“This is war, and the human mind is the new battlefield,’ explains one character in Treadstone, which takes its name from the sinister black-ops operation featured in Robert Ludlum’s Bourne novels and films. After being brought to the screen as Richard Chamberlain in some 1980’s tv movies, Jason Bourne was successfully rebooted in the form of Matt Damon for The Bourne Identity, before Paul Greengrass took things to another level for Supremacy and Ultimatum. Things flagged when few of the creative team returned for the shonky Bourne Legacy, and even the re-teaming of Damon and Greengrass couldn’t spark life into the redundant reprise Jason Bourne.
It’s obvious that audiences dig the Jason Bourne universe, though, and this USA Network tv show, now steaming widely, manages to expand the universe without making much use of Bourne himself, mentioned in the opening scene-setter and discussed once. Tim Kring’s ten-episode thriller wraps around the original story by showing the roots of Treadstone in a 1973 narrative that features Jeremy Irvine as a spy who has his mind thoroughly messed with, and a number of 2019 stories in which various sleepers awake in Korea, Greece, Kentucky and Moscow. Most of these narratives are compelling enough; the notion of activation, as featured in The Manchurian Candidate, makes for some good twists, and the level of action, whether fights or car chases, is efficient and effective, if not quite rising to the operatic heights of the original trilogy of movies.
The titles of each episode are amusingly retro; The Berlin Proposal, The Paradox Andropov and, cheekily, The Seoul Asylum, as is arguably the central character, Petra, played in older and modern timelines by Emilia Schüle and Gabrielle Scharnitzky. A veteran operative who survived the deadly games, she makes a different kind of focus to Jason Bourne, and a morally ambivalent one; the universe is a reassuringly complex one, and pulling in big name directors like Brad Anderson helps to keep the diverse threads alive.
Treadstone doesn’t blow the Bourne films away, but doesn’t try to; as an act of universe expansion, it’ll provide fans of the franchise with some welcome service in the form of tit-bits of information, as well as filling in some fringe narratives in a way that’s far more stimulating than the treading water featured in the last two movies.