Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers from The Old Man.FXs The old man is the television adaptation of Thomas Perrynovel of the same name. the creator of the show, Jonathan E. Steinberghas a lot of experience in making adjustments, working as black sails and Human target† Both the book and television versions of The old man follow the story of Dan Chase, or an aging man with the alias Dan Chase, depicted in the show through a stunning performance by Jeff Bridges† He is a veteran who has burned a number of bridges and is now on the run instead of retiring. How his dark past finally catches up with him has yet to be played out in the show, still only halfway through the first season. That said, there are already notable differences from the novel. People who have read the book and watch the show may be confused because of how closely the two parallel in different details. This article should serve as a reference to quickly understand why it feels like you’re remembering two conflicting details from the same story by highlighting all the differences The old man assumed as it moved from page to screen.
For starters, let’s get some of the more superficial changes out of the way. In Thomas Perry’s novel, Dan Chase’s original name was Michael Kohler. On the TV show, we often hear about people who knew him back then, such as FBI agent Harold Harper (John Lithgow), call him Johnny. As the show has yet to unpack, it may come to light that Johnny is yet another alias. The novel and the show both have Chase taking on aliases during his time on the run. Also the warlord Hamzad, played by Navid Negahban, whom Chase knew during his time in the Soviet-Afghan war, was referred to as Hamzah in the novel. This name change may be due to the larger change in the setting of the war, which is Libya in the novel.
Things get more interesting in the details that have changed, and most of the changes the show has made so far have been for the better, something that sadly isn’t true of many adaptations. Since the novel is a work of pulp fiction, it makes sense that an adaptation fleshed it out rather than cut it short, as usually happens with movie versions of great books. In the novel, Chase is on the run because he escaped Libya with $20 million that he believed would be abused by Hamzah. Although he tries to return it, the US government would rather arrest and interrogate him. In the series, he goes into hiding because he has angered the Afghan warlord Hamzad by apparently stealing his wife from him. The intelligence apparatus is after Chase because someone has close ties to Hamzad and is pulling favors for him. In either case, the foreign warlord’s character has deep ties to the United States military and intelligence community, allowing him to set the events of the novel in motion. The choice to turn stolen money into a love interest, portrayed by Hiam Abbass, makes the show much more appealing. Not only has the dynamic between Chase and his pursuers changed, but we also get more depth into Chase’s character through how he deals with the death of said love interest.
There are also changes in apparently minor characters in the story. Julian Carson (Gbenga Akkinagbe) plays a hit man who hires Harper to track down Chase. In the novel, he is a young, hopeful intelligence agent in training. The character comes across as a better replacement for Chase. Instead of a rookie cop who is mostly outsmarted by the older veteran, we see an adversary who may well be able to give Chase what he deserves.
Another character has changed significantly in favor of the series. In the novel, Chase makes phone calls with his daughter Emily. She is a recurring character whom he meets in person at various points. She also exists in the show, but with a twist. For the first few episodes, we see the character of FBI Agent Angela Adams, played by Alia Shawkat† She is an up-and-coming member of the Corps and Agent Harper’s protege, which also places her high on the list of people involved in the hunt for Chase. We eventually find out that Agent Adams is the daughter Chase is talking to on the phone.
In addition to implanting his daughter in the agency in charge of his manhunt, the series also gives more weight to the character of Agent Harper. Through flashbacks, we learn that Harper and Chase were colleagues during the events of the Soviet-Afghan war. We also find out that Harper was somehow tasked with stopping Dan Chase, and he clearly has a reason why he doesn’t want Chase caught. Harper has not exposed his own interests to protect in this story, a story he wants Chase to go to. Maybe he helped Chase escape. Maybe he was involved in something much darker than anything Chase was doing. The show is barely through its first season, so there are a lot of unanswered questions.
Though renewed for a second season, we can only speculate how much of the novel’s plot will end in Season 1. The show could end up with the source material and enter new territory, not from the novel. It can also extend the source material with deeper flashbacks and more complex character development. That said, most shows are developed as a limited series when they have a complete story in mind. The openness of the FX production indicates that: The old man will likely develop new storylines set in the world of the novel that are not borrowed directly from Perry’s work. However it ends, so far the changes to the original novel are welcome. The major changes in supporting characters and details of the setting add depth to the story, making the television series far surpass the source material. Like Copolla’s the godfather adaptation of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, there are enough changes to make Steinberg’s The old man worth seeing as a work of art in its own right.