This week’s guilty pleasure is Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan (Amazon Prime). It’s trash, of course, but very well done, high-octane, watchable trash. And if you want to feel better about your lowbrow tastes, make sure you read the finger-wagging critique by one Sonia Saraiya in Vanity Fair first.
‘Jack Ryan feels like a machine designed to turn us all into the sort of viewers who disappear smiling down jingoistic Fox News rabbit holes,’ she says, enticingly. And: ‘Both its protagonist and its plot are based on the foundational, unquestioned notion that American-military might — the best-funded killing infrastructure in human history — is helping to save the world.’ And: ‘Its other primary story objective is proving that Jack Ryan deserves his white male entitlement…’
Not so much a guilty pleasure after that little lecture, then; more a bounden and sacred duty.
Anyway, in fairness the series does attempt the occasional nod towards contemporary liberal sensibilities. Ryan’s capable, massively underrated black station boss (Wendell Pierce) turns out to be a lapsed but now newly observant Muslim who deplores it when anyone says anything Islamophobic. The MacGuffin that sets off the whole cycle of violence is a random attack on an innocent Lebanese household by (presumably) US-funded Israeli jets. There’s even a somewhat implausible subplot shoehorned in where a drone operator, wasting jihadis remotely from his air base in Las Vegas, gets a fit of conscience after he kills an innocent man and embarks on a touching pilgrimage of redemption.
Also, many of the Muslim characters — even some of the baddies — are to a degree sympathetic, with rounded personalities, hinterland, and finer actors playing them. The performances by the American actors — notably John Krasinski, better known as a comedy character from the US version of The Office — are perfectly serviceable. But the scenes involving Ali Suliman (as cunning, intelligent and — by his own evil lights — principled terror mastermind Mousa Bin Suleiman), Dina Shihabi as his wife Hanin, plus the actors playing their kids, are so notably superior it’s almost as if they’ve wandered in from a high-class film by mistake and accidentally found themselves slumming it.
Still, you sense that to a degree this is just eyewash to keep the bleeding hearts happy. At its heart — that excruciatingly woke Vanity Fair girl has half a point — this is gloriously old-school West-is-best machismo, like Team America without the irony. And none the worse for that, say I.
Frankly, it’s about time that, instead of exercises in left-liberal wish fulfilment like the ghastly, overrated Looming Tower, American TV drama came to terms with the fact that, yes, sometimes it really is about Islam.
Nearly 3,000 innocents were murdered on 9/11; several thousand more have been horribly slaughtered since, from London to Paris to Barcelona to Bombay to Tunisia to Manchester to Stockholm to Brussels and beyond. And it is, to me, quite astonishing how slow the world of popular film and TV has been to catch up with this awkward fact, which — though admittedly not necessarily to the advantage of the Religion of Peace’s nurturing image — is undoubtedly not a made-up one. When you worry, as we all occasionally do, about being caught up in a major killing spree, be it at a church, a museum, on a beach, at an airport, in a shopping mall, it’s not the Buddhists or the Catholics or the Jews who most inspire that nagging dread…
So hats off to Jack Ryan for taking the bull by the horns and giving us — spoiler alert — a scarily plausible, fiendishly ruthless, clinically executed atrocity in a French cathedral. It is horrible and merciless and sick in the way that, say, Bataclan or the decapitation of the French priest Jacques Hamel was. And rightly, vividly so. For too long, the lefty-dominated entertainment industry, through a mixture of cowardice and political correctness, has been shirking its dramatic responsibilities to reflect the truth about our world. Rogue middle-aged, middle-class white men driven by some elaborately contrived, megalomaniacal urge to destroy the world really aren’t the main problem.
For escapist tosh it’s pretty well scripted too. I like the moment where Riot Grrl (the female drone operator, sympathetically played by Yani Marin) explains the rationale of her job: ‘Every bad guy I put in the dust is one less bomb that goes off in a market somewhere. One less car that blows up at a checkpoint full of Marines.’ Yeah. This is fun, slickly handled, thrilling stuff which doesn’t forget that it’s American entertainment primarily for Americans. And whose side are we supposed to be on in the clash of civilisations, anyway?
This article was originally published in The Spectator magazine.