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Series / Treadstone

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Treadstone is a TV series that ran on USA Network, set in the same universe as The Bourne Series. It also ran outside North America via Amazon.

Back in the seventies, the CIA began a covert operation to seed sleeper agents throughout the world. Now, decades later, the program is suddenly activated and a whole bunch of people in different countries suddenly find themselves carrying out dangerous missions with no idea of why. Meanwhile, a disgraced journalist in the United Kingdom is given the opportunity to restore her good name in exchange for rescuing the daughter of a North Korean general.

The show consists of two storylines:

  • One dealing in the 1970s where the CIA and KGB are involved in secret operations to set up sleeper agents worldwide, which will influence Project Treadstone.
  • One in the present day where the remnants of Project Treadstone is said to be activated for reasons unknown.

In May 2020, USA Network announced the show's cancellation after one season.

This series contains examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: Han Hyo-joo has been coerced to doing dubious things with her family being threatened.
  • Batman Gambit: Stephen Haynes asks Matt Edwards to drive him to see his daughter one last time, but he knows whoever activated him will be waiting in ambush there, so his plan is actually to kill them for revenge. He makes no effort to see his daughter because he doesn't want her to see what he has become.
  • Becoming the Mask:
    • Sam and Doug's marriage was originally supposed to be a cover, but somewhere along the way, she developed actual feelings for him. After the Treadstone program was abandoned, she tracked him down and started a relationship.
    • Petra seduces Bentley to reduce his resistance to the brainwashing, but actually fell in love with him to the extent that she's willing to kill her own colleagues to protect him. This is played more ambiguously however, as it's never quite clear if she's not still manipulating him.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: North Korea is a heavily-surveilled country, as Soyun is all too keenly aware.
  • Black Site: "The Seoul Asylum" depicts a KGB-manned prison/black site in Romania to hold prisoners meant for the Cicada project.
  • Boom, Headshot!:
    • Jang-Mi's boyfriend Dimitri gets his brains splattered on the windshield as they and Tara try to flee from the North Korean hit squad.
    • Poor Stephen Haynes gets shot in the head by Tara when she goes to save Matt Edwards.
  • Chekhov's Gun: In the first episode, Soyun is given a syringe for assassinating General Kwon, but drops in down a drain during a struggle with him. The syringe later ends up in the hands of a Party loyalist, who uses it to blackmail her into spying on Major Gyun, her husband's new boss.
  • Continuity Nod: In the second episode, CIA agent Matt Edwards mentions that he was part of a team trying to capture a rogue agent in New York City. This unnamed rogue agent had been trying to expose Blackbriar.
    • In the fourth episode, when Haynes is hypnotized into remembering his Treadstone training, he repeats familiar lines from Jason Bourne's training, including "Will you commit to this program?" and "I'll be whoever you need me to be, sir".
  • The Coup: Colonel Shin plans to take down the Kim family by leading a revolt. Soyun's husband, Dae, is planned to be framed as the ringleader.
  • Cruel Mercy: Petra appears at the mansion of Yuri Leniov to kill him, only to find he's anticipated her. Rather than have his bodyguards shoot her, Yuri tells her to go back to the farm and her now obsolete assignment. Unfortunately Petra's means of revenge happens to come visiting...
  • Damn You, Muscle Memory!: Doug has his instincts kick-started during a bar brawl, and nearly kills one of the other combatants.
  • Darker and Edgier: Than the Bourne films. For one thing the series has more uses of the F-word than the five films which were all rated PG-13.
  • Dating Catwoman: Back in the day, CIA officer Bentley had a very unhealthy relationship with KGB officer Petra, the woman who helped brainwash him.
  • Deadly Graduation
    • John Bentley has the "shoot the hooded man as a final test" as in The Bourne Ultimatum, in this case three fellow CIA agents to check his conditioning as a Soviet Manchurian Agent in 1973. While carrying out the kill he hallucinates that they are Vietcong soldiers, but a later flashback scene shows he was aware of what was being done to him beforehand and is dragged off for the final test while begging his captors not to make him do it.
    • While brainwashed, Bentley was also required to torture both fellow CIA operatives and hardcore criminals rounded up by the KGB—the latter because they would require extensive torture before cracking.
    • In the present day Treadstone agent Doug McKenna has a dream of being chained up underwater, and fighting another man in similar straits for the key to release his chains before he drowns. He wakes up and examines a faint circular cuff scar around his ankle.
    • In the penultimate episode, two brainwashed agents are put in a room with a stripped-down pistol and a single bullet, with only one allowed to leave the room alive.
  • Dirty Coward: As Petra predicts, Yuri Leniov hides behind his men when Tara attacks his mansion, only engages her while she's busy busting down the door to his office, and flees as soon as it's clear that she could actually kill him.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • General Kwon was targeted for assassination after learning that a rogue faction within the North Korean government was attempting to buy a nuclear weapon and trying to thwart the purchase. He may have been loyal to one of the most evil governments on Earth, but he realized that letting them have a nuke would have been a terrible idea.
    • Petra may be a brutal old dinosaur from the Cold War days, but she is disgusted by her comrades getting rich by selling old Soviet-era weapons to third-world dictators.
