The first two seasons of Amazon Studios’ Jack Ryan have been fun, binge-worthy entertainment that have, at times, felt more inspired by the Bourne novels than Tom Clancy‘s expansive Ryanverse. John Krasinski‘s CIA analyst has been called on him to be equal parts spymaster and tough guy as he was thrown into the thick of some fascinatingly complex scenarios. However, despite Clancy having published 17 Ryanverse novels, neither of the previous two seasons’ plots felt predicated on anything Clancy-esque. Familiar characters, sure; high-stakes political intrigue, check. But Seasons 1 and 2 seemed simply to be missing just a pinch of something. Season 3 seems to have found it by adding one key ingredient that helped launch Clancy’s incredibly successful career in the mid-1980s: the Russians.
*NOTE: This review contains light spoilers for Episodes 1-4*
While lie the previous two seasons it’s not an adaptation of any particular Clancy novel, Season 3, which feels almost uncomfortably familiar in light of current events, immediately feels like a Clancy novel come to life. Maybe a little The Cardinal of the Kremlin; maybe a little Red Rabbit; maybe it’s neither or both. Whatever the case, Season 3’s premise is built around a Russia willing to go to extremes to destabilize the region by any means necessary in order to restore the country to its former glory. The flashback used to open Episode 1, “Falcon”, establishes some key players and the central element of the season’s ongoing plot: a secret project called Sokol. In present day, many of those key players have become major movers and shakers in a part of the world that’s been greatly changed over the years, setting up arguably the series’ best work to date with the intricacies of spymasters, double agents and betrayal.
And make no mistake, betrayal is the key theme of the first four episodes of Season 3. Who is betraying whom, who knows they are being betrayed and who doesn’t, and the ramifications of all the betrayals takes the better part of the first four episodes to start to crystalize but it makes for an intriguing enough premise. Of course, fans of the series already know that it’s more than just spygames: it’s also about big action. In that regard, the first half of Season 3 doesn’t disappoint. All the action beats you’ve come to expect from Jack Ryan are clear and present and the franchise hasn’t jumped the shark yet in terms of pushing the boundaries of reality.
Over the course of the first two seasons of Jack Ryan, how you feel about John Krasinski‘s performance as the titular hero essentially determines your perception of the show. Whether by design or unfortunate accident, outside of Ali Suliman‘s Mousa bin Suleiman and Wendell Pierce’s grumpy James Greer, the supporting cast of characters aren’t especially memorable. Season 3 does little to change that, keeping it all Krasinski all the time. Especially wooden and boring depictions of the Eastern European characters make them easily forgettable members of a conspiracy that could otherwise cause far more suspense as the series turns the corner into the second half.
The first half of Season 3 does shuffle the deck enough to keep fans of the franchise interested. The events of Episode 1 put Ryan in a situation that feels both familiar to the events of Season 2, but different enough that it allows for an impressive display of his resourcefulness. It’s here that creators Carlton Cuse and Graham Roland lean back into Bourne territory as they begin to establish Ryan as someone with the beginnings of a global reach. In that way, the scope of the franchise is beginning to expand in a way that will allow the fourth and final season of the series to tell a fittingly massive story while also setting up potential spinoffs that build out the universe.
If you’re searching for a big action spy-thriller that makes you feel like the Cold War is back on, the first half of Season 3 of Jack Ryan will hit the spot. The first four episodes serve mainly as table setters for the big back half and while it’s a bit familiar, there’s just enough newness sprinkled in to make it worth a few hours of your time this holiday weekend.