The Night Agent EP Shawn Ryan Explains The ‘Trap’ He Wanted To Avoid While Crafting The Netflix Thriller

Gabriel Basso on The Night Agent
(Image credit: Netflix)

Netflix’s 2023 TV schedule is getting a real jolt in the form of the brand-new series The Night Agent. Based on Matthew Quirk’s book of the same name, the streamable political thriller features plenty of drama, action, suspense and political intrigue. Prospective viewers will surely also be excited to know that the series was developed by Shawn Ryan, who famously created critically acclaimed crime drama The Shield. A number of people would agree that Ryan has plenty of storytelling experience under his belt. And it's because of the wisdom he’s acquired that he knew the major “trap” he needed to avoid while crafting this latest production.

In addition to The Shield, Shawn Ryan has helped bring the likes of Lie to Me, The Unit and S.W.A.T. to the small screen. With so many credits, it’s easy to assume that he’s learned a considerable amount throughout his years crafting procedurals and dramas. I recently had the opportunity to discuss The Night Agent with Ryan, who serves as showrunner, writer and EP. During the chat, I asked about the most important lesson he’s learned when it comes to working on TV shows, and his answer was incredibly clear: 

A character has to come before plot. The plot will only take an audience so far, it will only hook an audience so much. And so as important as plot is and everyone wants the plot twists and everything, you have to find a way to get the audience to care about your characters first. And then they'll care about what's happening to the characters. And so I think that was especially true on The Night Agent, which sets out to be a political thriller. And I think the trap to do a political thriller for TV in an extended space, as opposed to doing just a two-hour movie, is that if you just become focused on this plot twist versus this plot twist, you're not thinking about how your characters are changing and evolving, how relationships are either strengthening or falling apart, that the audience is just gonna get ultimately bored with the chess moves that you're putting out on the table.

Plot twists are absolutely commonplace within politically charged fare like this one. Sure, the writers do want to keep viewers guessing in some respects, yet many of us have likely seen those shows or movies that become too twisty for their own good. A number of TV series, however, have proven that it’s possible to prioritize characters over plot. For instance, as twist-filled as it was, Netflix’s House of Cards put heavy emphasis on its characters, and that translated to multiple Emmy wins for it. With all of these points in mind, the Last Resort producer’s logic may want to be considered by anyone looking to pen their own tales of espionage. 

The Night Agent centers on the character of Peter Sutherland, a young FBI agent who works in the basement of the White House overnight and is tasked with answering a phone that never rings. However, on the occasion that it finally does, he finds himself protecting murder witness Rose Larkin. Both are then thrust into a conspiracy involving a Russian mole positioned within the U.S. government’s highest ranks. The relationship between the two characters – who are polar opposites – is at the heart of the story and is one of its most appealing elements. Based on the effort Shawn Ryan and co. put into developing it, you can understand why it’s endearing: 

So for us, the most important thing was really diving into our characters. How are they going to change? How are they going to evolve? How do Peter and Rose, for instance, as they go through this shared trauma, how do they become closer together? How does Peter’s rule-following enjoin with Rose’s rule-breaking? And how do they learn from each other in order to survive and figure out this conspiracy? So character before plot was the main thing I've learned over the years, because early on in my career, I would say I was very plot-focused, and then figured out how the character melds the plot. And now I do it the opposite.

It’s really not all that difficult to see just why Shawn Ryan has experienced so much success over the years. The Night Agent appears to be a natural extension of his body of work and, if things work out in his favor, fans will connect with Peter, Rose and the rest of the characters. And don’t worry, while Ryan is avoiding those narrative traps, he’s still provided viewers with a nice helping of explosive plot points and twists.

The Night Agent is now streaming for those with a Netflix subscription. When you’re finished with the 10-episode season, you can check out CinemaBlend’s 2023 TV schedule for information on other big premieres.

Erik Swann
Senior Content Producer

Erik Swann is a Senior Content Producer at CinemaBlend. He began working with the publication in 2020 when he was hired as Weekend Editor. Today, he continues to write, edit and handle social media responsibilities over the weekend. On weekdays, he also writes TV and movie-related news and helps out with editing and social media as needed. He graduated from the University of Maryland, where he received a degree in Broadcast Journalism. After shifting into multi-platform journalism, he started working as a freelance writer and editor before joining CB. Covers superheroes, sci-fi, comedy, and almost anything else in film and TV. He eats more pizza than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.