  • Fake Memories: The Cicadas are given a fake backstory. Tara remembers her family dying in a car accident, but when her programming is reactivated remembers images of them being raped and tortured by soldiers, and realises her sister might still be alive.
  • Faking the Dead:
    • During his escape, Bentley throws a corpse out the window to make the guards think that he jumped to his death. He hides himself by lying in the body's place on the morgue slab. Unfortunately, Petra figures it out and he is forced to fight her.
    • Tara arranges the stabbing of one of her friends in a Ghanaian prison to get him out and investigate the Stiletto Six conspiracy.
    • After killing Vincent, Doug and Sam plot to have Doug pose as Vincent while sending a message to Treadstone that Doug has been killed.
    • Matt Edwards sees Stephen Haynes get executed by a black ops team, but it turns out this was faked, which Matt only finds out when a reprogrammed Haynes is sent to murder him.
    • Vincent is sent to kill an indigenous leader before he gives a Rousing Speech, but intervenes to stop him being beaten to death by mercenaries. He sends a photo of the man's bloody face to make Treadstone think he's been killed, but knows that will only last until the chieftain gives his speech.
  • Fingore: In the pilot episode, Petra loses one of her pinkies in a fight with Bentley. This is used for the Reveal Shot that the elderly woman guarding Stiletto Six is the same person.
  • Fright-Induced Bunkmate: At the end of the second episode, Soyun climbs into her son's bed and holds him, terrified that she's going to lose him.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: John Bentley resists the conditioning and so Dr. Meisner recommends that he be terminated. Petra however is impressed with Bentley's strength of will, and decides a more sympathetic and seductive approach will break down his barriers.
  • Happiness in Slavery: As with Jason Bourne, the American agents in the present day are shown to have willingly committed themselves to the Treadstone program.
  • He Knows Too Much:
    • After Oleg stumbles upon the Stiletto Six silo, Petra kills him before he sees the actual nuke hidden on their farm.
    • In the season finale, Dan Levine sends Stephen Haynes to kill Matt Edwards, because Edwards knows too much about Treadstone and intends to expose the program. Ironically Dan Levine himself is then assassinated by a Treadstone asset.
  • Her Heart Will Go On: Tara advises Jang-Mi that the only thing she can do after the death of her father and boyfriend is to continue on. Tara speaks from personal experience; she lost her entire family in a car accident when she was a kid. Or so she thinks.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: As part of his conditioning, Bentley was seduced by Petra, who was a redhead back then.
  • I Have Your Wife:
    • An inadvertent one where Doug McKenna has to worry that his wife—now working again for Treadstone—will be exposed and killed if he doesn't carry out the assassinations sent to Vincent, the asset he's impersonating.
    • Sooyun cuts a deal with the CIA to get her family out of North Korea, only to return home and discover the conspirators have taken her child away for a 'special' education program, implied to be the same one that turned her into a Cicada.
  • Institutional Allegiance Concealment: Treadstone agents/assets are given amounts of brainwashing alongside implanting fake memories of having normal lives in order to have them integrate into society and ready to be activated within a short time.
  • Internal Homage: Later in the series, Samantha cuts her hair short and dies it black while on the run from Treadstone, similar to what Marie and Nicky did.
  • It's Not You, It's My Enemies:
    • Tara walks away from her relationship with Sebastian in order to protect him from any potential fallout from her investigation into Stiletto Six after seeing her best friend murdered right before their eyes.
    • Samantha goes back to Treadstone to protect Doug, knowing she might never see her husband again.
  • Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: The series tackles two separate timelines at once and regularly switches between the two. While the first timeline focuses on only one plot in the 70's, the second timeline focuses on the present and no less than five individual plots, with the only things connecting them together being Treadstone itself, and the nuke known as "Stiletto Six". Among the present-day plots there's:
    • Soyun awakening as an agent in North Korea and being forced to follow the orders of her husband's boss.
    • Former oil rig worker Doug as he's partially woken up and attacked for being "broken".
    • Intrepid Reporter Tara trying to find "Stiletto Six" after being informed its real by General Kwon.
    • Agent Edwards as he tries to figure out who is waking up the Treadstone Agents.
    • EX-KGB Agent Petra as she tries to find out what happened to her orders.
  • Klingon Promotion: Soyun's husband Dae happened to be a subordinate of General Kwon, so when she killed Kwon, Dae got promoted to his job by the man who had activated her to assassinate Kwon.
  • Le Parkour: This being a Bourne-related series, naturally there are lots of scenes of people climbing and jumping around in urban environments.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: In order to pay for his new hearing aid, Oleg sold his bull, Vladimir. Petra chides him for selling their best stud, leading to this exchange:
    "He hasn't had an erection in ten years!"
    "Neither have you!"
  • The Ludovico Technique: In 1973, John Bentley is drugged, tortured and electro-shocked by the KGB, which is shown to be ineffective at breaking his will until Petra Andropov decides to add sympathy and seduction. At the start of the final episode, we see a Treadstone asset undergoing the more refined modern technique. As a volunteer he's not restrained at all, sitting calmly in a chair while a montage of images invoking family, home, invader, God, and sexual dominance are projected on multiple screens.
