The world is upside down and we're in a luxurious train compartment (still upside down). Text in a bold, all-caps font informs us that the train is going through the Italian Alps. Why this needs to be shown to us upside down is anyone's guess, but the world starts to right itself when Priyanka Chopra Jonas enters the frame, sheathed in a red dress, back to the camera.
She bumps into a bespectacled man, they murmur polite apologies, and go in opposite directions to go to their seats. Chopra Jonas, we learn, has nicked his wallet during their little brush past. Now, she is in possession of his ID which identifies he is a Russian gent named Gregor. Lest you think Chopra Jonas is playing a posh pickpocket, she touches her finger to her ear in the time-honoured tradition of security detail and has a quick chat with her tech support, Bernard Orlick (Stanley Tucci). Their conversation informs us Chopra Jonas is a spy named Nadia who is back on the field after a year away. She is soon joined by Mason Kane (Richard Madden), who we know is also a spy because Nadia and Jonas banter in Italian, English, Mandarin, German and Spanish. We can only hope that Prime Video subscribers in those countries felt seen.
What we can tell from Nadia and Mason's exchange is that the duo were evidently a couple who have since had a bad break-up. She hints he’s a liar. He is still smarting from her having left him. Judging from the barely-disguised sniping, it’s not making for a good working relationship in the present. Kids, this is why corporate HR has policies against workplace romances. Since they are thorough professionals, Nadia doesn't hesitate to smooch the lights out of Mason when she needs to distract Gregor’s (remember him?) handler. Because there’s nothing more commonplace than a beautiful woman locking lips with the man she was squabbling with three seconds ago. Blame it on the rarified air of the Italian Alps.
While Nadia follows Gregor after detaching herself from Mason's face, Mason pulls the handler into a bathroom for a fight. Possibly because this is a very posh train and Europe's population is declining, no one on the train reacts to two men noisily beating one another to a pulp. They smash a window and Mason throws his opponent off the train using that opening, but none of this seems to set off any alarm bells in the train. (This would never happen on Indian Railways. Just saying.)
Meanwhile, Nadia deploys the deadly weapon that is red lipstick and sidles up to join Gregor who is sitting alone. It seems like they're flirting, until it turns out that it isn't Nadia's toe that Gregor can feel but a .22 Beretta. That's a small firearm. (We know this because later in their conversation, Nadia brings it out and points it at Gregor in full view. Once again, this would never happen on Indian Railways.) When Gregor asks if Nadia works for America's Central Intelligence Agency or the British equivalent MI6, Nadia replies, "Do I look like a woman that plays with minor leagues?" Pride, dear reader, comes before fall. Because it turns out that Nadia and her major league employer (an organisation named Citadel. More on them later) fell for false information. This is a trap. And even worse, Nadia didn't have the good sense to tap her ear so that Bernard would hear her conversation with Gregor.
The Russian pulls out his briefcase, which long-time Bollywood watchers will recognise as the time-honoured accessory of bad guys. He brings out a tablet that has footage of Citadel agents being bumped off all around the world, from Mumbai to Tokyo to Milan to Cairo. Clearly, Citadel needs to work on its internal communication because you’d think Bernard, being a tech genius, would have had this intel before Gregor. Also, Nadia discovers everyone in the compartment has a gun and they're pointing their weapons at her. Intelligence failure, and how.
Fortunately for Gregor, who works for a group called Manticore (which apparently insists on all employees getting the same tattoo), has the Achilles heel of all bad guys. Instead of killing Nadia at first opportunity, he gloats. Thus it is when Gregor’s finally got round to the killing part, Mason bursts through the compartment, all guns blazing.
More damage to private property continues as Nadia and Mason execute some elegant fight choreography. Just when they think they've dealt with the bad guys, Gregor pulls out a grenade. "Manticore will always find you," he rasps, which is an odd thing to say to two people you're about to blow up. It's almost as though Gregor knows that despite the grenade, Nadia and Mason are going to come out of this a-ok.
