Fireside Chats: Discussing Jack Ryan, “End of Honor”

The Crew Talk Episode 5 of Amazon's JACK RYAN

Thanks for joining us as a part of Dad Media Month, as we sit down to have a little roundtable on the fifth episode of Amazon’s Jack Ryan, “End of Honor.”

First, a short recap of the episode: “End of Honor” shows the world reeling from the church attack. Hanin and her two daughters arrive in a Turkish refugee camp, and Jack and Greer hatch a new way to find Suleiman using Ali’s video game. We also see how Suleiman and Ali grew up in Paris, and the critical events that led to their turn to radicalism. 

Let’s get to it!

Diane: Creepy church full of dead people + propaganda videos = Jack angry. But also mopey about how he thinks he could have stopped it, and I thought Greer’s advice to him was sound. You can’t beat yourself up over things like that and dwell on regrets, but you also can’t be so narcissistic as to think you could have fixed it all.

Allen:  It’s a smart move. Right when we’re lulled into complacency, the show kicks into a new gear and smashes into us with something horrifying, so that it leaves us reeling just like the characters.

Ryan: I love Greer telling him that it isn’t healthy, and he needs to get past it and use it to do better next time. In another show, this would be a full episode, and Jack would down a bottle of pills and a big whiskey or something. And I’m not here for that.

Diane: Yep. Greer’s telling him these are setbacks, and they’ll happen. He’s been doing it long enough that he knows, and he knows that Jack’s not going to make any progress unless he learns it too. But he’s not an asshole and he’s not going to dump him into the deep end of the pool to let him learn the hard way. He’s going to be wise. Ending episode 4 on the church attack is gutsy, because with a streaming model there’s no real wait. There’s no massive cliffhanger where you need to wait 8 months for the next episode. But when I watched it, even before I clicked on the button to go to the next episode, I was impressed with how into it I really was, that the cliffhanger did work so well.

Ryan: I saw episode 4 [in advance] when I had no more episodes to watch [before the show premiered].1 So that’s what I had to sit with for a couple weeks. But when you have to stop at that point, and you realize that the priest who died in episode 2 is the reason this is happening? WOW.

Allen:  Yeah it’s the classic, “end the last episode available to the press with a twist” maneuver. It’s not about getting us to watch the next season premiere, it’s about generating so much hype that we straight binge the season.

Diane:  I really like how things loop back around.

Ryan: It worked on me. Seeing all of the narrative threads come together in such a terrible way was impactful and the show trusted me to get there.

Diane: The writing in episode 5 was very good, like other episodes, but I think with this one it was even clearer because you could start to see how Hanin’s story and Jack’s story were going to start connecting.

Allen:  A pretty major plot line in episode 5 is Hanin, and her continued journey to be free of the men that oppress her, and how she can never quite break free. It’s such a fascinating angle for a show like this. Every step of the way on her journey, she encounters men guarding the gate to her freedom.

Ryan: The binge model can be dangerous, because the blurring lines can kind of cut down on story impact. But in this case, Hanin’s hard trek just getting harder is a really effective throughline to mark off time. Although, I hate that they had the story with her and Yazid, though it does raise the stakes later. I just am not a fan of rape peril.

Diane: I’m not either.

Ryan: The Yazid stuff is one of the real downers for me in the show.

Diane: They didn’t need to have that happen for Tombstone to do something about it.

Ryan: Although I do like that he becomes a bit of a Terminator.

Allen: Yazid is still important though, because he’s kind of emblematic of both the patriarchal culture of oppression that she is trying to escape, and of Suleiman’s total loss of perspective. Who sends that man to retrieve their wife?

Ryan: I just wish he weren’t such a crass exploitative thing.

Diane:  It’s brief, at least. It’s not gratuitous.

Ryan: Yeah, they really make you hate him, they even give him ‘evil rotten teeth’. So here’s what I like about episode 5: They drop the rape peril and make it about what she has to give up physically to survive.

Diane: I’m surprised at how good Hanin’s story is. It’s about her as a woman and as a mother but the emphasis is never that she has to choose one or the other. She’s both at the same time and her strength comes from wanting to protect her kids and also have a better life for herself.

Ryan: If anything, the Clancy version of intelligence, where agencies and the military somehow end up working together toward a common goal is the most optimistic thing of all. Oh man, Hanin is one of my favorite TV characters of the year. Dina Shihabi? She’s got so much agency.

