What Netflix’s The Night Agent Changed About Matthew Quirk’s Book


This post contains spoilers for "The Night Agent," the novel and the TV series.

Before "The Night Agent" arrived on Netflix, it was sitting on shelves at Barnes & Noble. The 2023 political thriller series is an adaptation of Matthew Quirk's eponymous 2019 novel. A former journalist, Quirk writes breezy paperback thrillers in the Tom Clancy mold. "The Night Agent" is no different — a low-ranking FBI agent answers a call from a woman who escaped an assassin and together they come across a conspiracy within the White House.

That said, Netflix's "The Night Agent" is a very loose adaptation, as it uses the novel's premise and main characters to tell a different story. The novel's core characters — Agent Peter Sutherland (Gabriel Basso), Rose Larkin (Luciane Buchanan), and White House Chief of Staff Diane Farr (Hong Chau) — are in the series. However, it also invents many new characters to fill out the supporting cast.

I previously spoke with "The Night Agent" showrunner Shawn Ryan about some of the changes he made from the source material and why he made them. He said, "When I read the book, I thought, 'Oh, you could turn this into a pretty good movie. I don't think there's enough plot and incident to turn it into a really good TV show.' There wasn't enough. So I felt like we had to complicate the plot a little bit." (According to Ryan, Quirk felt the show did justice to his novel.)

That begs the question: Just how much did the Netflix series change about the book?

The Novel's Conspiracy

You can't have a conspiracy thriller without a conspiracy. In both "The Night Agent" novel and series, the conspiracy centers around an attack on the Washington Metro (that Peter was present for and survived).

In the novel, it was a cyberattack that derailed a metro train and killed 21 people. The Russian government, working with Dianne, orchestrated this attack -- the goal was to make President Travers' opponent, the former head of Homeland Security, look weak and swing the election to Travers. Thanks to Dianne, the Russians would have outsized influence in the Oval House. This ties into Peter's backstory -- when he was a child, his FBI agent father was accused of selling state secrets to the Russian government. Peter joined the FBI to redeem his family name.

This fictional conspiracy parallels the real-life Russian government interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to help Donald Trump defeat Hillary Clinton. In reality, it didn't rise to the level of conspiracy depicted in "The Night Agent" (as far as we know). Still, it dominated the news before the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigative report into the matter in April 2019. Matthew Quirk's book arrived that prior January, striking just before the iron cooled off.

The Series' Conspiracy

In the Netflix series, the metro attack is instead a bombing, one that's foiled thanks to Peter — there's only one casualty and infrastructure damage. This attack was orchestrated by Vice President Ashley Redfield (Christopher Shyer) and his benefactor, private military firm CEO Gordon Wick (Ben Cotton). They wanted to assassinate Omar Zadar (Adam Tsekhman), a visiting foreign dignitary alleged to be a terrorist. Bombing the metro underneath Zadar's location would make it look like an unrelated terrorist plot.

In this version, Farr didn't help plan the attack -- she only joined Redfield and Wick after the bombing's failure. Why? To keep a lid on things. If the truth got out, it would blow back on the President, kneecapping her agenda and reelection chances.

Why this major change? "The Night Agent" showrunner Shawn Ryan explained to me: "I wasn't interested in really trying to dive deep into the U.S.-Russian relationship. It would even be more awkward now, so I feel grateful that we evaded that."

Ryan was more interested in covering "the human aspect of politics and the people who go into politics." He added, "I'm interested in the weaknesses and the corruption of the political system." Turning the conspiracy into a domestic one thus made sense.

Changing The Villains

In the book, the main physical antagonist ("the Heavy") is a Russian assassin named Dimitri Sokolov. He's the one who kicks off the story by killing Rose's secret agent uncle and aunt and then trying to kill her. In the show, this role is split between two assassins: Ellen (Eve Harlow) and Dale (Phoenix Raei). In an interview with Deadline, "The Night Agent" showrunner Shawn Ryan compared the two to Bonnie and Clyde. To quote the 1967 movie, "They're young, they're in love, and they kill people."

Ryan explained to me that this change to "The Night Agent" was because having only one assassin wouldn't work well in a televised medium:

"I felt like in the book, the Russian assassin works because you can live in his thoughts in a book. When you're making a TV show, you can't really live in people's thoughts. You have to live through their actions and through their interactions with others."

He had previously come up with an idea for a "boyfriend-girlfriend assassin team" for another series he was developing, about Secret Service agents protecting the Vice President's daughter at her college. So, he rejiggered that idea into "The Night Agent."

Inventing A Supporting Cast

Dale and Ellen are far from the only characters Shawn Ryan and his team invented for their take on "The Night Agent." Which supporting characters aren't in the book? For starters, Wick, and Redfield — the Vice President is never even mentioned in "The Night Agent" novel.

Introduced in episode 3 are Maddie Redfield (Sarah Desjardins), the Vice President's daughter who has a very hostile relationship with her father, and Chelsea Arrington (Fola Evans-Akingbola), the leader of her Secret Service detail. Ryan told Deadline that the decision to make Maddie's father the Vice President is why he and his writers made the President in their series a woman. Michael Travers in the novel became Michelle Travers (Kari Matchett) in the series.

Maddie is abducted at the end of episode 5 by Colin (Andre Anthony), the metro bomber. Wick and VP Redfield tried to have him killed after the attack failed, so now he's out to expose them. Hunting for Maddie are Arrington and Erik Monks (D.B. Woodside), a veteran Secret Service agent. He was shot saving the previous president and developed a painkiller addiction while in recovery -- his struggles getting back on his feet cause him to butt heads with Arrington.

Multiple subplots, each with different POV characters, could become tiresome in a novel like "The Night Agent," where the story is designed to be quick-paced so you tear through chapter after chapter. A TV series with hour-long episodes, though, needs the extra meat that a larger supporting cast supplies.

Setting Up Season 2

In the Netflix series, Peter's father is more of a mystery than in the novel. The question lingers over "The Night Agent" if he was really a traitor or if he was framed. In the novel, Peter says he's not on a mission to prove his father's innocence, but in the series, that's exactly what he hopes to do.

Also, in the novel, it's revealed that Peter's godfather Greg is GIDEON, the Russian asset who turned Sutherland Sr. into a double agent. In the series, however, Peter's godfather -- renamed Jim Wilson and played by Tim Kelleher -- is a good guy. He and Peter also no longer have a close relationship because Jim is the journalist who reported on Peter's father being accused of treason. The betrayal was in the past and much more justified than in the novel.

The ending is also rather different. As a favor to Peter for saving her life, President Travers gives him the truth: an interrogation video where his father admits to being a double agent and explains how and why he became one. However, Travers then tells Peter that his father was planning to defect back and become a triple agent working for them, until an untimely car crash. She offers Peter a place in "Night Action" — the program Rose's aunt and uncle worked for — and he accepts. The book ends with Peter leaving the White House and driving off with Rose, but in the series, he flies off to his undisclosed next mission.

Given "The Night Agent" is (so far) a standalone novel, when the Netflix series returns for season 2, it will leave Matthew Quirk's novel behind. All 10 episodes of season 1 are streaming on Netflix.

Read this next: The Best TV Shows Of 2022, Ranked

The post What Netflix's The Night Agent Changed About Matthew Quirk's Book appeared first on /Film.

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