Howdy, international espionage fans – welcome to season 2 of TOM CLANCY’S JACK RYAN! I don’t know about you, but as soon as I saw the trailer for the new season, I was psyched. So let’s just dive right in, shall we?
First off, how does everybody like that new main title sequence? Showing the dichotomy between Jack’s ordinary-guy life and his life in the spy business – very poetic. It’s also a handy way of fulfilling the credit requirement for the 85 million producers, executive producers, associate producers and consulting producers. I have to say, though, while I preferred last season’s theme music to this one, otherwise it’s a good-looking title. And I do give them props for having a title sequence at all – it’s a lost art form, something that’s really fallen by the wayside for the most part, and that’s a shame.
So we begin our story in the South China Sea, where a fisherman and his young son wake up to start the day’s work and are shocked to see a rocket launching from a ship out on the horizon. 24 hours later in Russia, we’re back with Jim Greer (Wendell Pierce), who’s out taking a nighttime stroll by a few monuments so you know you’re in Moscow. But Greer’s not looking so good. He’s sweaty and tired – but he still manages to mark the man and woman who’ve apparently been sent to follow him. He finds a couple of local cops and tells them the guy behind him was getting rough with his girlfriend. The cops waste no time in stopping the couple and getting them off Greer’s back.
Greer goes into a hotel and walks all the way up to the top floor, getting sweatier and even more fatigued – but he tries to ignore it as he knocks on one of the doors. A man named Mikhail Pelevin (Lev Gorn) greets him and lets him in – and noticing Greer’s shortness of breath, tells him he knows a good trainer. Greer laughs it off and hands Pelevin a carton of cigarettes. Inside, Pelevin finds a Visa document for his son. Pelevin says his wife was supposed to be given one as well. Greer says the deal was for his son first – and then if Pelevin continued to give him good intel, they’d provide one for his wife too. But, he says, “We’re not there yet.”
Then Greer pulls out a nifty, downright James Bond-type gadget – a projector hidden inside a cigarette lighter. He shows Pelevin photos of the rocket and the ship that carried it, called the Almeta. He asks Pelevin what the deal is, and Pelevin asks how Greer even knows it’s Russian – the rocket has no markings. Greer says the Almeta, even though it flies the flag of Cyprus, has a history of carrying Russian weapons to other countries. He says that the rocket’s payload was an unregistered satellite that’s now in geosynchronous orbit over Venezuela.
Pelevin says he doesn’t know anything about it. Greer asks if he can find out and hands him a tiny slip of paper (hidden inside a pen – more Q-Branch gear) with the Almeta’s vessel number. Then, when he stands up, a lightheaded Greer almost passes out. Pelevin asks if he’s alright and Greer recovers quickly, saying he’s probably just coming down with a bug. Once he’s back out on the street, his fatigue gets worse – something’s very wrong with him. And then he spots that same couple across the street. This time they come right at him, the man confronting Greer directly. But before Greer can say or do anything, his vision narrows and he collapses. Not knowing what else to do, the Russian agents put Greer in their car, drive up to the local hospital and dump his unconscious body on the curb.
The next day, back at Langley, we see Jack (John Krasinski) giving a lecture to an auditorium full of (I’m assuming) junior analysts. They watch a series of news reports covering a few different countries and topics – and then Jack asks them to determine which country is the greatest threat given the information. The kiddies mostly seem to think it’s Russia, though some say China and even North Korea. But Jack points out that the country they should be paying attention to is Venezuela. It’s one of the wealthiest countries in the world as far as oil and gold deposits. So why is there such a humanitarian crisis going on there?
Jack points to their current president, Nicolas Reyes (Jordi Molla), a Nationalist whose greatest hits during his term include crippling the economy by half and raising the poverty level a staggering 400%. But the good news is that elections are coming up. His strongest opponent, a history professor named Gloria Bonalde (Cristina Umana) seems to be running on a platform of, in Jack’s words, “just not being an a**hole.”
