Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan: Strong acting hindered by a plot that manipulates coincidence into an art form.
I really wanted to like Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan. San Diego Comic-Con conditioned me. From the sprawling virtual reality experience to the previews playing on every Fire TV Stick and Cube at the Amazon Fire activation I heard the trailer blasting Rag’n’Bone Man’s Human more times than I can count, at least parts of it, over-and-over.
And I do like Jack Ryan (John Krasinski), the character. He is a bit of an overzealous Boy Scout with delusions of goodness and character that seems too tightly held for someone with Ryan’s experience. Not that a Ph.D. makes everyone cynical, but a tour of duty in Afghanistan usually doesn’t leave soldiers with their naiveté left in tact, especially soldiers seemingly haunted by events during the deployment. But Ryan is likeable and Krasainski’s acting well-aligned with the show’s characterization.
But the real problem with Jack Ryan isn’t the character, or even the characters. The acting is universally strong and the characters given screen time, for the most part, develop as more than sketches.
The problem with Jack Ryan derives from the contrived plot connected to Ryan and his love interest Dr. Cathy Mueller (Abbie Cornish). The initial meeting between the two doesn’t stretch credibility too much, until Ryan is whisked away by helicopter from a party. I could give them that. This is an action-adveture, right? But his cover story about being a State Department logistics hack wears thin as the contrivances pile up. Eventually Mueller becomes associated with a potential disease-based terror attack, but kind of only because the Jack Ryan universe knows the two are together and its screwing withm them. No real reason for the connection to be with her versus any other random infectious disease expert. The random acts of logic don’t just feel random, they feel compelled. Since I had to use the term “Jack Ryan Universe” we all know that the fiction has its own logic that defies conventional logic. Zip it Thanos.
Having Ryan’s boss, James Greer (Wendell Pierce), kill a terrorist in an elevator being shared by Mueller, as the terrorist desperately attempts the escape a domestic incident just puts lead on top of the cake. I know why she is at the hospital, but how that hospital became the focal point for an event receives some major pin-and-string connections that probably don’t work out in someplace other than the Jack Ryan Universe (JRU).
And while flashbacks do establish motive and relationships, they don’t slow the overly quickened pace of action that jets all over the world in a pretty short periods of time. The preparation and the execution of the terrorist activities feel launched into an alternative reality (The JRU) where time moves faster. Sure, we call that a television show or a film, but for a show with a sure second season, the wrap on the main plot was too fast, while the main subplot was just left dangling like a captured terrorist with a noose around his neck and one foot precariosly keeping him from plumeting to a point where the rope meets an uncomfortable tinsel strength.
Yep, they just leave Ryan and Mueller hanging. They don’t connect after the terrorist incident. She was there. He was there. Perhaps that’s the first scene of Season Two, but it should have been a scene on the way out of season one. Jack Ryan does not go back to work and shoot the office shit with Greer, complete with inside jokes and heroic forgiveness followed by heroic promotions.—not without seeing Cathy Mueller first. Not without processing what just happened to her, even if he has grown a tougher, less idealistic skin over the eight episodes of Season One. If they stopped being a thing, that isn’t acknowledge either.
The incident is political, it is staged and Mueller is caught in the crossfire. It wasn’t Ryan’s fault, and there is no indication that the lead terrorist Suleiman (Ali Suliman) makes any connection between Ryan and Mueller. That she and Ryan never see each other makes no sense whatsoever. It’s just bad writing.
As for the general plot, there isn’t much Jack Ryan adds to the America in the Middle East narrative. We are right, they are wrong, and when it comes to individuals, there is some grey area, but not a whole lot. It looks complicated but if you are on the inside it really isn’t that complicated, except now they use networks and phones for money transfers, not just as trigger devices (which they still use).
As a viewer, however, If you like action-adventure, then you may find enough tension and explosions to overcome the plot issues.
As I watched the episodes on the 10th and 11th of September, they did help remind me that there are people who think we are wrong, that America is on the wrong side of history, and that our actions in the world require an equal reaction on American soil. I’m not sure I need this much propaganda to remind me, but in a way, Jack Ryan did this better than the 9/11 specials. Those specials served more to remind me of how unprepared we were then, and how much we still have to learn about the balance between co-existing, leading and protection. Ryan reminded me that I just want everyone to figure out how to get along and how hard that is going to be.
I hope Season 2 provides a gritter Krasinski and some scripts with surprises even if they require fewer moments of suspended belief.
Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is available now on Amazon Prime.