  • Manchurian Agent: The Treadstone project's aim was to train dozens of operatives under psychological programming and then seed them throughout the world, activating each one as necessary.
  • Marrying the Mark: Sam was Doug's handler back when he was in the Treadstone program. After he was released by the program, she tracked him down and began wooing him in order to keep tabs on him, eventually going so far as to marry him.
  • Missing Steps Plan: The KGB faction Petra belonged to came up with a scheme to put themselves back in power. Step One was to obtain a nuclear missile and destroy all records of its existence. Step Three was to restore the Soviet Union. After 25 years, no one has come up with a viable Step Two and most of the conspirators have given up on the scheme long ago.
  • No Blood for Phlebotinum: Treadstone is now working in partnership with private corporations to assist resource exploitation. The Stiletto Six conspiracy involves regime change in North Korea with Yuri's people getting first dibs once the country opens up to international trade.
  • An Offer You Can't Refuse: An indigenous Columbian chieftain is offered money by mercenaries from a mining company to buy his people's traditional land. He refuses, and they beat him up for it. The company also has hired Treadstone to assassinate him if he rejected this offer.
  • Omniglot: Cicadas can speak multiple languages, which is suggested to be a result of their conditioning implanting the knowledge subconsciously along with all the other skills required of a Professional Killer. Vincent is stated to be fluent in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Mandarin and Farsi. Soyun starts to freak out when she realises she can understand English—as a North Korean citizen, she should not be able to speak it at all.
  • Promoted to Scapegoat: Soyun finds out that her husband Dae's promotion was in order to make him the fall guy for the plot to acquire the Stiletto Six.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: "The Paradox Andropov" reveals that Petra's assignment guarding Stiletto Six wasn't a proper mission, it was in fact a punishment for failing to recover Bentley.
  • The Remnant: As far as Petra is concerned, the Cold War is still going, even if everyone else insists it's not.
  • Retcon: Several characters are unfamiliar with the name 'Treadstone' in the series, suggesting that even while the Blackbriar program was exposed, Treadstone remained secret. This contradicts a news report in The Bourne Legacy which clearly mentions Treadstone as a CIA program linked to Jason Bourne.
  • The Reveal:
    • The penultimate episode ends with Tara being revealed to be one of Treadstone's assets.
    • It's also revealed that the Treadstone program isn't a defunct program being activated by someone for their own purposes, but an official US government program in full operation.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Bentley got captured so Ferguson could get away, so he contacts him for help when he's on the run and suspected of being a traitor. Ferguson however turns out to be working with station chief Kohler who enters with gun drawn, only to kill Ferguson instead for turning in his own partner. Turns out Kohler is quite impressed with how a CIA agent could be forced to kill someone against his will, and decides to let Bentley run loose in the hope of capturing Petra.
  • Room Full of Crazy: Bentley discovers the apartment where he was staying in Budapest, and finds he's scrawled John Randolph Bentley over and over on the walls.
  • Shooting Gallery: CIA agent John Bentley is shown doing one involving both pop-up targets and hand-to-hand combat against live opponents, ending with him pointing his gun at the KGB woman who's brainwashing him, standing between two targets. He shoots the targets instead.
  • Show Some Leg: When Nira Patel is assigned to kill a young heir, she walks past him a couple of times and gives him a coy smile until he's tempted to follow her, drops her scarf so he'll come up to her to return it, whereupon she covers her mouth with the scarf and squirts him in the face with an aerosol of poison.
  • Super Window Jump: Tara jumps out of a second-story window at Yuri Leniov's mansion in order to land on top of his car.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: The longer a Manchurian Agent is exposed to the outside world, the less effective will be their conditioning. This is implied to have happened with Doug McKenna—who is activated but fails to carry out his assignment fully, and Stephen Haynes—who killed his target in a simulated public massacre, then just sat down and waited to be arrested.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Dr. Meisner, who Bentley thought he'd killed in the pilot episode, turns up again in the penultimate episode, so Bentley can kill him for real and go home a hero, all as part of an unrevealed gambit. Dr. Meisner is entirely OK with this.
  • Title Drop: The show's title was from the name of the black ops program destroyed by Jason Bourne.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: Tara is not merely a journalist obsessed with Stiletto Six, she's one of the original Cicadas.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: The two storylines consist of the present day when the CIA finds out that someone is activating dormant Treadstone assets years after Jason takes out the program. The other one is set in the 1970s where CIA agent John Bentley was almost subjected to a KGB-led brainwashing program and tries to investigate it. He later realizes that the KGB did brainwash him and used him to take out his fellow agents operating in Eastern Europe.
  • Trapped Undercover: Present-day Petra calls the emergency contact number and is connected to a department store instead. The support network for her operation has been shut down (probably years ago) and no one cared to inform her about it.
  • The Unreveal: As a result of the series being Cut Short. The elderly Petra goes to visit an elderly John Bentley in the United States, but we're not shown his face, nor do we discover if his escape was a deliberate plan by those who brainwashed him.