TV Recap: Treadstone – Love It Or Leave It?

Love It Or Leave It? Review
October 15, 2019

Straight out of the world of Jason Bourne comes the new television spy thriller, Treadstone!

From prolific television creator, producer and writer, Tim Kring (Heroes; Touch), Treadstone takes us inside the CIA’s highly secretive black ops program, Operation Treadstone. Fans of the movie franchise, and the Robert Ludlum books upon which they’re based, will know Treadstone as a morally questionable organization focused on (deadly) results and human manipulation. The question is, will this translate to good TV?

Read on for our thoughts on Treadstone and whether we think you should Love It Or Leave It!

USA Network

Official Show Synopsis.
TREADSTONE — Episode 101 — Pictured: Emilia Schüle as Russian KGB Agent — (Photo by: Jonathan Hession/USA Network)

“From a producer of the “Bourne” franchise, Treadstone is an action-packed thriller set amidst the CIA black ops program Operation Treadstone. Treadstone explores the origin story and present-day actions of the infamous covert program that uses behavior modification protocol to turn recruits into nearly superhuman assassins. The first season of Treadstone follows sleeper agents across the globe as they’re mysteriously “awakened” to resume their deadly missions.

Treadstone is produced by and developed by UCP and executive produced by Tim Kring. Ben Smith and Jeffrey Weiner (“Bourne” franchise) executive produce.”

The series stars Michelle Forbes, Patrick Fugit, Michael Gaston, Shruti Haasan, Hyo Joo Han, Tess Haubrich, Tracy Ifeachor, Jeremy Irvine, Omar Metwally, Gabrielle Scharnitzky, Emilia Schüle, and Brian J. Smith.


“A cicada … they burrow underground just beneath the surface, for years at a time. And wait. And then they awaken from their long slumber.”
“Then die.”
“Yes, but not before they fulfill their destiny.”

TREADSTONE — Episode 101 — Pictured: (l-r) Martin Umbash as Dr. Meisner, Jeremy Irvine as J. Randolph Bentley — (Photo by: Jonathan Hession/USA Network)

Treadstone is a CIA black ops unit that dates back to the 1970s and the height of Vietnam and deep Cold War tension. Tasked with turning humans into lethal assassins, Treadstone employed these secret weapons of the state to eliminate targets all over the world. After a certain operation (Operation Blackbriar) ended in disaster years ago, Treadstone was supposedly shut down.

Fast forward some 46 years and a new crop of assassins that were trained under Treadstone’s “Operation Cicada” are being activated all over the world. No one seems sure why or, even more troubling, WHO is doing the activation.

The thing with these assassins, these Cicadas, is that they have no memory of their assassin training and lethal skills.  But once woken up, they are seemingly powerless to do anything other than what their long dormant programming mandates. Kill.

Who is activating these sleeper agents? And why? How far does Treadstone reach and who is running this supposedly terminated black ops group? These are chief concerns of Season 1 of Treadstone. The show doles out the questions (and some answers) slowly and methodically over the course of the season. Treadstone is in no hurry to show you everything at once but it also demands your attention week to week. In addition to being information and dialogue heavy, the show moves around the world, from Virginia to Pyongyang to Kursk and many places in between, and back and forth in time.  If you get up to pee without pausing the show, you’re likely going to miss something important. That’s the kind of show Treadstone is and I am here for it! 

TREADSTONE — “The Cicada Protocol” Episode 101 — Pictured: (l-r) Omar Metwally as Mr. Edwards, Tracy Ifeachor as Tara Colema — (Photo by: Jonathan Hession/USA Network)

In this era of streaming, where an entire season is loaded all at once to binge watch, we forget that there is a delicious hunger that comes when you cannot simply fast forward to the next episode but rather, need to wait a week to satiate your curiosity. I love that hunger and the pangs of waiting; it  builds anticipation and allows the community to ruminate on theories and details that have been given proper time to digest. Fans of Treadstone will spend every day in between episodes trying to parse what things mean, if they’re important details or simply red herrings.

Sporting a large ensemble that is far flung around the globe, Treadstone made a smart move in not casting anyone too terribly famous (if this show was on HBO, it would (to its detriment) be chock full of A-list Hollywood types). Don’t let this be taken as a slight, this cast is giving great performances across the board; we’re dealing with a deep bench of talent. Treadstone‘s production values, writing, direction, and acting are movie quality and USA has produced a series that punches far above its weight class. The lack of name recognition among the cast allows the characters and the story to take center stage in an even-handed way – no one is given too much screentime thereby allowing you to become invested with these people across the board. Treadstone has A LOT of storylines in the fire and its important that we are paying attention to all of them. The show, smartly, never lingers too long on one character before taking us somewhere else to check in on how everything else is going. Again, I think you’ll see this as a bonus as the season unfurls and mysteries and questions begin to pile up, one on the other.

A question I know many people will ask, what if I haven’t seen the Bourne movies or read Ludlum’s books? No worries. Treadstone gives you everything you need to know about the world to understand what is happening in the series. And, for those that ARE well read in the Bourne-iverse, you’ll be rewarded with some nice callback to other operations tried by the CIA’s Treadstone group.

Love It Or Leave It?
TREADSTONE — “The Cicada Protocol” Episode 101 — Pictured: Brian J. Smith as Doug McKenna — (Photo by: Jonathan Hession/USA Network)

LOVE IT!!  Treadstone is a surprisingly addictive, action spy thriller with lots of show mythology to unspool over the course of the season. Well choreographed fight scenes (our catnip if there ever was one and this show is on full blast with its hand to hand fighting) and action sequences punctuate this Neo Cold War thriller. Heavy on lore, past and present, Treadstone is the kind of show that you cannot passively watch.  From authentic, Korean conversations (with subtitles) to lore heavy, expositional dialogue, Treadstone throws tons of information at you for the full hour, every week, and you Need.To.Pay.Attention!

To be clear, that’s a plus for us. We like shows where the viewer is rewarded for keeping their eyes on the screen and understanding how Thing A from 2 episodes ago pays of to Thing B happening now. If you can hold my attention for an hour each week, such that I don’t reach for my phone and check social media, you’ve done your job and you’ve done it well. And Treadstone does its job well.

If you enjoyed The Americans for the espionage as well as the interpersonal drama of being torn between duty and emotion, I think you’re really going to like Treadstone.  There are a lot of shared themes that resonate in these troubling times.  Treadstone tells two related stories, one in the present and one set in 1973, a Cold War setting in a divided Berlin (and Vietnam in the background).  In this age when North Korea and Russia are very real threats to our notion of safety and well being, Treadstone delights in the idea of history repeating itself … what is old is new again.

Treadstone plays like an action Summer series but has the look, feel, seriousness, and gravitas of a well scripted, serialized drama, the likes of which we’ve come to expect from a Fall cable series airing on FX or AMC.  With Treadstone, USA Network has a show with staying power which will appeal to spy thriller genre fans as well as fans of mysteries and straight up action junkies. Don’t sleep on this one … or else Treadstone may just have to wake you up!

TREADSTONE — “The Cicada Protocol” Episode 101 — Pictured: Hyo-Joo Han as Soyun — (Photo by: Jonathan Hession/USA Network)

Treadstone airs on Tuesday nights on USA Network (and Syfy … for now) at 10pm (ET/PT). We’re sure we’ll be frequently Live Tweeting so please, join us! 


Make sure to follow PopCultureReview on social media so you never miss an update on Treadstone or any of our television coverage.  Follow us on Twitter @popcultureview and Instagram at pop_culture_view! And thank you for reading.

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