Raymond Arke | Editor-in-Chief
The deserts of Yemen and Syria are a far cry from Scranton, Pennsylvania, but John Krasinski, in his first return to television after The Office, nails the titular role in Amazon Prime’s Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan. Inspired by the character made famous in Clancy’s long-running series of political thrillers, the streaming service’s newest show doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but provides a satisfying and entertaining series.
Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan takes place in present-day Washington D.C., where Ryan (Krasinski) works as an analyst for the CIA, specializing in terrorism finance. His immediate superior, Jim Greer (a name fans of Clancy’s book will recognize) is played by Wendell Pierce of The Wire fame. Without spoiling what is an expertly written plot, Greer and Ryan work to prevent a massive terrorist attack from an influential, mysterious and popular Osama Bin Laden-like figure, Suleiman (Ali Suliman). This journey takes them from CIA Headquarters in Virginia to Paris, France, a blacksite prison in Yemen and beyond.
Krasinski stands out in his role as Ryan. For someone that loyally read Clancy’s books, I thought Krasinski fits the character of Ryan much better than other actors, such as Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin, that have played him in screen adaptations of several of the books. Krasinski fits into the “Boy Scout”-type of guy Ryan was written as. The show keeps many of the details of Ryan the same as in the book. He is a former Marine and a big baseball fan, worked on Wall Street early in his career and has an aversion to taking pills. These small details make a difference to someone who has read the books.
For me, one of the most enjoyable things about the series is the plot, which unlike similar network shows (I’m talking about you 24 and Hawaii 5-0), deals with the topics of radical jihadist terrorism and national security with tact and intelligence. The show takes into account the nuances of the War on Terror. One of the subplots examines the struggles of the refugee crisis in Syria and Turkey. Another recurring theme is Ryan’s struggles with PTSD from his experiences in Afghanistan. Greer (Pierce), one of the main characters and a “good guy,” is a Muslim, a rare thing in popular American television.
One of the secondary characters, Victor Polizzi (played by a great John Magaro), is a U.S. drone operator and his subplot expertly examines the moral issues of drone warfare. This complexity is seen again with the excellent villain Suleiman. Again, without spoiling too much, Suleiman’s path to radicalization is shown realistically and begins in a flashback scene in Episode One, which shows his brother and himself being the only survivors of a misguided U.S. missile strike in the 1983 Lebanon conflict. Much like The Wire’s Stringer character, Suleiman isn’t just some crazy deadbeat, but instead an educated, calculating mastermind.
Unlike most terrorism-themed shows, Jack Ryan thankfully doesn’t overwhelm you with absurd explosions and unbelievable tech. Tom Clancy, as an author, was renowned for his use of realistic scenarios and accurate technical jargon, something this show continues. Scenes within the halls of Langley discussing terrorism finance use terms and phrases I’ve learned in some of my classes at Duquesne. It sounds like the real deal. Much of each episode isn’t consumed by mindless gunfights, but instead with more personal issues and realistic counter-terrorism work.
Amazon has already picked up the series for a second season and I can’t wait for more. While not revolutionary, Jack Ryan offers something that is so rare on television: a competent, engaging national security thriller. Modern conflicts aren’t simple and much to the pleasure of this Tom Clancy fan, Jack Ryan recognizes this and delivers an informative and fun experience.