The narrative arc’s direction was predictable in the second series of Tom Clancy’s “Jack Ryan.” This is not your father’s Jack Ryan. This Jack Ryan has nothing in common with Clancy’s original — a dorky, but stoic analyst, portrayed somewhat faithfully by Alec Baldwin in “The Hunt for Red October,” and even to some extent in the first series of this show.
Jack Ryan has changed. This man is a mix of James Bond and Jason Bourne, with a bit of angsty and existential Lawrence of Arabia thrown in for good measure. He has ditched his suit, and for most measures his personal hygiene. He sports stubble and has unclean fingernails, like a third-year community college teacher grading term papers.
And he is the protagonist in a storyline like a hurriedly written short story by a drama student and Hillary Clinton intern, whose worldview started in 1989 and got stuck in 2016. That is not to say the casting is individually bad, but actors have to operate within the confines of the material they are given, and I felt sorry for both John Krasinski and Noomi Rapace, terrific actors immensely wasted by the story.
The plot is simple and is meant for simpletons. Venezuela is a dictatorship, even though, for understandable reasons, the dictator here is a nationalist-populist who looks like Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, not Hugo Chavez or Nicolás Maduro. Of course, the real Venezuela is a Marxist sewer, but who expects Hollywood to showcase reality?
Our heroine is an idealistic history teacher who is equally confident among poor, working-class miners and social media-savvy tweens in Caracas. She espouses the egalitarian wisdom of Simón Bolívar, and the crowd immediately breaks into chants written from the Marxist Chilean era in the early 1970s. It’s a miracle they don’t wear p-ssy hats. Listening to the emo dialogues had me convinced by the third episode that I had started producing estrogen.
The Left Loves a Good Social Revolution
Western liberals love the story arc of a good social revolution. Your country is bogged down in the messy realpolitik of a far-away desert divided by centuries-old tribal loyalties? Support the rebels, whoever they might really be. A Mussolini with an excessive spray tan manages to touch Wisconsin, when your side focuses on the coasts and loses an election? Wear pink hats and black masks and fantasize about bombing the White House. In this fantasy land, every actor is a bizarre mix of Che Guevara and James Madison, and nothing cannot be solved with a proper dose of rebellion prompting a half-day outing with colored placards on a sunny weekend.
The idea of a revolutionary story arc is simple, linear, romantic, and idealistic, and romanticism and idealism are anything but realism. Naturally, our protagonists in “Jack Ryan” are found helping a Latina Kirsten Gillibrand face off a nationalist-populist right-winger, in Venezuela of all places, by strategically deployed social media interns in mining villages brimming with revolutionary spirit. If Venezuela needs anything, it is clearly more leftist revolutions.
Without giving any spoilers, this series is predicated on finding rare-earth minerals in this country, which has the potential to alter the tech monopolies and geopolitical balance of power. The conspiracy involves every perceivable villain, from South African mercenaries, to the right-wing nationalist Bolsonaro body-double, to a German assassin who’s so over the top that he is practically incompetent, to an old U.S. senator on Capitol Hill, who for some reason uses his own phone number for dubious transactions.
They are challenged in this endeavor by our hero Ryan; his boss Jim Greer (the character originally played by the indomitable James Earl Jones), who inexplicably converted to Islam in the first series (obviously!); and our Latina Gillibrand (in a sublime performance by the gorgeous Colombian Cristina Umaña, arguably the best part of the series).
Season Two’s Plot Is Full of Problems
The plot errors are numerous, and I don’t have space to explain them all. Venezuelan soldiers on patrol or sentry-duty carry weapons cross-chest or side-slinged, like Russians, not butt-to-armpit like Brits or Americans. MI5, not MI6, operates in domestic elimination scenarios, and they definitely do not forget to set up a perimeter for an assassin to escape in London, the most surveiled city in the Western world.
A female former German double-agent with a checkered history will not be left free after three assassinations somehow involving her. No American black-ops team would leave its stark novice boat driver and navigator alone behind enemy lines. And no intel analyst would hook up with a random blonde and potential honey-trap in a hostile country, and bed her in the same hotel room where he keeps classified briefing memos open on the table for her to read before quietly slithering away early in the morning. It’s frankly absurd.
Have these guys who wrote the series ever met an intel analyst or visited a security or foreign policy-themed conference where intel analysts can be found? The guys in charge of the security of your country are usually balding, middle-aged men or slightly overweight, middle-aged women with above-average IQ, doing part-time doctorates. The world of intelligence and foreign policy has field operatives, of course, but it mostly consists of hours sitting in front of a computer, checking strategy and doctrinal reports, and talking about defensible terrains in Ukraine. It’s probably too boring for television, but it keeps your country safe.
Jack Ryan Is Just a Reflection of Our Politics
And that is my issue with this series. Jack Ryan lacks the suave wisecracks of James Bond and the near-impossible superhuman combat skills and borderline anarchism of Jason Bourne. He is a common man, a shy, reserved, and astute political analyst who is not afraid to challenge superficial and shallow authority in matters of his expertise, but who also understands his limits. He is not out there whining, protesting or kicking trash cans, leaking documents for his highly individualistic sense of misplaced morality, or undertaking operations disregarding superior orders and jeopardizing regional peace.
For the type of doughty, patriotic, all-American man upon whom the Pax Americana depends, or the type of imperial British junior officer class this side of the pond boasted a century back: The realism was part of the charm. Some of the greatest television and film moments depict that gray realism of life in a world beset by power-politics, from Gregory Peck pondering the meaning of good and evil in an amoral survive-or-perish war where morality is tested to its seams, to George Clooney hopelessly trying to make sense of a great power play that no longer makes sense and is far over his pay scale. Real life is often far more interesting and exciting than fiction, and real-life heroes look like your family and friends.
Overall, this series is exactly what you’d expect as a reflection of our current politics. The villains are predictable, no matter how historically inaccurate; the heroes and heroines are clean, perfect, and chaste with no shades of gray; and the themes are thought out by the products of an ideological echo-chamber. With the progress of the series, it is a living grace that we are not already seeing calls for a Dr. Jacqueline Ryan toppling a Russian agent in the White House, doing a regime change in Washington, D.C., and acting as a bulwark (heh!) of democracy.
Perhaps that will be the story arc of the next season.