It’s not easy being Jack Ryan. Sure, there are the upsides to being a highly placed CIA operative and getting to jetset around the world to all kinds of exotic locales, but there’s also a whole lot of frantic running, jumping, dodging bullets and withstanding torture. As such, this week’s arrival of the fourth and final season of “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” on Prime Video marks just another day on the job for the titular spy. And boy, is it great to have him back — even if only to say goodbye.
This final batch of six episodes arrives on the heels of Season 3 last December, and things haven’t slowed down. Having cleared his name after finding himself implicated in a global conspiracy last time, Jack (John Krasinski) is now acting deputy director of the CIA, biding his time while acting director Elizabeth Wright (Betty Gabriel) awaits her Senate confirmation.
Of course, biding that time becomes a lot more difficult when a political assassination in Africa, coupled with the machinations of South American drug cartels, threatens to upend the world order. Soon enough, Jack is forced to doff his “analyst” cap and become the (thinking) man of action audiences have come to know and love since the literary character’s introduction nearly 40 years ago.
The subsequent storyline sees Ryan joining forces with veteran field officer Mike November (Michael Kelly) and mysterious operative Domingo Chavez (series newcomer Michael Peña) to follow the trail of intrigue and espionage overseas. Meanwhile, Ryan’s boss-turned-mentor-turned-best pal Jim Greer (Wendell Pierce, always one of the show’s MVPs) investigates a deeply-entrenched stateside conspiracy that may end up hitting closer to home than anyone expects.
Kelly and Peña have great chemistry together, and some of the most fun moments come from watching their characters attempt to out-badass each other. Peña’s Domingo is an especially intriguing addition to the ensemble, with his character’s backstory at times evoking Clancy’s other literary hero, John Clark.
What a shame, by the way, we never got to see this Jack Ryan interact with Michael B. Jordan’s John Clark, who made his debut in 2021’s “Without Remorse” feature film.
Oh, there’s also the belated return of Abbie Cornish as Dr. Cathy Mueller, absent since the first season. Anyone who follows the Jack Ryan mythos knows the key role of Cathy in his life, so it’s nice to see her back — and with more to do than standing on the sidelines and worrying about her man. Prior seasons have come in at eight episodes each but this one is a hair shorter, which actually works to its advantage. We go from one international hotspot to another, and the requisite tension is a whole lot easier to maintain when there’s less space to fill.
First appearing in the late Clancy’s 1984 novel “The Hunt for Red October,” Jack Ryan has maintained a consistent cultural presence since — with an entire universe of novels springing up around him and four actors playing the part in five features from 1990 to 2013. A lot has changed in both politics and pop culture since the ‘80s, making it all the more remarkable how well the Amazon series and star/executive producer Krasinski have managed to foreground the character’s continued uniqueness and utility in an increasingly fractured geopolitical landscape.
Premiering in 2018, Amazon’s “Jack Ryan” has boasted the big budget scope of the feature films while using the breathing room offered by this format to go deeper into motivations and intra-office politicking that can often be just as explosive as an action sequence. While both Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford made indelible marks with their time playing Jack on the big screen (Ben Affleck and Chris Pine less so, though they were fine too), one would think there wasn’t anything left for an actor to offer in this role.
But Krasinski has made just as indelible a mark on the character’s legacy. Although existing in the here-and-now, Krasinski’s Jack echoes and synthesizes aspects of all who’ve played the part before him. With the show’s conclusion now in the books, the one-time “Office” star has played Jack Ryan longer than any other actor, and set a high bar for anyone else who may want to pick up the CIA credentials down the line.
My favorite “Jack Ryan” movie has always been 1994’s “Clear and Present Danger,” starring Ford. And this season evokes aspects of that while very much doing its own thing, closing out this incarnation in a manner that’s both intellectually earned and emotionally satisfying. There’s also nothing to say Krasinski and company can’t pick up the nuclear football a few years down the line to show us what his iteration of the character has been up to in the interim. After all, Clancy eventually had him ascend all the way to the Oval Office in the novels.
Through changing times and wildly varied political headwinds, what comes to the forefront when viewing the “Jack Ryan” television series in its entirety is the character’s essential decency. His goodness. He’s an aspirational hero who posits the idea that, even with the amassed power of the United States’ intelligence apparatus at his disposal, a person can be counted on to do the right thing.
Far-fetched? Maybe. But sometimes far-fetched isn’t about the impossible, but rather pointing the way to something worth striving for.
“Jack Ryan” Season 4 premieres Friday, June 30, on Prime Video.