Jack Ryan season 2 spoiler-free review: satisfying spy action

The second season of Amazon’s Jack Ryan action series, out on Friday the 1st of November, dials things down from 11 for the better...

The same day that Apple TV+ is set to debut, and a week and a half before Disney’s own streaming service will do the same in the US, Amazon’s Jack Ryan season two premieres. Judging by the sheer amount of new content the smartphone maker’s new platform is about to drop (not to mention premieres at Netflix and elsewhere), eight new episodes of John Krasinski’s latest take on the popular Tom Clancy character obviously isn’t enough to counter it all. But that’s not going to stop Amazon from planting its “Peak TV” flag and letting it fly.

Besides, the latter finds itself with a very important advantage: everyone is already familiar with Jack Ryan, the first season of which was okay but fun. Sure, it faced many appropriate criticisms for everything from its nostalgic action hero-worship approach to its emphasis on explosive setpieces over character development and smarter plotting. It was almost as if Clancy’s original novels were simply given a contemporary polish, but otherwise left in the 80s and 90s heyday of American political and militaristic exceptionalism.

The new season thankfully acknowledges these criticisms and, though it doesn’t solve them all, makes a solid attempt at portraying Ryan, his cohorts, and their settings in a more detailed and complex manner. The show also offers returning viewers a bit of surprise right from the get-go, as Ryan rejected James Greer’s (Wendell Pierce) offer to follow him to Russia.

At the end of last season, the previously contentious pair’s new-found understanding seemed to point in the direction of their later relationship, as demonstrated in Clancy’s books and their countless previous film adaptations. Instead of wrapping up season one as one big “prequel” to their later adventures, however, season two starts by throwing a wrench into the machine.

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Ryan has left the CIA to work on Capitol Hill, where he advises a friend and former military commander turned politician. They’re currently tracking a suspicious cargo ship with Russian ties that has made its way to Venezuela, where the controversial President Nicolás Reyes (Jordi Mollà) faces a potential coup in an upcoming election. Meanwhile, Greer’s latest efforts in the Russian office point him in the direction of the same cargo ship, which might be carrying nuclear weapons – or the means to make them.

They end up reconnecting in Venezuela, where Ryan’s team is meeting with Reyes to discuss the cargo ship. The Venezuelan president rebuffs them and decries their presence as America’s latest attempt to involve itself in South America’s sovereign political matters. (Which, to be honest, is itself a valid pre-criticism of Jack Ryan considering the critiques of its first season. Hence why the actual Venezuelan government condemned the new season based on its promotional materials.) And that’s when the story really gets going.

Like any “origin story,” Jack Ryan’s first season suffered from co-creators Carlton Cuse and Graham Roland’s understandable need to introduce the character and firmly establish his bona fides before thrusting him into a global terrorist plot against the United States. Though its premiere ultimately managed to drop him in the middle of a Yemeni firefight, Ryan’s story dragged on for several episodes and was, ultimately, longer than necessary. Season one just had too much plot crammed into its explosion-and-bullets-filled story.

With much of that out of the way, however, season two immediately plunges into Ryan’s current status. So, rather than forcing Krasinski to dispense with even more plot points, this allows him plenty of space and time to breathe some emotion into the character. And breathe it in (and out) he does because this Ryan has, to be blunt, seen some sh*t. Yes, season one established his status as a combat veteran who endured incredible physical and psychological turmoil following a grenade attack, but then it put him in a series of similarly taxing positions. What’s more, it kept doing this while trying to demonstrate, again and again, just how intelligent he was. But now?

Now, it really seems like Ryan has turned a corner. His leaving the CIA for Capitol Hill demonstrates exceptional personal growth. It also represents a further wedge in his relationship with Greer, which is practically moot when circumstances put them back together in Venezuela. Once the explosives start exploding and the bullets go flying, however, their respective instincts kick in and the chase is on. Though it’s a far more steady chase than not, with Ryan’s recent experiences reminding him to check and recheck his options at every corner, and Greer’s heart condition physically restraining him at times.

Aside from the recombined dynamic duo, Jack Ryan’s new season also introduces some new players into the mix. There’s Miguel Ubarri (Francisco Denis), a close confidant of Reyes who doesn’t seem to be entirely behind his boyhood friend’s political ambitions; Gloria Bonalde (Cristina Umaña), Reyes’s political challenger whose popularity with the people may disguise more devious ends; Harriet Baumann (Noomi Rapace ), a German intelligent agent who charms her way into Ryan’s good graces; and Max Schenkel (Tom Wlaschiha), a rogue assassin with ties to Baumann and a much larger conspiracy.

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John Hoogenakker’s CIA spook Matice is also back, along with Michael Kelly’s CIA Venezuelan office head Mike November, whose particular brand of levity adds some lighter moments to the new season’s various twists and turns.

Even with all of these additions new and old, not to mention a number of B and C plots intended to flesh things out (with varying degrees of success), Jack Ryan season two manages to coalesce in a manner not unlike its predecessor. Watching it through to the end – or, to be honest, binging all eight episodes in one or two gos of it – is a thoroughly satisfying experience. But, at least this time around, outgoing showrunner Cuse and his team manage to combine what made season one work with a new-found appreciation of Ryan’s softer, calmer side.

Jack Ryan season two premieres on Friday the 1st of November on Amazon Prime Video.

See what’s new on Netflix in November here.