Amazon's "Jack Ryan": A hero out of time?

The world needs Jack Ryan, but can he exist in our world?

My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed Jack Ryan. The production value was obviously high. There were fewer details that former government employees will roll their eyes at and say, thats not how any of this works. I say fewer because there were still a handful of immersion breaking moments. Most of those come in the last two episodes, which I will discuss below. But if you just want the quick version: Jack Ryan is worth your Prime subscription.

Ive read every Clancy novel, most of them multiple times. I watched the movies with a gimlet eye, angered when they, inevitably, missed the depth of the novels. Its hard to cram the intricacies of international espionage in a 90-minute film. Harder still is taking a well-known character, with a well-developed back story, and updating him for the times. Theres a reason that James Bonds history is always nebulous: modern viewers have rarely read the Ian Fleming novels and a shadowy leading man is much easier to re-cast. Jack Ryan may be one of those characters better left in therecentpast. Hes just too good for our times.

The trouble with Jack is that hes such a Boy Scout. That is why major papers reviews have been so negative. Jacks story has been picked out of the late seventies and early eighties and deposited in 2018. It almost works. It is easy to believe that a young Marine, nearly killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan can be the same ideologue that we meet in the novels. The backstory remains very faithful to source material: Jack, the son of a Baltimore cop, matriculates from Boston College, has a PhD in economics, and has spent time working in the rarefied atmosphere of finance. Through it all, hes kept his belief that one man can make a difference. He joins the CIA, after leaving a powerful Wall Street firm, because he wants to serve his country.

Its here that the new Ryans background clashes with the story-line. The Ryan of Clancys novels is a married family man happily teaching history when he is pulled into working for the CIA. He doesnt leave a high-paying job on Wall Street to join the CIA because hes called to serve. His service is in teaching the next generation of naval officers. He has a brilliant, loving wife, an adoring daughter, and a quiet existence. The old Ryans chopper went down in the Mediterranean during a training exercise. He was never deployed to the graveyard of empires. Primes Jack Ryan has served at least one combat tour in Afghanistan. Hes witnessed the clash of cultures and civilizations. He watched his men, and innocent civilians, die. He nearly died himself in service to his country. The battle-scarred Jack we see tossing and turning night after night clashes with his but were the good guys attitude when he has to work with less than savory foreign liaisons. No one comes home from Afghanistan with his naivete intact.

One of the biggest reasons that the new Ryan character misses the markand let me be clear, it just barely missesis that he doesnt have that happy family to return to. Cathy Ryan kept Jack honest during all of those soul-sucking years at the Agency. In his darkest days, dealing with a President unfit for his role, and as the world teetered on the brink of nuclear apocalypse, Jack had an anchor. He was fighting for something far more tangible than God, Honour, Country. He risked death and a charge of high treason for Cathy, Sally, and Little Jack. Without those touchstones, I worry that the new Jack Ryan is too brittle. Without the force of Cathy Ryans married devotion, I fear he will lose his way.

This, then, was my biggest complaint about the series. Having Jack meet Cathy while already working for the CIA, and then engage in casual, hook-up, sexual encounters, felt forced and un-true to the rest of his character. It is certainly less anachronistic to have a young government-service professional un-married and still seeking love, but if youre going to preserve so much of the good 70s Catholic-boy persona, why not take it that much further? It would have been far more loyal to the character that he maintains his idealistic outlook because of a supportive family life, than to have him struggle alone.

Picking John Krasinski for this role was a risk, but one that paid off. His open and expressive features excellently convey the moral quandaries he finds himself in. If youre worried that all youll see is Jim Halpert from The Office, go watch 13 Hours. Not only is Krasinski a capable action hero, hes the perfect casting for an analyst turned field operative.

Beyond the thrill of seeing a beloved character portrayed on the screen, the real gem of Jack Ryan is Dina Shihabis portrayal of Hanin. She could so easily have been a cookie-cutter personification of a Muslim wife, or of a refugee. Her maternal motivations and devotion are powerful yet not over-played. She has many opportunities to betray her husband more fully than she does. That she cannot, or will not, take those steps shows a surprising complexity not often found in TV characters.

Hanins husband, Suliman, is the seasons antagonist. He, too, is a far more complex character than typically found in such series. You could almost like this guy if he wasnt such a murderous thug. Thats a theme often repeated in the show. A Turkish asset is a pimp, rapist, and drug dealer, but hes also surprisingly affable. By the end of the episode featuring Numan Acar, I had to remind myself that I shouldnt be rooting for him.

Sadly, the last two episodes of Jack Ryan felt rushed. After six hours of careful character and story development, major plot points are chaotically concluded. Some of the careful fact-checking and realistic details also fly out the window. The terrorists' end-game is needlessly intricate and unnecessary. The only benefit of this frenetic conclusion (temporary though it may be, as Jack Ryan has been renewed for another season) is that it avoids a trite character denouement. Jack doesnt realize his idealism is all for naught, and his salty superior hasnt found some new ability to see the good in all mankind.

Jack Ryan, pulled from the Cold War and thrust into the new world dis-order, faces radical Islamic terrorism instead of IRA nationalists. The titular character suffers from PTSD, struggles to remain morally righteous, and gets swept up in a game far bigger than he. The cinematography is superb and the locales breathtaking. Several of the supporting characters are worthy of a series of their own, and the dialogue is both believable and un-forced. Can Jack Ryan be modernized yet remain faithful to his Boy Scout roots? The jurys still out, but for our sake, I hope the answer is yes. The world needs more Jack Ryans.

Comments
No. 1-5
FloridaMan
FloridaMan

Any spy series that doesn't have Americans fighting terrorists, cartels or wanna be communists is disingenuous and emasculated. Superman fought Nazis, why can't James Bond fight Al Queda?

LisaMJ
LisaMJ

Frontal nude in the third show? Nothing is worth watching Jack Ryan. The story was captivating enough, so why the nudity? Why the F word? Totally unnecessary.

WarrenPeese
WarrenPeese

I'm on Episode 7 and I like everything about it, including his courtship with Cathy Mueller while he's at CIA. The "Boy Scout" epithet was used in Clear and Present Danger, so that theme also rings true in this series and stays with the original spirit of the character. It's really, really good.

Amy Davis
Amy Davis

Editor

I actually think having Greer being a (lapsed) Muslim works. Yes, I would prefer the salty Admiral from the books, but Wendell Pierce makes a good James Greer.

CMacchiato
CMacchiato

I enjoy the show too (despite the really bad language), but I did notice there were what appeared to be some nods to political correctness. I haven't read Clancy's books, but I found out that Greer was made a black Muslim for the show. The military's drone program is also portrayed as evil and mismanaged. The hilarious thing is that the show is also taking fire from the other side of the aisle. Vox published an article about how it's all about white male privilege. I'm not sure if it can survive criticism from both sides.