The show about every spy losing their memory returns. If you don’t remember what happened last time on “Citadel”, god you’re lucky. Richard Madden’s amnesiac Kyle had his spy memories as supersuave Mason destroyed, but Priyanka Chopra Jonas’ amnesiac Nadia was able to get hers back. Now they’re working together to stop the evil Manticore from procuring eight year old nuclear codes.
The first thing they do is retcon the nuclear codes into an A.I. that can track uranium globally. That no one’s been able to rewrite. In 8 years. While ChatGPT is over here going, “You need those paid writers? I’m free. You gonna need those paid programmers? I’m free.” Timely. Evil Manticore Lady doesn’t breathe a word about “nuclear codes” after repeating it every other scene in the first two episodes.
Robert Rodriguez literally recorded all the dialogue in the $7,000 movie “El Mariachi” in post-production. The makers of the $300 million “Citadel” just decided no one would notice if “nuclear codes” suddenly changed to “uranium detecting A.I.” I highlighted the staggering number of gaffes that could’ve easily been edited out in my review of the first two eps, why am I still surprised?
But forget that! We’re gonna have a flashback of how Kyle/Mason and Nadia first met! It’s basically an excuse for an action scene, but who understands how those work in spy movies? We better have a meeting about it first.
We don’t need any of this set-up. You could cut directly to the action sequence and we’d be fine. That’s how every Bond movie starts and we don’t lament that we missed the conference meeting. It doesn’t matter if Mason is retrieving an evil megavirus, the Ark of the Covenant, or second-hand Taylor Swift tickets. We get it, each is a source of unspeakable power and it has to be researched.
I still remember the joy of “Mission: Impossible 3” never telling you what the McGuffin they’re chasing is. Few spy films have so cleanly acknowledged it doesn’t matter. But “Citadel” is doing a 10-minute flashback. If 5 minutes of it isn’t a meeting describing a McGuffin that’ll never matter again, then why’d we pay for this secret base set? Stanley lost the receipt, it’s not like we can return it.
To be fair, there’s nowhere else for the dialogue to shine. Those meetings are important because they give the characters opportunities to quip with the energy of your CEO sharing a joke they saw on Reddit and expecting you to courtesy laugh before he tells you there’s no bonus this year, but the executives’ Aegean cruise was beautiful (true story).
This ensures that “Citadel” has officially joined “Halo” in that rare genre of shows about meetings that I like to call Could’ve Been an Email. Half-hour spy cartoons have already mastered the art of knowing the audience has seen this bit countless times before, and their audience is primarily children who have only had five minutes of cogent thought, mostly about Legos or Minecraft or whatever’s popular with kids right now. Tik Tok? The return of child labor? Have pogs cycled back around yet? The point is we don’t need an entire meeting to outline an action sequence that’s only going to be important for 5 minutes of flashback. If a 10 year-old treats it as a waste of limited free time before their McDonald’s night shift, why don’t we?
Slow-forward to Mason escaping an Iranian facility with a deadly Ebola-like plague in hand. Once they get to the action sequence, the ideas are mostly great. He improvises, adapts, and uses the tools he finds on hand. He’s chased by paratroopers, he pops out cheesy magic ski boots that remind me of that parasurfing scene from “Die Another Day”, there’s snowmobile vs. ski vs. jet fighter action, the bad guys can’t hit the broadside of a barn, Mason never misses a shot, it’s 90% amazeballs. If only we got to see it. In between every awesome action moment, we cut back to headquarters where a man we’ve never met before helpfully says things like, “Two guys from the last scene down, two guys for the next scene approaching”. Yes. That is the thing I just saw and am about to see. I could tell that by, you know, watching the action scene.
Mason shoots two guys, cut to Suddenly Important Dude at base staring at a screen. Two red dots disappear. “Two skis down”. Two more red dots appear. “Two ATVs approaching”. Cut to action scene. You’ll never guess. Two ATVs approach.
These cutaways happen in many series to afford the action larger transitions than would be comfortable if we just saw the sequence straight through. When you cut away for every single minor action for minutes straight, it just shows you have no idea how to cut the action itself together. Mason can’t get two shots off without going to Cutaway Dude telling his red dots, “You got two shots off, in the next scene it’s a dark and stormy night”.
