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.