US TV series running from 2006 to 2009 for a total of four seasons, created by Shawn Ryan (creator of The Shield
) and famed playwright David Mamet
The series revolves around the missions of an elite special forces team, the 1st Special Actions Group under their cover as the 303rd Logistical Studies Division, which carries out ultra-top secret black ops missions for the US Government. The show attempts to be both a family drama and a male-centric show about war via the split focus upon the men in the "Unit" and their wives, of various different clashing personalities, who are forced to co-exist and pretty much lie to everyone around them about their husbands do for a living, due to the classified nature of the group. A lot of the practices and terminology used in the show come from Inside Delta Force
, the memoirs of Command Sergeant Major Eric Haney, one of the unit's founding members. For all intents and purposes, the 303rd is
Delta Force, with the serial numbers filed off.
The show was a mixed bag, dealing with a variety of issues involving the The War on Terror
and generic soap opera stuff involving the wives, who spend most of their time together trying not to kill each other when they are not getting in and out of trouble or being dragged kicking and screaming into the cloak and dagger world of their husbands.
Not to be confused with UNIT
This series contains examples of:
- Aborted Arc: Molly, who had a secret past which was never mentioned beyond that one episode. It does have a surprisingly solid justification; the man who said he'd come looking for her only specifically knew her married name and that her husband was in the Army, which, as he put it, was enough information to find her. Shortly thereafter, however, the families of the Unit members are all uprooted and moved to another state under false identities; Molly's secret past would no longer have any way of finding her, since she, for all intents and purposes, doesn't exist anymore.
- Hector's girlfriend who becomes Charlie's girlfriend after his death vanishes without a trace in the middle of the romance picking up as part of the Bikini Bar mentioned below. Thinking about this makes his love interest in season four seem a little strange, and it's particularly odd considering that the issue of Hector's death is revisited in season four.
- Affably Evil: Season Four villain Leon Drake
- Almighty Janitor: The 303rd as a whole. In their official cover they are clerks working at Fort Griffith. This is invoked when Hector's girlfriend's dad holds ill-concealed contempt towards the young clerk but immediately warms to him when he finds out that Hector is "part of the family", so to speak.
- Armor Is Useless: Averted for an FBI agent shot by Jonas.
- Badass Crew: You could change the name of the show to the title of this trope and nobody would really notice.
- Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Hitler really did have the Spear of Destiny and it made him unstoppable in World War II. Then Patton got his hands on it and it eventually led him to Chile.
- Benevolent Boss: Jonas, being the resident Sergeant Rock and mentor to the new guys. Colonel Ryan, kinda-sorta. He is by far the more political animal.
- Bikini Bar: Justified by explicitly stating it is a non-nude bar. Notable as one of the plot elements that fell victim to the writer's strike.
- The Book Cipher: In "Paradise Lost", Jonas uses a book code from the poem Paradise Lost to communicate to Molly that he has arrived safely in Panama.
- Catch Phrase: Jonas's "How about that?"
- CIA Evil, FBI Good: The FBI are generally honest hard workers trying to protect the people. The CIA, which features a lot more prominently given the 303rd's counterterrorism missions, zigzags. The case workers and other field operatives are basically good, if very results-oriented, while the people in Washington are generally Obstructive Bureaucrats.
- Beyond the bureaucrats, there are of course some CIA agents who are part of season 2's coalition of mostly unnamed bad guys. 'Certain elements' are alluded to that were part of the plot to have the unit disbanded and charged with treason. It's not specifically stated who is running the scheme, and it's probably the NSA or indeed some unnamed agency, but 'certain elements' of the CIA are involved.
- Code Name: All The Unit have one. See the character sheet.
- Comforting the Widow: Played with.
- Da Chief: Colonel Ryan.
- Death from Above: They never show the plane, just a missile coming out of nowhere like the fist of an angry god.
- Defrosting Ice Queen: Molly, who starts off the series as the controlling "leader" of women of "The Unit". But by the end of the series, after being kidnapped by the bad guys, becomes disillusioned with the whole set-up and leaves Jonas.
