Richard Madden’s chances of playing James Bond are continually sabotaged by his own actions, one character at a time. Additionally, the Russo brothers have depleted all the goodwill they gained through their Marvel movies, while Amazon persists in overspending on obviously cursed material. Citadel, costing $300 million, is a complete misfire that seems like something that could have been generated by a ChatGPT prompt.
Together with Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, Amazon now boasts the two most high-profile failures of the streaming era. Originally intended to be an eight-episode franchise kickoff with spinoffs in various locations, the “mothership” Citadel has now been scaled down to a much slimmer six-episode experience, with each episode running roughly 35 minutes. This review examines two of the episodes. Strip away the opening credits and “previously on” segments, which are transparent attempts to lengthen the runtime, and what remains is a three-hour season that could easily be binge-watched in one sitting. However, Amazon expects viewers to tune in weekly, likely because they believe Citadel will prompt water cooler conversations.
Citadel’s strange tonal shifts can abruptly shift from deadpan exposition to a heist film reminiscent of Soderbergh’s work. The lazy aesthetics of the show may remind Priyanka Chopra of the generic network TV that she strives to distinguish herself from. The first scene is a lengthy action sequence set on a futuristic train that lasts 15 minutes, giving viewers an indication of the subpar writing that’s to come. Priyanka Chopra and Richard Madden, who both appear to be struggling to elevate the mediocre material they’ve been given, star as Nadia Sinh and Mason Kane, respectively. They are elite spies who lose their memories after being betrayed and left for dead on the train. Surprisingly, Nadia is completely absent from the rest of the first episode, and the show jumps eight years ahead to focus on Mason’s “reactivation” as a secret agent.
The opening sequence of Citadel lacks any semblance of energy, not only in terms of visual appeal but also in the chemistry between the show’s attractive leads. The storytelling element of the sequence essentially strips the show of any suspense and renders it unengaging. Given that viewers know how Nadia and Mason lost their memories, it seems pointless to watch them spend two episodes trying to make sense of their situation. The audience feels as though they are ahead of the characters, which is not how a show like this should be structured.
Citadel is a typical spy-themed program with amnesiac protagonists, secret organizations, and world-ending stakes, but it lacks any wit or sophistication. It’s the kind of generic show in which a spy smirks and says “it’s good to be back” moments before tailing someone, or a random goon looks the spy protagonist dead in the eye and snarls, “What are you? CIA, MI6?”
Obviously, Nadia and Mason don’t belong to the CIA or MI6. Instead, they are part of an organization called Citadel, which, according to tech genius Bernard Orlick (Stanley Tucci), is a combination of the Kingsmen and the Eternals. Citadel is an independent spy agency that was established a century ago with the aim of shaping humanity’s progress from the shadows and safeguarding the world from evil forces. Bernard describes this using visual aids, almost as if he knows that he’s there to provide exposition in a high-priced streaming series.
The Spectre equivalent in this universe is Manticore, an organization formed by wealthy families to manipulate world events with the help of their in-house spy agency. They’re essentially the Illuminati, and their representative is Dahlia Archer (Lesley Manville), a politician who appears a few times in the first two episodes without us getting a sense of who she is or why Citadel and Manticore have been at odds for a century.
It’s not entirely clear why we’re supposed to be rooting for Nadia and Mason, and the show’s emotional approach exacerbates the problem. Citadel shies away from keeping the audience in the dark about certain things that would increase the unmoored feeling that both Nadia and Mason are experiencing. Instead, it rushes through plot beats, impatiently telling us how to feel. Citadel suggests that we should develop a connection with Mason just because he’s a family man in the present, without demonstrating why that should be the case. The family is so thinly written that it might be nothing more than a facade or, even worse, a plot device.