Amazon’s Jack Ryan Raises Substantial Ethical Questions

The hit show Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan on Amazon is challenging viewers to second guess their ethical presuppositions.

In August, Amazon released its episodic series Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan. In September, 37% of Amazon Prime viewers watched the show. While the show wasn’t fantastic, it obviously was a good showing for Amazon - who has struggled to compete with rival Netflix in creating quality web-series. What made Jack Ryan so highly watchable was its intent of trying to frame tough ethical questions.

John Patrick “Jack” Ryan is a fictional character developed by popular author Tom Clancy in his Ryanverse series. Given the initial popularity of the show by Prime viewers, and the challenges of most other Amazon series (minus The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) to engage audiences, the series is already slated for a second season. But if one is being honest, Jack Ryan isn’t doing well because it’s a great series - not yet. It’s succeeding because it’s challenging its audience to think about the world differently.

The first season’s outcomes were very predictable, the plot was often disjointed (at least for the time being), the character development is awkward and the nudity was completely unnecessary and had nothing to do with the story line. At times the show feels like it's trying too hard to be popular. But even these negatives doesn’t take away from the ethical quandaries that the show creatively puts the viewer into.

For instance, a major part of the show revolves around Ryan’s “boy scout” persona that, again, exposes what seem to be some inconsistent traits of character development throughout the show. That being said, Jack’s desire to “do the right thing” in every situation provides for some thoughtful discourse throughout the show.

For instance, does one necessarily have to compromise one’s beliefs to get ahead in the world? Can our commitment to our personal morality create obstacles that obstruct the safety for others? Are there times when rules must be broken, and/or lives must be taken to maintain safety in society? Are there times when utilitarian values that create the best outcomes for the most people at the expense of the few must be tolerated? Can we atone for sins we knowingly commit when we are caught in the perils of a larger system?

It is questions like these and others that challenge perceptions about religion, duty and love that make Jack Ryan not just watchable but binge-worthy and intellectually interesting. Viewers should be hopeful that elements currently lacking in the show will improve in Season 2 which will air in 2019. As a matter of fact, the folks at Amazon were so confident they had something good that they started filming Season 2 immediately after the series began airing.

Reality Changing Observations:

Q1. What elements of a show make a TV series most binge-worthy for you?

Q2. What ethical question did you appreciate most in Jack Ryan and why?

Q3. What did you think of the show’s handling of Islam throughout the series?