Jack says that current estimates put Venezuela’s total economic collapse at an 87% certainty, and then explains how it will be called a “crisis” on the news but is really a “failed state” – just like Yemen, Iraq and Syria. The thing is, though, that only Venezuela is in the geographical position to be a prime launch site for next-generation nukes aimed at the United States. Jack then points out that the world’s greatest powers like Russia and China won’t allow the really important information to be broadcast on the news. And that it’s the analysts’ job to find the real story beneath the cover story.
So schooled, class is dismissed. As the kiddies file out to their next class, Jack’s new boss, Senator James Moreno (the awesome Benito Martinez), strolls up to the front and applauds. Jack asks how he did, and Moreno says it was very good – but that he should maybe choose his words more carefully, saying people on “The Hill” usually at least “attempt to hide their bias.”
I couldn’t help but notice the huge change in Jack’s personality during this scene – gone is the sweet, dorky analyst. The guy running this lecture was a smooth-talking, artisanally-crafted facial-hair-wearing, cocky little b*stard. I was surprised and a bit concerned by this point. But – it’s early in the ep. Let it ride, see where it goes.
So Senator Moreno brings Jack back to his house for dinner – which turns out to be a mini-surprise birthday party for Jack. It’s clear from Jack’s interaction with Moreno’s kids that they’re all really close. After dinner, Jack thanks the Senator and his wife, Vanessa (Jessica Leccia), who in turn thanks Jack for acting surprised. And even though he wasn’t surprised, it’s obvious that Jack appreciates the gesture.
Then one of Jack’s co-workers, Xander (William Jackson Harper), shows up looking for him. After getting the third degree about being a spy from Moreno’s kid (Dean Scott Vazquez), Xander hands Jack a business proposal for a used sneaker business. Xander corrects Jack and says it’s “vintage,” not used, thank you very much, and that he just needs Jack’s “Wall Street guy” expert opinion. Jack says not to call him that and takes the proposal, saying it’s the last time. Xander says there won’t be another time because this one’s a “home run” – something he’s apparently said before.
Later, after the wife and kids are in bed, Jack and Moreno settle in to do some work. Moreno gives Jack a birthday gift – an expensive multi-tool with his initials on it. Jack remarks about it being a Boy Scout joke, but is clearly appreciative. Then, in going over their materials, they see the same ship Greer was talking about, the Almeta – surveillance photos show the ship docked in port in Caracas, Venezuela. And intel puts the ship carrying arms from Russia to Syria. They also have photos of crates from the ship being taken into the Venezuelan jungle. They don’t know what’s in the crates, but their ultimate destination turns out to be a heavily-guarded military facility. Moreno says they need to take the info to their committee chairman.
The next day, we see Moreno and Jack at the Capitol meeting with the aforementioned chairman, Senator Mitchell Chapin (Michael O’Neill). After reviewing the material, he asks if they have any intel out of Russia to support their theory. Jack says that CTC in Moscow has someone working on it, but that they need to be more concerned about dealing with the Venezuelan side of the issue.
The expression on Chapin’s face says it all – the only thing he’s really concerned about is covering his own a**. So he tosses the photos back at them and tells them he doesn’t think he can sell it to the committee – that there’s nothing concrete, they’re just playing a hunch. Moreno, who’s surprised by Chapin’s reply, says that the last time Jack played a hunch it worked out really well – referring to Suleiman. Chapin acknowledges that but again reiterates that there’s no concrete proof.
Jack says perhaps not but that there’s motive. President Reyes needs Russian arms to fight US sanctions. And they have means in the Almeta, and opportunity in whatever secret military operation is going on in the jungle. Moreno says they have to at least share the information with the committee, and Chapin finds himself cornered. He says that if any of their info got leaked to the news, it would degrade US-Venezuela relations even further, and that they’re already on the brink.
Jack replies that they’re already past the brink and that they need to find out what was in those crates. He says that Special Activities Division is standing by with a team ready to go in. Chapin says no way are they sending Black Ops into Venezuela – if they were discovered, they’d have the next Bay of Pigs on their hands. Jack counters that by saying it’s more like the Cuban Missile Crisis. Moreno intercedes before Jack and Chapin start throwing furniture at each other and gently insists that they cannot just sit on the intel. They have to do something.
