Josh Reviews Reacher Season Two
I enjoyed the first season of Reacher, and I found myself eagerly looking forward to the show’s return. The second season adapted the eleventh Reacher novel by Lee Child, Bad Luck and Trouble. In that story, Reacher gets an S.O.S. from Frances Neagley, a member of his old Army “Special Investigators” unit. Apparently, several members of their unit have recently wound up dead, and Neagley can’t get ahold of anyone else on the team. So the two of them set out on an increasingly desperate search to find the rest of their team, figure out what’s going wrong, and wreak furious vengeance on whoever is responsible. As per their motto: “You do not mess with the special investigators”.
I loved that novel and thought it was a great choice for the show to adapt. (That they’d worked the character of Neagley into the first season of the show was a good indication that this was their plan all along…)
Overall, I thought this second season of Reacher was of very similar similar quality to the first, with the same strengths and the same weaknesses. It’s a very good show. I just wish the writing was a little sharper and the lead actor was a little stronger. This show is good when I want it to be great.
What are the strengths? The show is fairly faithful to the Lee Child novel, which provides strong bones for the story. This is a fun, twisty, pulpy adventure. I like the mystery aspect of the story, as it unfolds, and I like the bone-crunching action. I like the actors they cast to flesh out Reacher’s Special Investigators unit. I liked seeing Reacher work with this team; that ensemble aspect of this season worked well.
What are the weaknesses? As was the case in season one, while this is mostly a faithful adaptation of Lee Child’s novel, almost every change they made to the novel was not for the better. It feels to me like the novel could have supported five or six episodes and they had to stretch it out to eight, and the padding shows. I understand that they felt they had to add in more action sequences, but too often the excuse for that action felt a little silly. For instance, I totally get the instinct behind adding the carjacking rescue at the start of episode one; you want to show the audience that Reacher is smart and not to be fucked with. But it’s so outlandish! It’s a huge coincidence that Reacher just happens to stumble across a violent carjacking, and his response puts Reacher into Batman territory. These stories work better when they’re grounded in believability.
The show is quippier than the book (and that’s not a good change), and too often they dumbed things down. For instance, when Reacher first meets up with Neagley, in the book we get a clever scene of deduction in which Reacher cleverly figured out where she’d be. Here, that’s all gone and they just meet. Then, Neagley tells him about one their Special Investigators, Franz, being thrown out of an airplane, and Reacher corrects her that it had to be a helicopter. That happened in the book too, but there Neagley knew damn well it was a helicopter; she was testing Reacher to see how rusty her now hobo-ish former boss was. That worked way better for me in the novel: it established right away that Neagley was just as smart as Reacher was, whereas here she makes a mistake and doesn’t look as smart. Or take the sequence in the finale in which Reacher and Neagley have to get into the bad guys’ HQ. In the book, there’s a cool strategy sequence in which Reacher and Neagley figure out how to break into this seemingly impenetrable fortress. In the show, Reacher just walks in the front door like a big dumb movie tough guy. Again, the book was smarter and sharper.
Also as in season one, I think the weak link of the show is, unfortunately, Reacher himself. I like Alan Ritchson, and he certainly looks the part. But I just don’t think he quite has the acting chops. Reacher is supposed to be a brilliant investigator in the body of a hulking brute. Mr. Ritchson has the physicality for the character in spades, but I don’t get enough of a sense of Reacher as a brilliant investigator on the show. He comes off more as a big dumb lug. He’s a likable lug; Mr. Ritchson does have charisma. But I wish the main character, and the show itself, was smarter.
One change from the novel that I expected was the addition of flashbacks to Reacher’s time in the Army with the Special Investigators. It makes sense they’d want to show us what those days were like, as opposed to just having the characters talk about it. The flashback scenes worked for the most part. It’s nice to see these characters in their youth. I wish we’d spent a little more time with all of the Investigators. And, as with most of the deviations from the novel, I thought the flashbacks were a bit too on-the-nose and silly. The suggestion that Reacher engineered the bar brawl to help bond his unit on their first night together feels like such a silly TV show idea as opposed to something that could have possibly happened in real life. I also wish they hadn’t so clearly telegraphed that their military boss was going to be a jerk and an obstacle. A more skillfully made show would have found a way to make that feel like a surprise.
I friggin’ loved the moment when Franz’s orphaned child, Charlie, says “you do not mess with the Special Investigators.” What a great scene. I’m glad they used that iconic slogan from the novel, and that it landed with the proper emotional weight on the show.
The first season weirdly left out my very favorite scene from the novel (when the old woman tells Reacher the true story of what happened to the blues singer Bling Blake). Somehow the second season also managed to leave out my favorite scene from this novel!! That would be a key betrayal in the later pages of the book, that helps explain just how the bad guys managed to get the drop on the other members of Reacher’s Special Investigators. I can’t believe they once again left out my favorite scene!! So weird.
The novel was very specifically set in California; the story was filled with a lot of details about the California locations. I wonder, then, why they shifted the show to take place in New York?
As was the case in the first season, they assembled a fine cast of actors in supporting roles. Maria Sten popped up briefly in the first season as Neagley; it was great to see her given a far more substantial role this season. She’s terrific; I hope they bring her back for season two. Probably the best change from the novel was the scene of Neagley holding a character’s hand (I won’t spoil who) as they die. Having read the novel and understanding Neagley’s discomfort with human contact, I thought that scene was very powerful. (Though I wonder if, for viewers who hadn’t read the novel, the show had done a good enough job establishing that important trait of Neagley’s?) Serinda Swan and Shaun Sipos were strong as Dixon and O’Donnell. Both were quite different from how I’d imagined the characters when reading the book; but I enjoyed both of their performances. I was thrilled to see The Wire’s Domenick Lombardozzi cast as NYPD detective Russo. This character was VERY different from the Russo in the book. While I wish they’d played this character the way he was in the book, I did enjoy his story and was surprised by its twists and turns. Mr. Lombardozzi is spectacular; it’s a pleasure to see him on-screen again.
Overall, I had fun watching this second season of Reacher. I’d love to take this show take a step forward into greatness; they’d need to elevate the writing and the acting. But at the same time, I find a lot of enjoyment in the show as it is, and I hope we don’t have to wait too long for season three!
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