Amazon’s newest scripted series, “Patriot,” explores a plethora of off-kilter intelligence methods of keeping the peace overseas — and while the the series is mostly set in the year 2012, its relevance to the current state of affairs, in America and in the world, is astonishing.
As we said in our review of the pilot, this is no ordinary political series. Steve Conrad’s (“The Pursuit of Happyness,” “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”) series is simple enough in concept: Offbeat intelligence officer John Tavner (Michael Dorman) must prevent Iran from going nuclear at any cost. Sounds pretty clear-cut… But the story’s real aim is less focused on that suspenseful premise, and more on its stylized, clever explorations of PTSD, music as a coping mechanism, the ever-present threat of nuclear war, and the power of family.
Though Tavner constantly struggles to maintain his cover at a Midwestern piping firm — his means of getting into Europe undetected — it’s the family foundation that moves this adventure along — and carries the most weight — in all its wonderful quirkiness.
At the urgent directive of patriarch Tom (Terry O’Quinn), obedient brother Edward (Michael Chernus) heads off to track his brooding brother down — retrieving him from aimless gallivanting around Europe, running from the murderous deeds he’s previously performed for the US government. And while his foray into a confessional brand of folk music, and competitive mechanical-bullriding, seems to alleviate some of his emotional pain, it’s not long before the Tavner brothers are in Luxembourg delivering a huge bag of cash to sway the Iranian election away from a dangerous, nuke-loving candidate.
Of course, things don’t go according to plan… And it’s these slightly off moments — a soft-spoken Brazilian gang knife fight that borders on the perverse, the theft of prosthetic legs to ease a police station break-in, a high-stakes “Battleship” boardgame competition — that make this odd spy drama not just an ongoing delight, but an innovation in narrative and tonal balance: “Patriot’s” as bonkers as it is grounded.
And while John attempts to keep it all together, mission very much at the forefront, it’s maintaining his official corporate cover that makes our hero most uncomfortable: Curmudgeonly boss Leslie (Kurtwood Smith) adds that extra bit of conflict: The unfolding areas of operation as the story tells itself are not frenetic, but we are very much in Tavner’s shoes as we juggle all these different environments, etiquettes and loyalties.
Amazon isn’t keen on playing it safe — from artistic hits like “Transparent” to attention grabs like “Man in the High Castle,” the platform’s brand increasingly sells itself on pushing the envelope. It’s the same desire to disrupt — and with style — that we see as the newest originals roll out — and finds one of its strongest examples in “Patriot.” The fact that it also happens to be prescient and painfully, ironically relevant is just a testament to that ongoing creative project.
“Patriot” Season 1 is streaming in full on Amazon Prime.