- Downer Ending: The series finale ends with Jonas, who's marriage was the strongest of the show's main characters, falling apart and his wife Molly leaving him. There's two other semi-downers too: Grey gets married, but in doing so has to leave the unit. Similarly, Ryan accepts a promotion and is elevated from command of the unit, but he likely only did so because the team found out that he had lied to them over the past few episodes. Oh and them finding out about his affair with Tiffy probably didn't help either, even though that doesn't directly lead to his leaving.
- Elites Are More Glamorous: All of the main operators are Rangers or Ranger-qualified. Most are Airborne-qualified and Hector and Charles are both Green Berets. Justified as this is the main pool of recruits for Delta Force.
- Of course since the whole show is about the most elite of elite special forces in the world ( they even win a tournament of world special forces to make it official) this was always going to show up. From time to time the team will refer to the SEALs or Rangers in a derogatory fashion to cement just how badass they are.
- Fake Defector: the crazed male recruit who shows up in Season four only pretends to be crazy to get kicked off the team and recruited by the bad guys so he could help stop them.
- Fatal Family Photo: Discussed briefly in the pilot when one of the characters looks at a picture of his wife and kids en route to a mission.
- For Science!: The doctor running the SERE program for the Unit. It seems like she is trying to break them because it is her job but admits later on that she's pushing them beyond their limits to see what makes them tick.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: The show gets away with a surprising amount of subversive ideas for something on network television instead of cable.
- Generic Ethnic Crime Gang: Grey joined the Army to escape from such a gang and finds out they have enlisted and are smuggling weapons. This is Truth in Television, as members of gangs have been a problem for a long time in the US Military.
- Glamorous Wartime Singer (subverted, She's a complete and utter diva, gets a soldier killed after she runs off with a group during a mortar attack and nicks a poetry book from one of the members, writing a new song from his notes)
- Guns Are Worthless: Usually averted, but submachine guns aren't particularly good against body armor, so they used a bow once.
- Happily Married (Most definitely the Browns, to a lesser extent the Blanes, and most definitely not you know who.)
- Not so much the Blanes after the series finale, and oddly enough, at that point, the Gerhardts are now on the list, as are Betty Blue and his new bride.
- Heroic BSOD: In order to play up how prestigious and difficult the Unit is to get into, one Ranger recounts the story of another, one of their best, who attended Selection, washed out, and was "never the same".
- Hope Spot: For the little Brazilian boy when he rats on the arms dealer that is forcing him to be a Child Soldier in return for being taken back to America.
- Idiot Ball: Tiffy sleeps with Colonel Ryan on and off knowing full well that Ryan could send her husband to his death if he wished it, or that her husband would kill her.
- Kim repeatedly violates or threatens to violate OPSEC/her role as Secret Keeper, usually in a misguided attempt to protect her family, despite being warned by Molly, Bob, or Col. Ryan that this would be counter-productive. She is, indeed, almost invariably proven to be in the wrong, and seems to learn her lesson. Only to pick up the same Idiot Ball again several episodes later....
- If I Wanted You Dead...: Jonas invokes this in the Season 4 opener to convince the President-Elect of the United States that he's here to rescue him after an assassination attempt.
- If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him (sort of subverted: same result, slightly different reason)
- I Have Many Names: Leon Drake, who's true name is never revealed (Leon Drake is just an alias the character uses while posing as a CIA Agent as part of his various evil schemes).
- Insert Grenade Here: In one episode, Jonas' father is very belatedly awarded the Silver Star for destroying a North Korean tank this way.
- Interservice Rivalry: Exploited by Bob in order to purposefully start a brawl with some seamen on leave.
- Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Inverted by the Chinese interrogator. Instead of inflicting pain on Bob, he doses him repeatedly with pure heroin.
- Jurisdiction Friction: The 303rd is often at odds with other US foreign policy arms, particularly the Diplomatic Corps and the CIA. In episodes that take place on home soil, they may lock horns with local law enforcement.
