The spy thriller Special Ops: Lioness, the next show from Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan, has roots in real-world conflict, which may leave viewers wondering if the tale and characters are also based on real life. Zoe Saldana, Laysla De Oliveira, Nicole Kidman, and Morgan Freeman star in the Paramount+ series.
It follows Saldaa’s Joe, a CIA official in command of the Lioness program, and her rookie operator Cruz (De Oliveira) as she attempts to befriend the daughter of a suspected terrorist in order to bring down the organization from inside.
So far, there have been three episodes of Special Ops: Lioness, with fresh episodes airing on Paramount+ every week. While the series has garnered a mediocre reaction in comparison to Sheridan’s Yellowstone, it remains a gripping watch for those interested in the spy and/or military genres.
Those interested in the real history of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, on the other hand, may want to know if Special Ops: Lioness is based on any facts.
What is Special Ops: Lioness About?
The show chronicles perilous undercover operations involving female spies who must infiltrate terrorists’ inner sanctums by befriending the offenders’ daughters and wives and leveraging their intimate closeness to assassinate them.
These particularly chosen agents are recruited into the CIA’s secret operation known as “Lioness.”
Our main character is U.S. Marine Cruz Manuelos, played by Laysla De Oliveira, who you may recognize from Locke and Key, who is partnered with Joe, an agent at the top of the organization who is desperately trying to prevent further acts of terrorism while struggling to find some normal life outside of her work.
The slow-burning drama is not for the faint of heart, and it does not shy away from the violence that this type of training and work entails. With plots involving assassination and betrayal at every level, this is a must-see for aficionados of gritty thrillers.
Is Special Ops: Lioness Based On True Story?
Sheridan’s latest TV drama is based on a real-life US Army task unit (Operation Lioness). During the battles in Iraq and Afghanistan, the first “Female Engagement Team” (FET) was formed, a task force comprised entirely of women known as Team Lioness.
According to Military.com, Team Lioness was formed in response to rebels exploiting women to carry out terrorist acts. Building relationships with locals was crucial in a conflict with no traditional battlefield, where anyone could be hostile; the necessity for an FET was obvious because male US troops could not fully engage with local women due to cultural sensitivities.
Team Lioness’ mission was threefold: conduct searches for local women that men couldn’t, deliver humanitarian goods to develop trust, and gather intelligence through discussions that male forces couldn’t have.
The genuine Team Lioness was deemed a success by the United States military because the female warriors were able to engage with local women in ways that their male counterparts could not. Since then, FETs have been used in military activities all over the world.
FETs, according to the New Zealand Defence Force (via Medium), are necessary “in situations where it would be culturally unacceptable” to include male troops.
The latter of the three main aspects of Team Lioness’ tasks – having discussions with women that male personnel cannot in order to acquire intelligence – is where Special Ops: Lioness really shines.
In reality, it goes much beyond anything the real Team Lioness would have been told to do, following Cruz’s efforts as she tries to totally immerse herself in the life of a suspected terrorist’s daughter.
Joe and Cruz resemble Team Lioness’ real-life partners, with Cruz acting as the searcher and Joe as her “guardian angel,” but there’s no evidence the roles are based on real individuals.
Furthermore, the Homeland-style plot resembles a CIA mission rather than the ground security program that the original Team Lioness task force was intended to be. So, while the concept for Special Ops: Lioness comes from a real-life team, the characters and their tale are entirely made up and not based on real people.