Citadel: The Human Enigma
April 28, 2023 9:40 AM - Season 1, Episode 1 - Subscribe

In the series premiere, Mason Kane and Nadia Sinh - top agents of the independent spy organization Citadel - collide with a nefarious, new syndicate - Manticore - leading to catastrophe. Eight years later, Mason Kane is living a quiet life as "Kyle Conroy," with no memory of his past. Until one day an old colleague enlists his help to stop a now powerful Manticore from creating a new world order.
posted by ellieBOA (11 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This felt...weird. Especially after just finishing Bodyguard with Richard Madden playing something much more straight and grounded. That seemed to make it even harder to go with. First I was like, hey, that's the guy from Bodyguard! That I just finished watching like last night! Then I was like, jesus, what is he doing here?

On top of that, this just seemed kind of ridiculous somehow. I never believed that train was actually a train, much less one shooting through the Italian alps. As in I bounced off both the external CGI and the interior set which I never for a moment accepted as a train car. The action aboard said train was cut so that I couldn't figure out what the hell was going on beyond, "they're fighting everybody", so it just contributed to the cartoonish feel. Even the characters didn't seem to fit together. The interactions between Madden and Jonas and between Madden and Tucci never felt right.

The premise is another attempt at fixing an integral problem with the super spy genre these days: nobody trusts the government. So the agent heroes can't work for the government because the government is always the bad guy now. See a more recent Bond film where they're stuck with Bond as a government agent, and so he's endlessly "going rogue." In Spectre, all of MI6 goes rogue with him! If you're starting from scratch these days, the agency is some kind of independent thing that does spying...just for the hell of it? See the Kingsmen franchise. Even Archer. This follows that route. We're self-directed spies working for the common good. It's a wobbly idea. Hell, I write a spy series with an agent who doesn't work for the government anymore and an enemy organization that's similarly outside government, so I get it. But you have to put a little more effort into it to make it make sense.

Even just at the most basic layer of structure, this is a bizarre first episode. It's all set up and no payoff. It feels very much like this was written as a film script, which they then decided to turn into a longer series and chopped it up. This is the first sequence of the eight-sequence model. It takes us up to the inciting incident - hey, you're a super agent, let's go be super agents! - and boom, it's over. I don't know what they were thinking. (See also Tucci's ex-wife and her current wife who are literally there for five seconds just to kind of establish them.)

So after slamming the living daylights out of this thing, you're probably thinking I'm done with it. But I'll give it another episode or maybe (maybe) two to see if it gets its shit together. Mainly because I really love secret agent adventure stuff. But I'm not sure I'm going to make it all the way through at this point.
posted by Naberius at 8:04 AM on April 29, 2023 [3 favorites]

This loving review from the Guardian suggests that the best way to watch it is for the ridiculousness.
posted by trig at 9:15 AM on April 29, 2023 [2 favorites]

This felt like content extruded from the giant content machine (possibly the same one that did the Apple TV film Ghosted). Cliche piled on top of cliche piled on top of cliche. There is nothing about this that made me feel like watching a second episode - even though I really like some of the actors in it.
posted by rednikki at 12:24 PM on April 29, 2023 [2 favorites]

Mind you, when I complain about it being ridiculous, I'm not objecting to a bunch of super spies having a fight on a train while they try to stop bad guys with a scheme for global domination. I know the whole genre is inherently kind of silly, but I love that stuff. That's what I'm there for. I mean it was ridiculous in that it failed utterly to enable me to accept the tone and go "okay, I'm a world where this kind of stuff happens, let's roll with it." I mean I loved Face/Off which is one of the most ridiculous movies ever made. But it worked nonetheless because it committed to its premise and worked well within it. This just didn't do that, and so I couldn't get past how absurd it was.

A big part of that was, as rednikki points out, there is hardly a beat in the entire thing that we haven't seen done better elsewhere. This felt like it was written by ChatGPT and the producers went, yep, bang on. Let's shoot it.

PS: And what's with that episode title? It sounds way, way too pretentious for what this is.
posted by Naberius at 2:03 PM on April 29, 2023 [2 favorites]

There is SO MUCH [person] doesn't know [person] is/was a spy content right now. The movie Ghosted, this show, True Lies, The Company You Keep. I really want to love this, since I love Stanley Tucci and Priyanka Chopra was so much fun in Quantico.

A quibble: How old is Kyle's daughter? How did Kyle get from being a man with no past to being married with a kid in less than two years? It's physically possible, but I find it highly implausible.
posted by Night_owl at 3:54 PM on April 29, 2023

I just hope it ramps up the ridiculousness to include lizard men and time traveling hamster secret overlords. There is every over the top spy trope wedged into the first two episodes there is no room for the slightest character development. Makes no sense at all. But that's why we love Bond flicks, so I hope it stays fun and ramps up the speed and absurdities.
posted by sammyo at 6:16 AM on April 30, 2023

The premise is another attempt at fixing an integral problem with the super spy genre these days: nobody trusts the government. So the agent heroes can't work for the government because the government is always the bad guy now.

