“Pretty good.” “Cool.” The two standard answers of John Tavner/John Lakeman sounds like he’s doing okay. But underneath these answers is a deep destruction of a soul, one which eats at him every waking hour, and those waking hours predominate the psyche of the man as he refuses to stop. Even the new theme song over the main titles, Beastie Boys’ “Sure Shot”, proclaims “you can’t, you won’t, you don’t stop”, a perfect summation of what faces our broken hero.
This is the story of Patriot, the second season of Amazon’s Prime Video series. The story of intelligence officer John Tavner, a man deep undercover as John Lakeman, pipe fitting expert in Wisconsin, brings the cast to Paris, France, as the lies and deceit and tangents of the first season converge upon the cast. The season is a culmination of everyone’s worst selves finding a way out. Where the first season was about everything that could go wrong going wrong, this season is about how things going wrong brings out the worst in people. At the heart of that is John, played by Michael Dorman.
His vision is failing with the blow to the head at the end of last season, and the immense amount of pain and bodily harm continues, this time more brutal and maim-inducing than the last. John goes through hell this year, as a more straightforward assassination attempt is the crux of his story.
With the various characters of the previous season now outright in the know, this gives the second season a lot more to work with. The first season’s genius came in the form of juggling so many lies and the comedy in keeping every side character happy so John can complete his mission; here, it’s all of those characters trying to help him and mucking it up in the process. Almost everyone surrounding John is a knucklehead, but all lovable knuckleheads. The single disappointment of the second season is everyone appears less than last year, where the focus lies on John, his father Tom (Terry O’Quinn), and the moving pieces of their story as the assassination and investigation into them starts peaking.
The season takes place at an even tighter timeframe than the first, where it plays at real time, or as close to real time as possible. It starts immediately following the finale of the first season and goes through the nightmare John and his merry band of fools face as a spiraled operation now circles the drain. But the show still carries that impossible charm and smart wit, as dark as it can get. The dialogue by Steven Conrad is still brilliantly witty and Coen-esque, repeated sentences and character sayings which really help create comedy and comedy of errors in times of great urgency and tension. The humor is not as pronounced as the first season, but comes in the right doses and used with expert precision. Episode six, “F*** John Wayne”, is the most fun episode of the bunch, finding everyone together and a welcome sight as the characters all go out and have a good time together. It’s a needed break from all of the bleakness, and really sells the camaraderie of the group. Plus we get to see some of John’s dance moves, which are pretty legendary. There is also a Tommy Boy reference that I appreciated greatly.
John’s folk songs make a return, but instead of being little moments of calm where he can break free and sing, they play over sequences of the show. One is when John is going up a building, another to find a gun, the song playing out as his internal monologue as he gets closer to the event in question. It’s more seamless and works better this way, as a good way of getting inside of his head without breaking from the story.
The season has more of a distant feel to its direction, also by Conrad. Characters talking are in far off wide shots or shot with calculated lighting so shadows consume the characters and their features aren’t visible. There are a great number of traveling shots, blurred and obscured to reflect John’s sight and disorient us as much as it does him. It’s used effectively, coming into play for story elements and a dual meaning later on. The season also closes on an absolutely haunting final moment, but especially the final shot, unbelievably bleak and really speaking to what the show has been going for the past two seasons.
Dorman is perfect as John, portraying him like an empty vessel meant to do one thing until substances wake him up. Kurtwood Smith is fantastic this season, showing up rarely but having brilliant scenes every single time. O’Quinn gives a more tortured performance this year, and his scenes with Dorman and Debra Winger (John’s mother this season) are hilarious. The remaining cast, all wonderful actors, don’t appear as much, but when they do, they all get their moments, and you can really feel the fun they’re having playing these people. Chris Conrad’s Dennis is especially hilarious in the early hours; Conrad delivers a number of justifiably cracked and manic scenes. Tony Fitzpatrick is just as fun as Birdbath, delivering what may have been my favorite line of the season, simply saying, “I’m Jack Birdbath.”
Patriot defied the odds and produced a second season just as magical as the first. It was a long wait but worth it. It’s more devastating, with the consequences felt in trying to finish the job, all while taking strange and beautiful tangential turns to focus on things like bizarre defense handbooks, ambulance drivers wanting an oath, or how Agathe (Aliette Opheim) met Sophie (Zoe Schwartz). It all comes together to form a portrait of damaged people doing damaging things, and the effects it has on their very beings. Its focus on a few key players and not the overall ensemble may disappoint some fans of the show, but what it was going for this year is a potent telling of John Tavner’s loss of soul and how it may not be able to return.
Patriot returns to Amazon’s Prime Video on November 9th. All eight episodes were provided for review by Amazon.