A reluctant Chapin finally relents, saying they’ll try the diplomatic road first. He tells Moreno and Jack to go to Venezuela and meet with President Reyes. Then they can ask him directly about the shipment and the op. Jack says there’s no way they can trust Reyes’ word on anything – but Chapin’s decision is final.
Meanwhile, back in Moscow, Greer’s getting a new one ripped by the Chief of Station, Carter Estes (Frank Whaley), who’s understandably furious about what happened. He says he can only assume that Greer knew nothing about his heart condition. Greer confirms that, but says he’s totally fine now – which Estes scoffs at. Greer reminds him of his stellar record, but Estes doesn’t care. He says Greer’s a liability now, not an asset – and while he may not be able to fire him, he can definitely chain him to a desk. Greer says he’s waiting to hear from his source about the satellite launch. Estes tells him to hand it off to someone else – to which Greer replies with a succinct and totally mature “F*ck you!” Estes kicks him out of the office – and right on cue, Greer gets a text message from Pelevin, asking to meet.
Moreno and Jack arrive in Caracas, where they’re met by the US Ambassador, Lisa Calabrese (Susan Misner). As they do the walk-and-talk, she comments on Moreno’s Venezuelan roots. He confirms that his parents are native Venezuelan and he spent his summers there. Calabrese says that unfortunately, it’s no longer the Venezuela of his youth. Moreno asks if there’s any good news to report, to which Calabrese replies, “Gas is cheaper than water.”
Outside the airport, Calabrese introduces Moreno to Filiberto Ramos (Gustavo Angarita), the local police Captain in charge of their security detail. Everyone piles into the signature black SUV’s and as they drive through the city, Jack gets a good look at the bread lines, the protests against President Reyes and the rallies for Gloria Bonalde. And at the Palacio de Miraflores (Presidential offices), Reyes’ second-in-command, General Ubarri (Francisco Denis), gets a briefing on the latest polls and then gets notified of Moreno’s arrival. He heads down and then it’s introductions all around before they all head up to Reyes’ office.
Meanwhile, Greer meets up with Pelevin at the Cosmonautics Museum – and Pelevin looks totally incognito wearing a suit, a trench and a baseball cap – because in Hollywood, putting on a baseball cap automatically renders the wearer invisible. Noticing Greer’s scraped-up face, Pelevin asks if he’s okay. Greer says, “Never f*ckin’ better.” Subject closed. Pelevin then tells him the satellite wasn’t Russian. He tracked the vessel number Greer gave him and says the ship is in port in Venezuela – and that if the CIA finds out whose satellite it was, they’d very much like to know. “One hand washes the other, comrade,” he says, before walking away.
Back at the embassy, Greer calls Langley to ask if anyone else has been tracking the Almeta. To Greer’s surprise, they confirm that Jack’s working it. Greer then goes to COS Estes and tells him he’s willing to transfer out – as long as Estes gets him a position in Venezuela and allows him to tell the COS there about his medical condition. Oh, and he needs his travel authorized, like now – his plane’s leaving in 2 hours.
In President Reyes’ office, the gang all sits down to chat. Jack lays out the photos and documents, which Gen. Ubarri hands off to Reyes, who’s sitting behind his huge desk. Sen. Moreno points out that it’s Venezuelan soldiers guarding the shipping crates going into the jungle. He asks them what’s going on, and Ubarri makes some off-handed remark about how easy it is to come by military uniforms and that they couldn’t possibly tell who they really are.
Moreno asks Reyes if that’s their version of a denial of involvement. A stoic Reyes deflects by going on about how outsiders can’t possibly understand the current “revolutionary process” going on. Moreno makes clear the US’ stance – that if they’re buying Russian weapons, there will be consequences. Reyes says the US is in no position to make threats and we should mind our own business. Meeting over. But on the way out, Reyes tells Moreno that just because his parents are Venezuelan, it doesn’t mean he can come down there and tell them what to do. Ouch. Moreno hits back by calmly saying, sure, as long as Reyes doesn’t pretend that he “represents the will of the people.” Oooh! Sick burn! Moreno =1, Reyes = zero!
