What Jack Ryan Gets Right About the War on Terror

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What Jack Ryan Gets Right About the War on Terror

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

For a show centred around a protagonist who embodies faultless American heroism, it’s surprising that Jack Ryan opens with the camera focused on its compelling antagonist: the Lebanon-born Syrian, Mousa bin Suleiman. In a flashback moment, we see Suleiman and his younger brother standing in front of their house as the neighbourhood is bombed, leaving the two siblings as the only survivors. It’s a brief scene, but it bubbles with the kind of childish innocence that makes the tragedy following it, all the more gutting. The two siblings don’t just lose a mother, but are also guaranteed a future stained by blood and war.

Perhaps, it then makes sense that the sixth live-action adaptation of Tom Clancy’s wildly popular book series, Jack Ryan, places this personal tragedy at the core of its public war on terror. It attempts to answer the muddled question: What makes a person a terrorist? It’s also what sets apart this post-modern update from its predecessors.

Introduced in 1984, the eponymous world-saving CIA agent, has been previously played by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck, and Chris Pine, with varying levels of success. But in John Krasinski, who headlines the latest iteration of the hero in Jack Ryan, the franchise may have finally uncovered the boyish charm that easily diffuses the character’s inherent (American) saviour complex.

It might be wishful thinking but I hope Jack Ryan’s second season addresses the role of governments across the world in creating circumstances that fueled the rise of terrorism.

Despite his intense turn in the recent dystopian A Quiet Place, Krasinski still evokes the affability of The Office’s Jim Halpert, his most memorable outing till date — astonishingly Jack Ryan utilises every inch of it. There’s even a satisfying nod to Jim Halpert in a scene where Krasinski raises his eyebrows and looks at the camera after receiving a text from his crush. It’s evident from the get-go that Krasinski’s Ryan is not the most interesting character in the show’s universe, and barring the last three episodes, also given the least to do. But somehow, the eight episodic show milks this in its favour. By tactfully ensuring that Krasinski doesn’t overpower every frame and situation, Jack Ryan convincingly sells his sensitivity and restrained confidence.

On paper, the show tracks an unassuming but troubled desk-bound analyst’s heroic turn into an agent heeding the call of duty. But on screen, Jack Ryan delves into the identity of a terrorist before they were defined by their terrorism. It elevates Jack Ryan from a cat-and-mouse chase into one that demands that its audience engages with the motivations of its antagonist. The show’s most affecting moments are seen in Suleiman’s relationship with his brother and the rocky equation that he shares with his wife. It builds an alert post-9/11 world and tackles it with a whole new language, like a drone pilot feeling remorse for the unfamiliar people whose lives he is ending.

Jack Ryan’s strength lies in its awareness that the war on terror is after all, a terror too. It might be wishful thinking but I hope the second season addresses the role of governments across the world in creating circumstances that fueled the rise of terrorism. It’s a task that involves breaking new ground, but then again, that is just the kind of path I’d expect Jack Ryan to tread.

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