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Jack Ryan - Season 1 - Review

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By now you all should’ve had time to watch Amazon Prime’s Jack Ryan series starring John Krasinski. If we’re being realistic, most of you probably finished the whole thing over Labor Day weekend when it was first released. I even know a few people who have watched it all the way through twice, so I think we’re good to move forward with a season one overview without worrying about spoilers.

Ryan (Krasinski) is introduced as a low-level CIA analyst who mostly keeps to himself but has a habit of sticking his foot in his mouth. Point in case: Within moments of meeting his new boss, Ryan says that there’s something odd about the financial records he’s tracking throughout the Middle East and just won't let it go. While all of the more flashy agents aren’t seeing any problems, Ryan insists that by tracking the money, he’s identified a new terrorist leader named Suleiman who could be just as bad, if not worse, than Bin Laden.

The stakes are high, but not everyone believes him right off the bat. Fortunately, Ryan’s new boss, James Greer, sees something worthwhile in his report and brings him to Yemen for further investigation. In one of the more memorable scenes of the series, Ryan sits across a table from a man they’ve identified as a part of Suleiman's network, questioning him if he knows anything about the man in charge. When the man is rescued in a fight that leaves Jack injured, he’s shocked to discover that the seemingly nobody he had just been interviewing was Suleiman himself.

This first episode sets up a gripping tension between Ryan and Suleiman - this isn’t just CIA vs. terrorist or good guy vs. bad guy, this is Ryan vs. Suleiman. It’s personal.

As the series goes on, we learn more about the lives of our characters. Ryan has started a light flirtation with Dr. Cathy Mueller and we learn that he’s haunted by nightmares and scars from his last mission as a Marine. We meet Suleiman’s wife Hanin and see how much power he really has over her and their home. Hanin’s number one concern is the safety of their three children - particularly their oldest girl - as Suleiman’s soldiers continue to fill their home with their weapons and wandering eyes. Suleiman works closely with his brother Ali, whom the CIA identifies as the key to bringing down the terrorist leader.

We also start to see Jack Ryan get broken down bit by bit with each passing episode - he starts as a straight-and-narrow behind the desk analyst, but after his confrontation with Suleiman and witnessing a gruesome suicide bombing, his desk job demeanor gets stripped away to reveal the Marine underneath. But the bones remain - he doesn’t react to his situation with an immediate physical response, rather he continues to make calls from an intelligence standpoint. “Calculating” is often a term used to describe villains, but it applies to Ryan as well.

Meanwhile, Hanin sees the writing on the wall and escapes with her daughters. Suleiman sends men after her and when they finally intercept her, one attempts to rape Hanin, but a U.S. drone pilot sees what’s going on from above and kills her attacker via drone. This allows Hanin to continue fleeing with her daughters and starts a very odd subplot that focuses on the drone pilot Victor.

I’m going to be honest: I think they could have cut most of Victor’s storyline. I understand that it was necessary for him to exist so that he could save Hanin, and it made sense to explain that he made that call because he was struggling with his conscious. But the show continued to follow Victor as he tried to exorcize his demons, climaxing with his visit to the family of a man he killed in a drone strike. It just wasn’t necessary for this show. It was an interesting story but it took away from the momentum of the series of the whole. Kind of like the 80’s punk rock episode in the second season of Stranger Things. Interesting backstory, but could’ve been slimmed down.

Anyway, moving on. While Hanin and her daughters run across the desert, Suleiman kicks his plan into full gear: he imprisons a dozen doctors from Doctors without Borders, then stages a sarin gas attack at a French priest’s funeral, jamming the doors so no one can escape.

Meanwhile, Ryan gets into a shootout with Ali and eventually kills him in self-defense.

Hanin and her daughters eventually wind up at a refugee camp, and her reference to her husband catches the ears of a CIA contact. They relay to CIA headquarters that they think they have Suleiman’s wife just as Ryan and team make contact with the terrorist via video game chat room.

