The plot centers on little-known Texas Senator Terry Fallon; who was set to deliver a speech welcoming Nicaraguan contra leader Col. Octavio Martinez when a sniper wounds Fallon while succeeding in assassinating Martinez. As network and cable coverage goes live; Fallon manages to deliver a stirring speech before collapsing, instantly making the little-known Senator a household name.
Meanwhile at the White House; with about 10 days to go before the party convention, Lou Brenner - White House Chief of Staff to President Sam Baker - is leading the charge to have Baker replace Vice-President Daniel Eastman with Fallon, citing polls suggesting such a move was the only chance Baker had to win re-election. Meanwhile, the assassin is identified as a retired Marine and one-time CIA agent named Rolf Petersen who had since gone rogue; but upon expressing fears that such a disclosure would disrupt American relations with allies in Latin America, Brenner manages to intimidate FBI director Henry OBrien into going through the motions of an investigation, complete with assigning just two agents, an inexperienced agent named Dave Ross and Nick Mancuso; a crotchety, cynical veteran nearing retirement. However, despite a series of events the two manage to expose the aforementioned conspiracy; though not before others are murdered, including a Secret Service agent Eastman assigns to find dirt on Fallon later being murdered; Eastman and Baker getting into a shouting match in front of the press while welcoming diplomats from Africa, Eastman breaking with Baker to declare a last-minute nomination challenge; Fallon revealing himself to be a fascist (which results in Baker being turned off to the idea of even considering Fallon for VP); Brenner trying various forms of blackmail to keep Fallon in line; the revelation Col. Martinez was injected by the CIA with AIDS, Mancuso showing Fallon B-roll showing Crain was in on the assassination of Martinez and attempt on Fallons life, and Ross being stabbed to death after having sex with Crain. In the end, Crain. following a Villainous Breakdown, assassinates Sen. Fallon before turning the gun on herself; the various conspirators are arrested and forced out of their jobs and Baker chooses Speaker of the House Charles MacDonald as his running mate for the fall campaign.
In 1988; the book was adapted into a mini-series airing on NBC on October 30-November 1, 1988note and starred Harry Hamlin; Linda Kozlowski; James Whoitmore; Robert Loggia; Mitchell Ryan; John Mahoney; Ronny Cox; Stepfanie Kramer; Lance Guest; Jason Alexandernote and Richard Bradford. The mini-series proved a hit (the 2nd of the 3-part miniseries beating out Monday Night Football) and led to Loggias Nick Mancuso character getting a spinoff in Mancuso, FBI; which ran for the 1989-90 season before its cancellation. Additionally, Sohmer would pen a follow-up called Patriots; in which - as the Cold War winds down - now lame-duck President Baker has to fend off a coup attempt from Vietnam veterans angered over Baker's pursuit of disarmament.
Tropes associated with this episode:
- A-Cup Angst: Stevie Chandler - who finds herself the subject of many a joke about her wearing a padded bra.
- Alphabet News Network: UBS, the network Stevie and most of the other news personnel with any speaking parts work for. Possibly a Shout-Out to Network; of which it shares fictional news network initials.
- Alternate History: The most recent real life President mentioned in the miniseries is Jimmy Carter (the novel includes a brief mention of Ronald Reagan, though the circumstances involving Reagan giving way to Sam Baker is not made clear in the book), and since it's mentioned that Sam Baker is running for re-election, it's unclear what took place between 1980 and 1988 (such as whether Ronald Reagan became President, for instance). However, several real life political and media personalities are referenced such as Barbara Walters, former Colorado Senator Gary Hart, Senators Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, Alan Cranston of California and Bob Packwood of Oregon and Nicaraguan Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega.
- Assassins Are Always Betrayed: Rolf Petersen's identity as having assassinated Col. Martinez and wounding Sen. Fallon shortly before Petersen is killed in a police shootoutnote
- Because Destiny Says So: Terry Fallon adopts this as his motto after being shot at the beginning:
- Terry Fallon: Events chose me, fate chose the place. But I was ambitious, and I was prepared and I survived.
- CIA Evil, FBI Good: Relatively speaking; though for most of the book and miniseries it appears the FBI is little better than the CIA, with the assignment of Dave Ross, an inexperienced youngster and Nick Mancuso, an agent seemingly phoning it in under his retirement a few months later. Mancuso even alludes to his suspicions by mentioning that if the FBI was serious about finding the shooter, a whole division of agents would have been assigned instead of a lame duck and a green kid.
- Conspiracy Thriller
- Femme Fatale: Sally Crain, overlapping with The Vamp.
