Chris Pratt stars in “The Terminal List” — Amazon’s latest offering to the “Jack Ryan” crowd — as a traumatized Navy SEAL with nothing left to live for… other than the fact that there are four more installments in the Jack Carr book series the show is based on.
Pratt is also an executive producer on the eight-episode drama (along with director Antoine Fuqua and showrunner David DiGilio) which follows Lt. Commander James Reece (Pratt) on a journey of revenge. He was leading his platoon on a mission that was based on bad intel, and lost most of his men to an ambush. Most of the guys who made it back then killed themselves, and when Reece’s family gets caught up in the fallout, he becomes convinced that he’s a victim of a massive government conspiracy. Hurt, angry, betrayed by the people he dedicated his life to serving and armed to the teeth, Reece sets out to complete an ever-evolving list of people to dispose of while he hunts for the truth.
So basically, this is a show about Chris Pratt torturing and killing a whole lot of people, like a charmless Dexter or Arya Stark.
In the process, Reece is attracting a lot of attention. The FBI (led by JD Pardo), NCIS and Department of Defense (led by Jeanne Tripplehorn) are desperate to chase him down, but reporter Katie Buranek (Constance Wu) is the one with the most success. But is Reece right about people being after him, or is he completely out of his mind? In truth, he’s both, which makes him a compelling challenge for Katie but a hard protagonist to follow. We can certainly believe that he was attacked and did not attack his own loved ones, but there’s no doubt about all of the other murders he commits throughout the show, at a pace that makes it tough to decide if those people actually deserve it in this gritty world. Some high-ranking people did some very bad things, but that doesn’t make it a whole lot easier to watch Reece take them down like a well-oiled machine. Maybe the list could have been a little shorter? Only a few really important murders? I promise you, the story would not suffer.
Katie, meanwhile, has the more interesting journey to take here as she decides who she can trust in this increasingly complicated story. She knows for a fact what Reece is doing, but she soon joins him on some level of his paranoia and gets far more involved than is safe for her. The whole show could have made a lot more sense if it were more of a two-hander, but this is very clearly Reece’s story. Katie is a helpful tool, offering him info that he needs to add another name to his list, but the show takes too long for her to come into her own.
There is, of course, something bigger going on here than just Reece having delusions. This is a story about a man being validated in his conspiracy theories and doing something about it, guns in hand. It’s one man and his military training against the world, and he has fully justified breaking into homes and killing people. For many viewers, this will not be the show they gravitate towards in 2022. Then again, for many other viewers, this will be exactly what they want to watch right now. It opens with a quote from the Bible and puts the power of firearms on full display, with a beefy military man doing whatever it takes to honor his family.
There’s something this show could have said about this time in history, especially considering its central focus on military mental health, but instead it’s not saying much at all. It also doesn’t help that Chris Pratt is so front and center as a man on a ruthless killing spree, considering his recent desperations to dispel any rumors that might make him unlikable. He looms large over every part of the show, even when he’s not on screen, and while he’s a believable Navy SEAL, it’s still hard to separate the actor from the character. That’s partly because Reece embodies Pratt’s unfortunate switch from “Parks and Recreation” or “Guardians of the Galaxy” goofball to this, the opposite of a goofball. Reece is a boring, paranoid killing machine with no personality traits that I can name. He likes guns, I guess? (His suggested baby names, as seen in a flashback, are Gunner and Gauge.)
Wu is also a former comedy star, and her character is similarly bland. No one here was given anything particularly interesting to do, aside from maybe Sean Gunn, who gets a couple of brief, flamboyant scenes as he hosts a party with his French bulldog in his arms. Taylor Kitsch is also there, which is about all I can say to the multiple “Friday Night Lights: fans who have asked how Riggins is doing. He’s there, sometimes. Does he look hot? I mean, sure, but only because Taylor Kitsch is hot, and not because the show is giving him anything hot or even interesting to do. He plays Reece’s best friend and right hand man throughout his killing sprees, with a story that would have been a lot more effective with a little more screen time. But again, this is Reece’s story, and Pratt’s show, and this man still has lots and lots more people to kill.
Speaking of those people, the central mystery takes a couple twists and turns that might elicit some genuine gasps, especially towards the end. The finale is the best episode of the season and makes the best use of the terror that comes with being hunted by a man like Reece, coupled with Wu’s best work as a fearless reporter in a pretty damn fearful situation. The question is whether or not the rest of the show is worth getting through to make it to that finale.
“The Terminal List” is not a particularly fun ride, but it is a ride, like one you might settle for at Disneyland because it doesn’t have a line. There’s also some interesting stuff here, especially when it comes to a potential debate about the treatment of the military and the inevitable trauma of war. If only the show had been interested in that stuff too.
“The Terminal List” is now streaming on Prime Video.