Treason is fast-paced, often silly spy fun, but its greatest strength is in its unusual relationship and power dynamics.
This review of the Netflix series Treason season 1 is spoiler-free.
You’re under no obligation to take a show as seriously as it takes itself, which in the case of Treason is good news. This new five-part Netflix espionage thriller is a loopy melange of geopolitical toing and froing, soapy love affairs, Russian assets, politicians, spies, and baby-faced heads of British intelligence. If you stopped to ponder its inner workings too long, you’d miss all the fun, which isn’t to be found in the details, but the commitment to succinct, rocket-fuelled entertainment.
Treason is fronted by Charlie Cox, best known for taking a licking as Matt Murdock, aka Daredevil, Marvel’s avatar of masochistic Irish-Catholic self-penance, in three seasons of the MCU’s best small-screen work, formerly on Netflix and now on Disney+. He was almost fetishistically beloved in that role, and for good reason, since he was very good in it, providing layers to a man forced by comic-book villainy to find the outer limits of his faith and morality. Here he plays Adam Lawrence, a similarly meaty but much less heroic role, and attempts to keep his lies straight and his family together amid new responsibilities and old secrets.
Treason review and plot summary
Lawrence is, when the series starts, the deputy chief of MI6, Britain’s foreign intelligence service. He’s the model government stooge, happily married to a veteran wife, Maddy (Oona Chaplin), and the father of both a precocious son, Callum (Samuel Leakey), who thinks his dad’s job is the best thing ever, and a teenage daughter, Ella (Beau Gadsdon), who thinks it’s a boring infringement on her social life. But when the chief of MI6, Sir Martin Angelis (Ciarán Hinds), is mysteriously poisoned in a restaurant, Adam is forced to become “C”, short for “Control”, on short notice, a position he does a good job of pretending he’s ready for despite very much not being.
Adam’s governmental responsibilities are the least of his problems, which he quickly realizes when he discovers that an old associate, a former Russian spy named Kara (Olga Kurylenko), poisoned Sir Martin to fast-track Adam’s career. She needs him well-positioned to help her get to the bottom of what happened to her team on a mission in Baku that she and Adam both worked a decade and a half ago. Adam made his name there but has never let on what he really got up to, which includes an ill-advised love affair with Kara, who has been quietly, and supposedly without his knowledge, feeding him intelligence ever since. Suddenly, Adam doesn’t just have to grapple with occupying one of the most secretive and vital positions in the British government, but also with the idea that he might have got there on the strength of foreign intelligence.
The title is starting to make more sense now, isn’t it?
And this is to say nothing of the impact all this has on Adam’s family, especially since Maddy – unusually, for this genre – has a working brain. Adam’s dodgy phone calls and late-night rendezvouses tip her off that something is amiss, and the sudden reappearance of an old military buddy turned CIA agent, Dede (Tracy Ifeachor), gives her the means to get personally involved in the conspiracy, which not only threatens her marriage and her husband’s career but also the outcome of a leadership election. These unusual dynamics – involving a man, his wife, his mistress, three nations and their intelligence apparatus, and two children – are what give Treason and its well-worn genre machinery a relatively fresh-feeling lick of paint.
Is Treason on Netflix good?
Yes, Treason on Netflix is good. Cox is impressive here, and his prominence in the marketing is no surprise, but it’s an understated performance from the always-undervalued Kurylenko that is the most effective. The machinations of the plot itself, penned by Oscar-nominated Bridge of Spies scribe Matt Charman, don’t hold up to much scrutiny, but they’re also not really the point. Treason is, at its core, about relationships – husbands and wives, parents and children, lovers, friends, colleagues, and enemies. Its greatest strength is in how fluid these dynamics and definitions become. As the man at the story’s center unravels, the women around him steal the show as if it’s a state secret there for the taking.
What did you think of Treason season 1? Comment below.
3 thoughts on “Treason season 1 review – a succinct spy thriller”
Just watched the first 40 minutes of Treason, if your looking for a soap opera, teenage daughter, wife gabbing to CIA, your in 7th heaven. You sure as heck won’t find John le Carre.
Treason is trash, real trash, like the kind you just throw out and never think of again. Shame on you for even trying to say otherwise. Very few redeeming features. The cast is good, the characters are so bad though the actors struggle to redeem any of them. The relationships are the worst part. None of it holds up. It’s so bad, it compels me to write my first review online
It isn’t as bad as that … and albeit extremely unrealistic I am still watching it.