‘Project Blue Book’ Boss Talks #HyneQuinn & That Explosive Season Finale
[WARNING: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for Project Blue Book Season 2 Episode 10, “Operation Maintenance.” If you haven’t seen it yet, go have a close encounter of the watching kind and then come back.]
Season 2 of History’s terrifically well-done UFO-hunting drama Project Blue Book just wrapped with a doozy of a twist: In the final moments, while attempting to identify a mysterious underwater threat that had emerged during a naval exercise, Capt. Michael Quinn (Michael Malarkey) was seemingly blown to bits. However, neither his body nor the submarine he was manning were recovered, leading Blue Book partner Dr. Allen Hynek (Aidan Gillen) to mount a new investigation into the possible whereabouts of the Sundance Kid to his Butch.
Back at home, Hynek’s wife Mimi (Laura Mennell) was called in to help Generals Harding (Neal McDonough) and Valentine (Michael Harney) draw information out of captured Russian spy Susie (Ksenia Solo), who was desperate to prove her worth as an asset to the U.S… and perhaps even more to Mimi.
Here, showrunner David O’Leary breaks down some of the twists this season threw us, as well as what we could be in for should History (wisely, hint hint) renew this series for a third season.
Fans have really loved this season. You guys really stepped up your game.
David O’Leary: Thanks! This season has been a blast. It’s a mixture of understanding the show a little bit better, knowing who we’re writing for…
That’s the best part of a second season, is that you get to know what the actors can do and how they work with each other on screen, and you start to be able to dig deeper into that.
That’s right. That’s totally right. And then it’s been a fun thing to mix-and-match, and be like, “OK, who’s never been in the room together before?” “What happens if we get Valentine and Susie in a room together?” “What happens if,” you know? So it’s been fun to stretch our wings in that way.
In the finale you give us what I think is the first time we’ve seen Mimi (Laura Mennell) and Harding (Neal McDonough) together.
And I love that she doesn’t back down from him. She’s not intimidated by him at all.
No. And one of the things that even the Hynek sons, Paul and Joel Hynek said was, “Listen, we love the show, but our mom was a strong, powerful, involved woman.” And they understood that we had to start her off as a little bit of a sheltered housewife yearning for more. But if we can really have her break out more and more, that’s more true to who she really was and it’s the level of involvement that she really had. I mean, she would help Hynek write some of his papers, she’d do research for him, she met with a zillion different UFO witnesses who would come by the house. So it’s been nice to get her and Laura much more involved. And, knock on wood, if we get it a Season 3, we have a great plan for her there as well, that even expands her more.
She was fantastic this season.
Her reaction just to the Mimi reveal? All of that in just one look. She just nailed it.
I know. All the revelations were coming out and we’re kind of in her head, realizing “Oh, that day we first met, she was planning that for weeks.”
Now, “Operation Mainbrace” was a real thing… Winston Churchill even wrote about it, correct?
Correct. It was a series of weird things that happened. Operation Mainbrace was the largest gathering of NATO and Allied naval vessels for a military exercise that took place in the North Atlantic since World War I. So it was this huge military exercise and it was right on the stretch of sea that is controlled by Russian waters near Norway and kind of on the Northern Russian border. And weird things were happening throughout. I mean, pilots seeing strange orbs of light, power outages, and then of course this strange triangular craft that was seen to emerge out of the water. We sort of equate it to the USS Nimitz encounter, which is the famous case that happened off the coast of San Diego. Our own U.S. Navy was spotting things on radar and had visual sightings of a mysterious craft emerging out of the water and then they gave chase on that, and that’s where those famous videos come from and everything.
So Mainbrace was the precursor to that event. And we didn’t know if we could do it, because some of the real-life reports take place onboard not even a battleship, but an aircraft carrier. And I remember when we were pitching Season 2, something came up about budget, and wanting to go bigger and better, and our network exec was like, “Well, you know, so long as you don’t have, like, an aircraft carrier or something, we should be fine!” Sean [Jablonski, exec-producer] and I just looked at each other and were like, “We actually do have an aircraft carrier!” And that became the battleship, the U.S.S. Wisconsin, which also had its own encounters. So we couldn’t do the aircraft carrier, but we could do a battleship.
