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Amazon Prime scores big with season 2 of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, primarily by improving the rugged charm of its titular character. A capable and expertly cast John Krasinski completes Ryan’s transformation from bookish sheep to ravenous, calculated wolf.
CREATORS: Carlton Cuse, Graham Roland
STREAMING: Amazon Prime
‘Jack Ryan’ season 2 improves by going back to the basics.
Season 1 showed Ryan’s gradual evolution from desk-chained numbers man to full-blown, terrorist-killing CIA operative. It was all very Joseph Campbellian, in its “man ready for his life’s adventure” way. It was a back-to-basics course in storytelling, built around Krasinski and his evolving relationship with CIA vet James Greer (the always-excellent Wendell Pierce).
While nothing particularly unique happens, Jack Ryan season 2 throws away all the pretense with Ryan, who demonstrates the growth and confidence of Clancy’s best version of the character. This version exercises extreme ownership over his decisions, occasionally to a fault. But things aren’t just happening to him anymore; he’s in absolute control. Krasinski plays him as the best of all worlds: a hard-boiled field technician, bookworm, and consummate ladies’ man.
The series has now set its sights on Venezuela, creating a messy and timely analog to Nicolás Maduro and Juan Guaidó’s presidential crisis. Episode 1 sets up the ensuing adventure, with Ryan spouting his potentially off-putting ideas of what should happen in the South American country. He advises running interference in Venezuela’s imminent run-off election between the murderous President Reyes (Jordi Molla) and people’s champion Gloria Bonalde (Cristina Umaña). Ryan’s ideas are decidedly pro-American, which is to say they’re pro-democracy and serve his best interests. He’s an apple pie-eating G.I. Joe in khakis.
Ryan goes directly into the assassination of his military comrade turned U.S. senator, which segues into a covert operation, a word about how shell companies operate in real time, battling with mercenaries, and treasonous elected officials. With the new setting comes new characters, including House of Cards‘ Michael Kelly as the pitch-perfect CIA station chief Mike November. The accompanying villain/antihero set is much better cast and scripted as a whole this time. Even better, season 2 makes it clear which camp each character falls into at the right time and doesn’t force them down any particular path.
The best part of Jack Ryan season 2 is the relationship between Ryan, Greer, and November. On top of the incredible acting (and forecasting a third season), the trio creates a stable unit founded on mutual respect and trust. You’re not always sure where November stands, creating a wild-card effect that subtly boosts the stakes and potential consequences for Ryan and Greer.
Ultimately, this improved season of Jack Ryan leaves you feeling satisfied. It never outsmarts itself, but it respects its audience by giving them all the information they need and can handle. The series has used Ryan as the vengeful adjudicator from episode 1, but it also continues to refine its nuance and traffics in gray areas. The tricky part is whether it can maintain this balance in future seasons.
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Kahron Spearman is a music and film critic whose work can also regularly be regularly found in the Austin Chronicle.