- Good Is Not Nice: While ultimately a good guy who blows the various conspiracies apart; Nick Mancuso is shown clearly having a lack of people skills and also acknowledges having placed bugs in hotel rooms used by Martin Luther King Jr..
- Gory Discretion Shot: While looking at a replay of Sally shooting herself to avoid arrest during the fictional UBS bulletin covering Sen. Fallon's assassination, the camera cuts to a horrified Stevie stepping away, apparently about to throw up.
- Government Conspiracy: The one involving Terry Fallon and Sally Crain; as well as a separate conspiracy involving the CIA injecting Col. Martinez with AIDS prior to the events leading to Martinezs assassination.
- I Did What I Had to Do: Mancuso has Sally Crain serve as a distraction to the Secret Service agent attempting to find dirt on Sen. Fallon before he figures it out, leading to the agent being killed in a struggle with Ross after the agent attempted to kill the young FBI agent.
- The Idealist: Dave Ross is this in contrast to the more cynical Nick Mancuso.
- Idiot Ball: Vice-President Eastman takes full possession by ordering two Secret Service agents to dig up dirt on Fallon in violation of federal law; which culminates in one of the agents being murdered.
- Kiss of Death: Sally's final kiss of Dave Ross comes shortly before Ross is stabbed to death.
- No Party Given: Whichever party President Baker; Vice-President Eastman; Senator Fallon and Charles MacDonald belong to is never explicitly stated, nor is there even a reference to the opposing partys candidates.
- Omniglot: Col. Octavio Martinez, as in response to Sally Crain asking what language he spoke as he arrived at the ceremony with Terry Fallon, he answered with "All of them", though he has an easier time with some languages than others.
- Ripped from the Headlines: There are occasional references to then-recent political scandals such as the Iran-Contra scandal as well as the sex scandal that torpedoed Gary Harts hopes of becoming President in 1988.
- Rousing Speech: Terry Fallon's speech after being wounded in the shooting that killed Col. Octavio Martinez.
- Take That, Audience!: Lou Brenner, while defending the actions he and CIA director Admiral William Riker had undertaken earlier, laments that most of the audience (and by extension, the American public at large) wouldn't even bother to vote on Election Daynote
- The Man Behind the Man/The Woman Behind the Man:
- Sally Crain, who is Fallons press aide and also lover, had puffed Fallon dating to her days as a reporter for a Houston newspaper and Fallons campaign for City Council a decade earlier.
- Additionally; Chief of Staff Brenner attempts to be this to President Baker, going so far as to lie to FBI director Henry O'Brien about the order to assign only Mancuso and Ross to the Martinez case coming from President Baker.
- Transparent Closet: Chris Van Allen, another top aide to Sen. Fallon. While it's not confirmed that he's gay until the latter part of the 3rd part of the miniseries; Van Allen's mannerisms strongly hint at his sexuality well before that disclosure.
- Villain with Good Publicity: Terry Fallon. Fallon is introduced as a charismatic hero after making a speech after having been wounded by a sniper who succeeded in assassinating Nicaraguan contra leader Col. Octavio Martinez, instantly making the previously little-known Senator a national figure who is recommended by the staff of President Sam Baker to have Fallon replace incumbent Vice-President Daniel Eastman due to polls suggesting such a move was the only chance Baker had to win re-election. As the book and series go on, it's later revealed that Fallon had not only cheated on his wife; but had habitually maritally raped her (including once on their honeymoon) and had her committed after she refused a three-way with Fallon and a friendnote , proves to be an avowed fascist (which turns Baker off from picking Fallonnote ) and is implied to have, if not orchestrated, known about the assassination attempt on Col. Martineznote , with his being wounded a complete accident. However, Fallon's true nature is not revealed in-universe, as Fallon is assassinated by Crain following a Villainous Breakdown after a network producer friend leaks word that Fallon threw her under the bus by leaking a story about her frequent sexual encounters with other men.
- Villainous Breakdown: Sally Crain when she discovers Fallon having been shown B-roll footage suggesting Crain issued a signal to open fire threw her under the bus by leaking a story involving her sexual relations with several other men; ultimately setting the stage for Crain assassinating Fallon.
- Vomit Discretion Shot: In addition to the incident covered under Gory Discretion Shot; Dave Ross has this reaction upon stumbling across seeing the dog of the murdered Beckwith family licking some blood from Mrs. Beckwith, and again when Nick Mancuso tells Ross that the family dog peed on Captain Arnold Beckwith's body.