“Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan runs right into a creative wall in its fourth season whose sole purpose seems to be to rehash classic spy tropes from previous seasons to set up a spin-off series for a beloved Clancy character.”
BY M.N. MILLER JULY 6, 2023
The hope when Prime Video threw their hat in the ring for Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan, much like hoping the Michael B. Jordan thriller Without Remorse would spark a Rainbow Six franchise, was that this spy thriller series could be updated for today's ethical and political climate for years to come. Oh, and give Jack Ryan some of that Jason Bourne-stylized action. And for the most part, they did, even transforming the modern-day-looking version of Jimmy Stewart on steroids, John Krasinski, into the best version of the cerebral former United States Marine and current CIA operator. However, like most celebrated book series, the stories become stagnant and repetitive at some point, and the fourth season of Jack Ryan has fallen into that trap. What could be the series' final season is nothing more than a standard trope set up for a spinoff character to take over the reins.
The fourth season starts with new professional roles for many of our favorite characters. This time, Jack Ryan (Krasinski) is now the CIA's Deputy Director, trying to clean up the mistakes of officials who used to hold his office. Under the watchful eye of a congressional committee, they are skeptical of Ryan's leadership because of his well-documented history of ignoring standard protocols. Now settled into his role, Ryan shuts down the covert programs left by his predecessor and is now dating Dr. Cathy Mueller (Abbie Cornish), an infectious disease doctor who has caught Ryan's eye (again). However, upon returning home with Cathy, he feels the cold steel of a silencer pressed against the mastoid bone behind his right ear. The man behind it is Domingo Chavez (played by Michael Peña), and he orders Ryan to reactivate Pluto, a secret government funded program to assassinate threats across the globe.
From there, creators Carlton Cuse and Graham Roland follow the standard political spy thriller step by step. We know Chavez is a beloved Clancy series character and a good guy. As the series continues, our favorite characters pop in and out while fighting a new threat and anxiously trying to figure out what the said threat is up to. Like any Jack Ryan film or season, that threat is always an issue that kills thousands of people but is always hidden in the back of a truck somewhere instead of someone simply tapping a button in a foreign military bunker. Of course, these types of series comes with characters who flip sides easily, because the color loyalty is always a shade of green.
And that's the issue with Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan. These aren't standard spy tropes repeated from other films or television shows but lifted directly from previous seasons of the Prime Video series. I can't give away any spoilers, but if you're a fan of the series or a glutton for continuous mundane spy thriller punishment, you can spot them immediately, as well as the villains as soon as they walk onto your streaming screens. That’s because this season has an awfully hard time introducing new characters because the point of the series is launch a spinoff for only one in particular.
There are other examples, like boarding a plane to leave but deciding to stay behind to shoot a convoy they could have easily left before it reached the runway. When granting terrorist immunity, instead of simply calling someone to stop the proceedings, the character walks endlessly down the hall, allowing them to sign papers ensuring their freedom. The writers are still stuck in the ‘80s Clancy mode, where it seems direct messaging has yet to be invented.
What Jack Ryan does have to go for him are likable and beloved characters. Wendell Pierce remains a strong screen presence and has terrific chemistry with Krasinski. Pierce's portrayal of the righteous James Greer is the glue between Ryan's off-protocol methods and rule-following government officials. Get Out's Betty Gabriel has remained a welcome addition to the cast as the politically motivated and rule-abiding Elizabeth Wright since last season. Fan favorite Michael Kelly returns as Mike November, offering the series' most consistent comic relief. The cast works well together, and the writers do have some fun, continuing to pop characters in from previous seasons.
Jack Ryan, much like last season, begins to plateau a bit here after the fourth episode, and lacks a breakout new character, like last year’s awards-worthy turn by veteran actor James Cosmo. That’s a large problem, since the the fourth season’s main purpose seems to only be to set up Peña’s Domingo Chavez to take over the Prime Video’s Clancy reins. While the series does offer some action thrills, the is not so much convoluted as it’s a straightforward rehash of other outings. The result is Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan has finally hit a wall and fans are too smart to continue to fall for the recycled story lines like the fourth has to offer.