- Justified in that by being in the Army, the team is not legally allowed to act as law enforcement unless they get special dispensation to. A couple of times they lock horns with ICE and the FBI who are investigating the people the team are trying to infiltrate.
- And justified abroad in that the unit takes their orders from the president and him alone (its in the series 2 title sequence) and have a somewhat blunt instrument approach to doing what they are told, while diplomats and intelligence operatives are all about the politicing, and use the unit as a pawn several times. Then again, sometimes they work under CIA direction.
- Keep the Home Fires Burning
- Kicked Upstairs: How Colonel Ryan feels about his promotion to Brigadier General at the close of Season Four, as it means he has to leave the Unit, which is a Colonel's billet. (His mentor is grooming him for bigger things, but Ryan prefers to be the Unit's commander. It's a moot point, as the events of Season 4 render the men unable to trust him.)
- Mamet Speak: Averted even in the episodes David Mamet wrote. Perhaps due to this being a network TV show.
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: An episode that centers around the possibility of Psychic Powers existing.
- Military Moonshiner: A former member of the Unit, now retired, who is introduced as Secret Keeper for one of the 303rd's hidden traditions. It's not the liquor. It's the millions of dollars they have skimmed off their operations and the network of former unit members around the globe that allows the unit to escape when their political masters decide to scape goat them. Then again, how did you think trying to have the best military operators in the world put in front of a show trial would work out ?
- Mind Screw: The Lance of Longinus stuff in 'Spear of Destiny', and the Voodoo parts of 'Outsiders'
- Don't forget 'Red Clover'.
- Ms. Fanservice: Tiffy
- The new Unit recruit is definitely this...although she's much less Stripperiffic than one would expect. In many ways she's a different kind of Fanservice, being practical and down to earth and a real mans man, er, woman.
- The Neidermeyer: The Platoon Sergeant in "Dark of the Moon" is a textbook example of a bad Non-Commissioned Officer. He does not cooperate with his commanding officer, fails to take charge in a combat situation, enforces discipline through fear, and cannot even handle the day-to-day details of providing security in a hostile environment.
- Papa Wolf:
Mack: To your knowledge, what will happen if you speak to my daughter again?!
Guy: You'll kill me.
Mack: Transmission ends. (*holsters the pistol he was holding on the guy and leaves*)
- Jonas is this in 04x06 and 04x07, where his daughter, a serving Army officer in Iraq, is kidnapped in an insurgent ambush. He shows that he's willing to cross the Moral Event Horizon to save his daughter.
- Rape as Drama: Deconstructed; Whiplash tries and fails to rape Red Cap because the act will leave the team with no question that he's a total psycho who's gotta go and thus makes it easy for him to work as an undercover agent inside the terrorist cell. While clearly traumatized, she doesn't fall into anyone's waiting arms for recovery, and when it's revealed that the whole thing was just for show, he's disgusted with himself for it, while she still doesn't want to be in the same building he's in. Colonel Ryan is essentially forced to resign from the Unit when the others find out this was all done at his behest, because they feel they can't trust him if he's this much of a Well-Intentioned Extremist.
- Replaced the Theme Tune: First "Fired Up", then a different tune by the same guy (perhaps because "Fired Up" was adapted from a Marine Corps cadence and therefore not a good choice for an Army-based show).
- Retired Badass: The Unit chaplain mentions that he used to be on the teams before becoming a priest.
- Riddle for the Ages: In the hunting Whiplash / baby-stealing woman episode: What was the pledge?
- Scarily Competent Tracker: Jonas boasts of being this.
"I track a man, I can tell you what he had for breakfast."
- Screwed by the Network: Rather, screwed by the writer's strike. Season three was cut in half and had to resolve many plot lines very abruptly, certainly to the point of shark-jumping for many viewers. Probably the largest contributing factor to season four's less than satisfying ratings and ultimate cancelltion.
- Also not helping was the network moving it to Sunday nights at 10 for season four, where football overruns were constantly pushing it halfway out of primetime and its lead-in (Cold Case) was about three-quarters of a ratings point weaker than its previous lead-in (NCIS).
