Jack Ryan: Season 1 — a review (Amazon Prime)

This Amazon original series has been in the back of my mind for a couple of years now. After I began to watch Bosch and Buffy the Vampire Slayer—among other Amazon Prime video offerings—I kept seeing the series advertised on their site. Each time, I reminded myself that as slots opened up on my viewing schedule I would add Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan to the mix.

I was a John Krasinski fan from his days on the US version of The Office. He has a likeable everyman quality that holds your attention no matter what he is doing or what character he’s playing.

He’s the fifth actor to play the character Jack Ryan, by the way, after Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck and Chris Pine. That seems like a lot until you consider James Bond (eight actors) and the time-traveller known as The Doctor (thirteen), not to mention Batman, Sherlock Holmes and Tarzan (which I mentioned: so sue me). Good characters are constantly being reinvented and retconned. And, Jack Ryan is a good character. Trust me on this.

This is where Krasinski’s everyman quality comes into play. Dr. Jack Ryan is a Marine veteran and financial analyst working for the CIA, in the Terror, Finance, and Arms Division (T-FAD). He has a desk job. In the first episode of the series—the appropriately titled “Pilot”—Jack gets a new boss, James Greer, former CIA station chief in Karachi who was demoted for some reason. Greer is portrayed by Wendell Pierce, who I know primarily from his role as Detective Bunk Moreland in The Wire. The relationship between the two men gets off to a rocky start when Greer almost hits Ryan on his bicycle on his way to work. Then, Ryan gets an icy reception from Greer when he attempts to tell him why he believes some large financial transactions in Yemen are connected to a single high-level individual known as Suleiman.

Ryan circumvents his boss’s approval to freeze the suspected accounts, which lands him in more professional hot water. But, Greer hasn’t ignored what Ryan has been telling him. In fact, Greer has Ryan picked up, by Coast Guard helicopter, at the birthday party of Ryan’s former Wall Street boss, and he is essentially drafted to join Greer in the Middle East. Ryan, who has all the knowledge of the financial shenanigans, is expected to assist in the interrogation of two men who were captured and seem to be connected to the suspicious transfers. Ryan tries to get out of it by saying he’s just an analyst, but Greer pulls rank and forces him to go.

Things go a little sideways at the black site Ryan is taken to. Krasinski seems to be modeling his Jack Ryan more after Harrison Ford’s performance. He’s an ordinary man thrust into extraordinary circumstances. Ryan is no superhero or super-soldier, although he demonstrates some proficiency in hand-to-hand combat (former Marine, remember). He figures out that the man originally thought to be just a bodyguard is actually Suleiman himself, but he is mostly helpless to prevent his escape.

The undercurrent beneath most of this first episode is that Suleiman is planning a huge terrorist action, ala 9/11. At one point, Ryan mentions that 9/11 was funded with only half-a-million dollars. What could Suleiman pull off with $9 million?

Then, we spin off into other sub- and side-plots. These include a character arc about Ali, Suleiman’s beloved brother, who nearly gets captured by Greer and Ryan in Paris, France. Suleiman’s wife also gets her own arc. She’s trying to escape from her husband. And then there’s the military drone pilot stationed out of Nevada. He gets his own story thread as well. He actually aids the terrorist’s wife from thousands of miles away, executing an unauthorized military strike against one of Suleiman’s men, who was attempting to capture—and, more immediately, rape—Suleiman’s wife.

Along the way, we learn more about Greer and Ryan. Greer turns out to be a Muslim. Another character accuses Ryan of being a wolf who is pretending to be a deskbound sheep, and this seems like an accurate characterization. Ryan is smart, observant, and competent under pressure. As the smartest man in the room, he’s also the one who uncovers most of the clues leading them to Suleiman.

Ryan also seems to be suffering from PTSD, stemming from a helicopter crash during his time in the Marines, a crash that he blames himself for. Somehow, during the eight episodes which comprise the first season, a romantic subplot for Ryan is somehow shoehorned into the mix. This arrives in the form of Dr. Cathy Mueller (Abbie Cornish), the daughter of Ryan’s former Wall Street boss, who happens to specialize in infectious diseases. This dovetails neatly with the overarching plot of the season, which involves the potential weaponizing of Ebola.

I don’t believe it is a spoiler to say that the romantic subplot follows the familiar boy-gets-girl/boy-loses-girl/boy-wins-girl-back-again trope. It all happens quickly, almost as an afterthought.

I thoroughly enjoyed this first season of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan. International political intrigue and covert operations grounded in some strongly rendered character work. A second season already exists, and I’m looking forward to it. More importantly, the series was renewed for a third and fourth season. Principal filming for Season 3 wrapped this past October, which implies that it will premiere sometime in 2022. I may be caught up to it by then.

Firewater’s I-Don’t-Interrogate-People-I-Write-Reports Report Card: A

I would watch a remake of Hunt for Red October with John Krasinski as Ryan and Darrell Hammond as the Russian submarine captain.

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