Amazon Prime’s series “Jack Ryan” pilot episode gives you plenty to look at right out of the gate. The opening scene puts you back in time to when you popped cassettes into your boom box and danced solo around your bedroom to the amusement of your little brother. Except that this is not America and the two boys in the opening sequence are not American kids. They’re dancing to a “Men Without Hats” tune when a formation of low flying jets lays a heap of bombs on some real estate. This is how kids grow up to be terrorists, according to a popular TV meme. It’s as good a place as any to start begin an international spy thriller series.
From the Middle East to America then where the studious mildly athletic preppy boy Jack Ryan is wearing his Boston College tee-shirt while rowing his crew boat up a placid river. John Krasinski is an engaging Jack Ryan. Extreme closeups of his face while rowing make you like him right away. He’s the kind of guy mothers want their daughters to marry. He’s the kind of guy the girl’s dad wants to corner into a conversation about the Washington Redskins. Later on when he’s being the virtuous non-polluting CIA analyst riding his bike to work we run into Jack’s boss, James Greer (Wendell Pierce).
Pierce was a a laid back street-wise cop in “The Wire” but here he’s been ddemoted to a job behind a desk after screwing up some unknown business in Pakistan. Greer’s not thrilled with anything about his new post. He’s accustomed to more action than he expects to get in this new backwater job posting. He’s an operations guy. The team he leads at Langley is a heady group of academics and policy wonks.
“I heard he went all Colonel Kurtz in the desert. Started making S.A.D dip their bullets in pig’s blood so anyone they killed wouldn’t go to Paradise,” one analyst gossips to Ryan. So you see right away the creators of this spy thriller are not afraid to call a spade a spade, even if you can’t tell one spade from another until it’s too late.
Dr. Jack Ryan’s office has this plaque at its entrance: “CTC Terror Finance and Arms Division.” He’s no James Bond, in other words. Jack Ryan’s job is to find patterns of evil in the labyrinth of financial transactions. There’s a lot of alphabet soup mentioned, things like SINGINT, fun to look up if you’re so inclined. I’ll save you the trouble of an online search for SWIFT; It’s a system set up to track terrorist financing networks around the world. And of course Ryan gets a lead on a high value target who has an unusual pattern of financial transactions in Yemen where the Saudis are battling Houthi rebels not only capsizing Yemen but threatening the Saudi southern border.
The filming is picturesque, the camera roaming over medieval fortificatioins and desert plains to ( Al Menajeer Syria) the house where the HVT lives with his wife and children. A convoy of menacing strangers armed to the teeth approaches the compound. Hanin, the wife of the terrorist mastermind, is tasked to hide away a light complexioned Chechen terrorist and a bunch of other guys. In Suleiman’s (the HVT) world, women are expected to ‘know their place.’
Of course, Ryan and Greer are hot to find these sweethearts. Among their more hideous schemes was a plan to infiltrate a joint U.S./Arab military base and free a terrorist held prisoner there. Clever stuff all the way through makes “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” one of the liveliest action shows on TV. They way the terrorists gain access to the compound is chilling. They’ve hidden weapons in the sewn up body cavities of dead fighters who were sent to the compound morgue. A massive gunfight follows and seems never-ending.
Performances were solid throughout. Great direction of this fast action episode and taut editing made any weak spots fade quickly into memory. The script writers did a fine job with dialogue, quippy, spare, informed, not drowning the characters in hollow “Go, go, go!” or “I’ve got this” kind of heroics.
Virtue doesn’t triumph here. The bad guys get away in the end as they often do in real life. As far as serial action films go, this first episode of “Tom Clancy”s Jack Ryan” sets a high bar for others including its own future episodes.