Is John Tavner A Real Person? The 'Patriot' Protagonist Struggles With His Many Identities


Many of the promotional materials around Amazon's new original series Patriot asks "Who is John Lakeman?" From the official trailer for the show, it looks like John Lakeman is the pseudonym adopted by Patriot's main protagonist, John Tavner (Michael Dorman), as he goes undercover as a private citizen at a company. However, I'm more interested in who John Tavner is, and is he a real person?

Well, there hasn't been any indication that John Tavner is a real person or is based on a real person in the description of Patriot or in interviews with the cast and creative team for the series. Since that sort of thing is usually noted, it appears that John Tavner is a fictional character.

But John's real job does exist in real life. He is an intelligence officer. However, don't think you already know what Patriot is all about because this series isn't your everyday espionage story.

That's because John assumes a "non-official cover" at the request of his father (Terry O'Quinn), the director of intelligence at the U.S. State Department. That's also known as a "N.O.C.," which is defined at the beginning of Patriot's already-released pilot episode as, "Intelligence work conducted under the assumed identity of private-sector employment (oil companies, construction firms, etc.) with limited governmental protection." So John goes undercover working as a mid-level employee at an industrial piping firm in the Midwest, and if the trailer for Patriot is any indication, it's going to be some dangerous work.

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Though a "non-official cover" may sound like something straight out of Hollywood, it is, in fact, one of the levels of protective cover that U.S. intelligence officers take on in real life. One of the most famous cases of someone assuming a "non-official cover" is an individual whose story gave Patriot's creator, Steve Conrad, the idea for the show: Valerie Plame. Plame was a CIA operative who assumed a "non-official cover" and whose identity was later revealed by Robert D. Novak in a 2003 Washington Post column. This erupted into a huge political scandal and investigation into the White House's alleged leaking of the information to the press. In the end, no one was indicted or convicted in connection with the leak, but Lewis "Scooter" Libby was found guilty of perjury and obstructing justice, for which he received a sentence of 30 months of prison, two years of probation, and a $250,000 fine. President George W. Bush commuted Libby's prison sentence in July 2007.

Conrad recently spoke about how the Plame Affair inspired Patriot, which is set nearly 10 years later in 2012, to KCRW's The Treatment:

I originally thought of Patriot when the Valerie Plame thing was in the news... Valerie Plame, for those who don't know her situation, she was working, I think for the CIA, and she had the cover of a job in the oil business, and she was really just using that coverage up to go to the parts of the world where if an intelligence officer went, they'd leave tracks. She was gathering information, trying to determine where uranium was going. It ended poorly because she was outed by her own government. That was a tragedy in and of itself. But the part of Valerie Plame's story that most fascinated me was when I learned the oil company she was working for didn't know she was an agent for the CIA, that she had to perform the functions of that day job and not get fired. How long would it take you to learn the intricacies of the oil business? I think she was given about a month to try to get a professional handle on something... So I wanted to have that weird, fraught setting for our guy where you picture that he's working at this international engineering firm. That ought to be easy. But it's not.

Anyone who has worked more than one job at a time knows that it's not so easy, especially when things like national security and familial obligations are on the line, as it is in John's job description. So even though the character of John may not have been inspired by a single, real-life person, the pressure that he experiences from his family, job, and country should still be totally relatable for viewers.