WATCH OF THE WEEK: Treason
An espionage story is like a garden of vines, growing fast and constricting in concentric patterns around the necks of everyone involved. Treason, the new Netflix limited series about dangerous doings in Britain’s MI6, keeps the panic rising and the tension mounting. It is cleverly plotted and well-acted. But it rarely makes you care enough to feel you absolutely must keep watching and find out how these people wiggle out of their crises or who lives and who dies.
It’s a nicely constructed plot mechanism without much soul beneath its flashy, busy surface. Created by Matt Charman, who co-wrote the underrated Steven Spielberg Cold War thriller Bridge of Spies, Treason gets its emergency rolling immediately.
The head of MI6 (Ciarán Hinds, always a welcome presence) is poisoned, enough to debilitate but not kill him. As his second in command, Adam Lawrence (Charlie Cox) takes charge; he is a baffled player in a drastically changed game,
ready to do what’s necessary to keep his country safe.
He has, in fact, been badly compromised by a Russian spy, Kara (Olga Kurylenko), who has manoeuvred him into the top spot for the purpose of doing her bidding. It’s a promising premise that sprouts increasingly complicated subplots as it goes. Adam’s wife, Maddy (Oona Chaplin), served in the military with a CIA agent (Tracy Ifeachor) who sees Adam as an imminent threat.
Kara is looking to torpedo the political campaign of a candidate for prime minister (Alex Kingston) and seeking
information that only Adam’s hobbled boss has on file. There’s more, of course; in this world, one potential scandal always begets a few more. This is part of the genre’s fun, and Treason is just that, in fits and starts. It creates the “trust nobody” atmosphere that gives all good spy yarns their aura of menace.
But Treason is so slick and slippery that it forgets to create a place to stand, either thematically or emotionally. Each episode moves deftly, supplies some choice reveals and then disappears into the ether. This may seem like a strange criticism, but it feels very much like a TV series, its thrills more ephemeral than resonant, its drama more titillating than timeless.
This is the case with many (though certainly not all) Netflix series, especially compared with what’s happening at other leading streaming outlets. Netflix products are generally entertaining and clever. But it leaves you a little hungry when you’re done watching, and it’s hard to shake the feeling it could be much better.
Nothing wrong with entertainment, of course; sometimes it’s all you want. But a show like Treason could easily reach higher, and it’s frustrating when it doesn’t. You can enjoy the ride even if you wish for a more fulfilling destination.