Warning: This contains spoilers. Not seen Patriot? Read our spoiler-free review of the opening episodes here.
Those enchanted, intrigued and gripped by Patriot’s opening episodes won’t be disappointed by the rest of the first season. In fact, if anything, it gets even better. Its unique “Inside Llewyn Davis meets Homeland” vibe is sustained throughout, as weirdness and leftfield plots are added to the already bizarre mix.
We find out who kayak guy is – Rob (the truly awesome Mark Boone Junior, probably best known for Sons of Anarchy), sometime folk-singing collaborator to John (Michael Dorman, outstanding), who’s completely ignorant as to his pal’s secret life as a CIA agent – and are introduced to football-loving British-Iranians from Jaywick Sands, Essex. The all-female homicide squad in the Luxermbourg Police Dept. come properly into play, too – particularly the steely determined Agathe (Aliette Opheim). And, seemingly inconsequential at first, a Japanese puppeteer (Hana Mae Lee) turns out to be a pivotal part of the story.
Although, truth be told, everything in Patriot is pivotal. It’s intricately plotted; not a scene is wasted, nor a story strand left dangling.
Episode 4 sees John’s wife, Alice (Kathleen Munroe) brought into the picture more fully as John breaks the rules – laid down by his CIA father, Tom (Terry O’Quinn) – for the first time and phones her. Her story slow-burns on the sidelines, but, as a representative of John’s conscience (or what remains of it), she is vital – and her suspicion towards the end of the season that John murders for his country will surely have an even bigger impact on Season 2.
This episode also sees one of the many bravura pieces of filmmaking Patriot presents casually – John, in real time, abducts an airline baggage handler (brother to the Brazilian wrestlers he suspects has the $11 million), duct-tapes him into submission and stuffs him into a large bag. For the whole episode, he doggedly carries this man around on his back like it’s the most normal thing in the world; it’s as ludicrous as it is disturbing. Rob, meanwhile, is seen in the hotel giving out CDs, the covers of which show him with John.
How this EP came to be recorded is the subject of the fifth episode’s extended pre-credit sequence, as two damaged men get together and write folk songs of brittle brilliance. And, of course, allowing his photograph to be taken and his real name used, turns out to be another rule John breaks.
Episode 6 sees Leslie staring repeatedly at his hotel-room minibar – a reminder that he is a recovering alcoholic. We also discover he’s the author of The Structural Dynamics of Flow, an academic manual dealing with how best to get something from point A to point B, whether that be oil or $11 million. Faking an alibi by signing his name in a copy of this book in a library in Luxembourg becomes a major headache for John’s brother, Edward, aka. “Cool Rick” (Michael Chernus).
As a nemesis, Leslie (referred to at all times by Tom as “the man with the girl’s name”) is tenacious, although he never learns what is truly at stake. One almost feels sorry for him – he’s lost so much and is so invested in his pointless job – that when he gets blasted in the face by a shotgun, the realisation that he’s not dead, just peppered with shot, brings genuine relief. Here’s hoping he returns stronger than ever in Season 2.
Cool Rick is an intriguing character, loyally helping out his brother and father, never questioning the rights and wrongs – until, that is, he discovers Dad has asked John to kill people. He perhaps stands in for the American people – he’s overweight, placid and blind to the realities of US foreign policy. When he becomes “dead serious” Rick in the closing episode, he joins Alice and Agathe as a force that may – or may not – turn John away from his murderous mission.
All the myriad complications in John’s life converge for the final two episodes. It’s a dizzying to-do list: stop brain-damaged Steven recalling who pushed him in front of a bus, non-sexually cuddle Icabod (Julian Richings) to stop his blackmail attempt, get his paperwork sorted with HR, kill 11 ducks so his dick of a boss can impress a bloodthirsty woman, do a “Dick Cheney” on Lesley (i.e. shoot him ‘accidentally’ in the face) and then get to Luxembourg to snatch the red garment bag containing the $11 million from the Japanese puppeteer as she’s released from jail (for stealing a dog leash), before either the Iranians or the Brazilians get hold of it.
It’s just fantastically silly and edge-of-the-seat gripping. And even with all this craziness going on, the writers still manage to throw us a curve-ball, and move us at the same time.
Having the puppeteer do the one thing no one had expected – discarding the money because it was “too heavy” (metaphorically as well as literally, one suspects) – is a slice of genius. It gives John chance to really think about where he goes from here. He’s already opted to ride his bicycle into a moving car rather than assassinate the Iranian wife, and now he finds himself sitting beside Agathe at the train station. She has the money with her, but he knows the best thing for his peace of mind is to let her board the train with it. And it seems he has made his choice – to let her go, to quit the job. But, in one last brilliant moment, as Agathe stands in the door of the stationary train carriage, John’s father calls – Rick/Edward has been snatched and without the $11 million, the bad guys will kill him. Smash to black.
Patriot’s whole first season has been simply perfect, although its lackadaisical tone won’t be everyone. For those who get it, John and his supporting cast of fragile weirdos and shallow, self-serving monsters will become like friends. Or, for the really horrible ones, family. We can’t wait to see them all again.
Season 1 of Patriot is available exclusively on Amazon Prime Video, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.