John Tavner sits on a bench at a crossroads. Strumming his guitar, he sings of Iran developing nuclear weaponry, his unintentional murder of an innocent man, and getting high, in that order. He is an intelligence officer that perhaps speaks too openly about his experiences through his song lyrics; strumming along melancholically, his eyes appear glossed over, his face downcast. The camera pans overhead as we see him alone, distant. People drift on by, going about their daily lives, while John remains, singing. Absent from the world around him and absent from consequence, this is the first glimpse we get into John’s fragile psyche – an unravelling thread that will continue to catch and pull with every obstacle yet to come.
John, played by actor Michael Dorman, takes the center stage in Patriot – an Amazon Prime dark-comedy drama that explores depression, manipulation, and purpose. Following the inner and outer turmoil of an American intelligence officer who finds himself increasingly sad with his life, the show makes us question our sympathies with a man who performs consistently heinous acts.
Posing as a worker at an engineering firm, John splits his time between keeping up his mundane façade to his coworkers and searching for a bag containing 11 million euros to stop a nuclear war, consistently falling prey to comically unlucky situations that continue to turn one of his problems into two. Performing his duties under his father, Director of Intelligence Tom Tavner (played by Terry O’Quinn), we see John forced to make questionable calls to uphold his duties.
His father has clear expectations; unaccustomed to the plights of working in the field, he instructs John to do whatever is necessary. And so, John pushes someone in front of a truck, stuffs a man in a police locker, and blinds a police detective for the sake of his job. In between this, we see him make a to-do schedule; take up card tricks, and turn to a stolen therapy dog to cope with his debilitating stress and depression.
In short, John’s not all there. The audience knows this and the other characters know this. His inner struggle cracks through small glints onto his otherwise composed self – furrowed eyebrows and sad eyes adorn his face constantly. His HR manager asks how much sleep he’s getting and how many meals he’s having – spoiler alert, it’s not enough. John experiences blunt head trauma and gets two of his fingers shot off, yet he is so apathetic to his own wellbeing that he shrugs it off, continuing to put himself in harm’s way. He sings a song about riding his bike through red lights and stop signs, hoping to get hit, then goes about his day trying to cover the trail of a murder he reluctantly committed. The core of Patriot is in this tragedy, this conflict between action and feeling. John is taught by his father that this is his purpose, and thus, he proceeds without question, no matter how much pain it brings.
Patriot brings heavy themes to the table. It reminds us of the adversities of depression, the fragility of the human condition, and how lost we can feel in regard to the idea of “purpose,” – both in where we belong and what we should do. Events in Patriot come together and fall apart predominately through sheer luck, erring more on the side of bad than good. Life takes constant negative turns for John, though it is intercut by the occasional tender moment with the eccentric relationships he builds around himself. His friend, Dennis, whose urine he uses to pass his drug test, and his brother, “Cool Rick,” who communicates with him via their Scrabble message board, both of whom make him feel a little less alone.
The joyful moments of the show lie in moments that are heartfelt and sincere; its smart banter, its comical circumstance, and the silver lining of those who care about John’s happiness. Yet the tragedy of it all remains. Despite the reassurances that John will inevitably be okay, the show reminds us of the weight of his conscience, the weight of expectation, and the weight of the world fall upon him.
Patriot is available to stream through Amazon Prime services.
Edited by: Camilla Bains