Treadstone Season 1 Introduction – Initial Story Analysis

I’m still finishing analyzing Season 1 of the Hanna television series from Amazon Prime, however, since Treadstone just started (on the USA Network but also available for purchase on Apple TV), I wanted to analyze that show as well week to week. So, I’ll start having two posts a week, one for each show.

Haven’t Heard of Treadstone?

The Treadstone series description from Wikipedia

Treadstone explores “the origin story and present-day actions of a CIA black ops program known as Operation Treadstone—a covert program that uses behavior-modification protocol to turn recruits into nearly superhuman assassins. The first season follows sleeper agents across the globe as they’re mysteriously ‘awakened’ to resume their deadly missions.”

And here is the trailer on YouTube:

So, after reading the Wikipedia summary and seeing the trailer, as viewers, what are we expecting to see?

It looks like either an action or a thriller. What would separate the two? Well, they would both turn on life/ death scenes, and it looks like that will happen based on what we’ve just seen. Normally, in an action story, the hero/ protagonist doesn’t change internally. Take James Bond or Jack Reacher, they are the same tough guy in the beginning and the end of the movie/ book. They haven’t learned anything about themselves. They knew the world wasn’t a good place at the beginning and that they could make a difference, and in the end they feel the same way.

A Thriller will usually have a significant internal arc. Killing Eve is a good example. In the beginning, Villanelle is a cold blooded assassin and Eve is a not too savvy MI5 agent. By the end, after all the smoke cleared from the action scenes, both have changed. Villanelle hasn’t killed Eve, though she is obviously a threat to Villanelle’s way of life. And Eve has matured into a Covert Agent, making dangerous decisions and going against the instructions of her leaders.

Here are my initial expectations:

  • Great fight scenes
  • A covert organization, maybe inside the CIA
  • A lot of secrets and intrigue and betrayals

What will Treadstone turn out to be? It’s difficult to know right now, but it will depend a lot on the 6 core questions and, specifically, the obligatory scenes and conventions that the writers include.

Let’s hope the writers make it great!!

What are the 6 Core Questions and Why Are They Important?

For the rest of this post, we’ll discuss the 6 Core Questions based on Shawn Coyne’s book The Story Grid.

According to Shawn Coyne, an editor with over 25 years of editing experience, after reading a novel one time, an editor should be able to answer these 6 Core Questions without “having any serious head scratches”. These questions will help an editor determine where any problems are in the manuscript.

Genre

Shawn Coyne describes Genre as “the most important decisions” an author needs to make. “Those choices will tell the reader what they are in for if they pick up the book”.

The six core questions are meant to be answered after reading the book, or in this case after watching the series. Just from my knowledge of the series, I’m assuming the series is either in the ‘Action’ or ‘Thriller’ Genre, and both these Genres have similar components. For arguments sake, I’m going to assume that the Genre for the Hanna series is the Action Genre. At the end of the series, I’ll revisit the 6 core questions and answer them accurately, but in order to progress through the rest of the questions we need to assume a Genre.

External Genre: Action (Sub-Genre to be determined)

External Value at stake: Life to Unconciousness to Death to Fate Worse than Death (Damnation)

Internal Genre: To be determined

Internal Value at Stake: To be determined

Obligatory Scenes and Conventions

These are the scenes in the story that will ultimately make it work, the scenes that the reader expects because of the Genre. As we go through the series, I’ll identify these scenes in the posts.

The Obligatory Scenes for an Action Genre Story are:

  • An inciting Attack by the villain
  • the hero sidesteps responsibility to take action
  • forced to leave ordinary world, hero lashes out
  • discovering and understanding the antagonist’s MacGuffin (Villain’s object of desire)
  • hero’s initial strategy against villain fails
  • realizing they must change their approach to salvage some form o victory, hero reaches an All Is Lost moment
  • The hero at the mercy of the villain: the central event of the Action Story, what the reader is waiting for. The her’s gift is expressed in this scene
  • The hero’s sacrifice is rewarded

The Conventions for an Action Genre Story are:

