When Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan premiered as an original series on Amazon Prime in 2018, it was admittedly a somewhat familiar mash-up of Homeland and 24, but was handsomely crafted and compelling enough in its own right to serve as a pretty easily watchable show. A lot of that was due to John Krasinski’s leading performance as the titular CIA Analyst-turned-sometimes-badass, but showrunners Carlton Cuse and Graham Roland also attacked each hourlong episode as if it were its own little mini Jack Ryan movie. But if the show’s first season succeeded as an entertaining, often interesting series of globe-trotting political thriller adventures, Jack Ryan Season 2 jettisons some of what made Season 1 work in exchange for a slower pace and, unfortunately, far less interesting narrative.
Jack Ryan Season 2 picks up sometime after the events of the show’s first season. James Greer (Wendell Pierce) is holding down his position as Moscow station chief when he makes a startling discovery that leads him to Venezuela, which also happens to be where Jack Ryan (Krasinski) is headed on a diplomatic mission alongside a U.S. Senator. There they clash with Venezuela’s seemingly corrupt president Nicolas Reyes (Jordi Molla), who is in danger of losing his power with a looming election in which he’s being challenged by a populist do-gooder promising change, played by Cristina Umaña. Then there’s Season 2’s new leading lady, a shady and super mysterious woman named Harriet Baumann (maybe?), played by Noomi Rapace. Jack and Harriet cross paths in the season opener and almost instantly knock boots before Jack learns that, well, he may have just been played.
The backbone of the season is the search for illegal activities in Venezuela happening under the direction of Reyes, with the impending election adding further tension to the proceedings. Ryan and his team have to tread lightly to gather information since there is not yet proof that Venezuela presents a clear and present danger to the United States, but as tends to happen in these kinds of stories, punches are thrown, gunshots are fired, and eyes are stabbed with knives. You can thank Game of Thrones actor Tom Wlaschiha for that last one, as Jaqen H’ghar himself gets extra deadly as an assassin hot on Ryan’s trail.
But there’s something about the second season that feels almost smaller and less cohesive—at least in the initial episodes (I’ve seen the first four). The story cuts away to Reyes quite frequently, but he’s far less compelling as an antagonist this go-around, and the show’s understanding of the geopolitics of Latin America leave something to be desired. The West Wing this is not.
Jack Ryan, meanwhile, has kind of lost some of his dimensionality from Season 1. A common knock on the character is that he’s a boring everyman, but Krasinski did an admirable job of shading the protagonist with emotional complexity in the first season. Or at least as much emotional complexity as can fit into a character like Jack Ryan. But in Season 2, not only is Jack a bit more emotionally removed (Abbie Cornish’s Cathy Mueller is conspicuously absent this season), he’s also not even really being used for his intelligence expertise. He can handle his way around a gun, but that’s not really what makes Jack Ryan compelling as a hero. He’s the guy who’s interested in the details, who uses his brain to save the day, but for the beginning of this second season he’s almost aloof—to the point that his opening tryst with Harriet makes no sense. Wouldn’t Jack Ryan recognize he’s being sexy-spied?
And yet, while Jack Ryan Season 2 isn’t as cohesive or consistently compelling as the show’s first season, it still makes for a pretty breezy watch. Krasinski lights up when given some dialogue that’s not about exposition for a change (spoiler alert: John Krasinski is one charming dude), and the scope of the series certainly gives it that “blockbuster” feel that makes for a cinematic watch. It’s not breaking the mold by any stretch of the imagination, but when the show clicks into gear, it cracks like the best political thrillers from the 90s. Indeed, the throwback nature is part of Jack Ryan’s appeal, as it certainly isn’t touching on anything relating to America’s current political climate.
While the lackluster villain plot and slower pace make Jack Ryan’s second season less satisfying than its first, and while Jack Ryan himself seems to have lost some of that special sauce, fans of the show’s first season will likely want to stick around to see how this one ends. If Season 1 wasn’t your bag, there are no significant changes to the series’ DNA here to suddenly turn you around on the series. And while there’s enough good in Jack Ryan Season 2 to keep it from being a complete waste, I do hope the already-ordered third season takes a beat to fine-tune a few key aspects of the show. A man with Krasinski’s talent (and, yes, charm) shouldn’t go to waste.