Citadel wants us to believe it is important, but suffers from the worst kind of cultural amnesia

Citadel wants us to believe it is important, but suffers from the worst kind of cultural amnesia

There was an entourage of media attention right ahead of the release of Prime Video’s Citadel, on its star Priyanka Chopra Jonas. With the promotions for one of the biggest, costliest ever shows ever made, the star talked about how the show came alive, and where it is headed. No wonder there, as Varun Dhawan and Samantha Ruth Prabhu were already signed on to star in the Indian adaptation of the series. No wonder where else it will go. (Also read: Priyanka Chopra’s Citadel officially renewed for season 2 ahead as season 1 ends)

Priyanka Chopra Jonas stars alongside Richard Madden in Citadel.

To come back on track, something Citadel does very well with its infinite 8-year-ago flashbacks (more on that later), the promotions revealed how, the media attention was determined to stay focused only on the elements that came about in the development of the show. The globe-trotting, spy franchise came attached with the names of executive producers Joe and Anthony Russo, with a brand franchising on foreign spinoffs to create a spyverse like no other.

With the details of the series kept mostly hidden apart from the basic structure of two secret agents Mason Kane (Richard Madden) and Nadia Sinh (Priyanka Chopra Jonas) are on a mission to stop a powerful organization carrying enriched uranium, we knew almost nothing. Are we on track yet? Soon, we will know. No need to go to 8 years ago.

Bafflingly generic and plodding, Citadel arrives like a whimper while promising a storm. The narrative is so obsessed with its amnesiac spies, jumping and flying back to the past every 15 minutes to reveal a hidden layer beneath a mission, that it forgets to inject some semblance of logic into it. I am not going to even try to begin with the utterly wasted opportunity Citadel presents its audience with, in the garb of a pathbreaking spy franchise. What I am rather going to try is that when you place a piece of dialogue like, “You can’t even remember to put the toilet seat down. Now you’re Jason Bourne?” in a tense scene involving former spies, one can’t help but wonder if there’s anything more distancing than a show that doesn’t take itself seriously in the first place.

The main problem with Citadel is it is a show that doesn’t even try to build its own image. It doesn’t have a sense of its own- and assembles itself like a contradiction between age-old generic templates and modern sensibilities. It feels like a soulless, frenzied expedition without purpose. See how it doesn’t take long for the audience to follow the pulse of a show at the wealth of current social media attention. An episode is out and if it clicks, the reactions arrive immediately after. If you notice, Citadel barely made that noise online after the initial media attention surrounding promotions faded with the arrival of a new episode every passing week. I am not arguing for the favour of immediate social media attention for the sake of defining the worth of any artform here. That is a non-starter for any kind of criticism at the first place.

What I am rather trying to pin down here is the need for authentic, contextual exposition that a show like Citadel could have hugely benefitted from. A point that feels already planted somewhere within the range of this massive show, but which its myopic vision cannot grasp. Citadel has no connect with the mechanisms of modern-day politics, global socio-economic inequalities or worse, the people who represent a fictional organization attuned to the security of the populace.

Even as the action shifts timelines and continents, Citadel is glued its robotic obligations for mining out secrets within secrets. The setting does nothing for a show like Citadel to even elicit a response or reaction- predominantly taking place in contained spaces that feel increasingly designed and saturated. Whether its a nerve-wrecking episode to get into a submarine (don’t ask me why) or a heated exchange in a café where Nadia makes a choice for herself at Mason’s proposal, the scenes register without an iota of authenticity and pragmatism. The characters, despite their innumerable flashbacks and hidden motives, remain wooden and directionless. Citadel can champion itself to be a progressive signaling for its genre format, but at its core its a show that is so satisfied by feeding itself this conceptual tagline, that it forgets to build an equally potent storyline to make it run.

By the end of the first season of Citadel, the picture is clear. More spin offs will follow, more flashbacks will continue. Expect more concrete time travel in the veil of motive. The story really has just begun it seems, but if this is the pace and depth with which the next will follow this hollow premise plot, prepare for more unnecessary spies saving the world with problems that they can see from the perspective of their oversaturated Citadel outlets. The amnesiac spies and their soapy trust issues did no good for the first batch.

Original Article

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