SPOILER ALERT: The following contains MAJOR plot details from Amazon’s new series, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan. If you haven’t seen the series and are concerned about spoilers, consider watching it first before reading this article.
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After much anticipation, Amazon’s TV-series adaption of Tom Clancy’s Ryanverse has been released. The eight-episode series follows Jack Ryan, a CIA analyst who focuses on terrorist finances in Yemen. Ryan is thrown into the field alongside his boss, the recently demoted James Greer. Together, the two agents work together to thwart a terrorist attack by Mousa Bin Suleiman.
It’s not perfect series: there is more than one gratuitous sex scene, the morally conflicted drone pilot does not advance the plot in any relevant way, and Ryan is a Baltimore Orioles fan. But overall, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is an entertaining spy adventure that fans of the books and films should enjoy.
However, Sonia Saraiya at Vanity Fair did not respond positively. Sariya wrote a lengthy critique titled “Jack Ryan is a Patriotic Nightmare.” The byline reads: “Watching this show feels like falling down a Fox News rabbit hole.” Sariya’s argument touches on several progressive gripes about Western culture, all of which can be easily broken apart.
Islam vs. The West
Saraiya spends several paragraphs arguing about the show’s Islamophobic issues. She notably argues that, after the murder of a Catholic priest and gas attack at his funeral in Paris, the Americans and French, “team up to take down a global network of Muslims” in a Samuel Huntington-esque Clash of Civilizations.
In making her argument, Sariya seems to ignore other, less convenient elements of the plot. For example, any show that intended to go down a “Fox News rabbit hole” would never start the villain’s journey when he was just a boy. It would never show when that boy lost his home and all of his family except his brother to a Western airstrike in 1983. Nor would it show how that boy was victimized by a racist French society in the early 2000s.
Saraiya’s piece also conveniently does not once mention that this series made Greer a Muslim. For hardcore Jack Ryan fans, Greer will always be James Earl Jones as the admiral in The Hunt for Red October, famously telling a young naval officer that the torpedo did not self destruct, and that he was never there. Think about it: if some conservative website had published outrage about the change in such an iconic character, Saraiya would never make this argument. Instead, she and others like her would probably hail Jack Ryan as a great work of diversity, and call its critics Islamophobic instead.
Ryan’s Male Privilege
Speaking of diversity, Saraiya laments the fact that the series’ “primary story objective is proving that Jack Ryan deserves his white male entitlement—which indicates just how closely American myths of masculinity are intertwined with international dominance. From frame to frame, Jack Ryan is an astonishing case study in toxic narratives.”
You would think a left-wing site would cheer the fact that the heroes rescued Suleiman’s wife and daughters from her oppressive husband. You might also think it would applaud a series showcasing the plight of Syrian refugees. Alas, we get no such praise from Saraiya.
Regardless, what is a spy thriller supposed to do? Should the guy who thinks the leader of ISIS is insufficiently devoted to the cause win? If anyone portrays “male entitlement,” it is Suleiman’s character. However, admitting that would require an intellectually honest comparison of different cultures. That honesty would disprove Saraiya’s thesis.
A Clash of Worldviews
If there is one thing Jack Ryan does well, it is not the rah-rah jingoistic nationalism that Saraiya accuses it of embracing. Rather, it is the clash between Ryan’s idealism and Greer’s realism. Suleiman’s wife, Hanin, would be a treasure trove of intelligence for the CIA, so Greer and Ryan set off to Turkey to find her. However, the only way to do that would be to enlist the help of a Turkish sex trafficker. Ryan finds this repulsive, but Greer has no qualms with this tactic as a “mission first” kind of guy.
After thwarting Suleiman’s bio-terrorist attack in Washington, Hanin is reunited with her son Samir, who stayed behind with Suleiman when she and the daughters fled. Greer had given up on the boy, believing him to be already radicalized, but Ryan held out hope for him. In the end, the steely-eyed realist Greer admitted Ryan was right, and that he “saved that kid’s life.”
The Real Problem
Yes, Jack Ryan is a patriotic series. But while it is patriotic, it is not anything like Saraiya says it is. The series Saraiya claims to have watched would never feature the debate over drone warfare (even if it is only loosely connected with the plot). It would make the indispensable contact in Turkey be someone other than a sex trafficker, perhaps a missionary. It also would not have radicalized the main villain by explaining how his history shaped his worldview.
Perhaps, what really irked people like Saraiya is the notion that there are still good guys and bad guys out there. Geopolitics and national security have the ability to be really messy, far more messy than idealists like Jack Ryan and many in real life may want to admit. However, so long as there are villains in the real world, it will fall to people like Jack Ryan to stop them.