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How does the Treadstone TV Series Connect to the Bourne Movies?

Treadstone was a USA Network original series based on the popular Bourne franchise. Here's how the show connects to the films.

By Benjamin Bullard
Treadstone

The shadowy, cat-and-mouse spy world of the Bourne movie franchise (stream 2016’s Jason Bourne on Peacock here!) has always attracted more than one kind of fan. Packed with action and loaded with twisting, convoluted plot lines, it’s the kind of movie-verse you can either casually watch with popcorn, or constantly pause with a stack of Robert Ludlum novels perched at your side — all the better to studiously consult the book-based source material that inspired it.

On the one hand, those who’ve dived deep into the Bourne movies’ literary background — begun by the late, great Ludlum with 1980 novel The Bourne Identity and explored through tons of successive followups — have a seemingly infinite vein of CIA-based mythology to mine. The books are dense, and the films can be, too.

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But on the other hand, it’s fun to just sit back and watch franchise star Matt Damon crash cars and smack down attackers, all while staying one step ahead of his secret CIA handlers… and to do that, there’s no need to know where any of this spy-story stuff actually comes from.

How Treadstone ties in with the Bourne movie franchise

Treadstone (stream it here on Peacock), the short-lived USA Network original series meant to expand the Bourne franchise beyond its namesake character, follows a similar formula: Starring Jeremy Irvine (War Horse, Great Expectations) as rogue agent John Randolph Bentley, it’s loaded with action and thrill-a-minute pacing… but if you wanna go deep and connect the many breadcrumbs the show lays to link the series back to the books, there’s definitely plenty of that to reward longtime Bourne fans.

Running for only a single season in 2019, Treadstone sprang from the creative mind of Tim Kring, already an adroit at serialized intrigue as the creator of both Crossing Jordan and NBC’s Heroes (also streaming on Peacock here.) There’s no Jason Bourne (or Matt Damon) anywhere to be found in the series, except in the occasional glancing reference here or there to the semi-concurrent offscreen events of the films.

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Treadstone instead establishes its own separate-but-connected story world, complete with new characters and its own globe-spanning slate of exotically spy-worthy locations. The show’s premise aims to reach back in time to the very beginning, explaining the origins of the same stealthy CIA program responsible for shaping agents like Bourne into skillfully obedient, kill-on-command assassins.

Doug McKenna (Brian J. Smith) looks worried in Treadstone Season 1.

In the movies, Jason Bourne becomes the off-the-range asset who sidesteps his intended role as a trained (and still sorta brainwashed) super-agent of the shady CIA black ops program dating back to the 1970s known as Operation Treadstone. In the present day, Operation Treadstone has gone defunct, replaced by a sort of tweaked, version 2.0 program know as Operation Blackbriar. But the mission of Treadstone the TV series is to see how Operation Treadstone evolved from its beginnings, bouncing in time between present-day events and agent Bentley’s initial 1973 “activation” as a Treadstone “cicada” (the name program handlers give to agents who’ve been primed and indoctrinated, just like Bourne was, to “awaken” to their powers and start dutifully pursuing their new lives as point-and-shoot assassins).

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As it turns out, Bourne wasn’t the first agent to smell something fishy about their role in the agency’s decades-long legacy of mind-control games. Bentley’s 1973 ordeal opens Treadstone with an ominous tease that the Soviets may also have been involved, and the show tracks parallel story lines that alternately drop in on Treadstone operatives Tara Coleman (Tracy Ifeachor), Soyun Park (Han Hyo-joo), and Doug McKenna (Brian J. Smith), with all of the threads meant to converge — or at least come closer and closer.

All the while, Bentley keeps chipping away at his own mystery, slowly regaining his lost memories while going back to the sites of key events in his Treadstone brainwashing journey, while the series keeps dangling a major link (no spoilers!) between his initial Soviet escape and the missions of his fellow, present-day Operation Treadstone assassins. Hey! — we said this franchise can get convoluted, remember? But at least through all ten episodes of its one and only season, Treadstone manages to play by the same rules that govern the heart-racing logic of the larger Bourne movie franchise.

Watch Treadstone on Peacock here, while checking out Jason Bourne, the most recent installment in the action-thriller film franchise, here.