Drugs and Bombs and Bombs and Drugs

Jack Ryan: Season 4

As I've noted before, the Jack Ryan series is the television equivalent of Dad Rock. It's a genre that Amazon PrimeWhile Netflix might be the largest streaming seervice right now, other major contenders have come into the game. One of the biggest, and best funded, is Amazon Prime, the streaming-service add-on packing with free delivery and all kinds of other perks Amazon gives its members. And, with the backing of its corporate parent, this streaming service very well could become the market leader. has mined very thoroughly, with films like The Tomorrow War and Without Remorse and shows like The Terminal List and, yes, Jack Ryan. Hell, the argument could be made that this is the demographic Amazon wants to court, making inoffensive (to white, over-40 men at least), "four-quadrant" fare that can be watched from a couch with a beer in hand. That's Amazon Prime's bread and butter.

The fourth season of Jack Ryan does nothing to change that. Hell, if anything, it doubles down on the low-stakes, in-offensive material. It's not like the third season of the show was a ripe political thriller, dealing with Americans saving the world from the threat of a Russian rogue-state (without Russia itself every being to blame). But this new season is even worse. It makes the villains people of color, from countries in Africa and Asia, all of whom say they are there to do good while doing nothing by crime and villainy. Every evil person is cartoonishly over the top, while our hero, Jack Ryan, is above reproach. It is, in short, a series that in no way, shape, or form, will ever challenge the viewer at all. Some may like that, but I find it needlessly dull.

The season finds Jack (played by John Krasinski) back in Washington D.C. as the (acting) deputy head of the CIA. His job, alongside (acting) head of the CIA Elizabeth Wright (Betty Gabriel), is to find all the deep, covert missions the CIA was, and still is, running (the real off the books stuff no one can ever admit because they're illegal) and shut them all down. He does, but in the process he deactivates one, Pluto, that was in the middle of an operation, and his action gets many of the men killed.

This prompts a visit from the team's leader, Domingo Chavez (Michael Peña). Chavez demands that Pluto get turned back on, but when that isn't possible, he works with Ryan on the next best plan: finding who put their team out there in the first place, and seeing just how far the rot within the CIA goes. It will lead them to not just a couple of retired agency guys, but actual world players, many of whom has a vested interest in continuing the drug trade through third world countries, and don't want to see the U.S. come in and shut everything down. So they plan a terrorist attack to keep the U.S. off their backs while they continue to make money while saying they're for peace. It's... well, it's all really dumb, honestly.

While every season of Jack Ryan has been bad, each in their own unique ways, this fourth (and presumably final season, unless Amazon attempts to resurrect it down the road) is particularly awful. It's poorly paced, with bland villains and a whole lot of faffing around. Barely anything happens, but it sure does make a lot of noise. And, in the end, no one learns anything and nothing of value occurs. It's six episodes of total wasted space, which almost feels like a metaphor for this whole series.

The first issue (and, really, this is an issue with the whole series) is that the season really doesn't know what to do with Jack Ryan. He's supposed to be a world class analyst, which is why he's been promoted to the deputy head position. This is an intrinsic part of his character, from all the way back in the 1980s when the novels about the character started. And yet, he does very little analysis here, actually passing most of that work off to an even nerdier character to handle. Then he gets bored of being in the office after two episodes and goes off to fight bad guys with guns and shit. For someone that isn't supposed to be a field agent, that isn't trained to be a field agent, Jack Ryan sure does end up out in the field a lot this season (and this series).

The problem here is that the series, deep down, doesn't understand how to write him. It's pretty good with Peña's character, Chavez, who is an elite killer trained as a Navy Seal. He knows who he is and what his job should be. But Jack goes out, time and again, to fight the good fight on the front lines, but he still acts in many ways like an analyst (albeit one who doesn't even do his job). He's too nebbish, too soft, to be bought as a cold blooded killer, and this is down to the script trying to make Jack Ryan into too many things in too many ways, all so it can have its perfect hero. Instead the lead character of this series is an absolute mess.

But then, the season also doesn't know what to do with its villains. For four of the six episodes we don't even really have a villain, per se. We have a nebulous group in the shadows controlling the drug trade between Myanmar and Mexico (stopping at a port in Africa). We don't see faces, and we don't get names, we're just told this nebulous group exists. It's hard to get excited fighting a nebulous group, so the series tries to compensate for it by giving us a lot of low-level goons to deal with. Jack fights his way up the ranks of the organization, going after one guppy after another, hoping to nail the big fish. It's beats to a plot, sure, but none of these guys really carry the heavy role the way this series needs.

Once the villains are truly revealed, though... well, it's just stupid. They're two charity workers, trying to make things better in their home countries. Of note, they're two new characters of color added this season, and they both end up being bad guys. Yes, we have Greer (Wendell Pierce) and Wright who are both black, and Peña comes in to be the token Latino, but it still sets a bad precedent when the new major villains are all people of color. Like, you couldn't maybe write one new person that wasn't a criminal working the drug trade in some way, guys? Even Peña's Chavez has connections to the drug trade, and he's a good guy!

Making them charity workers who are also top-level drug capos as sends a message that we shouldn't pay attention to charity organizations working in Africa and Asia. How can we trust them if they're all run by bad guys. I'm sure that wasn't what the series intended with this twist, but it still spells that out all the same. "These places are messes and there's no saving them, even by people that seems to care. Why bother?" Considering the American-centric perspective of this series, that's an all too easily assumed position that the show should have avoided.

The only highlight of the season really is Peña. He manages to play the Navy Seal character perfectly, adding the right charisma and sarcasm to the role that was so desperately missing from Michael B. Jordan's John Kelly in spin-off film Without Remorse. It's funny, though, because he's absolutely a dad-bod dude and not the kind of guy that you'd expect would be a trained Navy Seal. There's a disconnect in the casting, for sure, as good as the actor is in the role. I might actually watch his spin-off (because he's getting a spin-off) for an episode or two just because I like Peña as an actor. For most people watching, though, this is dad-bod wish fulfillment. "I, too, could be a top-level covert CIA agent, and I don't even have to stop drinking beers on my couch to do it."

Frankly, this fourth and final season of the show is an absolute waste of space. It does nothing, says nothing, and flails about, killing time. And all of this is a shorter, six-episode season. Like, it boggles the mind how the show can be so bad and still think it's going out on a high note. This is a terrible season of a terrible show, and what makes me happiest is that it's over. Well, except for Peña's spin-off. Oh, and the Without Remorse sequel, Rainbow Six. Sigh.