Back in the U.S.S.R. – Jack Ryan Season 3 (2022)

Now in its third season, Amazon’s Jack Ryan has all the superficial trappings of being a blockbuster marquee title for the streamer. Based (very loosely) on the bestselling book series by the late Tom Clancy, the show is flashy and obviously expensive, with ambitious globe-hopping storylines and plenty of high-octane action. (Michael Bay is among the producers.) And yet, even three seasons in, the show feels like it still hasn’t broken out, or even found a way to set itself apart from the big movie franchises it so desperately tries to imitate.

Let’s be perfectly frank here, Tom Clancy’s name above the title or no, the Jack Ryan series has way more in common with the many films in the various James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Mission: Impossible franchises than anything the credited author actually wrote. Especially this season, the show mostly dispenses with any pretense of Ryan being an intelligence analyst who works behind-the-scenes to detect foreign threats, in favor of letting star John Krasinski race across the world to shoot bad guys and blow stuff up. While that sort of thing can of course be plenty fun (and sometimes is here), it also feels like a misuse of the property and a waste of potential. Beyond one or two of the early movie adaptations, Hollywood hasn’t done right by Clancy or the Jack Ryan character in quite some time.

Jack Ryan season 3 (2022) - Wendell Pierce & Betty Gabriel as James Greer & Elizabeth Wright
Title:Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan
Number of Episodes:8
Release Date: Dec. 21, 2022
Watched On: Amazon Prime Video

I know that I watched both of the first two seasons of this series, but I’ll be damned if I can remember anything specific about their plotting. To be honest, even watching an Amazon promo video that recaps season 2 didn’t really help refresh my memory. As much as I should probably blame myself for that, I see it more as a failure of the show itself to do anything particularly inventive or memorable. Unfortunately, season 3 isn’t much different in that respect. The show remains disappointingly by-the-numbers and formulaic.

Thankfully, aside from a few recurring characters, the show has little season-to-season continuity of consequence. Each year brings its own standalone story arc, much like starting a new book. Picking up from season 3 is no problem at all, which is very helpful given the two-year gap since the last one streamed.

To its credit, despite not being based on any specific Tom Clancy novel, the premise of season 3 at least sounds like something he might have written about. In modern-day Russia, a secret cabal of hard-liners within the government plots to resurrect a long-abandoned Cold War program to spread fear among the NATO ally nations, for the purpose of stoking a war and restoring the former Soviet Union as the global superpower it used to be. The first step in this plan involves the assassination of the current Russian defense minister, an act for which CIA agent Jack Ryan is framed. Rather than allow himself to be used as a patsy, Jack disobeys orders from his superiors in the Agency and goes rogue, James Bonding all across Europe to kill evil assassins on his trail, uncover the source of the conspiracy, and stop World War III from happening. Assisting in these efforts are his mentor James Greer (Wendell Pierce), sympathetic CIA station chief Elizabeth Wright (Betty Gabriel), and the recently-elected President Alena Kovac of the Czech Republic (Nina Hoss), whose country is caught in the middle of this diabolical scheme.

This could easily be a plot lifted from any of the famous spy movie franchises mentioned earlier. Hell, after so many similar entries among them, I’ve lost track and wouldn’t be surprised if it actually was already used a plot in one of those. I’ll give the show points for referencing real-world current events involving Russian aggression in the Ukraine, but then I’ll have to deduct even more for not having the balls to call out Vladimir Putin, instead inventing a fictional Russian president who’s actually a decent guy just being used as a pawn. How lame.

The first few episodes of the season are fairly plodding and workmanlike, with dull storytelling punctuated by rote action scenes. I almost might have abandoned it if interest hadn’t started to build as the season progressed. Episode 5 in particular has a pretty exciting action sequence, and the season climaxes with some very suspenseful political maneuvering on board rival warships poised to kick off the war.

At the same time, the story also grows increasingly ludicrous. By the end, the plot requires a foreign head of state to personally break into the Kremlin by means of a hilariously unguarded underground tunnel system. Even that’s nothing compared to the part where (I swear I’m not making this up) Jack Ryan outraces an exploding nuclear bomb. Forgive me for dropping those spoilers, but there’s really no other way to emphasize how silly this shit gets.

For all that, and for as negative as my tone here may be, I don’t actually dislike Jack Ryan. The show is passively entertaining enough that I don’t regret watching it. I’ll probably watch again if it should get renewed for a fourth season. By that time, however, you can surely count on my having forgotten everything that happened in this one. That may even be for the best.

Jack Ryan season 3 (2022) - Nina Hoss as Czech President Alena Kovac

Video Streaming

Amazon streams Jack Ryan in 4K HDR with Dolby Atmos audio. In its three seasons, the show has been featured in as many different aspect ratios. While season 1 was framed for standard “full screen” 16:9, season 2 moved to a letterboxed 2.00:1, and the series is now at an even wider (or shorter, depending on your screen type) 2.20:1. If it comes back for a fourth round, I fully expect it to transition all the way to 2.35:1. Frankly, I’m not sure why it hasn’t gone that far already, when Amazon favors the scope ratio for other high-profile series, including The Boys and The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.

Despite generally high production values, Jack Ryan has curiously bland photography. Sharpness and detail are adequate, but hardly exceptional for 4K. The show doesn’t make much use of HDR, either. Highlights are typically subdued. Many episodes, especially in the first half of this season, are dark to the point of being dim. Even brighter daylight scenes are often graded with flattened contrast and sickly color washes that make the picture look drab. The show could use more visual pop to show off the amount of money spent on its budget.

The Dolby Atmos soundtrack has a satisfying, even hefty amount of bass. Gunfire and explosions hit with some nice thump. Directional effects are employed to the surround channels frequently, both for big action bombast and subtler ambient noises. However, use of the height speakers is very limited. In replaying some key scenes, I found that even moments that initially seem to have overhead activity (such as planes or helicopters) are actually imaged from the ground-level surround speakers projecting upwards. I double-checked this by putting my ear right up to each speaker, and more often than not found the heights dead silent. In the few cases where any of them became active, sound was exclusively restricted to the Top Front channels, with none in the middle or rears. I won’t claim to have tested every episode, but from what I can tell, the show’s soundtrack is fixed at 7.1.2 channels, with that “.2” locked to Top Front/Front Height positions.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s