Patriot Has Shades of Gothic Dramedy

Eccentric Plots, Quirky Humor, and Ultra-Violence Akin to Fargo and Twin Peaks

Amazon’s Patriot stars Michael Dorman as a folk singer/intelligence officer who goes undercover as an employee at a Midwestern industrial piping firm.

As irritating and ultimately depersonalized as the interweb’s invasive personal recommendation pushiness is (“If you like this, you might like this … or this, or this, or this … credit card info here”), it can admittedly be helpful, especially in an age of overabundant options in our quest for products and cultural diversions. In that spirit: If you like TV’s Fargo and Twin Peaks, you might well like Patriot (full series now available on Amazon), which shares with those other private-screen classics certain endearing qualities (if you’re a person who likes that sort of thing). Gotta love the eccentric plot mapping, characters who don’t necessarily come clean or readily explain themselves, and a dry, quirky humor mixed with occasional bursts of ultra-violence (or the hints of afterglow thereof), cohering into a particular and peculiar new brand of gothic dramedy on the tube.

For further practical consumer advice, I would suggest absorbing the labyrinthine Patriot creator Steve Conrad’s nine-episode series binge-style to avoid distraction. (Side note: As of episode six of Twin Peaks, I still don’t really know what’s going on and how the multiple plot strands will eventually come together, and that blissful confusion is part of the addictive beauty). My own travails ​— ​and perverse pleasure ​— ​in trying to keep the Patriot story straight was hampered by two specific problems: watching episodes sporadically while also checking out episodes of Fargo and Peaks made for a dizzy swirl of characters and plot-tracking fog. Secondly, my dog, Harper, literally ate half of my notes (yes, she ate my homework, no doubt perturbed by the big, light-emitted rectangle in the living room robbing her of attention).

On the plus side, though, these elasticized plot experiments take advantage of New TV’s fluidity and can also foil TV/film writers (and makers of dreaded movie trailers) indulging in the increasingly distressing sin of plot spoilage.

Story matters, of course, in Patriot, but so do atmosphere, an implied forward/sideways momentum rather than a clear-cut, cliffhanger-goosed exposition structure, and a certain dark mystique that is all its own. At the center is the wonderfully unlikely hero/anti-hero, the depressive would-be folk singer, John Lakeman (Michael Dorman, oozing laconic charisma, and just generally oozing and artfully moping), who has pursued his “fallback” gig ​— ​in undercover CIA work, with assassinations as a side specialty, following in the family business footsteps of CIA veteran father (Terry O’Quinn). Along the way, from John’s fake job with a piping company out of Milwaukee to covert operations in Luxembourg (love those offbeat locations, coloring the loopy feel of the enterprise), he will dip into his old life as a folkie, singing potentially incriminating lyrics about his life, suicidal instincts, and other surreal, alt-indie subjects.

Scenes of note, starting in the first 10 minutes, include that of our man John pushing a competitor for his piping job into the path of an oncoming vehicle. That character, Stephen Choo (Marcus Toji), works on a gradual recovery from a debilitating brain injury, and recall of his accident, one of many intriguing subplots here. Another scene finds an especially brooding and aimless John elegantly stewing in a large concrete tube while characters from his life and murky saga walk by ​— ​his Milwaukee life passing before him.

In true espionage-genre fashion, the person of interest on his tail is a deductive detective from Luxembourg, Lucie Prum-Waltzing (Sylvie Sadarnac), tracing his potential link to a murder case. Alas, we find that character at a crossroads in her own life, a woman on a train ​— ​to a new life? ​— ​while our man John stands on the platform, awaiting the next twist of fate or song lyric inspiration. Stay tuned: The series has been green-lighted for a second season.


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