‘Jack Ryan’ season 3 ushers show into its anti-hero era

The third chapter in Tom Clancy’s “Jack Ryan” story picks up after the namesake CIA analyst, played by John Krasinski, garnered a stunning victory in his quest to help restore democracy to Venezuela.

If the first season could be viewed as political drama, and the second was a clear action thriller, the third is more or less an adventure in anti-heroism for a character previously referred to as a “boy scout.”

“I’ve never really liked heroes,” CIA Rome Station Chief Elizabeth Wright (Betty Gabriel) tells Ryan in the season’s opener. “They tend to think more of their actions than the repercussions.”

Though he is still a protagonist worth rooting for, both Wright and the audience know he’s not exactly a white knight. The initially rigid Ryan, following a second season in which success was achieved through rebellion, has now firmly squared himself with the idea that his line of work occurs in varying shades of grey rather than the black and white borders he once believed in.

And if the political setting of the third season seems familiar, it might be because we’ve been watching similar storylines play out on the real-world stage — Russian aggression pushing the boundaries of Ukraine, reviving Cold War tensions with deep implications for NATO states.

As such, Ryan is hot on the tail of a plot to restore the Soviet Union. Russian success in this case is dependent on manufactured instability in Eastern Europe, which is where conflict with Ukraine comes into play.

As he explains to Wright and long-time CIA confidante James Greer (Wendell Pierce), the Russian plan, called “Project Sokol,” is based on a war game called “Seven Days on the Rhine.” Its objectives include spreading misinformation, carrying out assassinations, and issuing a limited nuclear strike with an undetectable missile to generate widespread instability in the Eastern bloc, giving Russia credence to put boots on the ground.

Despite his track record for uncovering wild plots for global destruction, Wright questions Ryan’s hunch. Naturally, this creates the tense environment needed for Ryan to go rogue when the operation to prove his theory goes sideways. The CIA burns him, of course, forcing him to strike out on his own to save the world.

Fan favorite Mike November (Michael Kelly) also returns to help Ryan in his crusade for personal justice, which happens to mean saving the planet from a U.S.-Russia nuclear war too.

As the audience, we know right off the bat that Ryan’s theory is correct, and as such, the pacing can drag a bit while waiting for the script to fill the political gaps and build out the necessary characters to carry out the season to its expected and eventual conclusion.

However, it remains a fun watch for history buffs or fans of the spy genre. In essence, it’s the Tom Clancy brand at its best, which is exactly what you want if you’ve been watching the show from the start.

Without spoiling how the third season plays out, the finale does do justice by vindicating Ryan, the end ultimately justifying his means, and setting up for the fourth and final season, which was confirmed by Amazon Prime Video in May 2022.

“Jack Ryan” season 3 is available on Amazon Prime Video.