Gregory F. (Greg) Zerovnik, EMBA, PhD
California Institute of Advanced Management
A review of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan
Were Tom Clancy still alive, how much would he recognize in this reincarnation of one of his most beloved fictional characters? Clancy’s original Jack Ryan, portrayed in film most memorably by Harrison Ford, has had his avenging angel wings clipped by Hollywood’s more politically correct point of view. Carlton Cuse and Graham Roland, showrunners for this Amazon Prime offering, give us a contemporary “regular guy” with softer edges whose personal scruples are now a very foreground part of his make-up, given that he is still an ex-Marine who saw action in the Middle East.
As in the original, the new Ryan is a CIA analyst with well-honed financial investigative skills. Again, like the book Ryan, he starts out manning a desk as a CIA analyst, having formerly been successful working for a financial investment firm. He identifies an alarming series of transactions that seem to hint of big money being furtively channeled to finance a hitherto unknown terror cell. From there he is sent out into the field by his supervisor, James Greer, to get closer to events as they unfold.
Speaking of Greer, Clancy’s original take on the retired Vice-Admiral and Deputy Director of Intelligence of the CIA has been reimagined as a recently demoted (for an unsanctioned kill of a Pakistani military officer), quick-to-anger CIA station chief and field operative now holding a desk job back at headquarters, portrayed capably by Wendell Pierce. Fans of USA network’s Suits will recognize Pierce at once. He’s no James Earl Jones, but then who could fill such shoes? One major character difference is that Pierce’s Greer is presented to us as a practicing Muslim, which takes a bit of getting used to. Greer’s superior is Nathan Singer (Timothy Hutton), the CIA Deputy Director of Operations (the role held by Clancy’s Greer).
Although the season 1 story arc centers around Middle Eastern terrorists planning a major attack on U.S. soil, these are no cookie-cutter bad guys. The leader of the terror cell is a dedicated family man who espouses a cause in which Muslims of all varieties should come together. This is quite a departure from the Sunni vs. Shiite factionalism we see in the news almost daily. We learn that cell leader Suleiman’s motivation is not so much Muslim fundamentalist teaching as a personal vendetta born of an airstrike that killed family members when he was a child. An interesting twist involves Suleiman’s wife (Dina Shahibi as Hanin Ali) who loves him, but does not love his terrorist plans.
Complications arise when an American drone operator named Victor (John Magaro), ensconced safely in Las Vegas, initiates a strike that kills non-combatants in Syria. Consumed with guilt, he sets out to try and make amends and it is clear his personal story will become more important in season 2.
The streaming first season moves along crisply. Portrayed by actor and executive producer John Krasinski, the new Ryan meets Cathy Mueller (Abbie Cornish), a medical doctor specializing in infectious diseases (a departure from the original) and the woman who at some point in the future will become his wife. He pulls the threads that lead to the discovery of the terror plot and takes on a physically demanding role with the skills a combat-tested Marine is expected to have. By the end of the season 1, Ryan and Greer have succeeded in foiling the terrorists. In an odd twist, Greer gets promoted to station chief in Moscow while Jack takes over Greer’s job as the director of T-FAD (the Terror, Finance and Arms Division of the CIA).
The psychology being applied in season 1 can be expected to recur as the series continues. Terrorists are humans too. Heroes have flaws. The interplay of different story arcs that play out as the season goes on helps provide interest. Some stories begin and end within an episode or during the span of a few episodes. Others take the whole season to play out. And still others start in season 1, but will clearly continue on into at least season 2, perhaps longer.
Overall, I give the show a B+. It’s a good show, well executed. But it’s not Tom Clancy.