The Jack Ryan franchise (yes, I’m including the movies) has worked best when the stakes were personal, which is a statement that’s applicable for any fictional spy story. Because without personal stakes, they just seem like a pro-Government advertisement or a dog whistle against immigrants and ethnic minorities living in the country. If these shows and movies manage to introspect about the toll that the job takes on the body of a soldier, for which they don’t get any health benefits or respect, they manage to stand out. The first two seasons of Prime Video’s Jack Ryan managed to do all of that despite having generic terrorism plots, with Season 2 absolutely hitting it out of the park with its emotionally powerful storytelling. Season 3 dropped the ball hard. And if you are under the impression that it has gone out with a bang because Season 4 is the last one, well, I’m here to tell you that they haven’t.
The fourth and final season of Jack Ryan begins with an assassination in Nigeria that’s carried out by Bill Tuttle. That leads to a civil war-like situation, thereby setting off alarm bells in the C.I.A. While Elizabeth Wright is sent to assess the situation in Nigeria, Jack Ryan calls in James Greer and Mike November to help uncover the connection between Nigeria, Myanmar, Mexico, and the U.S.A. Meanwhile, in Myanmar, a gangster named Chao Fah is orchestrating the convergence of the terrorist organizations in the aforementioned countries, which includes smuggling all kinds of illegal stuff. Then there’s Domingo Chavez, who is pretending to work for the bad guys while also working with Jack Ryan in order to bring this nexus down. Then there are Zeyara Lemos and Adebayo’ Ade’ Osoji, who are apparently diplomats, but they have something sinister going on underneath their surfaces. And in addition to all that, there’s a bomb threat as well as the chance of someone working against America from the inside.
I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that the writing in Jack Ryan Season 4 is way too convoluted. The presentation of the politics of each of the countries is quite dumb. The motivations of each of the characters are obscure. And the worst part is that there’s nothing to anchor you to the plot. They try their best to make a big deal about Chao’s relationship with his daughter, Bennu, and his wife, Kyi. But amidst all the national and international chaos, their dynamic never becomes prominent enough to truly root for them. Chavez is meant to be the John Wick-esque character here who is out for revenge, but it’s too flimsy and surface-level to even care for his personal mission. The way Carlton Cuse and the rest of the writers try to solve Greer’s familial issues by shoehorning them into the central plot is laughable. Then there’s Ryan and his love interest, Cathy Mueller. I think her inclusion makes sense, but it’s the cliched way in which she’s treated that irks me a lot. The villains’ reasons for doing heinous things to America aren’t well-founded. It just boils down to bombing America so that the viewers can easily hate them, and that just doesn’t work nowadays.
Jack Ryan Season 4 is filled to the brim with exposition-heavy scenes, but that shouldn’t necessarily be an excuse for dull visual storytelling. Most of the conversations don’t have any interesting compositions. They are lit in an uninteresting fashion. The pacing in each of the episodes is excruciating. And then there’s the action. Look, credit where credit is due: the people in the stunt team, those in charge of the pyrotechnics, those who are choreographing the crashes, and of course, the VFX, SFX, CGI, and sound design teams have done a good job. However, it’s the way they are shot and edited together which stops it from being impactful. In fact, they remind you of scenes from movies that have done the same thing but better. Here are a few examples: The sequence where Jack Ryan and the team are in suits and have to escape from a party is reminiscent of the catacombs chase in John Wick 2. The torture sequence is probably meant to evoke the brutality of Casino Royale (the one with Daniel Craig), but it’s not nearly as gnarly or intense. The highway chaos is similar to the one from Sicario, and the latter is a classic while the former is forgettable. And if you have to do a bomb-defusing scene, you have to take notes from the finale of Mission: Impossible: Fallout or completely scrap the idea.
As for the performances in Jack Ryan Season 4, they don’t look good. John Krasinski is underutilized to the extent that it’s frustrating. Without meaning any kind of disrespect, the man can’t exactly be suave. Even when he’s a six-pack abs-wielding soldier in Michael Bay’s 13 Hours, he consistently taps into his vulnerable side. During the first two seasons, he did exactly that while performing all kinds of acrobatics. But in these last two seasons, he has been too cold. Not in the cool way, but in the unenthusiastic, distant way. As if he’s just doing it because he has to do it and his heart isn’t in it. I don’t know why the creators stripped Ryan of his physical limitations, by the way. Seeing him struggle while trying to achieve impossible feats automatically puts the audience in his corner. Seeing him do the same, but with no reactions to all the surgeries and injuries he has canonically undergone, is not engaging.
Wendell Pierce has been consistently good throughout all four seasons of this show, and even during the most boring scenes, he makes sure that he’s the best thing about it. The same can be said about Michael Kelly. The dude just knows how to deliver. In fact, he is much cooler than Jack Ryan, and that’s not a good sign. Characters of Betty Gabriel and Abbie Cornish are horribly written. They are great actors, and they deserved much, much better. Michael McElhatton’s role is very basic. However, it’s McElhatton. He appeared for 5–10 minutes in Zack Snyder’s Justice League, and I still remember that he was in that 4-hour-long epic. So, he is definitely good in the show, but it could’ve been better. Michael Peña tries to work against typecasting, but the end result is boring. He is supposed to exude vengeance, and none of that is palpable. Okieriete Onaodowan and Zuleikha Robinson are not bad. They are fine. The only good thing about this season is that it showcases Louis Ozawa’s immense talent. He grounds his character so well. He elevates the wafer-thin material that he’s working with. He feels intimidating when he has to. He has so much swagger. The costume department truly made him look like the star he is. I just wish he had more action-heavy scenes because he’s really good at them. The world needs more movies and shows with Louis Ozawa. Make that happen!
Earlier this year, two shows closed their curtains for the foreseeable future with their four-season runs. And they were the trendiest topics on the internet, and I’m sure those who don’t have an internet connection saw them as well because they were aired on cable T.V. Every single episode was dissected and discussed. People waged virtual wars around character decisions and twists. And people were genuinely sad that they came to an end, while appreciating the fact that the shows’ respective creators decided to go out on a high. Yes, I’m talking about Succession and Barry. Do you see that happening for Jack Ryan Season 4? I don’t. It’s not entertaining. It’s not intellectually stimulating. It’s not dumb fun. It doesn’t have any scenes that you are going to remember. Its political stance is blander than the MCU’s understanding of geopolitics. It’s just a big old nothing-burger. So, give it a watch if you have watched the first three seasons. If you are just learning about the existence of this show and wondering if you should slog it through the first three seasons and then watch this, forget about it. Watch something better.