It’s a Could’ve Been an Email inside another Could’ve Been an Email. It Could’ve Been an Email all the way down.
Mason is injured, Nadia shows up, badass choreography is intercut with, “Mason! Last scene just happened, next scene incoming”. Safe in the knowledge that the action sequence has been thoroughly sabotaged, we cut to Mason sitting around in bandages like he’s waiting for his cue. Mason and Nadia briefly officially meet after the mission, and insult each others’ mothers. The very next scene they’re sleeping together. Er, Mason and Nadia are. Not the moms. At this rate, that’ll be next episode.
I’d say there’s no way that anyone could possibly think this passes for romantic dialogue, but then again it’s like 90% of the Russos’ screenplay for “The Gray Man”. I’m beginning to think Your Mom jokes are what the Russos throw in as dialogue when they become panicked. It’s a survival mechanism, like a skunk spraying sulfur juice or a possum keeling over or a herd of buffalo forming a defensive circle around your mom.
“Hey, Russo Bro! Russbro. I’ve got these two characters who need to have sexy banter that convinces the audience that they spark immediately.”
“Have they insulted each others moms yet?”
“We can do better than that.”
“Agh, a spider!”
“One’s an orphan who never had a mom, hilarious!”
OK, I have to admit I’m actually kinda jealous of the Russos’ fame. My frustration first arises from my childhood. It was a gusty Autumn day when my third grade class first stood around before school and made Your Mom jokes to pass the time. Apparently we wrote a high quality screenplay every week just standing in line, but we didn’t think to write anything down. Sometimes the geese in the baseball field would attack a passing cyclist. Halcyon days. My point is, we had it in us to waste $300 million, too.
After all these scenes that could’ve been emails, the next scene is an email. What a twist! Well, it’s text messaging. Close enough. Thrillingly staccato violin music backs modern-day Nadia typing out brief texts in exciting codephrases like “How’s the weather?” and “How’s the package?” We could get a swift back-and-forth like in any spy thriller, but “Citadel” is grounded and realistic whenever it gets embarrassed about having Inspector Gadget ski boots in a previous scene. That means we get to see the messaging play out in real time, as Nadia waits at length for responses. We even take the time to see her look around the room with pained expressions as she racks her mind about what to write, which is something that would make sense if she weren’t writing clearly prescribed codephrases. Oh god, the emails are even worse. You know what, it could’ve been a sick day.
Luckily, half the episode is Stanley Tucci being tortured. Wait, that came out wrong. I mean, he’s the only one riding the line between this show’s cheesiness and faux gravitas. The one liners still don’t work because they’re variations on the same joke: characters telling each other to fuck themselves over and over again. OK, they’re not actually jokes with a punchline or a set-up or anything that makes a joke, but “Citadel” keeps acting like they are and after a certain amount of time you don’t want to be the odd one out even though you’re watching this alone because you wouldn’t dare inflict this show on loved ones. Here’s where they really need Cutaway Guy describing over comms, “That was one joke, another joke incoming”. Still, Tucci works because he read the script and recognized this is a job for Nic Cage, but I guess he wasn’t available. And Tucci can Cage it up enough to get the job done.
Lol and behold, the end of the episode features a twist. After Mason the spy lost his memory and became Kyle, he met another woman who’d lost her memory, married her, and had a daughter who thus far hasn’t lost her memory thank god for small favors. Weird that Mason-Kyle and his now-wife Abby lost their memories right around the same time, when all the other Citadel spies also lost their memories. I bet that doesn’t mean anything, it’s just a coincidence in this series about nothing being a coincidence when it could be badly written instead.
But the Manticore villain tagged to torture Tucci next was in love with Mason’s now-wife when she was a spy and maybe this villain was Citadel, too but also lost his memory. Makes no sense? Just looks like I mashed words together? Introduces massive plot holes? Basically assume that if someone on this show didn’t lose their memory, they did, and that also covers the writers and directors. If you want to have an action scene’s description described to you or see a real-time portrayal of texting “I’m bored, how bout u?”, you got yourself a show.
Literally nothing happens in this episode until the final 30 seconds. And just in case you don’t know what that means, remember you can always sign up to get this as an email.
You can watch “Citadel” on Amazon Prime, which is great because I don’t feel bad like I would if this happened to another streaming service.
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