As an explosion derails the compartment and sends it hurtling into an alpine lake, the credits roll in. That’s 13 minutes of life that neither the audience nor Mason Kane will ever get back.
It will shock no one that Mason survived that train wreck. We find him in a hospital in Italy. Only his name seems to be Kyle and guess what? He has retrograde amnesia, a diagnosis that explains why he doesn’t notice a remarkable similarity between himself and Jason Bourne. The mention of retrograde amnesia is bound to send a frisson of joy down the spines of many lovers of pulpy Indian cinema because it's been a few decades since that particular affliction surfaced in the entertainment scene. We then get a fleeting shot of a shirtless Mason/ Kyle. The excuse? He's trying to figure out why he has the scars on his body. Whatever you say, bestie. We’re not complaining.
Fast forward to eight years later: Kyle lives in a small town in America. He has a wife, a daughter and a therapist. When he suddenly starts getting flashbacks he doesn't understand (but we do), he decides therapy is the best way to figure out who is the woman wearing red lipstick that he sees in his dreams (yup, it’s Nadia). "If I can find out who she is, maybe I can find out who I am," Kyle tells his therapist who has the good sense to point out Kyle will have more luck figuring out his past with a DNA test than with therapy.
Cut to the idyllic surroundings of the British ambassador's home in Virginia. Dahlia Archer (Lesley Manville) tells the American secretary of state that she wants him to cough up the location of the "Citadel X Case". Which is what, you ask? Have no fear. Dahlia will tell you while pruning her roses: "Eight years ago, when Citadel fell, it buried its trove of secrets in a tungsten-fortified case. Secrets that may have included black site locations, agent identities, even nuclear codes." Yes, you heard that right. Citadel had all the nuclear codes of the world, and it kept this information in a briefcase. Whoever started Citadel evidently was brought up on Eighties' Bollywood movies.
There's more. Dahlia, in addition to being the ambassador and a gardener, also works for Manticore. (Is a villain really evil if they don’t have a posh British accent?) She issues some casual threats of murder, one of which is an offer to bury the secretary's wife under her rose garden. The American hands over the information unhesitatingly — Citadel X Case is in a shipping yard in Miami.
Enter a pair of evil twins, Anders and Davik Silje (Roland Møller), who seem to be spiritual cousins of the Twins from The Matrix Reloaded (2003). Dahlia tells them to get the briefcase, which they manage without much trouble. There is a problem though: The briefcase — which is referred to as the "X case" in the vain hope that this will lend it some coolth. It does not — has a heavily encrypted lock.
Elsewhere, at an undisguised location, Bernard learns from a group of men he's tied up in a window-less room that Citadel's briefcase has been located by people who want access to the nuclear codes it has. He also finds out that Kyle, who is actually Mason, has been found by the bad(der) guys.
Cut to Kyle/ Mason looking at himself in the mirror. He sees scars, you see an impressive ripple of muscles on his back as well as pecs whose 4k definition can’t be hidden by the dusting of body hair. Later that night, someone breaks into Kyle's house. It's Bernard and he kidnaps Kyle and his family using a four-wheel drive that has a special feature: The back seat is basically a gas chamber.
Fortunately for Kyle/ Mason, Bernard is not a closet Nazi. He tells Kyle that he's actually Mason Kane, a super-slick spy who worked with the mysterious agency that is Citadel. Citadel was set up by renegade spies in the 1930s and has "helped shape every major event for good in the past 100 years." They're "loyal to no man and to no nation", but care about people in general. Eight years ago, one agent betrayed Citadel to its nemesis, Manticore, a rival agency started by eight of the wealthiest families from around the world. Manticore seeks to control world events to profit from tragedies and disasters. Bernard needs Mason's help to recover the X case (i.e. briefcase) before Manticore cracks the code. Mason points out that he's no longer the man Bernard knew. Bernard's response is to throw a knife at Mason, which of course Mason catches, signalling the rebirth of a spy.
The episode ends with a flashback to the train crash, and Nadia emerging from the lake, gasping for air (much like the audience).
The first season of Citadel has six episodes. New episodes drop every Friday on Prime Video.