Treason review: A spy thriller with no stakes

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Trained and groomed by MI6, Adam Lawrence’s (Charlie Cox) career seems set. But when the past catches up with him in the form of Kara (Olga Kurylenko), a Russian spy with whom he shares a complicated past, he is forced to question everything and everyone in his life. A triangular relationship forms between Kara, Adam, and his wife, Maddy (Oona Chaplin); three people who are trying to expose each other’s secrets, navigate political and diplomatic relationships, whilst hanging onto their personal lives, and those they love most.

Treason. Charlie Cox as Adam and Olga Kurylenko as Kara in Treason. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

Treason sets itself apart from the myriad of spy thrillers by mixing the weight of being the head of MI6 and the personal family drama. Adam is deputy of MI6 until his boss, Sir Martin Angelis (Ciaran Hinds) is poisoned and Adam must take his place. Not only is Adam the youngest to head MI6 but things get complicated when he discovers his former flame Kara, a rogue agent, not only poisoned his boss but is the architect of his entire career, and has plans for him. And she is not the only one. With his rise to the top, agencies and countries are suspicious of his loyalty, but Adam has much more than work problems in his life when the new jobs immediately puts his family at risk.

With espionage thrillers, there must be threats and doubts, especially when it comes to a double agent working against their supposed patriotism to their homeland. From the get-go, the threats and conflicts are built up nicely to establish this mix of personal and professional, but the stakes never seem too dire. Characters are often passive to what is going on which can break from the action. Adam is the hero of the story, but he is a passive one that barely reacts to the world and situations around him. He is presented as a seasoned veteran but is never in control of any situation and always requires help from others. Ironic given that his codename is Control. Given the charm of Cox, it is quickly forgiven as Adam seems to be led by emotion over rational. It does seem intentional given the premise of the show, the family links and how they conflict with Adam’s work.

Treason. Charlie Cox as Adam in Treason. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

Opposite to Adam is Kara, who is highly adept in any situation showing her ruthless skill with a determined need for revenge and fragility. She is haunted and steals every scene, almost the entire show, on a mission for answers and retribution. The relationship between Kara and Adam is not as much a driving force as it was promised in the trailer, which is disappointing given that they are opposites but work in great tandem with each other. The two have chemistry, but not much comes of it. A missed opportunity and would have been more intriguing to add layers onto that. At first, Maddie can seem as passive as her husband, but by the end of the season she has her own agency, and works nicely with other characters. The love triangle that was promised in the trailer was thankfully not much to the plot. Kara is clearly from Adam’s past, but it only takes a toll on his personal life when it comes in through his profession. There is no tired love triangle plot, which is a relief.

Treason. Olga Kurylenko as Kara in Treason. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

The action is nicely paced although sometimes a bit frantic, but in a way that makes sense. For instance, the first two episodes have poisoning, a death, betrayals, kidnapping, mystery, and so many lies and conspiracies, but they tie neatly together. Some of the action takes a backseat to politics, with the focus of a leadership race being the catalyst for a lot, but it does not seem too important, despite characters often stating that as fact. One thing that got a bit too real given the recent resignations, yes plural, in British politics, is the unnamed Prime Minister who is stepping down due to illegal and dubious business. As a Brit, that hit a bit too close to home and caused an eye roll. It did feel a little played out that Russia is at the centre of a conflict; for once it would be refreshing to have someone else go against the West. Maybe a country that was thought to have been an ally…

Treason. Ciarán Hinds as Martin Angelis in Treason. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

Treason lets the action take a backseat in favour of the personal drama to propel the story, and rarely mixes. It is an exciting series with a refreshing take, but the stakes and danger takes too much of a backseat. Cox and Kurylenko have great chemistry and it is an entertaining watch without too much thought going into it.

Kara is the MVC of the series. She has the most action and skill that befits a main character and could easily have been the hero of the story with a clear aim and fascinating backstory. Kurylenko steals the scenes she is in and could easily have stolen the entire show. 

Treason will be released 26th December 2022, only on Netflix.

The first season was screened for review. 


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