REVIEW: Amazon’s ‘Jack Ryan’ Finds a New Clear and Present Danger in Its First-Rate Final Season

Amazon Studios rolled the dice in 2018 with what at the time was perceived as yet another, other attempt to reboot author Tom Clancy‘s Ryanverse into a successful franchise. From the start, however, it was clear that the team behind Amazon’s Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan had no interest in putting out more page-to-screen adaptations of Clancy’s novels but rather taking the central character of those novels and creating original stories set in modern times. Then they rolled the dice again by casting John Krasinski, an actor who certainly did not have the action resume most fans associated with the role of Ryan. As the streaming series comes to an end with its fourth and final season, it’s now clear that Amazon’s gamble paid off.

While the first season of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan wasn’t critically beloved, it provided a template for the show’s success: drop Jack Ryan–who’s a little more Jack Bauer than previous versions–in the middle of a complex, multi-faceted problem, surround him with an interesting supporting cast and put him up against a compelling antagonist. Over the second and third seasons, that template was tweaked, adding some seedy secondary villains, introducing some nefarious conspiracies and, most interestingly, bravely taking the series to places in the world where real issues exist that might not always make the headlines. Season 4 of the show ultimately (and smartly) works as a highlight reel of what worked well across the previous three seasons only falling short by failing to find an antagonist as uniquely formidable as Season 1’s fascinating Mousa bin Suleiman.

The Problem

The final season of Jack Ryan shines the spotlight on one of Hollywood’s favorite group of faceless baddies–a Mexican cartel–but spices things up a bit by adding some more evil to the mix from a place most folks couldn’t find on a map in Myanmar. A hot bed of organized crime in the real world, the Ryanverse’s Myanmar (almost certainly influenced by real world events) is home to a Chinese triad who has made its home in the Shan State and is looking to up its game by joining forces with the cartel. That convergence requires some nasty work done in Lagos, Nigeria. That work, which has the earmarks of the CIA all over it, ultimately comes across the desk of the CIA’s new Deputy Director, Jack Ryan, the one man baddies all over the globe should know by now to fear!

The Villains

Jack Ryan Season 4 has no shortage of bad guys for Jack to take on; on the contrary, if there’s weakness to the final season it’s that there are so many that none of them get anywhere near enough screen time to be as bad as they wanna be. Not quite cannon fodder, not quite on the level of Season 3’s more memorable assemblage of baddies, the group of villains that Jack and his team work their way through over the course of the season’s six episodes has the feel of a “AAAA ball player”: too good for AAA and can’t quite cut it in The Show. And while the writers gave the old college try to throwing a surprise villain or three in the mix, you’d have to have slept through the first 3 or 4 episodes to truly be surprised.

The Supporting Cast

As it turns out, the lack of a great villain who chews up the screen works out in that it allows for the supporting cast of the series to really take off. National treasures Wendell Pierce and Mike Kelly return as tritagonists James Greer and Mike November, respectively, and do what they do best: elevate every scene they’re in. Pierce owns the role of Greer now and seems to be having a blast delivering ass kicking and mother fuckers left, right and center and Kelly, who definitely hit the gym, plays the Howling Mad Murdock to Ryan’s Hannibal Smith with all the appropriate reckless abandon. Neither seems to have a wasted moment on screen. They’re matched in that regard by newcomer Michael Pena whose Domingo Chavez provides a wonderful “Ready. Fire. Aim” foil to Krasinski‘s analytical Ryan. Betty Gabriel gives Elizabeth Wright a little more depth in her second go around and Abbie Cornish gets more to do as Cathy Mueller. A lead is only as strong as the supporting cast and Amazon has understood that–and nailed it–from the start.

If you’ve been watching all along, Season 4 of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan will serve as a great farewell to the characters and Krasinski’s final big speech truly captures the spirit of Clancy’s iconic character. While beyond Michael B. Jordan and Chad Stahelski’s Rainbow Six film the future of the Ryanverse is largely undefined, whatever comes next will rest comfortably on a firm foundation built over four seasons of a very solid series.

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