Josh Reviews Jack Ryan Season Three
In the third season of Jack Ryan, Jack (John Krasinski) and Greer (Wendell Pierce) are on the trail of a rogue group within Russia that are set on instigating war between Russia and the United States. They’ve reactivated a secret Cold War program to create a dangerous weapon, and the first domino to fall is the assasination of a prominent Russian figure on a visit to the Czech Republic.
I deeply love the film adaptation of The Hunt for Red October, and I’ve always wanted to see more great Jack Ryan adventures on film or TV. But it’s been a long wait!! I enjoyed the two Harrison Ford films, Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, though neither really captures the magic of Red October. The attempted Ben Affleck reboot, The Sum of All Fears, has some good bits but doesn’t really work, and the next attempted reboot with Chris Pine, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, was a swing and a miss. I really liked the first season of the Jack Ryan Amazon show, but I felt the second season was a letdown, too dour and without enough interesting characters.
It’s been a while between seasons, so I’d hoped the show runners had regrouped and rethought, to get back to what worked in season one. Sadly, for me at least, this third season had many of the same problems that I felt season two had. (I won’t go into too many details about the ins and outs of the plot of this season, but there will be some minor SPOILERS ahead, so please proceed with caution if you haven’t yet seen this season and are planning to do so.)
Frankly this season felt more like bad 24 (and I say that as someone who LOVED the early seasons of 24) than it did a Jack Ryan story. Jack is too much a soldier/superhero here. Right from the beginning, he’s charging into battle along with highly trained special ops soldiers, and he kills a lot of people across the season. (Including one innocent police officer; an event that the show quickly forgets, never taking even a moment to explore how Jack feels about that.) It seems totally out of character for Ryan. Isn’t his whole deal that he’s an analyst, not a soldier/trained killer? I know that, in a Jack Ryan story, Jack will eventually get involved in action & adventure as the story progresses, but the Jack we see in this season feels all wrong to me. What happened to Jack’s girlfriend Cathy from season one?? I’m bummed they dropped that character and that aspect of Jack’s character (someone capable of having a normal part of his life and being in a relationship). Throughout this season Jack is deadly serious, and it drains all the fun out of the character.
The story also felt way too implausible to me, right from the get-go. A new main character this season is Alena Kovac, the female President of the Czech Republic. She’s an honest, noble character, and we’re rooting for her. But we quickly learn that not one but TWO close members of her team are traitors who are working against her — her chief of security and her father. Again, this feels like 24 territory. It’s silly to me that the two most important characters in this woman’s life are both traitors. I rolled my eyes. And I didn’t like that for most of this season Jack is going rogue, on his own and on the run even from the CIA. Again, this feels like 24 silliness. Only Jack the superhero recognizes the world-shaking threat, and he can only stop them off on his own? I didn’t like this in the latter-day Bond movies and I don’t like it here. I prefer seeing Jack (and our other super-spy TV and movie heroes) working as part of a team of cool, competent agents.
It’s a shame, because this show continues to have terrific production values; it looks great. There’s a pleasingly epic scale to this globe-trotting adventure, and a number of wonderfully executed, high-octane action sequences. This doesn’t feel like a show made on the cheap.
And there are some good ideas in the story! I really like Alena Kovac’s character, and her story of trying to both do the right thing and keep her country safe, while navigating between the powerful battling giants that are the U.S. and Russia. Nina Hoss is great as Alena; she brings great strength and dignity to the character. I liked the story that ran through the season, in which we learn about of the events in 1969 in which the secret Russian weapons project Sokol was ended by the brutal murder of all of the Soviet scientists, at the hands of Soviet soldiers. It’s an awful, ugly act, and the season follows what happened to several surviving men who were there on that day. I liked following that story and seeing how the echoes of that event had traumatic repercussions so many years later.
My favorite new character this year was the Russian spymaster Luka Gocharov, played by James Cosmo (Highlander, Braveheart, Wonder Woman, The Outlaw King). Mr. Cosmo has a wonderfully grizzled face and a tremendous presence; he’s terrific as this tough old bear of a Russian.
I wish the show better developed these characters, though. Luka is great, and he has a fascinating history in that we see him as an awful villain in 1969, but he’s very different in the present day. But the show never allows us to understand WHY Luka changed. What happened that this man, who would order the murder of so many of his own people for what he saw as the good of the State, turned into someone who would help an American CIA operative like Jack Ryan? The show never tells us.
I was pleased to see Michael Kelly back as former CIA operative Mike November. Mr,. Kelly an entertaining presence and Mike is a solid side-kick for Jack. But he has no real character to speak of. What do we know about this guy? I never really understood why he risked his neck to accompany Jack on all these crazy adventures. He’s loyal, I guess? But he also works with scum-bag weapons dealers? I wish I better understood his character. (I was sure the show was going to kill Mike off before the end of the season…)
Betty Gabriel (Get Out) joins the cast as Jack’s CIA boss, Elizabeth Wright. Ms. Gabriel has a wonderful screen presence, but again, I wish we got to explore her character more deeply. Elizabeth starts off as very antagonistic towards Jack and then, predictably, his his ally by the end. I wish they’d better fleshed out why she’s so negative about Jack at the start, and what got her to change her views. I also wish the past-romantic entanglement between her and Greer actually played into the story in some way.
Peter Guinness is a strong and memorable presence as Alena’s father, Petr Kovac. This character goes on the opposite journey that Luca does, which is a great core of a story, though as with Luca, I wanted to better understand what had changed this character and what was motivating him now, in the present day.
I liked that Jack and Greer were, after two seasons of antagonism, now working together as a team. I liked seeing that, and Mr. Krasinski and Mr. Pierce continue to have a great oil-and-water chemistry. Their scenes have sparks. These are two terrific actors and they’re great in these roles!! I wish the show around them was better.
This season is very focused on Russia, which makes it somewhat weird to watch right now, when tensions with Russia in the real world are high. I suspect this season was put into production before the war with Ukraine. There’s a weird disconnect for me that Vladamir Putin does not seem to exist in this show. The President of the Russian Federation is a major character, but for the first several episodes I didn’t understand that this character was actually the leader of Russia. I thought he was just a minister or something. I think that would have been weird as a viewer, even had this show come out before Russia’s war with Ukraine.
Throughout the season, I kept asking myself why this show was creating all-new stories for Jack Ryan instead of adapting any of the great novels written by Tom Clancy. Do they not have the rights to those books? I think a TV show that adapted those early Jack Ryan books could be extraordinary. (I’ve been waiting decades for an adaptation of The Cardinal of the Kremlin.) The stories in this Amazon show just haven’t felt up to snuff for me. And then weirdly, in the finale, we’re suddenly in Hunt for Red October territory. Jack falls out of a helicopter into open water in a death-defying and desperate attempt to get on board a U.S. ship about to confront a Russian ship; Jack has to convince the American commander not to start a war when it looks like the Russians are provoking a conflict; Greer is in another “I was never here” situation. Sound familiar? On the one hand, it’s fun to see those familiar beats from The Hunt for Red October. On the other hand, this sort of warmed-over version of Red October pales in comparison to the original story and movie. If they’re not going to actually do a. straight adaptation, I don’t understand why they borrowed those familiar elements that surely most fans would recognize.
Apparently this show has one more season coming soon, and it will be the final season. I’d love for this show to go out on a high, though I can’t say I’m wildly optimistic about that at this point. I’m bummed that the show has not, for me at least, lived up to the potential I saw in that first season. As a mid-level action/adventure, Jack Ryan season three has its good bits, but for me it wasn’t what I’d hopped for, and overall I found it pretty forgettable. Bummer!
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