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Series / The Unit

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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 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

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. 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 a Border Patrol agent shot by Jonas.
  • Artistic License: A LHD vehicle with left hand drive in Hong Kong. It doesn't even have the correct license plate for Hong Kong-only vehicles.
  • Artistic License – Gun Safety: Discussed. In one episode, Jonas is posing as a gun-shy businessman in order to get close to an assassination target. During a skeet shooting session with the target, it's easy enough for him to pretend to be a bad shot, but his cover is blown when the target notices that Jonas's muzzle discipline is too good — a true novice should have violated a safety rule at some point.
  • Artistic License – Military: Several
    • The Unit is based off Delta Force. The actual Delta Force is in Fort Bragg, not the fictional Fort Griffith, Bragg is already known as the home base for Green Berets, so Delta doesn't have to go out of the way to hide what they actually do. Also, the typical squad of Delta Operatives is headed up by an officer (a captain) not a Seargent Major.
    • While enlisted personnel can and do remain in an assignment such as Delta or the Special Forces for a long time, it is highly unusual for an officer in the modern era, especially a Colonel to remain in one command for four years. Subverted somewhat as Colonel Ryan is offered a plum Washington assignment in the beginning of Season 3, as is normal for an officer, but he turns it down. Typically though, such a move would end a senior officer's career.
    • The show greatly exaggerates the secrecy of Delta Force. While the real unit does have a "cover" name (Formerly Combat Applications Group, now the Army Compartmented Element), the true nature of the unit is no secret; it is a matter of public record that the unit is part of Army Special Operations Command, and "Special Forces" is even in the unit's official designation, the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta. And while operators are taught not to advertise the nature of their work, this does not go so far as removing them officially from the Army; they get ID cards, leave and earnings statements, and can go to the commissary and VFW like everyone else.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Catchphrase: 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.
  • Covert Group with Mundane Front: The team use the cover of being in logistics. To be fair, though, they do in fact do logistical work—in fact, one episode begins with Brown being tested in such. Subverted in that the cover is entirely believable; no one ever questions why the obviously badass soldiers are working in logistics, they simply believe, or are told by someone and then believe, that the operators have earned safe, cushy deskjobs after serving multiple tours in the Middle East as part of the regular Army.
    • This cover does falter at times. One episode has the newest recruit SFC Bob Brown’s young daughter Serena blabbing that “my father shoots bad guys. This alarms some senior officials, since the Unit’s cover is a non-combatant clerical unit, forcing Bob and his wife to teach Serena to lie about what he does. Another episode has Unit operator Hector Williams’ new girlfriend’s retired Senior NCO dad showing disdain to him due to him officially being a logistics clerk. The guy then suddenly starts being buddy buddy with Hector, upon being subtly informed of his actual job. This sudden change makes the girlfriend a little suspicious. When he admits his cover, she dumps him, because she wanted someone who’d leave the Army and settle into a stable civilian job. A logistics clerk has transferable skills, while a “gunfighter” doesn’t.
  • 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, whose 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.
  • Family-Friendly Stripper: 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.
  • 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.
  • 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)
  • Good Is Not Nice: Pretty much sums up every Unit member given that their job requires them to kill in cold blood, including assassinations. (An example can be seen in "Best Laid Plans" in which Sam and Bridget are shown coldly killing a man by injecting him with poison, then minutes later are seen laughing and bantering about the experience.
  • 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". Blane also suffers this when he fails to uphold his promise of rescue to 2 women held in sexual slavery.
    • Addressed in "Gone Missing" when one of the main members begins to be haunted by the people he's killed and nearly blows a mission to kill another. He learns that most members of the Unit go through a similar experience until the finally come to the conclusion that they like killing (or some similar rationalization).
  • 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.
  • Hypocrite: In one episode, Mac’s teenage daughter Lissa is sneaking around with a boy and Kim, unaware of that boy’s less than noble intentions, allows them the use of her house to hang out. However, when hanging out turns into the boy snapping a picture of Lissa in her bra, Tiffy freaks out about them being at Kim’s house. Kim retorts that perhaps Tiffy should examine her own sexual behavior note  and the example it is setting.
