Citadel episodes 1-3 review: glamour, little substance, but supporting players Tucci and Manville offer hope

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 25: (L-R) Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Richard Madden attend the Los Angeles red carpet and fan screening for Prime Video's "Citadel" on April 25, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 25: (L-R) Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Richard Madden attend the Los Angeles red carpet and fan screening for Prime Video's "Citadel" on April 25, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images) /

Citadel has a lot going for it: glossy veneer, charismatic and likable main stars Richard Madden (Mason Kane) and Priyanka Chopra Jonas (Nadia Sinh) who sometimes sizzle, and assisting characters Stanley Tucci (Bernard Orlick) and Leslie Manville (Dahlia Archer) who liven up the series.

Unfortunately, in terms of substance, it’s rather thin. It tastes good, but it’s just not filling.

Created by the Russo brothers (of MCU fame) and centering around the international Citadel spy network—the good guys here—we’re introduced to their top spies Mason Kane (Game of Thrones’ Madden) and Nadia Sinh (The Matrix Resurrections’ Chopra Jonas). In the opening sequence, the two are tasked with sabotaging the illegal trade of uranium but are instead almost taken out themselves once it’s revealed they’ve been set up by the Manticore organization, a corrupt syndicate run by the world’s richest billionaire families who horde espionage tech and secrets to wreak havoc.

With their memories erased—as per Citadel protocol—both Kane and Sinh are living new, spy-free lives eight years later. That is until Kane (or rather, his alter ego, Kyle) pops up on a Citadel server as he’s attempting to look into his past via a DNA search, triggering the attention of Tucci’s Orlick, who kidnaps Kane and his family (he now has a wife and daughter)– nicely, it’s to protect them, after all. This then sets Kane on the course of getting his memories back and taking on one last mission.

What we like about Citadel

It’s a clever premise for a spy thriller. Billed as the flagship series, Amazon Prime’s Citadel is to serve as the foundation franchise from which international satellite shows will spring forth. Already underway are shows set in Italy and India, starring Matilda De Angelis, Varun Dhawan, and Samantha Ruth Prabhu. With glamorous locations unveiled in a James Bond-like fashion in the first three episodes—which were screened for this review—marketing the series as an interconnected universe is an enticing concept. This innovative approach to global storytelling compliments the series’ preface and bolsters its global appeal.

As spies who shared an intimate past—and who retain sexual tension—Madden’s Kane and Chopra Jonas’s Sinh are intriguing enough as a partnership. They’re a fun couple, although I wouldn’t exactly describe them as a sizzling pair who ooze chemistry (oh, say, like Timothy Olyphant and Drew Barrymore in Santa Clarita Diet, or Timothy Olyphant and Molly Parker in Deadwood, or Timothy Olyphant and the Judge in The Good Place, I kid, you see the trend here, though), I found them enjoyable enough to see where their relationship will go or what secrets they’ll discover about each other. In that vein, Sinh’s got a leg up since she was able to obtain her lost memories, while Kane’s were destroyed. There’s also the intriguing element of if Nadia Sinh was the mole who betrayed Citadel, setting off a bloodbath of executed Citadel agents. With only one of them having access to their past, their uneven relationship makes for a titillating storyline.

As the tech geek mastermind trying to hold Citadel together, Stanley Tucci is in excellent form here as Bernard Orlick. Tucci has the unenviable task of filling in the plot holes, but does a fine job making exposition interesting. Even when he’s executing guys, he has a way of making you like him. He’s as compelling being tortured as he is running the show from the comfort of his tech lair.

Foil to Tucci’s Orlick is Leslie Manville, who portrays the appropriately titled Dahlia Archer, a British ambassador by day, but malevolent manager of evil assets for Manticore by night. Well, not exactly, but kind of. She’s the type of woman who enjoys using her dark intelligence to gaslight journalists in the middle of an interview, tend to her rose garden while discussing mass murder, or enjoy a good chianti while watching an enemy be tortured at her dinner table. Lovely woman Manville plays her cool and cruel. The scenes between these two are the highlight of Citadel.

Where Citadel leaves you wanting for more

Citadel’s simplicity I believe is a calculated risk. With the global reach of the international spinoffs, it seems like this might have been a strategic concept. With an uncomplicated basis, it provides a straightforward blueprint from which the franchise projects can go in several directions. Whatever the rationale, the lack of detail left me unsatiated and looking for something surprising to sink my teeth into. The result of the first three episodes felt surprisingly threadbare, despite being the second most expensive television series of all time.

This brings me to another criticism. Citadel cost $300 million and will continue to be a heavy cost center for Amazon Prime since it’s been greenlit for a second season, but to be honest, I found myself hard-pressed to see where all that money went. The train car in the opening scene felt very glamorous, but much of the background looks CGI-generated rather than location-shot. Citadel was filmed in several international locations, but perhaps it was the oversaturated style or the gauzy filter, it made the action feel detached and less engaging.

Additionally, the action scenes felt rather generic. We’ve seen the fight-on-a-train sequence done excellently in the James Bond series. Same with the ski shootout, one version I equate as the best Bond action scene ever (you know the one, that opens The Spy Who Loved Me with James Bond skiing off the mountain only to be saved by a parachute that sports the British flag, of course– which still holds up against the test of time; The Spy was filmed in 1977!). That said, I thought the ski escape in Citadel was the most fun action sequence of the first half of the series episodes (there are six total for the first season).

And I just couldn’t get over that Citadel is simply the “good guys,” with the ability to amass all this wealth to police the worst criminals (it takes serious cash to maintain all those safe houses!) for altruistic purposes and the ability to operate outside the purview of any one nation. I don’t know, it just seems too good to be true, almost bordering on the preposterous.

But so do James Bond movies, and I always like those. I guess what I’m saying is that if a well-written series or movie can entice me to tune in with sophisticated style and enough engaging substance to leave me guessing, I’m all in.

Why we’ll be back for more

Who knows? Perhaps the back half of Citadel will bring on the intrigue. It already offered a nice twist at the end of the third episode having to do with Kane’s family, one that has me eagerly awaiting the fourth episode. And Citadel is certainly stylish. So even if I’m ambivalent, I’m also engaged.

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The first two episodes of Citadel have dropped on Amazon Prime. Weekly episodes will air on Prime on Fridays.