“What if I told you…”

Bestselling author Brad Meltzer (House of Lies) and his team of investigators are back for another 13 episodes of attempting to solve the greatest unsolved mysteries in American history, this time adding a few trips overseas as well.

Meltzer acts as narrator, with the actual detective work done by Buddy Levy (the nice guy), Christine McKinley (the brains), and Scott Rolle (the skeptic). These three travel all over the U.S., with a few side trips to Italy, searching for the real stories behind what we think we know about history.

• “Fort Knox”
• “Declaration of Independence”
• “Mount Rushmore”
• “Patton”
• “Spear of Destiny”
• “Billy the Kid”
• “UFO”
• “Da Vinci”
• “2012”
• “Mafia: Alive?”
• “Vatican”
• “Houdini: Murdered”
• “Devil’s Graveyard”

Each of these episodes has the same basic formula. Brad introduces the viewers to a crazy-sounding conspiracy theory about a famous historical site or person. Then, Buddy, McKinley, and Scott visit the historic sites and learn all kinds of interesting tidbits on the subject. From there, they dig deeper into the big conspiracy theory, only to find the evidence compelling, but inconclusive. Expect a lot more what-ifs rather than shocking revelations. The producers must have heard all the complaints—including mine—about the lack of conclusions to the cases, because now each episode ends with the three investigators sitting down and talking about what they think really happened, based on what they’ve learned. The cases might not be closed, but these discussions do a good job of giving episodes a decent ending.

The locations and the stories also help episodes from feeling repetitive. Actually visiting Mount Rushmore, the Vatican, Fort Knox, and even Area 51 gives the show a sense of scope, even if the team only drives past Knox and doesn’t get close to 51, the fact that they’re actually there gives the show a nice, adventurous feeling. Even better are some of the anecdotes uncovered along the way. My favorite is Billy the Kid’s escape from Lincoln County Jail, which is gone over in detail, and is equal parts exciting and brutally violent. Likewise, the Houdini episode is full of juicy trivia details about the man’s life and all he accomplished.

The genuine history is so fascinating, that the less concrete conspiracy theories, which are supposed to be the show’s big selling point, end up less interesting. Talking about Star Trek-style vortexes in the sky over Alaska seems silly, but discovering actual magnetic fields that have downed planes is much more captivating. It’s shocking to learn that autopsies are against the law at the Vatican, but speculation about the Vatican’s involvement with the mafia and/or the Freemasons is just that, wild speculation. I find myself less curious about what’s really inside Fort Knox than I am curious figuring out how it’s so secretive that only a handful of people in the world have ever been inside of it. You see where I’m going with this.

For a show allegedly devoted to the truth, why are there so many fakey moments? I’m talking about all the times that the three investigators, while having lunch or dinner at a local dive, casually ask a waitress or fellow customer about the mystery of the week, only to have that person say just what they need to hear in order to maintain validity in the case. It’s grossly obvious that these scenes were staged. That, then, leads me to wonder if these folks were actors, and that, in turn, has me wondering how many other interviewees might have been actors. It just sours the whole series.

All 13 episodes are here, spread out over four discs. Picture quality is good, nicely bringing to life the many historic sites and scenic vistas. The 2.0 sound is decent, which is fine for a mostly talky show. Disc four features a collection of deleted scenes.

While not a perfect series, Brat Meltzers’ Decoded offers some fun history and some intriguing food for thought. Check it out if the subject matter interests you.

The Verdict

I’m sorry, but only a 32nd degree Freemason may have access to this verdict.

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