Analysis Culture

Jack Ryan: An idealist in an unidealistic world

Jack Ryan — the Tom Clancy books, the Harrison Ford era, the various retellings before and since then — he’s America’s favorite CIA analyst who has a tendency to get pulled into conflicts slightly above his pay grade. However, as much as I love Clear and Present Danger like the next guy, the TV show format really does the CIA-investigatory style a little more justice. Amazon Prime’s latest show, plainly titled Jack Ryan, starring John Krasinski, manages to balance its slow-burn realism with fun, onscreen adventure, as well as profound, thought-provoking ideas — all within 8 episodes.

Carlton Cuse and Graham Roland‘s Jack Ryan delves into a lot of ideas that are sort of modern, hot button issues, but they do it in a tasteful way. They don’t shy away from the brutality of Islamic extremist groups, even when humanizing them. They don’t breeze over the abuses to women’s rights in other countries, and they don’t pretend like Europe is somehow magically free from racism and conflict. Long story short — it humanizes all sides of the conflict, but doesn’t romanticize any of them beyond reality.

I would be remiss if I also did not mention the tactical accuracy of the characters’ jargon. I could probably sit around and poke holes at the occasional word here and there — but people already speak differently than when I was in the military only five years ago, so I’m by no means on the forefront of common, modern verbiage. I did appreciate how the show allowed for relatively unknown but correct phrasing and terminology, and didn’t feel the need to explain it Barney-style to the audience — they assume the audience’s intelligence, and even if you don’t know those particular terms, you always get the jist.

However, what struck me first and foremost was the archetypal character that has been popping up again in the last few years: the ardent idealist in a decidedly unidealistic world. Jack Ryan, like Jon Snow or Christopher Nolan’s Batman, is not the rosy-eyed hero who effortlessly beats the bad guys like idealist heroes who may have been portrayed in the past. Instead, Jack lives in a gritty, terrifying world full of unrelenting and unforgiving violence, and yet he chooses to be idealistic anyway. There are consequences to those choices, but due to their strength of character, they make the “right” choices anyway (not to be confused with stupid ones).

Doing the right thing has consequences. Sometimes it gets people killed. Sometimes it breaks your heart or the hearts of those you love. Sometimes it riddles you with thoughts of what could have been — it certainly always keeps you in the fight of life, in one way or another.

Like Jon Snow, Jack is probably a bit naïve at the beginning. He does the right thing for naïve reasons, and is profoundly disappointed when karma doesn’t seem to be on his side. And yet, he discovers that the cynics around him aren’t just experienced badasses like they might seem — they too were idealists once, or so they claimed, but their ideals and ethics were too weak to withstand the hard realities of life. For as soft and “Type B or C” as he is (and as his love interest describes him), his moral compass is unwavering. His idealism evolves from naivety to tried-and-tested throughout the show, and he chooses the right thing again and again despite the slap in the face life might give him for doing it. He discovers that pessimists were simply weak idealists — or perhaps never true idealists in the first place — as they shirked their virtues the second they were tested.

Jack’s character, in contrast to the gritty storyline that surrounds him, is one of many characters like this these days. This is an interesting contrast to the increasingly popular idea that all morality is somewhat ambiguous, gray, and cannot be rightly defined. Just like how during a time of political correctness, we have more irreverent humor than ever, it seems that the world of storytelling is directly contrasting popular ideas.

Why? Good question.

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Mic-Mac
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Mic-Mac

Thank you for thr review Luke. My daughter binge watched it over the weekend snd loved it. Now you give it a great review so I guess I will watch and see for myself.

JoyB
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JoyB

I think I might just have to figure out how this feature of Amazon works. Lol.

bio57
Member
bio57

Luke, I think your message here is really important. And good job for spelling it out so clearly without giving away the plot.

Susan B
Member

Love that show. Glad you enjoy it, too. Krasinski seems made for the role, especially after seeing him in Thirteen Hours. Thanks for writing about it.

Mic-Mac
Member
Mic-Mac

This past weekend was cold with wind, rain, ice and snow was the perfect weekend to curl up in my lounge chair with a warm blanket and watch all of the episodes. Loved the series Luke, even though it was fiction. But, I don’t mind fiction if it really could happen or if some real history is added in. I am just not into Sci-Fi. Thank you again for the review.

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