Movie poster for ‘Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan.’ | Courtesy IMDB.

Amazon was so sure of the success of its new “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” series that it renewed the show for a second season months before the first season even pre­miered. And the first season did not dis­ap­point.

Though the story of CIA analyst Jack Ryan and his attempts to stop ter­rorist Mousa bin Suleiman is exciting, the writers of the show did not fall to the easy temp­tation to turn the series into an action-flick. Instead, they created an engaging sto­ryline with solid, believable char­acters that the actors brought to life. John Krasinski may be the the star, but Arab-Israeli actor Ali Suliman may eclipse Krasinski as he plays ter­rorist Mousa bin Suleiman with nuance and skill.

Suleiman’s back-story humanizes him without making him an overly sym­pa­thetic char­acter. In a culture that tends to blame (or justify) everyone’s behavior on cir­cum­stances, the writers of the show give the bad guy a story without just chalking up his ter­rorism to a rough past. Suleiman crosses a line and makes a choice to pursue rad­i­calism and ter­rorism and it’s clear that his actions are evil, no matter what his cir­cum­stances were when he was growing up.

Flash­backs show that, while he was a child in the 1980s, invaders bombed Suleiman’s town, wounding him and his brother, and killing his parents. Later, they move to Paris where Suleiman pursues an edu­cation and works hard but cannot escape prej­udice and con­de­scension because of his religion and eth­nicity. The serie shows that these tragedies become driving factors in Suleiman’s later ter­rorism, but there was a defined moment when he changed from a strug­gling Muslim man to a radical, leading a Muslim crusade of force, manip­u­lation, and murder.

While in prison in France, Suleiman’s brother visits him and is sur­prised by his changed appearance. His brother asks, “What did they do to you?” To which Suleiman replies that nobody did any­thing to him, but that he met some people in prison. He goes on to say that ever since their parents died in the bombings he never felt like he belonged, but now that has changed. He says that he has found a new cause to help all Muslims feel the same sense of belonging and that Allah would use him to lead the way. This is the scene that clearly delin­eates how there was a change and a choice that Suleiman made, and it was more than just his past that made him what he was.

Cir­cum­stances and envi­ron­ments unde­niably shape a person and their worldview, but cir­cum­stances do not always dictate actions. People are capable of fighting against their ter­rible cir­cum­stances to make a better life, and the series shows Suleiman doing so for years as he edu­cates himself and works hard for success. He fails, stops trying, and makes a decision to lead a ter­ror­istic cause to help Muslims.

Suleiman’s char­acter devel­opment is par­tic­u­larly out­standing but the “Jack Ryan” series overall does an excellent job with believ­ability in all of its char­acters. The main char­acters are given authentic back­stories, and their back­grounds play an important role in explaining and devel­oping the story without side­tracking or wrongly building sym­pathy for mis­deeds. Hope­fully season two of “Jack Ryan” will keep up this pattern of engaging sto­ry­telling and good char­acters.