Being a CIA officer doesn't necessarily mean every single day is full of non-stop action and adventure. Case in point: on Amazon Prime's new series Patriot, John Tavner goes undercover to assume a "non-official cover" as a mid-level employee at a Midwestern Industrial Piping Firm. For what purpose, you ask? John's job is to "prevent Iran from going nuclear." I have many questions after watching the trailer, the most pressing of which is "why is everyone so inept at their jobs?" But my other big question is whether or not Amazon's Patriot is based on a true story.
Although John Tavner himself is a fictional character, showrunner Steve Conrad got the idea for Patriot from the news. In a recent interview with KCRW's The Treatment, he said the Valerie Plame news story provided inspiration for the overall plot. Plame is a former CIA operations officer who, like John, had assumed a non-official cover — hers was as an employee in the oil business in order to determine where uranium was going. In 2003, Plame's cover was blown when Washington Post journalist Robert Novak published a column that identified her as a CIA operative.
"It ended poorly because she was outed by her own government. That was a tragedy," Conrad told The Treatment.
Plame's story made national news and sparked an investigation into White House leaks. Scooter Libby, a high-ranking official in the Bush administration, was convicted of perjury and obstructing justice in March 2007. He was sentenced to 30 months of prison time, two years of probation, and a $250,000 fine. In July 2007, President George W. Bush commuted Libby's sentence. Plame, who resigned from the CIA after her identity was published, testified that, "[m]y name and identity were carelessly and recklessly abused by senior government officials in the White House and state department."
Is a similar fate in store for John? Not necessarily. Although the show's general premise is inspired by Plame's story, Conrad told KCRW that he was more interested in exploring the ins and outs of what it's like to work under a non-official cover:
"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 and 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... 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."
Patriot is marketed as a comedy thriller, so it seems highly unlikely that it'll veer into the serious dangers that come along with this type of CIA assignment. And, based on the trailers, John Tavner doesn't excel at his job — so it seems like Season 1 will contain a lot of levity and very little reality.