- Secret Keeper: The wives go along with the "logistics" cover, and are expected to be as paranoid about security as their husbands.
- When we find out that a unit member from Charlie company's wife had indulged in some careless talk and it got a whole squad of men killed, we can see why
- When a Unit wife mentions her husband's work offhandedly to a friend, the operator is instantly dismissed, his career is ruined, and their marriage is implied to be badly damaged, if not broken as a result.
- Secret Test of Character
- Shirtless Scene
- Shout-Out: Several:
- "Last Nazi" The stranger calls himself "The man who knows the colour of your shootinghouse door, which there is no door" a reference to the movie Ronin, where the CIA agent challenges a fake claiming experience with the SAS to tell him the colour of the "boathouse door," to see if the man laughs him off or takes him seriously.
- Whiplash, as part of an improved cover story, claiming to be part of "The Sons of Liberty".
- Episode 1x08 features an overt shout-out to "The Dirty Dozen".
- Subverted with David Rees Snell's character of Leon Drake. Many fans were expecting the character to make some sort of reference to The Shield, as part of a stealth shared universe reveal that Leon Drake was Ronnie Gardocki, having escaped from prison and become a super-terrorist following the finale of The Shield.
- An unconscious in-character Shout-Out nearly got one character in serious trouble, when his young daughter revealed that he says "Red Clover" all the time at home. Turns out that he codenamed a top-secret operation he'd planned after a phrase in her favorite bedtime storybook.
- The Command Sergeant Major of the 303rd is E. L. Haney, as seen on the sign in front of the Unit's HQ building.
- Sound Off: Mac calls cadence twice, once for some dark comedy during SERE, and one time that made Tiffy startlingly sympathetic (Cindy Lou).
- As mentioned above, the first theme tune for the series was Fired Up, Feels Good.
- Stock Footage
- Television Geography
- Terrorists Without a Cause: Basically the whole main plot of the last season.
- To Absent Friends: This is the whole point of the Day of the Dead festival, although from the point of view of the Unit wives. There are plenty of such moments for the team outside of that day.
- War Is Hell: Because counterterrorism is the main focus of the series, there is not a lot of room for more glamorous work and badassery. Missions can, and do, go wrong resulting in horrific injuries and/or death that has to be relived in excruciating detail once the team is back home to find the operational errors. Operators who are captured can be tortured or worse. More stealth, less shooting, and lots of Army and civilian politicking. On top of that the military doesn't dictate public policy so the team sometimes has to abandon contacts and resources even if they know there is no hope for them.
- The War on Terror
- Warrior Monk: The monks who protect the Spear of Destiny
- We Are Not the Wehrmacht: A presentation in the briefing room of "Games of Chance" confirms that the German counterterrorist team were actually from GSG-9, the specialized German police unit, as opposed to a generic special operations outfit.
- Yanks with Tanks
- You Are in Command Now: In "Dark of the Moon", a lieutenant in the Quartermasters' Corps is forced to command an infantry platoon when they come under attack by Afghan tribesmen (there were no infantry officers around at the time and no communications).
- Your Princess Is in Another Castle: At the end of an episode in Beirut where Grey is seriously injured, the group and the hostage they are there to rescue are picked up by the US Marines. As they are driving away, Williams is shot in the neck and dies.
- The Squadette (Jonas Blaine's daughter joined for the military and got her butterbars, but she'd be years away from The Unit if she ever heads there. In Season 4, the Unit has its first female member, but she spends most of the season stuck at base camp and is surprisingly not annoying even when in the field).
- Kinda yes and no. Throughout the series after Red Cap shows up, they continually answer queries about her with 'There are no women in the unit'. They keep her around after she works undercover along side them (she is the spy, they are the shooters) but we DO see her fight along side the boys. After they protect her from court martial after she gives flagrantly illegal orders to rescue the team from Syria they pretty much had to find a permanent use for her, but it is debatable what she is doing (she goes undercover with them again). Several other women are seen in the command post but none others go on mission, even just as an agent. She is rather in a grey area, although she is always competent and non-whiny. Essentially, YMMV.