Diane:  Women are usually afterthoughts in Dad Media.

Ryan: She is a major, major driver of the story. 

Allen: I think the women of Clancy could be an interesting discussion topic for another time, because they often serve as moral pillars in his work, guiding the men to do the right thing. Cathy looms large in the books.

Diane: Hanin and Cathy get so much personality and agency. Cathy hasn’t even been in it that much in the first five episodes but she has a lot of personality. She gets to do things her way.

Ryan: Cathy makes her own decisions, and Jack kind of has to react to them.

Diane: I want to talk about how Cathy thinks Jack is a Type B guy because he’s a State Department logistician. It’s hilarious because poor Jack has to fight against the perception that he’s mild-mannered.

Ryan: Hahaha.

Allen: Jack’s wound just about as tight as they get. He’s just very good at hiding it.

Diane:  Jack does have ambitions. He just can’t say anything about them. He’ll eventually be supply chain logistician for all the hemispheres.

Ryan: Cathy is played so well. I really have to single out Abbie Cornish. She really owns the role and the dynamic when she’s on screen.

Diane: Abbie Cornish is so wonderful. She plays Cathy as such a smart and competent woman. You really get the feeling that for those two to end up together, he needs to step up. Cathy and Jack’s hospital meet-cute in the second episode is adorable. He’s soooo earnest.

Ryan: This is a fully formed character, who Jack has to bounce off of. They seem like real people. Their charisma is off the charts. Same with Jack and Greer.

Allen: A fascinating thing to note about episode 5, perhaps the most tense moment of the entire series happens here, and it’s just a bunch of people staring at computer monitors.

Diane:  Ohhh, yes I loved that. I was on the edge of my seat.

Ryan: The conversations via End of Honor (?) are some of the most tense moments of television in recent years.

Allen: I’m pretty sure that game is actually called “Fight of Honor” and it does not look like a good video game.

Diane:  No wonder those kids didn’t like it. It looks like it was made in the early 2000s and then left in a bargain bin.

Ryan: It looks on par with a lot of knockoff European trashware, tbh. Also, another great thing? That thing Ali and Suleiman say to each other? It’s in every episode almost. It’s not invented for this episode.

Allen: Oh yeah, you as the audience instantly know what is up regarding the pass phrase that Suleiman sneaks in. You whiteknuckle your seat almost instantly when he types it.

Ryan: The fleshing out of Ali and Suleiman is so good. So when that moment comes, you are having an anxiety attack.

Diane: Yeah, I really liked that. Cause as an audience member you know there’s no way he’s going to know what Ali might say. But you hope he gets it right.

Diane: I love how he saves it, cause he’s smart.

Allen:  A lesser show would have had Jack magically know it.

Ryan: And at that point, Ali has been dead an entire episode.

Diane:  Yeah Ali’s done and Suleiman never gets to see his body or say goodbye. He’s a monster, but still.

Ryan: This show is sort of the anti-24, in that he wasn’t typing the right thing over Ali’s freshly tortured corpse.

Allen: Instead he has to scramble to salvage a blown op. And manages to get actionable intel out of it in the end.

Diane: Ehhh. Sort of? I mean they were definitely torturing at Cobalt.

Ryan: But Jack is clearly a stranger to that and it’s clearly something he’s not comfortable with.

Diane:  Right but I’m talking about the show being an anti-24. It’s not so much anti-24 as it is a cousin universe. Jack Ryan is the anti-Jack Bauer.

Ryan: It’s shown to be part of the same cyclicality that blows up in our face, I think.

Diane: It’s all Bush Doctrine carried over to the Obama administration. That they have a fictional white president doesn’t matter. This is definitely Bush and Obama politics.

Allen:  Jack is this weird vestige of Eisenhower conservatism that is fascinating to see play out in the modern day.

Ryan: Yep. We are reaping what we started sowing in the 90s or 80s.

Diane: Baghdad to Afghanistan to Syria back to Iraq to Yemen to Africa. A lot of other places, too.

Ryan: This show sort of walks the tightrope navigating the more Reagan appeal of most Dad Media with the actual personal values that was purportedly based on.

