Citadel Premiere Recap: Who Said Tropes Can’t Be Fun?

Mason with Nadia's hand on his shoulder as she leans against a wall in the Citadel premiere
Courtesy of Prime Video

The following recap contains spoilers for the two-episode premiere of Citadel: S1E1, “The Human Enigma” and S1E2, “Spies Appear in Night Time” (written by Josh Appelbaum & Bryan Oh & David Weil and directed by Newton Thomas Sigel)

Citadel pings the radar due to the fact that the Russo brothers are producing the series, but the most intriguing thing may be the promise of various spinoffs in different languages to be released in different parts of the world. I won’t have much to say about that, as I have not had the chance to actually experience any of that work, but it’s a cool thing that they’re doing and I hope it works out.

Let’s recap the two-episode premiere.

S1E1 (“The Human Enigma”) is an exemplary pilot for an action show like this, even if it wasn’t really made as a pilot and Citadel was directly ordered to series, which I’m pretty sure was the case.

We begin on a train in the middle of a spy mission, which is a bit of a trope, and are introduced to Nadia (Priyanka Chopra Jonas), Mason (Richard Madden), and Bernard (Stanley Tucci) as they engage in witty banter about it. There’s a lot of witty banter! And the lipstick is just lipstick, even though the other cosmetics items are secretly spy tools.

They’re on the track of a guy named Gregor (Lev Gorn), who supposedly has a briefcase of uranium (oh no!), but it’s actually a trap. This is the day that Manticore burns Citadel down, and our heroes didn’t do a good enough job killing Gregor because he’s still alive enough to set off a bomb.

Boom! Kapow! Train crash! Fire in the water! Kablamo!

Cue the opening credits.

Mason in a sunlit kitchen with his wife and daughter
Credit: Jonathan Prime/Prime Video

Mason wakes up in a hospital, but get this: He doesn’t know who he is! So he just accepts that his name is Kyle and we cut to eight years later, by which time he’s living a nice, quiet, domestic life with a wife and a daughter who is eating too many blueberry pancakes.

Yes, it’s all a bit clichéd, but I hope you don’t feel I’m being glib as I describe what happens in Citadel S1E1. I may be striking a light-hearted tone, but that’s because this show is a lot of fun.

Citadel has everything: a hero who has been struck by amnesia; a beautiful partner who has been missing for eight years but of course isn’t actually dead; a genius tech guy with an oversized ego; and, of course, a global conspiracy of wealthy pricks who took out Citadel in order to prosper from their wicked ways.

At least, Bernard insists Citadel were the good guys, responsible for every movement towards the good in world history for the last 100 years. He doesn’t give examples, and I’m not sure I can think of any, but let’s just believe him and not get caught up in that. It’s a nice idea—an organization not beholden to national or tribalistic interests, geared towards doing what’s best for humanity without regard to such distinctions. If we’re thinking about the actual world, I’d suggest they must have failed a whole lot, but, hey, at least they were trying!

Now we’re without our secret heroes and the bad guys are about to get their hands on all of the nuclear codes in the world because the good guys had them (which is OK, because they were the good guys don’t forget!).

Bernard needs Mason’s help, even though Mason doesn’t remember who he is. His body remembers, though. See how he caught that knife? He can totally do this. Let’s get to work!

Bernard looks on
Credit: Paul Abell/Prime Video

As I said, all of this is a lot of fun, and the first episode of Citadel really does a good job of sucking you into the story and creating forward momentum. Episode 2 (“Spies Appear in Night Time”) carries that forward well by following what happens to Nadia after the train crash, before returning the perspective to Mason’s and then bringing everything together.

Nadia gets rescued on the road by a guy who ends up being a creep (so she kills him), but the most important information we get through her story is that Mason’s memory loss wasn’t incidental. This was something Bernard did intentionally when Citadel was under attack, and we see Nadia lose her memory in real time.

That puts a little smudge on Citadel’s image, but the motivation to keep information from falling into the wrong hands is clear enough. What I’m a little less clear on is what the original plan was with the X-Case that Manticore has found. Bernard makes a little comment about someone dying to protect it, but the detail feels a bit glossed over.

If Manticore found it, it wasn’t really protected. Even if it took them eight years to find it, that’s not really all that long in historical terms. Further, if Bernard needs the case to take down Manticore, then it being lost for eight years doesn’t really feel like a good thing.

Regardless, Mason succeeds in stealing the X-Case (which really kind of seems too easy). As a fancy computer, it is able to locate any other living agent in the world, which will lead him to Nadia. It also contains the memories of all of the Citadel agents in liquid form. But Mason doesn’t take the opportunity to inject himself with his memories when he has it. Instead, he hesitates, the van gets attacked, Bernard is shot, and the vial is broken.

Womp womp.

But from the point of view of the TV series, this is probably a good move. We have Mason, who still identifies as Kyle (with a wife and daughter to protect), and then Nadia, who does inject her memories (which include a little snippet of her saying Mason can never know about something). That will make them a more interesting pair to follow than if they’d both been restored to the versions of themselves we met in Episode 1.

I thought for a moment that Citadel was going to take a massive risk in its premiere and actually kill Bernard off, but it’s not surprising that this isn’t what happens. As S2E2 ends, he’s instead in Dahlia’s (Lesley Manville) clutches, as she waxes on about her previous successes at turning Citadel agents.

So the stage is set for a thrilling series of spy versus spy action. There’s nothing particularly novel about Citadel, but it does what it does well.

Neither are there a lot of big mysteries as we come out of the two-episode premiere, though we might wonder what Nadia was hiding from Mason and what else we don’t know in big-picture terms.

With only six episodes in its first season, I don’t expect Citadel to provide the level of complexity we got in a show like Alias, or even 24, in this initial run, but maybe it will get there if it’s given time to sprawl.

Written by Caemeron Crain

Caemeron Crain is Executive Editor of TV Obsessive. He struggles with authority, including his own.

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