Friday, April 28, 2023

REVIEW: 'Citadel' - Mason Forgets About His Life as a Spy After a Mission With Nadia Goes Awry in 'The Human Enigma'

Amazon's Citadel - Episode 1.01 "The Human Enigma"

Mason Kane and Nadia Sinh - top agents of the independent spy organization Citadel - collide with a nefarious, new syndicate - Manticore - leading to catastrophe. Eight years later, Mason Kane is living a quiet life as "Kyle Conroy," with no memory of his past. Until one day an old colleague enlists his help to stop a now powerful Manticore from creating a new world order.

"The Human Enigma" was directed by Newton Thomas Sigel with teleplay by David Weil, Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec, Jeff Pinkner & Scott Rosenberg and story by Josh Appelbaum, Bryan Oh & David Weil

Nadia embarks on a mission while a passenger on a train through the Italian countryside. That immediately displays the scope this show hopes to achieve. Throughout this premiere, the story travels the globe. Some locations are more pivotal than others. However, none of them ground the characters for very long. It's only a few brief moments before the action cuts away to something more important. That opening sequence showcases the talents of Nadia and her partner, Mason. They have a flirtatious banter as they scheme to make their move on their target. They lead with confidence. They know how to handle themselves in this situation. They've prepared for any possibility. And then, their understanding of the world completely implodes. Suddenly, a rival spy organization has popped up with just as much influence and capabilities. Nadia witnesses the horrors that befall her fellow Citadel agents. That makes this a performance. It's more than simply eliminating her as a threat. It's about making her know she has been defeated. Citadel's reign over the world is coming to an end. Nadia and Mason are capable of fighting the many agents that come after them. The situation is still rigged for them to suffer a disastrous ending. In fact, it's quite miraculous that both of them survive. However, only one of them is prominently displayed for the remainder of the episode. Nadia is presumed dead because she has gone underground since the train bombing. She hasn't made contact with any of the other Citadel survivors. Meanwhile, Mason was given the convenience of amnesia. He woke up in an Italian hospital with no memory of who he was. Instead, he accepts the cover identity that was given to him. He believes it's real. He makes a life from it. Everything changes over the course of the next eight years. He desperately wants answers to his past. No one can provide any clarity. DNA testing wasn't useful. Meanwhile, his daughter asking questions only makes the pain sting more. It's all completely overwrought and painfully on-the-nose. Mason carries the scars on his body from his work with Citadel. He doesn't know the stories behind them. Instead, he's suddenly haunted by the image of the woman on the train. He doesn't know what it means. He yearns for more. The advancement in technology makes it easier for Bernard to find him now. And yet, he was billed immediately as a technology expert who crafted devices posing as commonplace items for Nadia. He's been struggling for eight years believing he was the only Citadel survivor. He still fights to make his influence known and push back against the nefarious goals of Manticore. The world changes and he has been a witness to it all. But it's completely driven by vague concepts that don't offer much specificity to the influence these characters have or ultimately who they are within this complicated world. That's a significant problem.

Bernard explains that Citadel was responsible for every good thing that happened throughout the world since its creation. He doesn't offer any examples. He then easily casts the blame on Manticore for every bad thing that has happened in the last eight years. A news broadcast shows a terrorist bombing in Los Angeles. Hendrix wakes up from nightmares. That's meant to offer the context for the dire straits the world is entangled in. It's all meant to be in service to the eight powerful families that finance Manticore. Their mission is completely driven to influence global events to their sole benefit. Citadel represents a more noble mission of prioritizing all humanity. That comes across as the show wanting to be universally homogenized without actually communicating the ways in which diverging interests make that prospect more complicated. It's simply a bunch of secretive people who have power and decide to influence the world with it. They operate in the shadows. The mission now has immense stakes because Manticore agents have acquired the Citadel case containing the nuclear launch codes for every weapon on the planet. With that information, they would be unstoppable. Bernard believes Mason still carries the skills to prevent that disaster from happening. He demonstrates that by throwing a knife at him. He trusts that Mason's body still knows what to do even though his mind has no memories. That overlooks the lack of practice he has had over the last eight years. The time jump conveys how drastically the world has shifted. It allows Manticore to be in control. It sets up Citadel agents as the underdogs. That's the position from which they now try to achieve their simplistic ideals. The complexity just isn't there to sustain interest. It's all a commonplace spy story where the stakes are high. Clearly defined lines between good and evil are drawn. It's that simple. If the execution was better, than some of these plot devices would be more bearable. Instead, the show only offers mystery pertaining to Nadia's life following the train bombing. On the surface, it doesn't seem as if the global population has noticed the significant shift in bad outcomes. These intelligence agents know to take these threats seriously. The show doesn't provide a reason for the audience to care. It's all useful exposition to avoid openly critiquing any actual agency or event. It's a story with its eye on a global stage without wanting to delve into the significance of various cultures. Meanwhile, the actual spy craft doesn't seem that impressive. Sure, it's thrilling when Nadia and Mason are working together. That's ultimately just a small component of that opening sequence. Moreover, they present as people adjusting on the fly instead of executing a preplanned mission. As such, that throws into question just how effective Citadel was suppose to be in the first place. Bernard lifts Mason up with the promise of answers. It simply appears as if he is fabricating details to make Mason seem more heroic than he may actually have been.