Warning: This contains spoilers for Season 1 and 2 of Patriot. Not caught up? Read our spoiler-free review of the show’s opening episodes here.
“I got to get this fucked up thing done / But first I have to get a gun / from some guy I picked at random. / Shit, he looks like a nice guy…”
The folk-song stream-of-consciousness inner monologue makes a welcome return to Patriot, with eight episodes continuing this take on absurd international espionage. Season 1 ended with the show’s Maguffin – a bag full of millions of US dollars, originally intended to be used to bribe/kickstart a coup in Iran – in the hands of Luxembourg detective Agathe Albans (Aliette Opheim), who gets on a train bound for Paris. Our world-weary CIA operative/folk singer/wearer of comfy jumpers John Tavner (Michael Dorman) follows Albans to the French capital, and the various characters caught up in John’s elaborate cover story follow him.
The change of location from Luxembourg City to Paris doesn’t denote much of a shift in tone for Amazon’s espionage series – it’s all languorous European dreaminess as before, serving as a pleasingly jarring backdrop to all manner of violent deeds. The theme of the season is provided by a recurring flashback, in which John finds himself locked in a box with a mentally unravelling MI6 agent James (the marvellous actor and stand-up comedian Chris Addison). James babbles about missions being akin to swimming through jellyfish – you break up one problem and it turns into dozens more. As we see confirmed by John’s CIA father, Tom (Terry O’Quinn), talking in 2017 at a debriefing, these “dangerous convergences” see the straightforward mission become intensely complex and then mutate – as Season 2 plays out – into full-on clusterf*ck.
Characters from the previous season are welcome, but don’t necessarily earn their place narratively. Though they have great scenes and sequences, John’s self-appointed best friend Dennis (Chris Conrad), his brother, Edward (Michael Chernus), and the fantastically named Jack Birdbath (Tony Fitzpatrick) all find their storylines petering out. In addition, we’re treated to a new array of players who are all similarly entertaining but aren’t quite meshed with the ongoing and unfolding plot.
It’s a shame, because they’re all great fun: Parisian detective Nan Ntep (Eye Haidara) has the potential to be another formidable adversary for John and his father, although she gets rather marginalised after the events of their first encounter. Also entering the story proper are the male detectives from Luxembourg, headed up by the overweight and mullet-sporting Sgt. Poullian (Luc Schwarz). Although they aren’t given much to do, the scene in which – urinating in the men’s room – they’re each revealed, in excruciating close-up, to possess micro-penises, is a montage that will be hard to dislodge from your head.
While the plotting might not be up to the same high standard of Season 1, Patriot’s core story remains solid. Focusing in on John’s wife, Alice (Kathleen Munroe), who comes to the conclusion that John has been groomed from early childhood by his father in order to turn his own son into a useful CIA asset. In many ways, John is revealed to be a kooky counterpart to Jessica Chastain’s Maya in Zero Dark Thirty – young patriots both, brainwashed into committing unspeakable acts in the name of their country.
Integral to Alice’s understanding of John is the appearance of the mighty Debra Winger (Terms of Endearment, An Officer and a Gentleman) as John’s mother. Though compassionate and full of love for her son, as a US congresswoman she shares much of her ex-husband’s pragmatism. She is, after all, the sort of mom whom John feels it’s perfectly OK to ask “Can I kill the accordion pimp?” when he’s set on the crazy course of having to shoot someone random to put the Iranians off his trail.
Agathe recognises Alice as a potential ally. “John is not yet a ghoul,” the detective says. “Please help me catch the man who’s changing him.” This is one of the many convergences that threatens to bring down the mission, as the authorities decide to use John to get to his father.
While not perfect, Season 2’s eight episodes are nevertheless brimming with off-kilter dialogue and scenes that are the darkest of dark comedy. When John and Dennis both have several fingers shot off, the grisly practicalities of whose digits are whose, and how long they have to reattach them before the tissue dies, is played out over several episodes. And, marvellously, it’s an essential component of the finale, entitled ‘The Escape From Paris’. With the flashbacks coming full circle by the end, Chris Addison and mentions of jellyfish take on a whole new – and surprisingly literal – meaning.
Whether fate will subject John to yet more hardship remains to be seen. Everything is wrapped up by Episode 8 and one feels, with quality having dipped slightly from Season 1, that now is the time to bid this unique series farewell. As John’s father now knows, sometimes it’s best just to quit while you’re ahead.
Season 1 and 2 of Patriot are available exclusively on Amazon Prime Video, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.