What have they done to Jack Ryan? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way: he’s been captured by a crack team of Ivy League majors in Race, Gender and Weaponized Resentment Studies — probably the same guys who wrote the Washington Post headline calling Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi an ‘austere religious scholar’ — and they’ve reengineered him as a beta-cuck pantywaist woke dork for the Age of Snowflakes.
To be fair, Jack did slightly show these tendencies in the first season of his Amazon adventures. He is not, you’ll remember, a natural-born killer, but a cerebral, deskbound intelligence analyst who just happens to keep finding himself in scenarios where lots of people get extirpated. Season 1, though, was more than watchable — not only because John Krasinski from The Office brought his likable comedic sweetness to the role, but also because the bad guys were Islamic terrorists.
Had the second season of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan also been set in the Middle East or Afghanistan and featured more Islamic terrorists, I don’t think any of us would have minded. Right now, after all, jihadis are the ne plus ultra of clear and present global supervillainy: they’re the people most likely to blow you up on an airplane, machine-gun you on a beach or at a rock concert, or stab you on a bus, should one turn up. Why compromise with lesser bad guys when you can go for the very worst?
But the world of Hollywood and serial television feels uncomfortable with this fact. They worry that if they keep scratching this particular itch, they might come across as ‘Islamophobic’. They feel compelled to maintain the ludicrous pretense that there are other groups which audiences find just as plausibly threatening: Russians, neo-Nazis, businessmen with English accents. Or, in the case of Season 2 of Jack Ryan, far-right Venezuelans.
Yes, far-right Venezuelans. Speaking for myself, I’d say that in terms of fears that keep me awake at night, far-right Venezuelans come somewhere between zombie barn owls and intelligent killer rose bushes. Presumably, the creators of this show feared this might be the case, which is why in the opening episode they have Jack giving a lecture on why, no, wait, actually Venezuela is a threat because it’s kind of like a Cuban Missile Crisis 2.0 just waiting to blow up on America’s doorstep.
Well, obviously I didn’t buy that. But I decided to give Jack the benefit of the doubt for a couple more episodes. On the plus side: violence. As in the scene where Jack and his Hispanic senator buddy get caught in an ambush and everyone is picked off one by one by a sniper — a rogue white Anglo-Saxon male, naturally — is something at which the series excels, provided you’re not irritated by that annoying, rather dated thing it does where people carry on fighting despite having the kind of injuries which would have incapacitated them many blows, stabs and bullet wounds earlier.
Also on the almost-plus side: sex. Astonishing as it may seem in this post-#MeToo world, Jack actually ends up in bed in a totally casual liaison with this hot chick (a spy, it later turns out) whom he has spotted in a cocktail bar. This happy throwback to the era of Sean Connery and Roger Moore, before James Bond got transformed into a bedwetting, angst-ridden blubberer, struck me as a ray of sunlight amid the prevailing fog of wokeness. At least, until I worked out why Ryan was allowed to get away with it. The scriptwriters primly insist that it is the woman, not Jack, who makes the first move.
Now for the downsides. The least unbearable of these is the box-checking casting whereby, as soon as a minority character appears, you know that he is wise, benign, likable, omnicompetent and brave. This figure, whose semaphored presence is a core tenet of virtue-signaling, is the Magical Negro. There are at least two in Season 2: Marcus Bishop (Jovan Adepo) the amazingly talented ex-Special Forces boat commander; and Ryan’s boss James Greer (Wendell Pierce), who earns triple woke points by also being a devout Muslim. I don’t mind this so much as the implausibilities it creates. There’s no way, for example, that the white chief of the CIA’s Moscow station would speak to a black subordinate in the way he does here.
Worst, though — and this for me was the deal-breaker — is the way it outrageously miscasts the contemporary Venezuelan regime as hard-right rather than hard-left. Why? Don’t we have enough evidence, after two decades of Chávez and Maduro, that communist dictatorships cause at least as much misery as right-wing ones? But those Ivy League kids I mentioned at the beginning just aren’t having it. As they’ve learned at college, true communism has never been properly tried, but when it is, it’s going to be great.
Enough with the stupidity. I’m out.
This article is in The Spectator’s January 2020 US edition.