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by Guy McCardle

September 30, 2011

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Donate For a few months now I've been watching "Brad Meltzer's Decoded" on the History Channel. I thought I'd get in my review of season one now since season two is scheduled to premiere October 5th at 10 PM. What drew me to the show in the first place was the prospect of having what Meltzer calls "pop culture mysteries" investigated and commented on by science minded persons. Sounds a bit like a certain podcast we all know and love.

At least from the promos I thought the investigators were supposed to be science minded. There is the host, author Brad Meltzer, who has on more than one occasion said he was skeptical of the explanations he was offered on any given topic. He never went as far as calling himself a skeptic, however. Meltzer speaks in somewhat of a monotone and has a Sahara dry wit. I found myself liking him more and more as I watched the show, mostly because it took a while for his viewpoint to become evident. He seems to genuinely want to get to the truth of his subject matter. There is the typical BS argument now and again on the show, but Meltzer is quick to call people on their BS. As he says about a questionable argument, “I’m not buying it”.

Meltzer’s three investigators (Buddy Levy, Christine McKinley and Scott Rolle) do all of his legwork on the show. Levy is a freelance writer and English professor at Washington State University. His superpower is extreme likability. Buddy seems like a truly likable guy and people like to talk to likable guys. People feel comfortable telling him their stories and it shows on camera.

McKinley, with her engineering degree and “show me the facts” attitude, is the Agent Scully of the group. She likes to do the math and have all of the numbers add up in the end. Scott Rolle was the State's Attorney for Frederick County, Maryland from 1995 to 2007. He is a Major in the US Army Reserves and currently operates his own legal practice in Maryland. Rolle actively seeks evidence and is the kind of investigator who uses his gut to make determinations about the phenomena he is investigating. In setting up his team, Meltzer says he was going for “diversity without replication” and the last thing he wanted was to have three or four clones of himself wandering around. In that goal I feel he was successful.

Perhaps my favorite episode of season one is the show about the Bohemian Club (the proper title of the episode is "Secret Societies"). At the start of the episode, Meltzer calls it “perhaps the world’s best funded frat party”. The club started in the late 1800’s as social group for men. It quickly blossomed into a gathering of the most rich and powerful men in the world. Over the years, the list of members has included presidents, generals, famous entertainers and heads of industry. Everyone from Jimmy Buffett to Warren Buffett. No kidding. Each year the organization has a two week meeting on a 2,700 acre complex in Northern California that they have aptly named Bohemian Grove. It is pointed out to the audience that the motto of the club is “weaving spiders come not here”. This is interpreted as meaning that the members should leave their business interests behind while they are at a club meeting at the grove. Men being men, however, are unlikely to give up an opportunity to talk a little shop while they party. It is said that among other things, the idea for the Manhattan Project got its start there along with discussions of who should run for U.S. President.

Of course our investigators are anxious to get to the bottom of what is really going on at the Grove and the fact that attendance is strictly limited to members only deepens the intrigue. McKinley, often referred to as “Mac”, is especially driven to get inside since it is an all-male club. The whole adventure by this time has taken on the tone of a group of outsider high school buddies who want to try to crash the cool kid’s party. As one might expect, their first attempt to get inside Bohemian Grove is to drive right up to the front gate. And also as you might expect, they are quickly turned away by security. In this case, it is the nicest security guard ever to sew a patch on his shoulder. He was grinning right up to the time the Sheriff arrived to escort Buddy, Scott and Mac off of the grounds. Meltzer’s comment on this situation was this: “Before everyone gets all uppity, this doesn’t mean that the Bohemian Club members are trying to eat your babies. But it is a pretty good indicator of how the folks at the Bohemian Club operate”. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

It wouldn’t be much of a TV show if they quit there, so the group devises another plan to get inside. Meltzer tells the viewers that the only person to infiltrate security and record the meeting proceedings is a man named Alex Jones. The scene quickly cuts to the group interviewing Jones on how he managed to sneak into the Grove. Turns out back in 2000 he made his way along a river that ran close to an entrance. He crossed onto Grove property while still in the river and jumped into the back of a waiting transport vehicle while pretending to be one of the guys. He had done his research and knew the right things to say to avoid suspicion. They could not show the video he obtained while inside on TV because it was obtained illegally. Fair enough. Jones agreed to help get the gang in.

So…all four of them get into kayaks and head up the Russian river on a miserable looking, cold, rainy day and make their way to the outskirts of Bohemian Grove property. Long story short, Buddy and Mac get caught by security and are turned over to the police. Scott, Alex Jones and the cameraman manage to make it back to the river and get away. Our two intrepid investigators are arrested for trespassing and incarcerated in a local jail 30 miles from the Grove. At this point I’m finding the story to be very Scooby Dooesque. I was expecting to see an old ghost pop out of a box wearing chains at any second.

Scott gets his buddies out of jail and by now their tone has changed significantly. The reality of being “stuffed and cuffed” as Buddy puts it, hit home hard and the spit has clearly hit the fan. Buddy goes on to say that the only way he would ever go into the Bohemian Grove now is as an invited guest and he supposes that the invitation probably isn’t coming any time soon. Mac summed it up succinctly by saying, “being in jail sucks”. In talking about their adventure the next day, Buddy compared himself to Thoreau saying that he also pushed boundaries and broke rules in the interest of learning more about our society. OK Buddy. During the wrap up session at the end of the show attitudes have changed dramatically and have become decidedly more practical. Mac says that the more she has thought about it, the less she is bothered by the Grove. “After all, it is their property and they are allowed to do what they want with it.” Scott strikes the nail on the head by saying, “there is nothing nefarious going on here, it is just of bunch of businessmen in a men’s club”. In the final scene of the show, with spooky music playing in the background, Meltzer says he begs to differ with his colleague’s conclusion. What gets under his skin is that fact that in this country, some people are getting together in secret and getting to have more say than others. I hope he is not just now realizing this in his 40’s. This is just the way it has always been.

Will I watch season two of Decoded? Sure, it has potential.

by Guy McCardle

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