Why Audiences Will Identify With A Conflicted CIA Agent In 'Condor'

by Genevieve Van Voorhis
AT&T Audience

If AT&T's Audience Network isn't on your radar yet, their new political thriller series might just be enough to put it there. Condor, which premieres on June 6, has already been tapped as a selection for the 2018 SXSW Film Festival. If the show sounds familiar, there's good reason for that — it's based on Sydney Pollack's 1975 movie Three Days of the Condor, which in turn is based on the James Grady's 1974 novel Six Days of the Condor. But beyond all of that source material, is Condor based on a true story? While main character Joe Turner is not inspired by a real person, his job is based on a real — and fascinating — government position.

According to Audience Network's official Condor synopsis, Turner (played by Max Irons) works as a clandestine CIA analyst. Already conflicted about his work for the government, he finds himself at the center of government intrigue when he discovers something that gets his entire team killed. The lone survivor, Turner is forced to test his limits as he figures out who is responsible for the crime and tries to stop them before they threaten the lives of millions, all the while running from people who want him dead, too.

Grady's original novel, according to its Amazon synopsis, begins in almost exactly the same way, but the name of its main character isn't Joe Turner. It's Ronald Malcolm. His codename, however — Condor — is the same. When Robert Redford took on the role in the 1975 movie, the days of the Condor were cut down from six to three and his name was switched from Ronald Malcolm to Joseph Turner.

Condor's version of Turner shares a name with the movie version, but he also shares some key traits with actual CIA agents. In an interview with Collider, star Max Irons explained that not being able to tell people about his work weighs on Turner. Likewise, there are real CIA agents who have to keep quiet about the details of their jobs. One such agent, who identified herself by the first name Mary, spoke to NPR about what it's like to keep her work secret. "In my case, I am undercover," she said. "And what [the CIA] encourages is that you limit the number of people that you tell, your very trusted inner circle, family, maybe a friend or two. But I chose not to tell most of my family, mostly because they worry."

On the official CIA website, another agent, Brian, said that his family did always have a way to contact him if they really needed him. "In my 18 years here, I've always had a desk and phone number where my family could reach me, and they always knew exactly where my office was, even if they couldn't just drop in."

While viewers might not always be able to relate to the high-stakes action sequences and political intrigue in Turner's life, Irons told Collider that he believes Joe Turner is a relevant character for audiences today.

"What I like about Joe is that he recognizes, like a lot of people do, that in our society and also in our government bodies, there are some deep-rooted, systemic, and far-reaching problems, and he doesn’t really know how best to deal with it," Irons said. "In later episodes, you’ll see flashbacks of Joe when he was younger, at MIT, and had a young man’s instinct, which is to rebel against and smash the system, and then rebuild the system. You ask yourself if perhaps doing something like that would come at the cost of the very people you’re trying to protect, like the poor and the helpless. Do you submit to the system and work from within it, to try to make the change from the inside?"

If audiences agree, Condor is likely to raise a lot of timely questions for viewers about the right way to deal with the problems facing society today.