Treadstone Ep1

This post analyzes the USA Network television series Treadstone using the 5 Commandments of Storytelling and the Editor’s 6 Core Questions from the book The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne.


This post contains spoilers from the USA Network television series Treadstone, so make sure you watch the show before you read further.

The 5 Commandments for Episode 1

Most of this first episode is setup for the rest of the series I guess. There are at least four main characters that I can see right now:

  • John Bentley, an American agent in East Berlin in 1973
  • SoYun, a North Korean young lady who appears to be a sleeper agent
  • Petra – a Russian agent with some fighting skills that initially seduced and drugged John Bentley in 1973 and appears to be the keeper of Stiletto 6 in current time
  • Doug McKenna – an oil rig worker in Alaska who appears to be a sleeper agent
  • And some CIA agents, but not sure which are important now

It’s difficult to find the 5 commandments as we’re not sure if this will be a collection of different stories or ultimately about one agent and the others will play a part in his life.

On the positive side, there is a lot of action from the beginning to the end. There is a lot of mystery as to what is happening (maybe too much). The writers have delivered on that part. However, I don’t think they’ve given enough to the viewers to really hook them. For me it’s a bit confusing, and less “Wow!!!”. It’s possible this will be resolved in the next episode.

The problem for me with the Bourne series is that the book was very good, with a solid premise. The first couple movies were Okay on the storyline, great on the action scenes, but they drifted pretty far from the original concept, and ultimately they moved into a super-soldier program that is an almost overdone trope nowadays. I hope this version of Treadstone doesn’t go down that rabbit hole. The sleeper agent trope is not original either, but more interesting than the super-soldier one.

Because of all the different stories that are happening during this episode are mostly setup (and I really hope they are worth it), there is only one real storyline that has all 5 commandments where a character makes some conscious choices, and that is the 1973 storyline.

Inciting Incident

John Bentley is in a lab in East Berlin, has been a part of this experiment (probably by the Russians) for about 9 months, and has apparently been given a cocktail of drugs to include LSD. The two Russians talk about this being the final test, and then Bentley has a hallucination and kills three prisoners.

Progressive Complication/ Turning Point

Throughout the episode there are a number of characters and complications that may later refer back to this point in 1973, but at this time we aren’t sure how they are all related.

The turning point for John Bentley is when he finally escapes the lab and kills his pursuers.


At this time, Bentley must make a best bad choice. He can go back to his apartment where there is communication equipment and he can call for an extraction, however the Russians apparently know where that is so he will be risking recapture. Or he can try to escape on his own.


Bentley decides to return to his apartment and make the quick call for help.


He then evades capture (rather easily I might add) and steals one of the Russian’s cars and speeds out of town.

Value Shift

For Bentley, this value shift is -/+. In the beginning of the episode, he was captured and drugged, and now he has managed to escape his captors.

Conventions and Obligatory Scenes for the Action Genre

It’s hard to determine any Obligatory scenes or Conventions without knowing more. There are sleeper agents and nuclear missiles and spy agencies, but nothing makes sense at this time.


For an action story, there is definitely action, however not as good as the Bourne movies. It’s nothing we haven’t really seen before in a television series. I think they writers are going to really have to bring it to make this series work. Right now, I personally haven’t witnessed any OMG moments that make me think this series will stand out.

So, how could this have been done better?

Well, the writers haven’t successfully gotten me as a viewer invested in any one character. The flipping though multiple character stories in one hour and timelines precludes me as a viewer empathizing with any character. I’m not even really sure who is the main character/characters yet. I think if they had spent the majority of the episode focused on one character ‘waking up’, then we would have been more invested in the series.

While coming full circle and connecting the past bad guy (girl) with the present was a nice touch, it wasn’t significantly ‘wow’ for me.

I think having one of the sleeper agents target a high profile figure (the North Korea General) just doesn’t do it for me), even if he/she didn’t actually do it in the episode, just the anticipation of the target would have me more interested.

Lastly, the waking of the sleeper agents without direction seems odd, and I imagine they will explain that, but right now it seems very ad hoc how the agents ‘wake up’ and how they take out their targets.

I hope the plot shapes up, I want to see something great, but right now I’m not getting that.

More Story Analysis

If you want to see more applications of the Story Grid methodology, below are links to my analysis of various novels and television shows in blog posts and podcasts:

Story Grid Showrunners Podcast – Parul, Melanie, and I analyze hit TV series using the Story Grid methodology.

My blog posts analyzing other Television series – my person take using the Story grid 5 Commandments to look at my favorite TV series – Jack Ryan, Batgirl, For All Mankind, Hanna, and more.

Novel analysis – I analyze some of my favorite books using the Story Grid 5 Commandments and 6 core questions – First Blood, Old Man’s War, Waylander, and more to come!

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