Citadel, on Amazon Prime, takes every spy movie trope from The Bourne Identity to Get Smart, lacquers them in Marvel movie gloss, and spreads it out over six episodes. There’s so much globetrotting going on you may get jet lag keeping up with our amnesiac spies, and when the credits roll you’ll wonder if your memory was wiped as well.
One hundred-ish years ago, all the world powers got together and created Citadel, an omni-national spy agency for a sort of Mutual Assured Destruction of espionage. Don’t question how that works, or why they all seem to be Americans. Just go with it. Their spies speak all the languages, have all the toys (“Go, go gadget ski boots!”), and super secret headquarters in a national park where it’s always sunset at golden hour.
Naturally, every MI6 needs a Spectre, or maybe I should say every S.H.I.E.L.D needs a Hydra. Citadel’s enemy is Manticore, and we know they’re bad because they burn their insignia into their operatives’ arms and speak in eeevilll British accents.
What gives the show its unique hook is that Citadel is able to remotely upload and wipe their agents’ memories at any time. The show starts on a train eight years ago. Nadia Sinh (Priyanka Chopra Jonas) is tasked with recovering the X Case, which contains all the nuclear codes. All. Of. Them. Also on the mission is her ex-lover Mason Kane (Richard Madden). They still work together with easy (read: sexy) familiarity, but it turns out the whole thing was a setup by Manticore. The train explodes, and Citadel’s man-in-the-chair Bernard Orlick (Stanley Tucci) wipes their memories even though they’re assumed dead.
Mason starts a family, Nadia runs a restaurant, and neither remembers anything about their earlier lives until Bernard shows up with his ex-wife, her wife, and teenage daughter. We move back and forth in time, learning why there was bad blood between Mason and Nadia (hint: it has something to do with a gizmo called the Oz Key because X Case was already taken).
I think Citadel wants to say something meaningful about memory, identity, and loyalty, but it’s hard to take anything seriously when it’s so tonally inconsistent. The extreme violence robs the show of its fun, and the absurdity unbalances any gravitas. Nadia can take a punch to the face from a man twice her size and shake it off. Mason can catch knives out of the air. And there are gadgets galore. It’s like trying to find substance in FX’s long-running adult cartoon Archer.
But I’ll try. We know that remembering is important and that as humans we are prone to forget. After leading the Israelites across the Jordan River, God commanded Joshua to have the men gather twelve stones to set as a monument to remind them of that event (Joshua 4:1-5:12). When God does great things for us, they’re worth memorializing. For me, this show will probably not go down in my memory as something great. (Now streaming on Amazon Prime and rated TV-MA for sexual content, violence, and profanity.)