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Citadel Season 1 Review: Spy Intrigue That Only Gets The Job Half-Done

EDITORS' RATING : 6.5 / 10
  • The spy intrigue is real
  • Stanley Tucci and Lesley Manville are amazing
  • There are some great action sequences
  • It’s all very familiar
  • The rate at which the audience gleans information isn’t quite right

More than $200 million went into making Amazon Prime Video's "Citadel." After seeing the three episodes made available for review, I want to be bursting with news of the show's excellence — and don't get me wrong, it is quite good. But the scenes of action and spycraft, while dynamic and zippy, didn't grab me as powerfully as I'd hoped. So while I enjoyed the episodes provided and will watch the remaining three, I won't be waiting to put it on as soon as it's released; I'll get to it when I get to it. That's not bad, but for such an expensive series, it's also not ideal.

Still, there is plenty to recommend "Citadel." The series starts on a train in the Italian Alps, where Citadel agents Nadia Sinh (Priyanka Chopra Jonas) and Mason Kane (Richard Madden) have come to retrieve a cache of plutonium. But when Nadia confronts the man who's carrying it, he tells her he and his organization, Manticore, have a message for her: They've killed Citadel agents all over the world and now they'll kill her too. There's a shoot-out, and it seems Nadia and Mason have won — until someone sets off a grenade, and their train car derails. This plunges them into the ice-cold waters below.

Next thing Mason knows, he's waking up in an Italian hospital and can't remember anything. He's told his name is Kyle Conroy and notices scars all over his body. Eight years later, he's living a quiet life in Oregon with his wife, Abby (Ashleigh Cummings), and his daughter, Hendrix (Caoilinn Springall). But then Bernard Orlick (Stanley Tucci) recruits him to help steal a suitcase that tracks all Citadel agents. Kyle finds that, despite his reservations, he has a series of skills that make him exceedingly good at this kind of mission. Instead of returning to the safe house that's waiting for him, he goes to Spain, where he finds Nadia. After she remembers their backstory, they're off to figure out how to stop Manticore.

Keeping the audience out or letting them in

Soon enough, Nadia and Kyle are faced with a problem. While Nadia has taken the serum that will lift her amnesia after eight years, available to her in the suitcase, Kyle hasn't been so lucky. He was holding his serum when his car was attacked, and the serum didn't make it. Thus, he still doesn't remember anything prior to eight years ago. This sets them up for a clash: While Nadia is a completely restored agent of Citadel, Kyle is most definitely not. Nadia tries to get rid of Kyle, but soon finds she needs him, for lack of a better option. Still, she lies to Kyle about their relationship and is very shady in general.

This isn't necessarily a problem, but it does create a situation where the audience is just as in the dark as Kyle, because we're given as little information as he receives. That is, unless it makes sense for the narrative to tell us more than Kyle knows, which is the case with his wife. While Bernard and his ex-wife Jo (Moira Kelly) have a conversation about Kyle's wife early in the show, it's not until the third episode, when Bernard is in a compromising situation, that he reveals the truth about her ... to someone other than Kyle. This varied rate of revelation can be frustrating, especially when we know next to nothing about Mason and Nadia, or their relationship.

Ace performances

That said, the performances of "Citadel" range from good to exceptional. Stanley Tucci is a real get. As Bernard, he's able to walk a fine line between serious and funny and still be utterly believable as a spy. Whether he's telling Kyle he's "exceedingly untrustworthy" or being tortured for information, he's excellent.

Lesley Manville is also terrific as Dahlia Archer, the ambassador to the U.K., but in a different way. She's introduced at her home cutting roses, where she has a cordial conversation with the secretary of state — until she explains that if he doesn't do what she wants, she'll put explosives on his daughter's flight from Oxford, or she'll bury his wife alive in her rose garden. Needless to say, she's not operating as the ambassador when she makes those threats. Manville is great as a Manticore higher-up with the guise of a respectable job. She's subtle, and that makes her even scarier.

Meanwhile, Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Richard Madden are good enough to hold the center of the story. Chopra Jonas has the more straightforward role as the serious operative who remembers what happened, but she still manages to periodically tease Mason. Madden, on the other hand, is only a serious operative in flashbacks. In the present day, he's still serious, but he's barely an operative. Because of this, he manages to get off a joke once in a while. (Kyle to Bernard: "We are two guys in a van with a briefcase, Bernard. We're the plot of 'Dumb and Dumber.'").

In addition to these leading roles, supporting stars like Ashleigh Cummings and Roland Møller (who plays Anders and Davik Silje) turn in believable performances that help enhance the story. Cummings, in particular, is great as Abby ... and perhaps something more. All of this adds up to a fine event series. So why am I not more enthused? The spycraft that features in "Citadel" is done well, but it's hard not to feel like we've seen this all before. This is especially apparent in scenes like the one in which Nadia and Mason meet, which is far too long for its narrative weight. Moreover, "Citadel" doesn't quite manage to nail its rate of information delivery. Still, with a fantastic cast willing to see it through, "Citadel" could become a great spy series. As there are three episodes left in this season and at least one more season left, only time will tell.

"Citadel" premieres on Amazon Prime Video on April 28.