Back in the Summer of 2018 The Office‘s John Krasinski defied all expectations and become the fourth actor to portray Tom Clancy’s beloved CIA analyst, Jack Ryan, in an explosive debut season from Amazon Prime Video. The action thriller proved a hit, deftly combining high octane action with a clever political narrative. Fast forward a year later and with so many quality television shows currently vying for our attention, yes I’m looking at you Apple with your new streaming service, Apple TV+, and the upcoming Disney+ platform, is the second season of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, worthy of your precious binging time? Well, I’m going to be brutally honest and admit that it’s…fine, although I did spend most of the series wanting to revisit 24.
Following Jack’s surprising rejection of James Greer’s (Wendell Pierce) job offer, the two quickly reunite whilst mutually tracking down a suspicious cargo ship which has entered an unstable Venezuela. The questionable vessel may be stowing illegal arms from Russia which could link to potential political corruption, so Jack and his team meet with president Nicolas Reyes (Jordi Molla) to discuss their concerns. But when tragedy strikes Jack’s team following heightened political tensions, he goes to extreme lengths to uncover a deep rooted conspiracy.
The series features plenty of plot threads that include a femme fatale, a hired assassin and a tactical black ops team – yes this series plays out more like a Bond or Mission Impossible film, complete with roof top chases and jungle shoot outs. The central investigation spans cities such as Moscow, London, Washington and Caracas, with showrunners Carlton Cuse and Graham Roland leaning much more into the political espionage thriller angle, with a Cold-War feel, as opposed to the terrorist threat from the first season.
Straight off the bat one of my biggest criticisms with the narrative is the number of B and C plot threads that slow down the pacing of the show, resulting in a loss of overall cohesiveness. There’s an early thread involving Tom Wlaschiha and Noomi Rapace that supposedly builds to a conspiracy involving spies and assassins – but it just doesn’t pay off. Alongside that, there’s a side plot featuring a black ops team in the jungle that felt like it came straight out of a Call of Duty game. For a show called Jack Ryan, the former CIA analyst doesn’t really feel all that front and centre, instead playing second fiddle to the underpinning political unrest in the lead up to the Venezuelan election. Opting for a more political storyline, it’s hard not to compare it to predecessors Homeland and 24, which are unfortunately much more gripping.
The impressive scope and cinematic look of the season, coupled with a few standout characters and cliffhangers, fortunately does make it watchable – but the charm and shine of the first season seems to have worn off. However the show does feature a number of exceptional high-octane action sequences and explosive practical effects that really do impress, particularly for the small screen. There’s definitely a more gritty and raw look and feel to the second season, hell even Jack has a beard this time round! Unfortunately he feels much more like Bond than the smart and endearing analyst we knew and loved in the first season. Thankfully Greer is still one of the best things about the show, with his and Jack’s relationship underpinning the drive of the series. New additions Mike November (Michael Kelly) and Gloria Bonalde (Cristina Umaña) also shine, but as previously mentioned Noomi Rapace and Game of Thrones’ Tom Wlaschiha are unfortunately underused in the second outing.
Overall, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan season two is a bit of a mixed affair, opting for big budget action at the expense of the fundamentals – with the storyline and dialogue particularly lacking. The political narrative is both bold and controversial; America is again portrayed as the hero, swooping in at an opportune time to bring stability to an ailing nation – a tired trope that leaves a sour taste. Thankfully the central performances of Krasinski and Pierce, with newcomer Kelly, really do carry the show. I hope there’s a third season in which Jack Ryan is more of the everyday guy that I really connected to, as I missed him this time round.