Robert Ludlum’s series of Bourne novels has been fertile ground for Hollywood, with five hit movies produced since 2002. Now there’s a TV series loosely based on the Bourne universe. Read on for more on Treadstone…
TREADSTONE: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: East Berlin, 1973. An American soldier is bouncing a ball while scientists watch.
The Gist: John Randolph Bentley (Jeremy Irvine) is a marine that was captured by the KGB. A young agent (Emilia Schüle) thinks he’d be good for a program where behavior modification through sleep deprivation and a drug cocktail turns people into assassins. She tests his abilities by singing “Frere Jacques,” which is what is supposed to trigger the killing machine inside him. He has a vision of being in battle and ends up murdering three of his fellow POWs. The doctor mentions to Bentley that he’s like a cicada, who will hide for years underground until it’s time to mate. Not long after, Bentley kills the doctor and escapes, leading to a rooftop chase that flummoxes the young agent, who loses a pinkie while trying to subdue him.
In the present day, CIA deputy director Ellen Becker (Michelle Forbes) gets word that a North Korean general wants to defect but will only talk to former journalist Tara Coleman (Tracy Ifeachor). She lost her credibility after writing a piece about a secret Soviet-era nuke aimed towards the U.S. that’s still active. When Becker’s London operative Matt Edwards (Omar Metwally) tracks her down in London, he gets her to wear a wire. But when she meets the general, he takes off the wire, but not before mentioning an operation called “Treadstone” and the existence of “cicadas.” He wants her to find his daughter and bring her to where she can give the launch codes for that missile before the North Koreans get it.
We see two of them: In Alaska, Doug McKenna (Brian J. Smith) works on an oil rig whose crew is about to be replaced by Russian workers. When drowning their miseries at the local watering hole, he gets in a fight with some of the new workers and is able to do things he didn’t realize he was capable of. In Ponyang, piano teacher SoYun (Hyo-Joo Han) takes a vintage GameBoy from her son, because American games aren’t allowed. When she turns it on, it plays “Frere Jacques” and the inside has a syringe. She finds that she not only has the ability of scooting across a wire between high-rises, but she fights the general, back in North Korea, and tries to poison him with the syringe. She also knows English, which she had no idea was possible.
In Russia, an older man gets a new hearing aid, and he hears a low beeping noise. His wife Petra (Gabrielle Scharnitzky) tells him it’s nothing. But when he goes to the barn to track the noise, he finds a tunnel, which leads to something that no one, including Petra, wanted him to find.
Our Take: Treadstone is loosely connected to the Bourne series of films; Tim Kring created this world of sleeper agents in a CIA black ops program called Operation Treadstone.
To be honest, we had to look all that stuff up, because the first episode was really, really confusing. The extended escape sequence where Bentley escapes his KGB captors feels loosely connected to the present day happenings, and are only slightly cleared up by a twist at the end of the episode. And when we see the relatively-young Doug and SoYun, who are both “cicadas,” we wonder when they were in the program. For a minute, we thought that Doug and Bentley were the same person, who somehow didn’t age over the intervening 46 years, the two actors looked that similar to each other. By the end of the episode, we still weren’t sure.
We know that Forbes’ character, Ellen Becker, knew something about Treadstone but thought it was disbanded. Did the CIA and KGB cooperate with this operation? It all just felt half-baked. And while the action sequences were well-done, they dragged out the episode to 52 minutes without commercials, concentrating on the beatdowns more than giving a plot that made any sense.
More “cicadas” will be woken up in the coming episodes, which means there will be even more shallowly-drawn characters that become killing machines, and we likely won’t care about them one bit.
Sex and Skin: Nothing.
Parting Shot: We see that Tara Coleman was right about the rogue Soviet missile. That’s all we’ll say.
Sleeper Star: We have always been a fan of Michelle Forbes, so we hope we see more of Becker as the season goes along.
Most Pilot-y Line: Could SoYun have done all that she did to attack the general in the time her piano student played “Fur Elise”? Maybe the kid knew a longer version than the 3-minute one we usually hear.
Our Call: SKIP IT. While the action in Treadstone is great, there just isn’t enough plot to make a satisfying watch.
— Decider (@decider) October 15, 2019
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, VanityFair.com, Playboy.com, FastCompany.com, RollingStone.com, Billboard and elsewhere.