Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is among the most popular spies in the history of the genre. An analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency, he is adept at locating and cracking clues that hide in plain sight. The role has been performed by such luminaries as Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin. Amazon Prime Video has brought the character to the 21st century, as John Krasinski’s Ryan tackles terror originating in West Asia.
Ryan, a former soldier who was deployed in Afghanistan, has since taken to tracking terrorist groups’ money movement as part of T-FAD, the CIA’s terror financing group. His boss is James Greer (Wendell Pierce), who has been demoted to this position after he took some rash decisions on the field. The role is as iconic as Ryan, with James Earl Jones playing the character in three Jack Ryan films.
Ryan has chosen to work behind the desk due to his traumatic experience in Afghanistan. This, together with his superior’s checkered past, lends their relationship a frisson that is part-rivalry, part-friendship, a dynamic that plays out well on the field where they both will ultimately find themselves.
In the first episode, Ryan discovers millions of dollars being routed to a French bank by whom he suspects to be Yemeni national Suleiman (Ali Suliman) in what could be preparation for a major strike on European soil. Suleiman has lived many years in France and has repeatedly appeared on Ryan’s radar. The bank transfer itself could be a trap, Ryan surmises, since most terror funding happens through hawala networks.
The eight-episode first season tracks the cat-and-mouse game that ensues between Ryan and Suleiman, as the CIA operative reprises his role of combatant and the viewer is given a ringside view of Suleiman’s back story. Scenes from his childhood (an American strike on his home) mingle with the lavish lifestyle he now provides for his wife and children in the middle of the desert.
The show’s politics definitively lean liberal. Ryan is shown discussing Suleiman’s turn to terror with a French police officer who puts it down to the sense of victimhood experienced by French Muslims. This, together with scenes of American misadventure in West Asia, oversimplify the history of rising terror in the West. For example, Osama bin Laden, who is referenced repeatedly on the show, belonged to one of the most prosperous families in the region.
That said, the show presents complex portraits of characters on both sides of the fight. Suleiman’s wife Hanin (Dina Shihabi) is waging a private, if unsuccessful, battle against her husband as she seeks to protect her children from his legacy. Similarly, Greer is recovering from a divorce that has exacerbated the sting of his career failure.
For Krasinski, the role is in line with his recent efforts to stake out a shift away from comedy. He helmed this year’s A Quiet Place, a successful horror film about creatures with extra-sensitive hearing. Yet, it is impossible to completely sever his image from his iconic role on The Office. Try hard as you might, in scenes of conflict with Greer, a little bit of Jim Halpert shines through, even if it’s all in the viewer’s mind.