Wednesday, June 6, 2018

REVIEW: 'Condor' - Joe Is Forced on the Run After Learning About a Government Conspiracy in 'What Loneliness'

Audience's Condor - Episode 1.01 "What Loneliness"

Young analyst Joe Turner learns that the CIA has been using an algorithm he developed to spy on American citizens, leading the organization to a terrorist plot that threatens the lives of millions.

Audience Network's latest original drama series Condor is based on the novel Six Days of the Condor by James Grady and the subsequent film Three Days of the Condor starring Robert Redford. It's important to note that it isn't a straight adaptation of either of those works for a modern audience though. Yes, the hook of the story is still fundamentally the same. The lead character is named Joe Turner and he works for a covert office of the CIA. His office is attacked where he is the only survivor which forces him to go on the run because he doesn't know who he can trust. There is a conspiracy within the CIA that will be fully revealed over time. It's exciting and intense. But it's also telling a very modern story about the ongoing debate of government surveillance of its citizens in the hopes of protecting them against terrorist attacks. The world has changed in so many ways since the original versions of this story were told. Of course, there have been plenty of new stories set in similar worlds over the past few years as well. Condor is basically tackling the same kind of story that 24 and Homeland have for many years. Those shows have been very successful. "What Loneliness" is a very promising start for the new series. But it will also have to do more in order to stand out as a bold and original take with this kind of story. Right now, it needs to be a grounded character drama where the audience is invested in Joe's journey as he attempts to survive this crazy and unpredictable world. The conspiracy shouldn't just be teased along until the final revelation in the finale. It will be even more thrilling to see just what's at stake in this world and just how far up the forces of manipulation go within the CIA. Joe is already made uncomfortable by what his government is doing. And now, this new plot will only increase his fear and paranoia of the government. That's exciting and should be the angle the show explores moving forward.

It's important to note that Joe Turner is made immediately aware that an algorithm he wrote for the CIA is being utilized by the government in order to track terrorists. He wrote it so it could only be used overseas as a form of background check to ensure that the employees of massive businesses could be probably vetted at all times. The CIA instead used it in order to monitor homegrown terrorists. When Joe is made aware of this, he is absolutely horrified. He rightfully wishes to call out his bosses for defying the civil liberties of everyone in America. They are monitoring people just because of what his algorithm says. They probably haven't done anything wrong. In this one case, there is the likelihood that a terrorist attack is about to occur. The odds are only at 12 percent. The CIA hasn't been monitoring this guy for very long. Joe sees him as a Muslim-American who could be doing any number of things. His religion doesn't automatically make him a terrorist who wishes to carry out a deadly attack with an unknown weapon. His bosses have a different opinion. They see the kind of terrorist they are used to fighting overseas. It's easy to label people of Middle Eastern descent as others who should be monitored at all times because they are so different from the norm of this country. They have different beliefs than we do even though America has long upheld the idea of freedom of speech and religion. It shows just how dangerous people in positions of power can be with their bias. They are judging this guy based on no evidence. Joe is horrified by it and quits the moment that he is pushed out of the room. He doesn't know if an attack happens or not. He would like an update. When he finally gets one, it's used as a compelling argument to be made for this kind of profiling and monitoring.

It turns out that this guy the CIA was surveilling actually did have a bomb that he was planning on detonating at the football game. It's not just a bomb that will kill people in that stadium either. It was a weaponized plague that would infect those people and allow them to spread the disease throughout the rest of the world. Joe's algorithm is the only reason that the CIA were able to identify and neutralize the threat. It's the government choosing to take immediate and violent action in order to avoid the worst case scenario. And in this specific instance, it's proven to be the correct way to handle things. They killed the terrorist before he could detonate the bomb. They saved millions of people from dying. They are able to enjoy the victory in the public spotlight as well. That could be seen as a strange and unusual detail to include here. Most of the time when the government is successfully able to stop an attack before it happens, it goes unnoticed by the world. The agency can appreciated all of the hard work that was able to stop the attack. But they aren't looking to bring attention to the story because they don't know if they have all of the information and stopped every facet of the attack from happening. Here, it appears as if the agency is getting ahead of themselves or someone got ahold of the story early and were able to report on every single detail. Everything is out for the public to be notified about. As such, that could be a significant part of the conspiracy as well. Bob goes to Joe's office the following day to celebrate the work from the team while also understanding that there is still so much more to uncover with this conspiracy. This terrorist had to have had help in order to build such a device with such a specific contagion. That means the hard work isn't over just yet. In fact, this story is just getting started.

