The Night Agent
Exhibit A, 2023
Adam Arkin, Guy Ferland, et al / Shawn Ryan
📷 : Used with permission, Netflix
Mysteries or whodunnits
Movies and TV shows that make you laugh, or involve urgency, like chase scenes or other physical activity
I like political-spy thrillers – novels that is, not cinema so much. They just don’t quite deliver the mystery and adrenaline rush of a well-written book. Windmills of the Gods by Sydney Sheldon still stays with me more than 30 years after reading it. Brad Thor’s Code of Conduct, Foreign Agent, and Backlash novels are others I could not put down. Dean Koontz’s The Silent Corner is yet another one that comes to mind. In terms of movies and television shows, Miss Sloane and the television series, 24, definitely hit the mark. So given the short list of cinema, my expectations were low for the Netflix series, The Night Agent.
The Night Agent is a ten-episode political thriller about an early 30-something FBI agent who works the Night Action phone in an isolated room of the White House. For his eight-hour shift, Peter Sutherland, played by Gabriel Basso (Hillbilly Elegy, Super 8), sits alone in a secured room, waiting in the unlikely event that the phone on his desk will ring. The phone ringing signifies that the caller, a U.S. spy or night agent, has been compromised and needs emergency assistance.
Normally an uneventful 3rd shift, the phone rings. But instead of a night agent, it is Rose Larkin, a 30-something like Peter whose aunt and uncle were suddenly attacked and killed in their home. She has narrowly escaped, but not before the pair gave Rose a phone number urging her to call it immediately and get out of the house. Making eye-contact with one of the killers while running away, Rose is now a target. This inciting incident for the series sets off a chain of events that leads to Peter as Rose’s protector. The two must collaborate on who Rose’s aunt and uncle really were, why they were killed, and how their identities as spies were compromised.
Diane Farr, the president’s chief of staff, assigns Peter to be Rose’s protector, and he proves himself to be up to the task. On several occasions throughout the series, he is forced to use his surveillance acumen as well as his self-defense and neutralizing skills, both with and without a weapon. Observing his proficiency in these areas goes a long way in establishing his much-needed credibility given his youth and the personal baggage he carries about the wrongdoings of his late father, a disgraced FBI agent. He repeatedly complains about the events that transpired around his father’s case, making him seem immature and thus difficult to take seriously. Showing his skills builds his credibility as a competent, but still whiney, agent.
A tech genius, Rose, played by Luciane Buchanan (The New Legends of Monkey, Sweet Tooth), uses her skills to break into computers and navigate complex file systems. But while determined to find out who killed her aunt and uncle, she presents as naïve. Rather than strategizing, she looks to act on the information she finds by confronting the parties she believes to be involved, as if they will simply give her honest answers, let alone permit access to them. Peter’s experiences in the White House temper this by helping Rose realize that these are powerful people with strong influence and broad social networks. Direct confrontation accomplishes nothing. Dealing with these matters must be approached like a game of chess, not checkers.
In this sense, the series reminds me of the political suspense thriller, Miss Sloane, where Jessica Chastain plays the title character as a cunning and powerful Washington, D.C. political operative who takes on the gun lobby. The film pulled me in and kept me guessing about what move would be made next. I became so immersed in this story, which contained strong characters and took its time unfolding. The ending was so great, it made me sing – and I can’t carry a tune in a bucket. The closest television production to The Night Agent is 24, the series led by Kiefer Sutherland as CIA agent Jack Bauer, who took audiences on a thrill-ride for seven seasons across the first decade of the new millennium. The action-packed series was full of twists and turns, and far from predictable in story or character.
Story and depth of character are usually the draw of cinematic pieces. With just a few exceptions, The Night Agent was largely lacking in both. Nearly everything about it was predictable. The relationship between Peter and Rose – predictable. The young female secret service agent who resents the older, more experienced male agent – predictable. The bratty daughter of the vice-president – predictable. The people involved in the conspiracy – predictable. The conspiracy itself – predictable. The gist here is that The Night Agent needs to go deep to measure up to its predecessors in the political thriller genre.
One saving grace of the series is Diane Farr as the president’s powerful and quick-thinking chief of staff, who can deliver a profanity-laced line better than soldiers in the armed forces, albeit with a calm and controlled demeanor. Played by Hong Chau (The Whale, The Menu), Diane receives significant screen time in the series since she serves as the connection between Peter and the White House. It was quite entertaining to watch her calmly take down people above and below her in rank with her verbal wit, especially knowing she had the power to back up her words – and threats.
The most important element of appeal, though, is the wide-ranging characters and the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity across roles. The roles are not patronizing but substantive: Black male and female secret service agents and an agency head who is Hispanic; a woman of color with IT security acumen; an Asian American female chief of staff to the president; a White woman as president, and a cast ranging from early 30s to mid-60s distributed across influential roles. This casting seems natural and reflective of today’s mosaic. It likely helps audience members connect with the series, allowing them to imagine what the political landscape and the seats of power across the Executive Branch could or even should look like today. In casting the series in such an inclusive way, the filmmakers signal to audiences that everyone belongs at the table, every group is entitled to political power. This is the major appeal of The Night Agent and it distinguishes it from any of its predecessors in the genre.
The Night Agent holds some entertainment value and promises to keep you engaged to get answers to the unanswered questions, such as: Who ordered the hit on Rose’s aunt and uncle? What are they after? And what does any of this have to do with the White House? These are the questions that hover over the ten-episode series. But don’t underestimate the aesthetic power of seeing ourselves represented on screen in seats we don’t typically occupy.