The American flag billows prominently during the second season of Jack Ryan, Amazon’s latest Tom Clancy yarn that holds jingoism in its heart and a hardened dedication to the mission, and nothing but the mission.
But these aren’t bad things necessarily; instead, they are obscenely endearing, as the commitment to the bit proves that hard work and following where the truth takes you will win the day.
Jack Ryan’s second season delves into corrupt governments and abuse of power, making it a timely and foreboding tale. Venezuela becomes Jack Ryan’s playground as secret satellites, secret stashes of minerals, rigged elections, and mercenary killers bubble to the surface in the face of criminal conspiracy.
Despite all of these compelling pieces, the story gets rather messy. The first season is precise with its dual story, telling a family tale while the man at the head of the table is hunted for his terrorist ambitions; this second season goes for something far more ambitious, and does hit its marks. But it does so in a shambling way, where character choices and sudden twists come as questionable rather than well-built and well-deserved execution.
There’s also the issue that the characters aren’t serviced beyond their duty. There are quick conversations going from one location to the next, banter giving us a small window into their personal lives; but this is all about the mission, through and through. For that, characters can be a little one-note, where the attachment to the actors portraying them fill in the blanks the show isn’t interested in bringing to the equation.
John Krasinski’s Jack Ryan is entirely built around his charm, but for this season, the more personal ties to the mission cause this Ryan to be a little more brutal than the one found in fiction and film adaptations. Those he is pitted against demands this of him, but some of his choices and instincts are driven more by a short fuse than the analytical. That part is still there in fits and starts, but it’s through impulse where Jack finds his push forward.
Wendell Pierce and Michael Kelly become the most interesting pair of the show, their exasperation and frustration at Jack Ryan providing some of the more human aspects, especially with where Pierce’s Jim Greer finds himself in his life. Barebones as their characters may be, there is still enough to provide both performers a platform to stand out. Kelly becomes an easy favorite, as his character is both agitated to the high heavens while also strangely game for dangerous ops.
Noomi Rapace also joins the cast of the second season, though she’s underutilized, unfortunately. Her Harriet “Harry” Baumann finds herself as a catalyst for Jack to further progress toward the truth, and while she does find a scene or two to shine, they are too brief for someone of Rapace’s caliber. She could deliver so much more given the chance, but her character proves more a sobering voice when brute force is on the menu.
It’s the overall issue with the season, really. This could be going for more than it is.
But these are small gripes. Does Jack Ryan hit its military thriller beats? Absolutely, and with enthusiasm. Perhaps character beats and development have no place here, because what matters is the mission. The mission is spectacle, the show offering up military strikes by helicopter, many assault rifles pouring bullets like they’re water, and even a well-placed knife.
It’s a big, expensive endeavor, and finds its success in connecting A to B, and seeking out the C to finish it all out. For that, Jack Ryan is a rousing success, despite its messy way of getting there. There’s plenty to enjoy if you’re looking for an eight-hour journey into a satisfying action thriller. As long as you expect thrills over nuance, Jack Ryan does its thing, and does it well.
Jack Ryan returns to Amazon Prime Video on November 1st with eight episodes. It has already been renewed for a third season.