley, Susie has been a real enigma this season, but also a lot of her story with Mimi contextualizes the rest of the narrative.
HP: We didn't even know what to do with Susie or if she was going to survive Season 1. When we started getting into telling these stories, particularly seeing Laura [Mennell] and Ksenia [Solo] work wonderfully together, and as a writer you wanted to write this stuff. We have our marching orders. We've got a case of the week, and you want to do your best to honor that. Then we have the overarching mythology, but then sometimes you want to write a scene of two women trying on lipstick in a department store in the '50s and getting into that society and social issues. When one of them is a spy, it takes it to the next level.
I really loved writing those scenes, and we loved talking about them in the [writers'] room, particularly after we discovered that Susie would become an important character. With Susie and her handler Cal, you're always working in the shade of The Americans, which was an amazing show, but I think you try to honor those concepts and make them your own.
One of the best things for me was the way Mimi and Susie's relationship moves, especially as Mimi's and Allen's relation reaches a cul-de-sac. Look, in relationships, it sounds a little corny, but we're all spies on one level or another, but there's a larger metaphor that works on those characters.
The conflict is very real for Hynek: To do what he's been hired to do while remaining a good family man from afar — but he cannot deny the pull of science to do something no one has done before.
AG: The more that we go on with this, and the more that he sees, perhaps we'll see more of the child perhaps, the excitement that drew him to astronomy in the first place. I felt we definitely got a flicker of that in the finale. He becomes unshackled by what he's seen. But we'll see where we get to.
HP: It took us a while to get a beat on Hynek. Quinn was an easier character to conceptualize and understand, but Hynek was more complex. One of the pleasures for me in the season was watching the character come into better focus. You can see it in Aidan's performance, so one of the pleasures and challenges of a second season is where we can take Hynek.
In addition to the tight writers' room, a different director would come in to do two consecutive episodes. What was that like, since you were one of the first names on the call sheet in every episode?
AG: We treated them as blocks for each director. Oftentimes by the time you've finished the first block, it's exciting to see someone else's work. They'll bring in a different element of performance. Some are just details, softer, quieter character moments. Others are more action-oriented. It's kind of obvious when you have this director for this and this director for that. I think they all brought a style that was quite distinct. The same with the writing.
They have to maintain the original essence of Episode 1, there's a continuity to tone and character while using the strengths of the different directors and writers to tweak little aspects and bring something else. It keeps your job interesting, and I look forward to what they come up with next, because I have not seen any scripts for Season 2 yet. They're all strong episodes, and with the last two episodes I think you have to go out with a bang, and I think we do it!
Tune into the Season 1 finale of Project: Blue Book, and be sure to come back here to SYFY WIRE for the Official Project: Blue Book Podcast, where the finale and plans for Season 2 will be discussed by the cast and crew.