Condor updates an espionage classic for a contemporary audience, and in “What Loneliness” delivers a compelling spy thriller with lots of potential.
This review contains spoilers for the Condor premiere episode, “What Loneliness”.
Okay, let me get this straight. First, in 1974, was the novel Six Days of the Condor, by James Grady. Then, in 1975, was the movie by Sydney Pollack, titled Three Days of the Condor. Three days were presumably lost in translation. And now, in 2018 and airing on Audience, is Condor, which doesn’t specify the length of time we have to endure the Condor at all. Perhaps the show’s creators, Todd Katzberg and Jason Smilovic, wanted to leave plenty of room for a Condor of indeterminate length.
It’s an adaptation of an adaptation, then; in this version, the hero is Joe Turner (Max Irons, son of Jeremy and Sinead Cusack, a half-Englishman-half-Irishman playing an American), an idealistic tech-bro working for a low-key branch of the CIA that writes code and other such toys that are designed to sniff out terrorists abroad. One of them, written by Turner himself, is an algorithm built to assess the employees of potential terror targets in Middle Eastern hotbeds.
At the start of the Condor premiere, “What Loneliness”, Turner is informed that not only is his brainchild suddenly in use by the American government, but the surveilling eye has been turned on the U.S. itself. It flags a Saudi-born American as being 12% terrorist, so when he detours on his way to work at a football stadium in order to pick up a mysterious package, Turner is summoned before the bigwigs to make a decision: Kill this guy who has an 88% chance of being completely innocent, or leave him alone and potentially allow the deaths of 80,000 American souls via a weaponised plague.
Present at this meeting is Joe’s mentor and uncle, Bob Partridge (William Hurt), and the deputy director (Bob Balaban) of the CIA, both of whom would rather shoot first and ask questions later. This, needless to say, does not mesh well with Turner’s beliefs about civil liberties. Long story short, he wants no part in the fiasco. Turns out the guy was a terrorist after all.
It also turns out, later, that the whole thing was a false-flag operation engineered for geopolitical sway and financial gain, in a scheme that involves Brendan Fraser as an impeccable mild-mannered Company stooge. When Turner’s division discovers this, they’re marked for liquidation, and Turner only narrowly escapes the hit squad and takes shelter at the home of the Tinder date he walked home the previous evening. (Another long story.)
This is all way better than I’m making it sound. Irons is believably green in the lead role, and he’s surrounded by game talent. The core story is a classic paranoia-fuelled espionage thriller, but it has been reliably updated here, tuned into contemporary anxieties and moving a brisk enough pace that you never bother to stop and ask questions about the plot, which has clearly had its gears greased in order to smooth things along.
We’re only one episode into a ten-episode season, so it’s impossible to say yet whether Condor will soar, but thus far it has managed to take flight quickly and easily, gliding along on contemporary currents. That it’s playing on a network only accessible to particular satellite subscribers will inevitably hurt it, but with the exact duration of the hero’s escape from a corrupt espionage establishment having been left open-ended, there’s every chance that Condor will get to take to the air more than once.