Of course, the show is choosing to be very secretive and cryptic about the conspiracy at the heart of the government at the moment. The only real consistency to it is that it features Brendan Fraser once again as a menacing and mysterious figure. Nathan is the public face of the conspiracy for the audience. He is the one digging holes in the desert to cover up the experiments happening out there. It's also clear that killing is never his first choice of action either. For him to be willing to release a virus like this, then he must have a very valid rationalization and certainty that it is the only solution that will actually make much of a difference. He is working with a number of individuals at the moment as well. Gabrielle Joubert is the assassin sent out to kill anyone who compromises the mission in any way. Sam Barber works for the CIA and is actually a close friend of Joe's who lets him in on what the agency has been using his algorithm for. He also becomes aware that Joe is a threat to the mission that needs to be taken care of immediately. He's simply getting too close to the truth even though Joe's colleagues don't think his lead will produce any kind of actionable evidence against any individual. And then, there appears to be the ambassador to Saudi Arabia working for this mysterious group. He's the man who currently has the lethal virus. He's halfway around the world with it. No one is even thinking of looking for it there at the moment. The government sees this kind of biological attack against them as perpetrated by their current enemies from the Middle East. As such, this conspiracy could be crafting a narrative of these two warring countries actually attacking each other with the same weapon. Or it could be a way to actually prevail in the war on terror. Either way, it's completely inhumane because of the collateral damage and loss of innocent lives involved. That will make it so important for Joe to uncover what's actually going on.

Right now though, Joe is finding himself on the run with very few allies in this world. He just had one hutch. He was thinking out of the box in an attempt to better understand this conspiracy. He wasn't even done fleshing out the idea of someone involved in the attack wanting to buy stock in pharmaceutical companies beforehand. But it's enough for Nathan to give the order to eliminate this entire office of the CIA. That's such a bold move. It could create even more attention that they don't need right now. But they are determined to move forward and must eliminate any threat that could hurt them before they do so. As such, Joe is fighting for his life. He is the only person from his office who survives. The show makes that the big climatic sequence to end the premiere with. It spent the hour with these characters and Joe in this environment only to make it slightly more personable when they are all eventually killed. That's a little too manipulative and forced. The show is building up a status quo just to tear it down by the end of the premiere. Joe's life at work is hardly the only thing that defines him right now either. He is friends with Sam and his wife, Mae. He also goes out on a date with Kathy that fluctuates between good and bad. But it's much more important that he has sex with the assassin tasked with killing him. Joubert does that mostly to place a tracker on Joe that will lead her directly to his work while continuing to trace him when he makes his escape. It's such an ominous final image for her to be on that train with Joe after he has done so much to lose the people chasing after him. But it mostly ensures that Joe's life is still in imminent danger and probably will remain that way until the end of this ten episode season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "What Loneliness" was directed by Lawrence Trilling with teleplay by Jason Smilovic & Todd Katzberg and story by Jason Smilovic, Todd Katzberg & Ken Robinson.
  • The show has already proven itself to be incredibly lethal. As such, I expect many of these characters to die at some point over the course of the season. I'm beginning to speculate mostly because of the way the cast is billed in the end credits. It's curious that Kristoffer Polaha is a guest star while Kristen Hager is a series regular. Meanwhile, it's odd that Brendan Fraser is billed as a special guest star. Those could be indicators of big twists. Or they could be purely contractual necessities.
  • There are some truly great veteran actors spread throughout the supporting cast as well. Yes, Max Irons is the lead and needs to be the most interesting character. But it's great to see Brendan Fraser, William Hurt and Bob Balaban pop up in these roles where they are discussing the legality of their actions. Plus, Mira Sorvino is on the horizon as well. I'm curious to see what her role in all of this will be.
  • Unfortunately, the show props up some bad and awkward storytelling tropes by trying to give the characters at the secret CIA office some personality before being killed off. As such, there is the gay best friend who decides to run the wrong way when making her escape. But more importantly, there is the guy who seemingly kills the woman he has a crush on simply because she rejects him. Those are just absolutely horrifying.
  • The show takes the time to send Joe off on this date with Kathy while pointing out that he now knows exactly where she lives. That's probably going to be an important plot point. Otherwise, it seems like a waste of time to see him distracted while watching the football game to see if anything happens. And yet, Kathy should hopefully be able to piece together that he was distracted during their date because of the reports that would come out later that night.
  • The story also feels the need to point out just how easy it can be to track Joe. Sam is able to monitor him through his phone. He is able to direct him straight to the vehicle that will take him to mission control center for monitoring this terrorist. That's something that Joe is fine with right now. But it could make him even more worried now that he is on the run from these mysterious criminals who have killed his friends at work.