Working as a CIA analyst is a mixed bag for Joe Turner (Max Irons). He’s a nice guy who wears his heart on his sleeve – tackling domestic terrorism by day and floundering to sort his domestic arrangements by night. But he’s good at his job and intuitive on his research, spotting potential routes of investigation others might not catch. He’s also a great programmer and several years ago created an algorithm designed to analyse potential terrorist movements on foreign battlefronts, evaluating the chance of sleeper cells and targets. It turns out, much to his frustration, that the program is now being used on US soil and Turner finds himself brought in to give his opinion on a suspect, Ammar Nazari, who has been put on the radar because of it.
But while potentially suspicious, are Nazari’s movements, purchases and proximity to a major sporting event a sign he’s about to commit an atrocity? Joe points out to his superiors – including Bob Partridge (William Hurt) and Partridge’s own boss Reuel Abbott (Bob Blaban) – that all the evidence is purely circumstantial – and he’s not willing to sign off on the calibration of a program built for completely different theatres-of-war and conditions, especially if the result could be the innocent man’s death. It concerns him so much that Joe starts to voice whether he should hand in his resignation and simply devote his energies into sorting out a very unsatisfactory love life. However, later that night the news breaks that a team killed Nazari outside a sports stadium and he was in the possession of a dirty bomb. Partridge thanks Joe and his fellow analysts for their help and sets them the task of uncovering another potential terrorist cell that could be operating after Nazari’s demise.
Joe decides to stay on… but was Nazari’s death as clean as is being reported? In the early hours of the following morning Joe’s office receives some unwelcome visitors who will turn his world upside down – if he survives at all…
In a world where he’s now a fugitive and his friends and surviving colleagues may be complicit, just whom can he trust?
After nearly a decade, even the phenomenon that was cultural action heavyweight 24 inevitably became overly-familiar, reusing slight variations on basic ideas and merely changing a few supporting players and upping the ante each season. Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer became less than a tragic counter-terrorism agent and more of a fantastical superhuman escape-artist with somewhat questionable judgement on enhanced interrogation techniques. Eventually Jack’s day passed but there’s barely been a television season that doesn’t return to that deep well of national security – indeed, the spy and anti-terrorism themes sadly remain a go-to, reflecting the times we live in. It’s interesting that a new show based on the classic book by Jim Grady and subsequent film (Six Days of the Condor and its 1975 Robert Redford-led big screen adaptation Three Days of the Condor) seems fresher than some of its peers, perhaps by the very nature of expanding its time-frame to create tension rather than tightening it once more.
It’s a relief then that though Condor‘s spy-hard toybox is hardly virgin territory and there’s an inevitable glossy sheen to the cast and characters (a story populated by the now expected attractive, intelligent, articulate people – with even the more overt ‘nerds’ are initially endearing), it is delivered with a narrative assuredness that everyone concerned with the production knows that the subject remains relevant. Get beyond the perfect teeth and witty banter in post-millennial wine-bars and Condor has all the right old-school moves and the space to slowly play them out – knowing how to slowly increase momentum and choreograph a set-piece without hanging a whole episode upon it purely for spectacle. There are some surprises to go alongside the more obvious cues and elements and the first episode takes the time to set them all up. The first episode is essentially the first ten minutes of the original film’s premise – more banter than bullets – fleshing out a raft of characters, situations and connections and that allows us the imperative of starting to care before the bloodier climax that coldly dispatches a wave of the people we’ve met and sends our hero off into the colder still.
There is probably something profound and sage-like to note about the genre and current culture of ‘alternative facts’ that the modern day heroes of these outings are not unquestioning grunts or would-be superheroes but intelligent people who are trained to do their research and think before they act. Both Condor‘s Joe Turner and Jack Ryan‘s eponymous operative (an Amazon series based around him begins in August and features John Krasinski giving us the fifth on-screen iteration of Tom Clancy’s character after Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck and Chris Pine) are reluctant if capable warriors who are able to handle themselves and the moral complexities of their jobs, but people who are more comfortable with the distance and information a computer screen and a keyboard can provide than agendas and bravado. Information is power and they know it.
Condor has a solid cast, putting new faces upfront with able support from veterans as string-pulling senior forces. The White Queen and Dorian Gray‘s Max Irons (son of Jeremy) has yet to prove himself as a Robert Redford figure but has enough charisma to hold the screen as Joe – making him endearingly good-natured and principled and with the character-flaws that seem like advantages for a leading man. The often undervalued and missing-in-action Brendan Fraser returns to the screen looking older and weathered but giving a multi-layered performance as fixer Nathan Fowler. William Hurt is pragmatic war strategist Bob Partridge, who may or may not be Joe’s ally; Bob Blaban features as the cold and clinical Reuel Abbott – who is definitely not. Though potentially soaked in testosterone, the show also boasts a strong female performances from the likes of Leem Lubany, Katherine Cunningham and Christina Marie Moses with Mira Sorvino entering into proceedings in the second episode and is equally formidable.
The show’s success may be affected by its reach – a product of the AT&T platform in the US, its audience is decidedly more limited than a traditional network show, though it does allow for more mature language and violence across the ten episode that form the complete season. On the strength of early episodes, Condor has legs – or wings. It might be tempting to expand that to further seasons, though that feels like the same trapdoor other shows have gone down with diminishing returns. For the moment, Condor‘s (and Joe’s) survival is a more immediate task and one that will be interesting to see unfold…