Project UFO: The Nevada Desert Incident

I have been giving this show a lot of grief, largely because of what it could be but isn’t. No matter what it is you’re looking for in a TV show, this one doesn’t deliver it. It lumbers around slowly and clumsily, doing everything it attempts poorly. But this one is different. This episode actually delivers a pretty good plot and pretty good characters despite itself. In fact, our heroes are pretty much superfluous.

The story concerns a bright young Air Force Lieutenant named Paul Staley. He’s just completed survival training, which is a pretty tough course. How tough? Sgt. Fitz* asks the guy in charge of the program, Is this survival course really as tough as we hear, sir?” to which the officer replies, “Even in the latrine, Sergeant.” WHAT??

Staley leaves the celebration of his comrades and heads out to make the 600 mile drive home through the desert in one leg. He gets tired, though, and pulls off to the side of the road to get some shut-eye. When he awakens the next morning, he starts to drive, but his car powers down completely. Looking off the road, he sees this:

He rummages through his bag and grabs a camera, but it’s got no film in it, and he doesn’t have any in his bag. As he watches, four smaller octagonal craft break off from the central hub, and then all five take off over the desert, past the mountains. Staley examines the place where the UFO was and sees burned markings of landing gear. He then heads back to his car, which starts up on the first try.

MEANWHILE, Sgt. Harry Fitz is doing this:

Yes, this scene was so amazing I had to excerpt it for you. His “dancing” partner is none other than Donna “Elly May” Douglas! I love everything about this scene.

Gatlin and Fitz go talk to Lt. Staley. When they get to his home, they also meet his wife, Cynthia, and her father, Dr. O’Neill, a career Air Force doctor, who insists on staying present while Staley gives his testimony. In an amount of time that is crazy fast for Project UFO, we get the lay of the land in the Staley home. Cynthia is incredibly devoted to “Daddy” O’Neill. Daddy dotes on her as well and isn’t crazy about his son-in-law, especially since Staley is planning on leaving the Air Force for a job in broadcast news. (Incidentally, the actor playing Staley is Scott Hylands, who’s also been in the new V series, Eureka, The X-Files, Supernatural, Airwolf, and much much more, including the 2-part Wonder Woman episode, “Judgment From Outer Space”, so I’m surprised you don’t have to pay ten bucks for his autograph at comic book conventions.) It’s pretty clear that Daddy has been an issue in this marriage for some time.

Daddy O’Neill doesn’t want to run his son-in-law’s life, but he lets him know that leaving the Air Force will be a mistake of global proportions, and that he should use this UFO report to further his military career as much as he can. Staley just wants to say what he saw.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much evidence of what he saw. They examine the area (as near as he can tell, since he didn’t leave anything to mark the specific spot in the desert), but there are no physical traces. Gatlin and Fitz even wonder why the picture he drew of the UFO shows the top view, when he only saw it from the side and below. Furthermore, a shelf in his home is packed with books on UFOs. Even his wife, taking a moment away from basking in the incandescent glory of Daddy, flat out tells him, “Is it that important to you that I believe you?” He can only reply with:

Staley decides to have a formal hearing on what he saw, to make it official. He feels that this will show how serious he is. And who would you guess is on the hearing committee, but his own father-in-law, which nobody else seems to see a problem with. O’Neill asks Staley once more to reconsider leaving the Air Force, but Staley seems determined.

We see the end of the hearing, with only Dr. O’Neill left to give his “verdict”. And holy cow. He rips Staley a new one. He reminds Staley of the one drink he had with the celebrating officers of the survival course and neglected to mention — if he forgot one, did he forget more? He notes that Staley driving alone in the desert at night was foolish to begin with as he must have still been exhausted from the course. He points out that Staley doesn’t have film for his camera, so he conveniently can’t take a picture, and that he didn’t even mark the spot where he allegedly saw the craft to return to it later, castigating this irresponsible behavior. And he points out the UFO books in his house. He declares that the whole story is a hoax, designed to help Staley land that broadcast news job, since UFOs are hot in popular entertainment. With his statement, O’Neill essentially destroys Staley’s future in the Air Force and the news field.

This is enough to make Major Jake Gatlin heat up, and he tears into O’Neill with a passion we haven’t seen anywhere else up to now. “What would you have done if you were me?” O’Neill asks him, to which Gatlin replies, “Can I wait a while before I’m you?” That is a MAJOR BURN from Major Gatlin!

Strangely, Cynthia doesn’t understand why Staley is upset with Daddy and her, and he thankfully gives her the old heave-ho, letting her be with the real man in her life.

He takes off again, back into the desert, where he finds a crystal shaped piece of metal, blinking and humming, it’s small, but weighs a great deal.

Evidence at last! He brings it back to the car, but the car won’t start with it inside. He picks it up again, takes it to the other side of the road, where there’s a canyon, and throws it in. It his the bottom and explodes. “They wouldn’t have believed you anyway,” he says. The car now starts, and he drives off.

I gotta give credit when I see it, and this was a really well-done episode of this show. I mean that sincerely.

* — The character’s actual name.

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