Ambassador Calabrese jumps in with the polite goodbyes and hustles them out before fisticuffs break out. On the way back to the cars, she comments on how not good that meeting was. But Moreno says Reyes did exactly what they thought he would do. Now they know for sure that he’s lying.
Next up, for all you Game of Thrones fans – it’s none other than Arya Stark’s trainer, the Faceless Man! Yep, it’s the awesome Tom Wlaschiha playing yet another assassin for hire, named Max Schenkel. He gets out of a cab and goes to the sweltering office of a Venezuelan attorney (I’m assuming, they never say who she is) named Monica Hererra (Lidia Porto). Max acts nervous, looking all around her office. She says it’s okay, it’s been swept for bugs. They sit down and Max says he’s concerned about the job’s timeline – too rushed. Hererra says it can’t be helped and pushes some paper at him. He reads it and says he thought there was only one target. He doesn’t do two for the price of one. Hererra scribbles a number down on another paper and pushes it at him, saying she hopes that number will be satisfactory.
Max considers it and then jots down an account and routing number for the money to go into. Hererra then hands him keys to a storage unit with the “additional materials” he requested. She asks if he needs anything else. Max says he needs to get to someone on the security detail, someone reliable. Hererra says it takes years to build trust in Venezuela – “but moments to purchase.”
While waiting for Moreno at the hotel bar, Jack notices a pretty lady sitting at the other end, wireless mic in her ear, chatting on the phone. They trade a few flirty looks, and just as Jack’s getting ready to make a move, Moreno shows up and steals him away to go for some “real” Venezuelan food. But as they’re heading out, guess who’s been sitting in the background the whole time and pipes up? Yep, it’s Greer – and Jack actually doesn’t look that thrilled to see him. But he introduces him to Moreno, who insists Greer come with them to dinner.
Meanwhile, at Gen. Ubarri’s heavily-guarded compound, his daughter Maria (Laura Giraldo) sits around drinking and smoking dope with a few friends as they talk about their hate for Reyes and support of Gloria Bonalde – though the TV stations never broadcast her speeches. Then they’re interrupted when the General and his wife, Cassandra (Marcela Vanegas) come home. They kick the kiddies out and Maria gets angry at them, saying she’s not a child anymore. Ubarri tries to talk to her, but she walks off in a typical teenage snit.
As they’re getting ready for bed, Ubarri complains about his daughter’s behavior, blaming those “little leftist friends” for the change in her personality, but Cassandra writes them off as harmless. She then asks what’s really bothering him. Ubarri confides that Reyes was being stupid during their meeting with Moreno. And according to their polls, Gloria Bonalde has a real shot at beating him – but that Reyes is “blind to anything he doesn’t want to see.” Cassandra tells him that he should be the one running the country.
At they sit around a fold-up table at a night market, Greer regales Moreno with the story about nearly running Jack over on his first day at TFAD. Then he asks Moreno how he managed to convince Jack to work on The Hill. Moreno reveals his Marine tattoo – he was Jack’s commanding officer in Afghanistan. He was there when Jack’s helo went down, and made sure Jack got to Landstuhl hospital in Germany. He tells Greer how brutal Jack’s back surgeries were – and from the look on Jack’s face, it’s something that’s still pretty raw for him. Jack tells Greer that Moreno was there every day for the three months he was in the hospital – Moreno brought him back.
Moreno leaves to take a pee break and a little kid runs over to them and starts busking, tap dancing for them. Greer’s not impressed but Jack gives the kid some change. Greer then asks how Jack likes it on The Hill. Jack says it was an adjustment but that he believes in the work they’re doing.