So much of this is indeed documented, but clearly a lot of this stuff you have to make up as you go along, because you don’t know some things. Like, what does Quinn see down there? What is he looking at?
Right. It’s a great question. So our show always needs to walk that line between something that could physically exist with some kind of natural explanation and something otherworldly. I think we’re like 51 percent or maybe more “alien conspiracy” and 49 percent “there’s nothing to this.” We definitely lean in to the conspiracy. But we can never fully let the cat out of the bag. Otherwise the show’s kind of over. So we tried to ensure that whatever Quinn sees can be one of two things, right?
During that episode there’s a character who is the mysterious Southeast Asian boat captain that they find. He speaks about these cities under the sea, which is, you know, a piece of UFO lore: That they’re already here. But then at the same time, we tried to be vague enough with what Quinn is looking at out that window that [you could say] “Is it really just three massive humpback whales amidst a hydrothermal vent, essentially a volcano on the bottom of the ocean?” Those things really exist and they’re lit up by bioluminescent plankton. You know what I mean? Even in the script, I remember writing something like, “Is it this or could it be that?” But then there’s obviously a little more mystery to what happens once the Admiral launches his attack and everything down there — including the arsenals of explosives that he sends down there and Quinn’s submarine — all mysteriously vanish in one moment. So we do try to leave that open for interpretation to give this idea of hope that Quinn is still out there.
And what is this mapped region that Hynek is discovering at the very end? Why Tierra del Fuego?
Yes. OK, so you mean in his final moments, right? We kind of hide the ball a little bit and artfully lay out all the information one piece at a time, so it’s a little unclear why Hynek is so manic and unwilling to give up hope that Quinn is still out there, until he finally meets The Unseen (Ian Tracey) in Tierra del Fuego. But what he does is, he’s studying all these other cases — and there are a lot — of encounters with USOs that have been seen all over the world.
“USOs,” as in Unidentified Submerged Objects.
That’s right. They are like UFOs that are emerging out of the water. And then there are also UFO cases where UFOs are seen hovering over bodies of water, where ships have encountered them, naval vessels and whatnot. So Allen is plotting them out on this map, and then of course he has that revelation where he kind of re-hears Quinn’s final words in his head. “It’s not a cave, it’s something else. It’s beautiful.” And that has him realizing “Maybe I’m thinking about this all wrong. Are they connected in some sort of beautiful way?” And then after he starts to plot that, of course what emerges is that symbol that we’ve seen throughout the show that speaks to some form of communication between the intelligence that they’re dealing with and mankind. And that becomes the impetus to go to where Unseen is.
That comes from Episode 205… the last you’ve seen Unseen, he’s taking off in a plane and Quinn is shooting at him and all that kind of stuff, right? He was headed to Antarctica with that metal to try to make contact via the Obelisk, essentially. So what Allen does is, he goes to Tierra del Fuego, which is really the last stop on land before Antarctica, and finds Unseen there. And of course William, a.k.a. Unseen, thinks he’s there like, “Oh, you’ve accepted my invitation to be recruited into the Men in Black.” And he’s like, “No, I’m looking at the only man who might be able to help find my friend.” And what I love about that is that he’s leaning on Unseen to find Quinn when last we they saw each other, Quinn was trying to kill Unseen! [Laughs] And Ian Tracey did such a great job of expressing the wonder of hearing the story and knowing something otherworldly has occurred. And that an answer may lie there with finding Quinn. We’ve always had this mythology on our show that Antarctica is sort of a crucial piece, hence the final shot of them on the boat headed towards Antarctica on their hunt to find Quinn.
So if you get picked up, have you started to think of what a Season 3 would look like?