Allen:  Well, Clancy wasn’t exactly a Reagan true believer. There’s a lot of his work, that’s pretty critical of some major Reagan era policies, before the world gets so far along that the characters are the policy makers.

Ryan: This show even kinda comes for some of Clancy’s more Pollyanna tendencies. It’s often questioned whether Ryan is up his own ass for being so do-gooder.

Diane: Suleiman and Ali are attacked in 1983. What was going on at that time? A quick google shows the 1983 Beirut barracks bombings where was a joint American and French airstrike after. 

Ryan: Yeah, then full on Reagan. The cold war was still in full effect, and we were actively choosing sides to aid in the middle east to destabilize Russian interests.

Allen:  So I think this is a good segue into the radicalization of Suleiman, which I think is a pretty great topic to wrap things up with. The show has a lot to say about how national cultures can be potent forces in the radicalization of marginalized citizens. And how those without good options often turn to the worst bad option.

Diane:  Sandrine was right and wrong at the same time about America, where you can be a hyphenate, like Chinese-American. I’m a hyphenate and sometimes it’s not a mark of freedom, but of even more narrow identity.

Ryan: Suleiman’s arc, such as it is, is really well hashed out in the first 5 eps of the show. He’s fully humanized, while still being held totally culpable for the horror that he’s creating.

Diane:  The show’s very clear about that. Monsters are responsible for their own actions, but there are outside forces here too. They’re not born evil. Monsters once danced the Safety Dance.

Allen: Well that’s kind of the thesis of the show, no matter what happens to us, we’re responsible for the choices we make.

Ryan: Even though Suleiman is a victim of the systems and the cold mechanical bureaucracy Ryan is a part of, he makes the choices he makes. He’s the guy who put this into action, and when it comes to the politics of responsibility, that’s where the show does its most interesting work. I saw a lot of things out there about the weird aside with Tombstone, but after seeing further episodes, it became clear that his story was kind of the thesis of the show.

Diane: I like that it emphasizes personal responsibility but not the tired, conservative “bootstraps” trope.

Allen: It’s fascinating to see how clear the show is in how much each of the different characters we interact with are tied to the systems that created Suleiman. Jack, the intelligence agencies and government types that plan and order the bombings; Sandrine the French culture that marginalized him; Tombstone, the soldiers just following orders. The list goes on.

Diane:  Yeah, and a lot of this is about circumstance. There’s no evil boogeyman. There’s just the situation you’re born into and what happens to you.

Ryan: It’s sprawling, as Clancy often was, but it’s sprawling into the actual mechanics of politics, rather than the mechanics of how hardware works.

Allen:  It wants us to see how people like Suleiman are created, partially out of a hope that we’ll start working to undo the systems that create them.

Ryan: We’re treated to some great tech stuff and military stuff, but what the show really explores is how organizations are really made up of people, and when you take people out of them, they become cruel machines.

Allen:  OK, final thoughts about Jack Ryan so far?

Ryan: I think this is the best artifact in its genre in decades. It’s thrilling, but perfectly paced. It’s superbly acted, and exceptionally well written. And the action chops are Hollywood level just grounded enough to matter, just big enough to dazzle. I could see this movie directed by Denis Villeneuve.

Diane: I love this show a lot. It’s really exciting to finally watch it, and I like how it balances a riveting and genuinely interesting story with good character development, women with agency, and Matice.2

Allen: It’s easily one of the smartest entries in its genre for sure. And one of the most moral. A lot like the main character.

Ryan: Given the emphasis it places on moral adroitness, humanity, and awareness, I think this is a vital series that we kind of need right now. 

Diane:  We need earnestness and people who represent a normal kind of morality. We don’t need Jack Bauer right now. We need Jack Ryan.

Ryan: It asks tough questions, but it doesn’t do the standard “EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE SO JUST GET VENGEANCE” crap that a lot of shows like this enjoy. In fact, Suleiman and Ryan have no personal reason to chase each other until way later, and it’s treated as an afterthought. This is about professionals, trying to be the best people they can, against people who believe they are justified in horror.

Diane: It’s just that Suleiman has a plan and Jack’s foiling it.

Ryan: Jack is extremely proactive.

  1. Ed note: Thanks for reminding us, Mr. I Got a Screener
  2. See our previous roundtable discussion, about episodes 1 to 4, for our Matice Appreciation Society meeting