Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for the Disney+ series, National Treasure: The Edge of History.
Disney+ show National Treasure: The Edge of History builds on the National Treasure franchise but is a strange sequel. The series introduces a new set of lead characters without a direct connection to Nicolas Cage‘s Ben Gates, who leads the film. Yet rather than aligning the content, the show focuses on the concept of the films. National Treasure and National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets tells the story of a determined historian who desperately wants to prove the truth in the legends his grandfather told him. With the help of his dorky friend, Riley Poole (Justin Bartha), skeptical father, Patrick Gates (Jon Voight), and love interest Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger), Ben steals the Declaration of Independence. They find a treasure map on the back. In the sequel film, the team works together again to clear the name of Ben’s ancestor after he is accused of masterminding the Lincoln assassination.
The series centers on young immigrant Jess Valenzuela (Lisette Olivera), who loves solving puzzles. When an unforeseen set of circumstances lead her to uncover a connection between a hidden artifact and her long-dead father, she and her friends venture into the world of treasure hunting, only to come into conflict with a dangerous enemy which they are ill-equipped to deal with. Despite the seeming separation between the films and the series, The Edge of History proves it is well aware of its predecessors.
From the start, the series includes some familiar faces. Jess’ life changes when she encounters retired FBI agent Peter Sadusky (Harvey Keitel). Sadusky appeared in the films as the FBI agent assigned to find the Declaration of Independence. As a freemason himself and intrigued by the treasure, Sadusky eventually befriends Ben Gates, allowing some leniency in the case. He finds himself embroiled in Ben’s drama again when the president is kidnaped, but Sadusky remains an avid lover of mysteries through it all. In the series, he incites Jess’ journey by recognizing the necklace she wears and suggesting there is more to her father’s story. He gives her the first clue shortly before his mysterious death. Sadusky’s grandson, Liam (Jake Austin Walker), becomes an important character as well. After the death of his grandfather, he agrees to help Jess hunt the treasure, despite his initial disbelief and estrangement from Sadusky.
Another familiar character who joins the cast is Agent Hendricks (Armando Riesco). In the films, he is an agent working under Sadusky and is most memorable for his part in the original National Treasure. In that film, he dismisses Ben and Riley’s warning that the Declaration of Independence would be stolen, believing it to be a prank. In the series, Hendricks is a high-ranking agent in the FBI’s New Orleans office. He appears to be assuming the open-minded agent role that Sadusky has vacated and isn’t shy about reminiscing on the films’ events. His dismissal of Ben and Riley is mirrored as well when his employee, Agent Ross (Lyndon Smith), ignores the report made by Jess and her friend, Tasha Rivers (Zuri Reed), about a kidnapping, again believing it to be a prank.
Ben Gates References
Though Nicolas Cage doesn’t appear, Ben Gates still looms large in the series. From the beginning, the show makes slightly veiled references to the films’ lead. They don’t use his name directly, but during their meeting in Episode 1, Sadusky compares Jess’ inability to quit something she’s begun to someone he knows, meaning Ben Gates. He refers to this person as “a big pain in the butt,” which is the relationship between the two characters seen in the films. Peter even quotes Ben’s line in National Treasure by suggesting Jess’ dad is among the “Men who did what was considered wrong in order to do what they knew was right.” But that isn’t the only reference to Ben. The second episode shows Agent Ross investigating Sadusky’s death after Jess and Tasha suggest it may have been suspicious. In the process, she looks through a mostly redacted file about the events in the films, with words indicating Ben. She even discusses the file with Hendricks talking about how Sadusky arrested “the guy who stole the Declaration of Independence.” As the franchise’s lead, Ben Gates is a significant part, even if he doesn’t appear in the show. References to him are necessary if the new series will make sense, meaning he will almost certainly be name-dropped at some point.
The Museum Gift Shop
Though under different circumstances, the series brings the story back to a museum gift shop. In National Treasure, Ben steals the Declaration of Independence and sneaks through the National Archives gift shop. When he’s nearly caught, Ben pays for the “souvenir” and is allowed on his way. In The Edge of History, Jess arranges to meet Billie Pearce (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who kidnaped her friend, Oren Bradley (Antonio Cipriano). At the gift shop, they agree to exchange Oren for the artifact. Jess plans to get Billie arrested for theft by placing a keychain in the box, but she is let go. Of course, things don’t go as well for Jess as they did for Ben, but both scenes involve a museum gift shop and an accusation of theft.
