Treadstone is a new series depicting the origin stories of the secretive CIA assassins from The Bourne Ultimatum movie series – and novel by Robert Ludlum. I hadn’t really noticed this series coming – the first I heard of it was in the spring. But after yesterday’s premiere I am glad I have taken an interest in this series. It is dark, mysterious and offers a bountiful springboard for more, but with a few caveats.
The episode starts with an man restlessly restrained in a chair at a Stasi facility in East Berlin – sometime before the collapse of communism. It becomes clear he is a captured American agent being brainwashed to work for the east. His handlers debate whether he is ready. The woman, Petra (played by Emilia Schüle – AKA Nazi in diapers Berlin Station season 2) certainly thinks so. John (played by Jeremy Irvine) as we will know him manages to kill three people after he hears the nursery rhyme Frère Jacques.
Later his male handler, the doctor at the facility is alone with John. John questions whether his old self would have been able to kill. The doctor states that everybody ‘slumbers’ before awakening. Upon which John kills the doctor – him not really having been brainwashed after all. John manages to escape from the facility, after a rooftop chase that also costs Petra a little pinky.
Nobody wants another Treadstone
In the present day CIA agents Ellen Becker (Michelle Forbes – another Berlin Station alumni) and Dan Levine have to deal with a North Korean general in London who wants to talk to a disgraced former journalist Tara Coleman. Tara lost her job after publishing an article on a missing Russian nuclear weapon called Stiletto 6. The article was found wanting. But the CIA is interested to know what the general wants to say. And so Tara is recruited. Kwon mentions Treadstone to Tara and that the Cicada Protocols have been enacted.
After General Kwon has given his warning it is up to Ellen Becker and Dan Levine to consider its impact. From the hushed words it becomes clear Treadstone is a topic nobody wants to talk about. That is a straight-up continuation of the novels and the movies. Levine, however mentions Kwon was part of Treadstone, but appears worried.
But, we do not see either Ellen, Dan or their field agents again. We do not even see Tara, although Kwon gave her an assignment to do. Instead the remainder of the episode focuses on other agents world-wide waking up to perform their programming. One of them is SoYun (Han Hyo-joo) in Pyongyang, a young woman who ends up killing Kwon after he returns home. Another agent is Doug (Brian J. Smith), who works as offshore rigger. Like he also becomes triggered by the same musical rhyme. By the end of the episode he finds himself standing alone in the snowy plains of Alaska after winning a bar fight. He walks away from a duffle containing brown plastic covered containers.
It is an interesting way to start the first episode. Most series have their first episode end with a little victory for the good guys. On Treadstone, it is unclear if there are any such clear distinctions.
Kursk – some place in Russia
Instead there is only sympathy for the Treadstone assassins – if the perception is correct and they became agents unwillingly. Instead the episode ends in Russia, near the town of Kursk. We see a middle-aged couple mending their rural gardens when the ‘husband’ receives a parcel. Its a hearing aid. Suddenly he begins to hear a repeating sound coming from the disused barn. In the evening, after being scolded by his ‘wife’ he investigates the barn. He finds a hatch leading to a tunnel system below. There he discovers a disused nuclear missile silo – Stiletto 6 – as well as the alarm that he heard. The ‘husband’ is killed by the ‘wife’ immediately afterwards – who reveals herself to be Petra.
The final few scenes of the episode show John continuing his escape from East Berlin. A subtitle shows it is 1973. Petra and her agents follow John to his save house, but he manages to call in rescue with a hidden radio. John is last seen driving through the streets of Berlin in a stolen car.
As I mentioned Treadstone has started in a peculiar way. By the end of the episode we know very little about who is who and what it is all about. But then again, neither do the Treadstone agents who have woken up. It is clear that the events taking place in the early 70s will remain a large part of the show. In all likelihood the show will jump timelines consistently. I hope we will also see some of the events of The Bourne Ultimatum.
So far Treadstone has set up a number of mystery boxes. In that regards it resembles Lost. Who is in control of Stiletto 6? Who is running Treadstone now that the CIA has closed it down? And did John really her a voice over the radio when he called for help, or is it a double bluff and has he truly been brainwashed by the Stasi.
We have a whole season to found that out, and I am glad the show’s creators have defied expectations with unorthodox introduction. However, the viewers patience won’t be endless, at some point there will have to be more conventional storytelling. On a final note I was disappointed the theme ‘Treadstone Assassins’ as not heard. It may well have been one of the best things of the first movie starring Matt Damon