Yes. We have one hundred-percent thought very deeply about it. And the first thing we had to answer was “What happened to Quinn?” How are we going to find Quinn? Well, we like backing our way into these corners. In Season 1, we did it with the obelisk and then it was like, “OK, how are we going to deal with this?’ And we found that it made sense to actually hold on to it for a little bit and then try to answer it all in one episode as much as we could with the return of Unseen in Episode 205 and really delve into it fully instead of just jumping right back in.
Instead you wisely opened the season by going to Roswell, which I’m sure people were waiting for.
Yes, exactly. And what’s cool is, I think our fans go on the ride and then at some point on Twitter, they were like, “What happened to the man in the hat?” And I answered them, I was like, “Stay tuned, we have not forgotten.” I have a list of every sort of hanging thread that we have not fully answered. And we try and keep all those things in mind so that we can find the moment organically in our storytelling where we can be like, “Oh, this is a great place to bring that thread back, or to answer that question.” And it’s nice, we did it this season a little bit. We didn’t want to abandon the fact that Secretary Fairchild was blown up in a car in Episode 110, and it’s like, “Who was responsible? What happened?” Some of those things are still a mystery, but certainly now with the Kennedy character arriving, it sort of introduced the notion that we are not going to abandon that and that he’s very driven now to figure out what happened to his mentor. It’s always great when we find ways that we can build on our own mythology. I don’t ever want to be a show that doesn’t complete the story in those ways, because I think that’s part of the fun for fans, doing the deep dive on that.
Oh, totally. So now I have a couple of quick rapid fire questions. If Season 3 happens, will Susie continue causing problems?
Yes. We have not seen the last of Susie. That’s a character that we love and we have a whole idea for that’s very exciting.
And your plan is to not keep Hynek and Quinn separated for too long, because you know the fans come for that stuff.
Of course. Absolutely, they will be… yes. We know that it’s…yes. I’ll say yes. [Laughs]
It felt like, whatever Quinn is looking at, in that moment, he really does firmly become a believer?
So that has to change him?
Yeah, it does. And listen, through two seasons, he’s seen quite a bit. There’s always a bit of friction between these two of, “What exactly am I seeing? I’m certainly seeing something that is beyond my understanding.” And it becomes a bit of “What does that mean, and what is the nature of what we may really be dealing with here, and why?” So I think we delve into that arena as well, in Season 3, of the real nature of what we’re dealing with. Because, of course, the extraterrestrial hypothesis is only one hypothesis. We dip our toes in some fun alternate hypotheses and questions of how deep it goes.
How fun was it to write for Aidan and Michael? Because this season, they were clicking so well this year! Like, absolutely Butch and Sundance-y.
Incredible. And I’ll tell you this: They came in ready. I’m talking day one, rehearsal, on shot one of Season 2, they were back. I couldn’t believe it. I really couldn’t believe how much work they must have done just to be ready. Because you know, you check out [during hiatus]. It was quite a bit of time. So it was phenomenal and they came clicking. Then once we saw that, we were like “Oh, we can push this in so many great ways.”
It’s such a great pairing and such a great, fun partnership to watch.
Thank you. And I think they, as people, they got more comfortable with each other, just as their characters got more comfortable with each other. So there’s a real friendship there that evolved in real life which mirrors the friendship that has evolved on the show.
And last one, Neal McDonough. So good! Did you guys take into consideration his own personal beliefs. Because it seems like all of Harding’s real emotional stuff this year was reconciling his faith with the possibility of something otherworldly.
That’s exactly right. We love pulling from our actual actors and their strengths and who they are. And Neal is a devout Catholic in real life, he’s very open about that, and we’re like, “Well, isn’t that an interesting dynamic if his character struggles both with everything he’s seen and his faith?” And it’s opened up, even for next season, a whole other arena for us. So it’s actually a joy not only to root the show in real-life cases, but in also these real-life people. We’re doing something kind of similar with Valentine as well, just in terms of his strengths as an actor and things we’ve seen him do before, and places we know we can push him given his strengths as an actor.