Video streaming services are both a drug and a drag: addictive in the first few weeks of a new subscription as you eagerly consume all the good stuff, and burdensome when the good stuff runs out, leaving you with the gnawing sense that you ought to watch something, anything, to justify the fees. Admittedly, not all Netflix or Amazon Prime Video subscribers feel this way, just those with a compulsion to always get their money’s worth—like me.
I had gorged on the Amazon original series Sneaky Pete (with Giovanni Ribisi in the title role), Goliath (Billy Bob Thornton at his best), and Bosch (featuring the always reliable Titus Welliver as the eponymous LA detective in the Michael Connelly novels). But when I looked around at the other offerings in the all-you-can-eat video buffet, I couldn’t find anything particularly appetizing, until I stumbled onto Patriot.
At first, this ten-part Amazon original feature looked to be just another spy series: “To prevent Iran from going nuclear, intelligence officer John Tavner must forgo all safety nets and assume a perilous ‘non-official cover’ [NOC in spy-talk]—that of mid-level employee at a Midwestern industrial piping firm.”
But to my surprise—and ultimate discomfiture—Patriot turned out to be the most unconventional, quirkiest espionage story I’ve ever encountered. It has the trappings of a spy thriller, but the script wanders off into serio-comic subplots dealing with family ties, corporate culture, institutional sexism, and, for good measure, PTSD and traumatic brain injury. More often than not the subplots muddy the narrative, yet they feature some of the most poignant moments and intelligent dialog in the series.