This is another one of my favorite scenes in the show - Ryan, with a boardroom full of CIA agents looking on, chats with Suleiman on this message board while posing as his brother Ali. Tensions are high as Suleiman starts asking questions that are clearly meant to verify his brother's identity and the CIA eventually runs out of intel and starts answering incorrectly. Once Suleiman figures out he’s not speaking to his brother, instead of immediately logging off, Ryan starts using his analytical mind - after admitting that Ali is dead and revealing himself to be Ryan, he gets Suleiman to admit that his wife left him. This confirms that the woman in the camp really is Hanin and they rush to extract her.

When Ryan and Greer find Hanin, we get a taste for how Greer acts when backed into a corner: he shoots Hanin’s captors. His checkered past is revealed as we learn that he has a history of shooting himself out of sticky situations when necessary. Greer and Ryan pack Hanin and her daughters into a helicopter and they head back to the States.

Meanwhile, Ryan’s doctor friend Cathy has been busy in his absence. She examines a man who died from a strain of Ebola that was believed to have been eliminated, and things go from bad to awkward when Ryan shows up during her questioning, revealing himself to be CIA.

On one hand, I understand her being upset that he lied, but on the other hand, espionage is part of the deal with the CIA. He has to lie to everyone, not just her, so she can’t get too upset. And she doesn’t stay upset for long, as they both decide they’re all in with the relationship.

With Hanin as their asset, the CIA has to decide what to do about Suleiman. They want to do an airstrike and take out his whole camp in one big strike, but Ryan steps up - literally, in the middle of a meeting with the president - and insists that they should do a ground assault in hopes of extracting Hanin’s son and protecting him from the destruction.

When the team goes in, Suleiman and his men are nowhere to be found. One of the daughters had innocently reached out to her brother via video game chat board and Suleiman saw the messages, getting his men out in time. But the hostage from Doctors without Borders are all found and successfully brought home. One of the doctors is close friends with the president and takes a place of honor standing behind him onstage during a televised news broadcast.

Ryan witnesses the doctor start to cough and collapse, and Ryan pieces together Suleiman's entire plan: Just like Ryan, Suleiman is smart. Very smart. He’s been two steps ahead of them the whole time. Similar to how he killed one priest in order to draw all the mourners into the church and kill them all at once, he’s used the doctor to do the same: He poisoned the hostages and allowed the CIA to “rescue” them, bringing them back to the U.S. and in close contact with the president. This puts the hostages, the president, and everyone who has had contact with them all in the same place: the hospital. All Suleiman has to do is put some poisonous gas in the hospital’s ventilation system and he’ll wipe out the president and half of the U.S. government in one blow.

Thus kicks off the finale episode, the Suleiman/Ryan face-off we've been building to all season. Once Ryan figures out the terrorist’s plot, he immediately calls Cathy to try to get her out of the hospital. He and Greer rush in and Ryan runs into Suleiman, which starts an extended dramatic foot chase. Ryan chases Suleiman into a nearby subway station filled with baseball fans as a Mets vs. Nationals game has just ended nearby. And I cannot tell you how much it warms my Atlanta Braves-loving heart to watch a terrorist don a Washington Nationals hat and flag to blend in with the crowd. When Ryan eventually catches up with him and shoots him, I was extra thrilled to watch a terrorist bleed out WHILE WEARING A NATIONALS HAT. (Braves and Nationals are bitter rivals, btw, which is why I was filled with such glee.)

So yes, Ryan kills Suleiman before he can remote trigger the poison deployment. With the threat eliminated, life settles back to somewhat normal and Hanin reconnects with her son. Greer has been promoted to a new role in Moscow and Ryan will be serving as his replacement, but we get a hint of what's to come in season two when we learn that he will be joining Greer in Moscow soon.

As a whole, I loved this series. I thought it was very well-written and executed, with the exception of the Victor subplot. We’ve seen various versions of Jack Ryan over the years, and in this one, they wisely started at the beginning, with Ryan in his very normal, non-action star job. Casting “the guy from The Office” was a great move since Krasinski is the textbook definition of a normal everyman in the audience’s eyes. I’ll be interested to see if season two escalates him to action hero or he stays true to his roots as an analyst who gets roped into fieldwork.

What did everyone else think?

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