Treasure-Hunter Family Drama
Perhaps most importantly, the series mirrors the films in exploring complex family relationships and legacy. Throughout both films, the Gates family is the center, with father and son passing down stories of the treasure through generations. The dynamic between Ben and Patrick gets a lot of focus. Patrick has given up on the family legacy and wants Ben to do the same. Like the Gates, the Sadusky family has generations caught up in treasure hunting. Liam’s father died in an attempt to locate Montezuma’s Gold, and Liam seems to blame his grandfather. The family dynamic reflects the Gates, but this time it’s the (grand)son who rejects the legacy, not the father. In the same vein, Jess discovers the new treasure to be related to both of her parents, her father through the symbol on her necklace, and her mother from a paper she wrote about the treasure. Her mother never mentioning it to Jess could indicate that she wanted her daughter to move on from the treasure as Patrick wanted for Ben. Whatever the case, the drama surrounding these treasure-hunting families is too similar to ignore.
The Artifacts From the Movies
When Liam lets Jess and her friends into Peter Sadusky’s secret room, Oren recognizes a few clues from the movies, including the Meerschaum Pipe, Benjamin Franklin’s ocular device, and the carving from the Resolute Desk. The pipe can be found in the first film’s opening, making it the first official clue discovered in the franchise. This pipe leads to the Declaration of Independence and instigates the plot. The ocular device is another clue from the first film. These were made by Ben Franklin and are necessary to read the map on the Declaration. The carving from the Resolute Desk appears in the second film. This is only half of the carving, as the Oval Office piece was destroyed long before Ben and his team could find it. That means the carving in the show is from the Resolute Desk in Buckingham Palace. This clue leads the treasure hunters to Mount Rushmore, making it one of the final clues in the film. Sadusky saved these items in his hidden room, which few people know about.
Ben Gates isn’t the only accomplished treasure hunter from the films. Riley was by his side through all the crazy adventures, making him just as important to the franchise. Despite that, he usually isn’t given the recognition that Ben gets. But in the show, Oren knows the clues in Sadusky’s room from Riley’s podcast, which marks the show’s first reference to Riley. Unlike Ben, Riley is acknowledged by his full name. Oren later indirectly references Riley again in the same scene when he knows about Elvis’ secret room that no one else does. The conversation plays out very similarly to the moment Riley remembers the clue they found was written before daylight savings and is proud that he knows something about history that Ben doesn’t. Riley attends Sadusky’s funeral and helps Jess with her clue. In the process, he mentions that he and Ben have been working on a new treasure for fifteen years, a veiled reference to the rumored third film. With several mentions of the events in the films and even a phone call to Ben, Riley is the clearest tie between the films and the show.
Stealing a Historical Artifact at a Black-Tie Event
The most memorable part of the National Treasure franchise is Ben Gates’ crazy plans, starting with his announcement that he plans to steal the Declaration of Independence. While the first several episodes of Edge of History had Jess and her friends sneaking around, there was no heist to match that of Ben Gates’ impressive resume — but Episode 5 changes that. The team gets invitations to the Governor’s Ball with the intent of looking at Meriwether Lewis’ journal, only to end up stealing it. Though the journal is no Declaration of Independence, the scenes parallel each other. Both scenes start at a formal party and end with a narrow escape with the prize while raising the stakes for their respective heroes.
Betraying the Villain
The National Treasure franchise has a long history of the heroes misleading the villains, and Edge of History is no different. In Episode 6, “Frenemies,” Jess leads Billie to believe the clue in Lewis’ journal leads to where the Battle of the Alamo was fought. Though this is a logical conclusion, Jess seems to know that the clue points to a less famous location with a similar name. As they chase the fake clue, Jess betrays Billie, trapping her in the well for the police to find later. This plotline mimics the end of the original National Treasure film when Ben Gate sends Ian Howe (Sean Bean) after a fake clue in the Old North Church in Boston, where the police find him. Meanwhile, Ben and his team locate the actual treasure in Trinity Church.
National Treasure: Edge of History is now available to stream on Disney+.