  • Hero, Victim, Villain: these three roles must be clearly defined throughout the story. The protagonist must be a hero.
  • the hero’s object of desire is to stop the villain and save the victim
  • the power divide between the hero and the villain is very large. The villain is far more powerful than the hero.
  • speech in praise of the villain
  • other sub-genre specific conventions

The Obligatory Scenes for an Thriller Genre Story are:

  • An inciting crime indicative of a master villain. There must be victims.
  • speech in praise of the villain
  • The hero/ protagonist becomes the victim
  • The hero at the mercy of the villain
  • False ending
  • the hero sidesteps responsibility to take action
  • forced to leave ordinary world, hero lashes out
  • discovering and understanding the antagonist’s MacGuffin (Villain’s object of desire)
  • hero’s initial strategy against villain fails
  • realizing they must change their approach to salvage some form o victory, hero reaches an All Is Lost moment
  • The hero at the mercy of the villain: the central event of the Action Story, what the reader is waiting for. The her’s gift is expressed in this scene
  • The hero’s sacrifice is rewarded

The Conventions for an Action Genre Story are:

  • MacGuffin – the Villain’s object of desire
  • Investigative Red Herrings – false clues that the protagonist follows
  • Making it personal
  • Clock

Point of View

Here you list all the points of view within the novel. For a television series, and even a movie, it’s a little more difficult, because in a novel you will usually only have a few different points of view. On television, you may have scenes from many points of view that are not in a novel the show was adapted from, and this is necessary in order to show things more clearly since you can’t easily get into the head of the characters like you can in a novel.

For Treadstone, I imagine they will show various scenes from the POV of the sleeper agents and the bad guys.

Objects of Desire

What are the protagonist and antagonist’s objects of desires? What do they want? What do they need? Once the series is finished, it should be very obvious. For action and thriller genres, the want of the protagonist is usually to survive, to live – especially since the External Value at Stake is life and death. The Internal Value at Stake will usually lead to what the protagonist needs, and I don’t know that right now. The antagonist usually wants to kill the protagonist in some way, but we’ll see how this plot develops.

Controlling Idea/ Theme

Shawn Coyne describes the controlling idea as “the takeaway message the writer wants the reader/ viewer to discover from reading or watching his story”.

For this series, I imagine the controlling idea will be something like this:

Life is preserved when the protagonist overpowers or outwits the antagonist.

We don’t know who those are yet, but that’s a good guess.

The Beginning Hook, the Middle Build, and the Ending Payoff

Shawn Coyne explains the math of most novels as broken into 3 parts or acts, the beginning Hook, the Middle Build, and the Ending Payoff. Generally, the Beginning Hook consists of about 25% of the novel, the Middle Build 50%, and the Ending Payoff about 25%.

Each one of these acts should have 5 commandments:

  • an inciting incident
  • a progressive complication
  • a crisis
  • a climax
  • a resolution

These 15 scenes (5 commandments for each act) make up the spine of the novel. The sixth question involves identifying these 15 scenes in the novel (or series) and creating a short description of each act. We’ll track these through the weeks and at the end, when we revisit the 6 Core Questions, we will summarize these 15 scenes.

In Summary

So, over the next couple months I’ll analyze the Treadstone series, one episode a week as they are released, and go over the 5 commandments for the episode as well as follow the obligatory scenes and conventions. at the end, I’ll write a summary to include the 6 editor questions and my comments on whether the story worked as a whole and if they could have made it better.

Overall, as an editor, this is the process I initially go through when I review a novel for an author.

The Story Grid

For more information about the Story Grid, go to the Story Grid Webpage to find free videos and articles on how to implement the methodology.

Read these articles for more information about the 5 Commandments of Storytelling and the Editor’s 6 Core Questions from the book The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne.

For an example of how these techniques are used, read Jane Austin’s The Pride and the Prejudice with annotations by Shawn Coyne.

Story Grid Editing

If you are interested in having your manuscript reviewed by me, see my Editing Services.

One Comment on “Treadstone Season 1 Introduction – Initial Story Analysis

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