The factoid I can't help but bring up at parties is that espionage novels anticipated the intelligence services. Super spies basically never existed, and various world governments felt the need to bring them into being because of the stories that were being told.

I think it's harder to accept that a super spy working for the government could be working for the common good when the public side of the government is doing things like Brexit, in the same way that it's hard to imagine the US government managing to keep the existence of alien spacecraft a secret when they can barely manage to wipe their own ass, but I think it's also that it's much harder to imagine a Great Game between World Powers these days that lends itself to exciting gunfights in exotic locales. You can't use the very obvious bad guys because you're trying to sell your movie in their countries, and we all vaguely know who they are because they post on the same internet we're on. There is no secret world of assassins, the sites where you hire assassins are run by the FBI. You have to invent a shadow world out of whole cloth, because people have already yanked on the threads of the existing one and put photos of the frayed threads on the internet.
posted by Merus at 9:53 PM on April 30, 2023

“The factoid I can't help but bring up at parties is that espionage novels anticipated the intelligence services. Super spies basically never existed, and various world governments felt the need to bring them into being because of the stories that were being told.”

I don't think that's true. Russia's Okhrana was established in 1881 and wasn't merely internal security and operated internationally and, in fact, it and its successors up to Soviet times developed much of the human intelligence tradecraft used to this day. Regional powers developed some similar capabilities and actually the Ottoman Empire established the Yıldız Intelligence Agency in 1880.

Western Europe lagged far behind in the development of externally-operating intelligence agencies that were nominally independent of the military, but IIRC Germany and then the UK both began to do so in earnest before WWII. The US was far behind everyone, not doing so until after WWII and didn't really have much experience at all in it. The OSS was military and copied what the Europeans were doing, and the CIA evolved out of that culture and from a group of WASPy eggheads. Relatively speaking, they weren't very good at it and IMO have never been as adept as the Brits and Russians.

Unless there's a body of spy stories I don't know about that predate WWII, I don't see how your factoid could be correct. I mean, there have never been "super spies" like Bond and what the closest analogues actually do involves way more blackmail than bullets or bombs, but intelligence agencies that are independent or semi independent of the military, operate internationally, and utilize a lot of human intelligence (as opposed to only signals intelligence) all developed as I describe above.

And, really, it's not like the need for such things is entirely modern and I'd bet that there are surprisingly similar bureaucracies that arose in East Asia much earlier but our Eurocentrism falsely imagines we invented the whole concept from scratch. Re-invented is more likely.

I'd be delighted to learn how I'm mistaken if I am — this has only been an extremely casual interest of mine, not at all academic or rigorous, and probably unduly influenced by Alan Furst's books, so maybe you're right in a way I don't understand. I mean, there were spies using dead drops and aliases and whatnot in the late 1800s so I can't figure how that could be, but I dunno.

In any case, all the preceding probably gives a good idea of what I think about this show: I've never cared much for, say, Ludlum and hugely prefer le Carré, so this is just silly to me and not in a good way. I do sometimes enjoy this kind of thing and I watched both episodes with mild amusement, but this super-spy stuff can be bigger than life without being this dumb and I prefer that.

Also, while the Russo Brothers didn't write this, I've yet to see anything from them that wasn't merely derivative "extruded product" (as someone above wrote). Mass entertainment, sure, but ... their track record in commercial terms has been pretty underwhelming so I don't understand why people keep giving them money.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:27 AM on May 1, 2023 [1 favorite]

Russo brothers.... their track record in commercial terms has been pretty underwhelming

Whatever we think of the Russo Brothers talent.... The Winter Soldier, Civil War, Infinity War & Endgame... that's solid commercial success. Not everything they touch turns into gold, but that looks good on a resume. The Wachowskis are still costing on the original Matrix movie, compared to that they look like fricking geniuses commercially-wise.

And about that show.... wow... it is so bad, I'm a big fan of spy movies but this one misses on everything. It has none of the grounded touches of lets says Spy Game, The Bourne Identity or The Night Manager, but it at the same time it absolutely fails at the 'super spy & secret shadow organisation' game that Bond does more or less well.
posted by WaterAndPixels at 11:08 AM on May 1, 2023 [1 favorite]

I thought it was dumb fun.

I was struck by the glaringly fake product placement (for Grubhub and Ford) digitally inserted in post.
posted by adamrice at 12:25 PM on May 17, 2023

I watched the first episode because it was free on freevee and it was like it was written by a high school kid. The episode ends with the bad guys easily stealing a briefcase from a secure location but not being able to open it. The briefcase contains top secret nuclear codes. I guess the second episode explains why the nuclear codes aren’t immediately changed?

Ivan Fyodorovich, have you read The Second Oldest Profession by Phillip Knightley (1980)? IIRC, back in the early 1900s, spying outside of wartime wasn’t considered cricket but a bunch of out-of-work spies from a previous war decided to drum up business pre WWI by claiming German saboteurs had infiltrated the peaceful English countryside.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 9:14 PM on May 31, 2023 [1 favorite]

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