Greer says he was disappointed that Jack didn’t accept his offer to work in Moscow. Jack says he was disappointed, too – after the whole ordeal with Suleiman, Greer got the promotion and all Jack got was an offer of an entry-level job. Greer says yeah, but it was an entry-level job in Moscow, the toughest post in the world – and that despite the hugeness of the Suleiman incident, one operation doesn’t make Jack an expert. Jack then asks Greer what he’s doing there, and he tells him about the satellite launch, saying the ship that carried it is there in Caracas – the Almeta. Jack tells Greer about the arms shipment using the same vessel – and they both wonder what the connection is.
The guys get back to the hotel, where Jack spots the same pretty lady sitting up in the lounge. Jack makes an excuse about forgetting his key so he can take off, but before he does Greer asks him to let him know if he finds out anything else about the Almeta, and that he’ll do the same on his end.
Jack brings a drink to the pretty lady (the awesome Noomi Rapace), who introduces herself as “Lena.” She guesses that Jack works in finance, which is true – ish. He talks about noticing all the different languages she was speaking on the phone. She says she knows six languages in total, all perks of being a diplomat’s kid. More drinks and more flirty looks later, they end up going up to Jack’s room for some bow-chicka-wow-wow time. Hmmm. Not that I’m begrudging Jack his fun, but last we all knew, he was trying to see if he could make things work with Cathy. So…what up with that?
Anyway, next we go to a local hospital in Caracas, where Capt. Ramos comes out from visiting his mother. Max the Faceless Man approaches him with the kind offer of a cigarette and a light. Max then asks him how his mother’s doing and Ramos immediately gets his back up. Max goes on to say how it must be difficult to get proper care for his mom, especially on a policeman’s salary. Now Ramos is just pissed. “Who the f**k are you?” he says, and Max just says he’s a friend who can help him.
Back at the hotel, “Lena” snoops through Jack’s things, including the intel on the Almeta. Then she puts a tiny bug on the desk lamp before sneaking out on a sleeping Jack. Okay, sorry, but I have to stop and call bullsh*t on that. I know the thing with Jack is that he’s just an ordinary dude. But he’s also an incredibly smart ordinary dude, who’s supposedly well aware of the dangers he faces in the business he’s in. So why would he risk hooking up with some random chick in a ‘hostile’ country? And if he did, why would he risk falling asleep on her? I mean, come on. That’s just weak.
But anyway, the next morning, Jack leaves the hotel looking hung-over and bummed out as he heads out to the convoy. The black SUV’s drive along with their police escort for a while – but when the lead motorcycles turn off the road, Capt. Ramos tells his driver that they turned too early and they need to keep going straight. They lead the convoy into a narrow street – and then a truck pulls out in front of the lead SUV and another pulls in behind the rear SUV, pinning them in.
And then, in a sequence that’s an homage to (or rip-off, depending on how you look at it) the amazing alley firefight in Clear and Present Danger (1994), gunmen in the front truck open fire on the SUV’s. The diplomatic guards jump into action, ramming the front truck and returning fire. But then a bomb placed in a pothole in the street beneath the convoy goes off, taking out one of the SUV’s and the barricading truck. The force of the explosion picks up and drops the Senator’s SUV, knocking him out along with Ambassador Calabrese and Jack.
A safe distance ahead of the ambush, Capt. Ramos and his driver see what’s happening and Ramos tells the driver to keep going. As they drive off, Jack, Moreno and Calabrese are all regaining consciousness. Jack looks and sees the diplomatic guards pulling their wounded out of the vehicles. Then he checks on Moreno – he’s okay. Calabrese’s okay too, but she’s taken some shrapnel to her hand. Moreno tends to her while Jack tends to their driver.
One of the diplomatic guards comes around to collect the driver – but as he’s dragging the guy out of the SUV, he suddenly takes a gunshot to the head. Everyone ducks, not knowing where it came from – and one of the other diplomatic guards signals Jack to get their vehicle moving and get out of there. Jack barely manages to avoid getting shot when he shuts the driver’s side door.
