In Patriot, New Zealand actor Michael Dorman plays John Tavner, a N.O.C. (Non-official cover) for the CIA. It’s a real thing. He’s basically a CIA spy without any of the protections typically afforded a CIA agent, which is to say: If he gets caught, he goes to jail. If he murders someone, he can be executed. Neither the CIA nor the U.S. government will save him. In fact, N.O.C.’s are trained specifically to deny any connection with their government.
This, by itself, is a fascinating career. But in Patriot, as an N.O.C., he also has to work undercover as an engineer in a piping company, a job which probably requires years of specialized education. John Tavner has no such education. He’s completely and totally out of his depth. He crams enough before his interview, however, to nearly get hired, but there’s another guy, Stephen, with a better shot at landing the job.
So, John pushes Stephen in front of a moving van.
This happens in the first five minutes of the show. It’s the make-or-break moment in the series. It’s either shocking and funny, or shocking and appalling, depending on the viewer’s perspective. I fell into the former camp. I was sold on Patriot immediately.
As if this weren’t enough to sell us on the Amazon series, the next sequence introduces Terry O’Quinn (Lost), who plays John Tavner’s father, Michael. Michael works for the CIA. The CIA needs a guy to help facilitate a simple task: Take a large bag of money to Luxembourg and hand it to a guy who will then use that money to influence an election in Iran.
Michael selects his son to the do job. John is bright and loyal, but he has one major liability: When he gets stressed out from the pressures of his job, he plays folk music as an outlet. The lyrics to John’s folk music include details about his covert operations.
Michael hires him anyway.
Meanwhile, John needs the job with the piping company so that he can travel with them on a business trip to Luxembourg. All John has to do is get the money from Point A to Point B. Coincidentally, John’s job in piping is also all about getting something from Point A to Point B. Sounds easy, right?
Here’s how Leslie Clarett (Kurtwood Smith, That 70’s Show) describes what’s involved in John’s piping job:
Let me walk you through our Donnely nut-spacing and cracked system rim-riding grip configuration: using a field of half-seized sprats and brass-fitter nickel slits, our bracketed caps and spray-flexed brace columns vent dampers to dampening hatch depths of ½ meter from the damper crown to the spurv plinth. How? Well, we bolster 12 Husk Nuts to each girdle jerry while flex tandems press a task apparatus of ten vertically composited patch hamplers then pin flam-fastened pan traps at both maiden apexes of the jimjoints.
The task of delivering a bag of money from Point A to Point B ends up being as complicated as the piping job. It entails getting a bag of money through airport security, a murder, a police investigation, a puppeteer, a man named Ichabod, an Iranian spy and his brother, several hunting trips, a therapy dog, and Mark Boone Jr. (Sons of Anarchy) as one half of a folk-singing duo with John Tavner. Patriot is worth watching if for no other reason than Mark Boone, Jr.’s incredibly heartbreaking performance. Michael Chernus (Orange is the New Black) is also in Patriot. He plays John’s brother, a U.S. Senator who is also obsessed with the Beastie Boys, because this is exactly that kind of show.
It’s an almost impossible show to describe. It’s the Coen Brothers by way of Better Off Ted: It’s a sly, darkly funny workplace and spy satire. It’s hilarious, and heartbreaking, and incredibly tense. It’s an amazing show and my favorite streaming series of 2017.
The one problem I had with it, however, was the ending, which left viewers in the lurch. It has the kind of final episode that compels viewers to check how much time is remaining, not because it’s long, but because we’re terrified that it’s going to end, and it’s going to end without fully resolving itself and letting its audience finally breathe a sigh of relief.
Thankfully, Amazon has ordered a second season of the series, so we may yet get to breath that sigh of relief.
Patriot will likely return in 2018. Watch the first season now. It’s incredible.