  • 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, whose 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 to provide him and Jonas an alibi for their off the books operation:
    Bob: You know I'd rather have my sister in a whorehouse than in the navy!
(a beat followed inevitably by a sailor breaking a pool cue over his head)
  • It Gets Easier: addressed on several occasions. As discussed directly in "Gone Missing," the team relies on this in order to do its job. Nonetheless...
  • 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. In several episodes the team gets around this by serving as temporary members of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the government agency responsible for protecting US diplomats abroad and foreign diplomats within the US, giving them a cover identity and Federal Law Enforcement powers on their home turf.
    • 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: A lot of the dialogue utilizes the distinct, repeating, rapid fire cadence that is David Mamet's trademark. Due to being on network TV, however, an exception had to be made for the swearing that is also a David Mamet trademark.
  • 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.
  • The One That Got Away: The rich guy Kim was dating in college shows up in one episode to give her a ride on his private jet while she is traveling on business for the radio station she works at. She is initially reminded of the glamorous high flying life she could have had with him, and for a while reconsiders her marriage to Bob. But ...
    • Old Flame Fizzle: When she sees the rich old flame completely ignoring his young daughter, while choosing to chat with business associates, Kim is reminded of why she chose Bob in the first place. Even though Bob’s Army career takes him away from her, he is an incredibly caring husband and father when he is around.
  • Oppressed Minority Veteran: In one episode, Jonas's father is very belatedly awarded the Silver Star for destroying a North Korean tank via Insert Grenade Here. The medal was not initially awarded due to the elder Mr. Blane being A) an enlisted man and B) black. Jonas later explains how when they got home to the Jim Crow South later, he and his father were accosted by a pair of probable Klansmen for speaking to a white woman (Mr. Blane had asked her to go into a whites-only store to get Jonas a soda). Jonas initially says Mr. Blane talked them down, but later confirms to his daughter privately that the toughs assaulted him, and he killed them both with his KA-BAR knife and stole their truck to get himself and Jonas out of town.
  • 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.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: Seen in play several times given the nature of the work the Unit does.
  • 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. In one episode he gives a Unit member having doubts about his job a pep talk that invokes the hawk interpretation of the Bible's "Thou shalt not kill" which plays semantics with the perceived meaning of "kill" vs. "murder".
  • Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor: Kim had to deal with this in her past. Her suitors were a rich kid destined for a high flying corporate executive life, versus Bob, the Military Brat. She chose Bob because even with numerous combat deployments, Bob was and is always there for her when she needs him.
  • 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."
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Red Cap knowingly gives an illegal order to a helicopter crew to enter Syria to exfil the Unit and rescued hostages, lying that clearance had come through from Washington when it hadn't. She is Court-martialed for this, but the team blackmails the CIA to get the charges dropped.
  • 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 Ronin (1998), in which 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.
  • Smiting Evil Feels Good: "Gone Missing" ends with Jonas saying outright that you have to pretty much enjoy killing to get the job done.
  • 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.
  • South Asian Terrorists: The first season has the team deployed to Afghanistan to take out a high-ranking Taliban leader. They later go back to Afghanistan on a black ops mission to ensure that two warring tribes don't go to war since the last thing Kabul needs to worry about is either the Taliban or Al Qaeda taking advantage of it.
  • Terrorists Without a Cause: Basically the whole main plot of the last season.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: A major plot point of the episode "Gone Missing" when a chaplain plays semantics with the Commandment "Thou Shalt Not Kill" which in some translations reads "Thou Shalt Not Murder" which is thought to be something different.
  • 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.
  • Truth in Television: famous magician Ricky Jay plays the recurring role of CIA agent Kern on the show. In real life he was employed by the CIA to teach their agents sleight of hand and other conjuring techniques to use in espionage.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Charles Grey manages to save a father and his son from death via chlorine gas. When Charles opens the truck door to save another woman from being gassed to death, the man locks Charles out and leaves him to die so he and everyone else inside can have more air. While he relents and opens the door, he later tries to pick a fight with Charles when he insists on opening the door and leaving the truck container.
  • 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. Missions that require the team to commit murder in order to protect the country are commonplace, with one episode, "Gone Missing" focusing on the emotional toll this has on one Unit member.
  • Warrior Monk: The monks who protect The Spear of Destiny.
  • 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.