Of course, the shots are coming from a nearby rooftop courtesy of Max the Faceless Man. He watches as Jack throws the SUV in reverse and hauls butt, and he moves to another rooftop get a better angle. But at the next intersection, Jack collides with an oncoming truck – and then he can’t get the SUV started again. Jack gets out and gets Calabrese out first, setting her down on the sidewalk next to a building. Moreno gets out the other side – but as he’s coming around, he takes a shot to the neck and goes down.
And then in a move right out of Jason Bourne (2016), when Jack starts running toward him, Moreno yells at him to stay put – just as he takes two more shots. On the rooftop, Max waits for Jack to come out from behind cover – but when he hears the emergency vehicles approaching, he calls it a day and takes off. And a distraught Jack is left to sit there on the curb, looking at his good friend lying dead in the street. He tries to go to him, but the police drag him away.
Capt. Ramos gets dropped off at his house. When he goes in, he finds his dog stuck behind a gate, barking like crazy. He opens the gate and the dog takes off running. Ramos heads upstairs, calling for his wife and kids – but there’s no answer. Then he hears the dog, in the bedroom whining – and when he follows, he finds his wife and kids have been executed. Then the dog takes off again, growling – the killer’s still in the house.
The masked assassin appears and he and Ramos trade a few gunshots before getting into a tussle. The masked guy manages to get away and pick up his gun – but before he can shoot Ramos, the dog comes to the rescue and attacks the guy, latching onto his arm. Ramos takes the opportunity his brave dog has given him and runs off. And what thanks does the dog get? She gets stabbed in the neck.
Back at the US Embassy, a devastated Jack sits on the roof and makes the phone call to Mrs. Moreno. When she answers, Jack can’t even get the words out.
From what I’ve read online, it seems there are an awful lot of Jack Ryan fans who aren’t down with this particular iteration of the character – and that in fact in this series, none of the characters that originate from the Clancy novels are anything like how they were originally written.
I can’t speak to that, but I can definitely agree that this series is a lot more like a Jason Bourne flick than Harrison Ford’s Jack Ryan flicks. And as much as I love any solid, action-y spy flicks or series, I have to say that I do miss the endearing dorkiness that Ford brought to the role of Jack. It’s what makes the character stand out from the James Bonds and the Jason Bournes and the Ethan Hunts – Jack is the ultimate case of the ordinary guy put into extraordinary situations. He’s an all-American nerd, a dork and a total Boy Scout. And while that aspect of the character was definitely present in season one, it’s all but gone now.
In fact, during that whole lecture at Langley, I was really kind of worried, seeing Jack looking way more like a GQ model and acting like an over-confident prick. And then he goes and hooks up with some stranger? What the hell’s that about? The only thing that made me feel better was seeing Jack’s devastation at the end of the episode. It probably sounds mean to say, but it’s a necessary attitude adjustment.
Now I’m the first to say that I was not a fan of Jack and Cathy last season – they really just did not work. Their scenes felt like rude interruptions in an otherwise smoothly-running story. That said, I’m also well aware of how important Cathy’s character is in the larger story framework. So I’m hoping that Cathy’s absence from this episode (and perhaps the whole season) doesn’t mean that she’s been completely axed. Because she’s also a huge part of what makes Jack Ryan’s story so appealing – the fact that he manages to do all the incredible things he does while still maintaining a strong marriage and family. But I can definitely run with a Cathy-less season, as long as there’s some indication that she’ll be coming back at some point.
Other than that, I’m psyched to see so many of my favorite actors gathered together in one series – Noomi Rapace, Tom Wlaschiha, Benito Martinez. And I like the story’s change of venue – even though the President Reyes character seems like a pretty obvious and lame attempt to mock Trump. But I’m not going to get into that. I’m keeping my politics out of this, and those behind the series should do the same.
Loved, loved, loved the action throughout – and though it doesn’t quite match the same level of coolness, the Clear and Present Danger homage was really well done. And even though I was less than thrilled with Jack’s personality change, John Krasinski did a great job in showing us that Jack still does have his sensitive side, in his scenes with the Senator and especially after his death. I’d say overall the ep was a good start to a hopefully great season.