Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 26, 2019)
After Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan character debuted in a 1984 novel, he leapt to the big screen via 1990’s Hunt for Red October. Ryan would go on to star in three more movies over the subsequent 12 years.
The franchise went dormant for another dozen years before a reboot occurred with 2014’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. The movie failed to find much of an audience and didn’t relaunch the series as its producers hoped.
Where to go from there? Another reboot, apparently, though this time on the small screen.
Amazon’s Jack Ryan gives the character a fresh start. This Blu-ray package includes all eight of Season One’s episodes. The plot synopses come straight from the liner notes.
Pilot: “CIA analyst Jack Ryan (John Krasinski) uncovers a series of suspicious transactions that take him and his boss James Greer (Wendell Pierce) out from behind their desks into the field to hunt down a powerful new threat to the world. Hanin Ali (Dina Shihabi) begins to question her husband’s affairs after he brings a mysterious outsider into their home.”
When it comes to pilot episodes, I don’t expect much more than basic introductions to characters and themes, and this one does so efficiently. While I can’t claim it draws me into the series’ world in a tremendous manner, it acts as a fairly positive launch.
French Connection: “Jack and Greer decode a fresh piece of intel that takes them to Paris and one step closer to the elusive Suleiman (Ali Suliman). Hanin’s husband returns home with a renewed fervor for his secretive mission, leaving her unsure of their family’s future.”
Perhaps this will change, but so far the series’ decision to split time between Jack’s story and that of Hanin and others doesn’t really work. In this case, “Connection” grinds to a halt when it leaves Jack. It’s not a bad episode, but it seems spotty.
Black 22: “Drone pilot Victor (John Magaro) struggles with the immense responsibility attached to his job. Jack and Greer join French intelligence officers on a mission to track down Suleiman’s brother. Hanin is forced to make a dangerous decision for the sake of her children.”
My complaint from the prior episode continues here – and amplifies, as “Black 22” seems determined to spend as little time as possible with its title character. The Victor subplot feels like an odd detour, and not one that succeeds. “Black 22” doesn’t advance the series as well as I’d hope.
The Wolf: “As Jack and Cathy (Abbie Cornish) grow closer, Jack's double-life is put to the test. A show of force from Suleiman adds to his ranks and brings him one step closer to his next attack.”
We see more of Jack than usual here, so that adds some spark, but the episode nonetheless doesn’t really manage to reinvigorate the to-date moribund series. Maybe the intensifying relationship between Jack and Cathy will contribute drama down the road.
End of Honor: “After the horrific Paris church attack, Jack and Greer discover a deeper strategy behind Suleiman's actions, forcing Jack to suggest an unusual trap for him. Hanin faces new challenges in her quest for freedom.”
While I still feel less than excited about the amount of time the series spends away from Jack, I do kind of like this episode’s exploration of Suleiman’s past and hints of how he became radicalized. “End” doesn’t redeem Season One but at least it points us in a more compelling direction.
Sources and Methods: “Jack's moral code is tested when he and Greer use a Turkish criminal to help them track down a high-value target who may be able to lead them to Suleiman. Hanin tries to evade her pursuers and keep her daughters safe. Cathy investigates an outbreak of a virulent form of Ebola that may point to something more ominous.”
In theory, the story of Victor and his crisis of conscience should add moral depth to the show, but instead, it feels like padding. “Sources” also attempts to explore the question of whether the means justify the ends via Jack and Greer’s “assistant”, but that comes across more like showboating. Though “End” pushed the series in the right direction, “Sources” puts it back into neutral.
The Boy: “Jack and Greer try to convince their superiors to lead a covert ground assault to capture Suleiman. Jack's double life costs him an important relationship.”
With little time left in Season One, “Boy” should ramp up the tension – and it does, to some degree. However, it feels a little too “soap opera” for me, especially when we get stuck with sluggish interactions between Jack and Cathy. Some plot thickening occurs, though, so hopefully the finale will end the year on a positive note.
Inshallah: “Jack and Greer fear Suleiman's next attack could be on US soil. They must figure out how to stop him or risk enormous costs.”
Going into the finale, one might expect a big action spectacular. Nope – while some excitement results, the show avoids the anticipated slam-bang package of explosives and violence.
In theory, that seems like a nice curveball, but given how generally stagnant so much of S1 feels, I would’ve preferred a more traditional climactic segment. It’s not a bad episode, but it doesn’t compensate for the general ennui that impacted much of the prior seven shows.
All of this leaves Jack Ryan as something of a disappointment. While I can’t claim I disliked the time I spent with Season One, I also can’t say that it did much to enchant me. Hopefully Season Two will rebound and use the characters and situations in a more effective manner.