Betrayal Review – Say hello to TV’s sweetest spy

Although every actor on earth has enjoyed a stint as the frontrunner to play the next Bond, Charlie Cox seems to be the only exception.

Despite sharing age, gender, and ethnicity with every screen Bond so far — not to mention a useful sideline as a superhero given he plays Daredevil in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — for some reason he just didn’t quite make the cut.

The reason seems to be treason (Netflix). A big part of a potential 007 audition sequence would be someone playing a little Bundy on the small screen, as Tom Hiddleston did with The Night Manager and James Norton with McMafia.

It’s a chance for them to dress the part, brood in a variety of lavish locations and occasionally tinker with guns. Betrayal — a spy thriller written by the Oscar-nominated Bridge of Spies co-writer — feels like it should have been cut from the exact same cloth.

However, our first meaningful introduction to Cox’s spy comes during a scene in a school library where he cheerfully tells a group of elementary-aged kids what it’s like to be a spy. Which, anyway, is not something you can imagine Daniel Craig.

In fact, throughout the betrayal, Cox is less of an international man of mystery but more of a beautiful Labrador who has somehow acquired the skill to operate a humanoid robot.

Ciarán Hinds lasts a bit longer than he did in The English. Photography: Anna Blumenkron

But Cox isn’t just a spy. Although he appears to be a particularly meek supply teacher, he is in fact MI6’s second-in-command. And when his boss (Ciarán Hinds, thankfully, is given more than he would in English) becomes incapacitated during a mishap of whiskey poisoning, it falls to Cox to run the ship. This is obviously silly, since the guy seems like his natural calling is hosting a CBeebies series about the importance of cuddling, but let’s just go with it.

It’s very difficult to say anything specific about the plot from this point on because that would unravel the entire series, but it’s safe to say things don’t quite work out. Poisoning Hinds is Olga Kurylenko, who has a past with Cox, and things get more complicated until his entire family ends up embroiled in the chaos.

I can tell you that the plot involves a whole English language of contemporary references—kompromat, shady Russian lords, Tory leadership campaign—and that the show takes place in London, because this is one of those shows where scenes don’t count unless there is an instantly recognizable landmark in the middle of London is in the middle of the screen. Any more than that would ruin the ride.

It’s a good ride, too. Treason manages that brilliant TV trick of sucking you in with its labyrinthine plot so effectively that you don’t realize how stupid it is until long after the credits roll, at which point it hits you like a ton of bricks. It does, however, have an air of unfulfilled promise.

Oddly enough, in the era of Far Too Much Television, you’d wish the show had lasted longer, but that’s the way it is with Betrayal. It’s a fairly limited five-part limited series, but it feels as if it’s set to be something more substantial.

What it sounds like is, in fact, one of those old big American network shows that ran for half a year at a time. One of those inexplicable spy-thriller novels like 24 or Homeland that never runs out of intricate plots that went … way … to … Top.

I dare say I would have enjoyed betrayal more if that had been the case. Instead, with a total runtime of less than four hours, Treason strikes all the required beats in nothing less than a blind scare.

Someone gets kidnapped, but is then found before anyone has a chance to start worrying. There is a government spy, but all this is settled with a wave of a hand. If anyone seems suspicious or mysterious in any way, their true motives are usually explained in a scene or two, so that the show doesn’t have to drop its crazy rumble to the finish line.

It’s fun, but frustrating. Spend a few more episodes with Labrador Bond and all his stupid problems, and the betrayal would have been a reversal.

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