Reacher - Season 2

Reacher - Season 2

If Season One suggested it, Season Two leaves us in no doubt that Jack Reacher is by any definition a murderer.

Review by John Winterson Richards

This is a spoiler light overview of the second season of Amazon's small screen adaptation of Lee Child's Jack Reacher novels, but it assumes familiarity with the basic concept and character, so it might be an idea to take a look at our review of the first season if you do not know who Jack Reacher is and what he represents.

That first season was a huge hit for Amazon, but, at the time of writing, the early figures suggest that Season Two has surpassed it already. It is also a dramatic success, building cleverly on what has been established, keeping the basic formula that works so well but developing it to ensure that it does not go stale.

For a start it puts the eponymous Reacher on a much bigger stage. Season One travelled a little but remained essentially a story about small town corruption. Season Two takes us all over the United States, most notably New York, and involves big business, international terrorism, and a powerful US Senator. Has a US Senator ever been portrayed as honest and competent on film or television? Do not expect Reacher to break tradition in this respect.

The stakes have also been increased. Where Season One was a personal quest for revenge, Season Two keeps that dimension while adding a major threat to countless innocent people and to the United States itself. It is interesting to note how a New York policeman seems unconcerned by the prospect of the deaths of those innocents elsewhere at the hands of Russia, China, or the IRA, but is energised immediately at the prospect of "another 9/11."

Best of all is how we see another dimension of the character of Reacher himself by putting the famous loner in a team. There was an element of this in the previous season as he became closer to two policemen working with him, but it goes to a different level here as he reunites with the people who know him best and are the closest things he has to actual friends.

Reacher - Season 2

These are the surviving members of the 110th Special Investigative Unit, the small, hand-picked team he led as a Major in the US Military Police. We get to see them in "flash back," coming together as a team, bonding, and putting their military careers on the line in a big case that does not end well.

Since then all, except Reacher himself, have built lives and civilian careers of their own. Most have been fairly successful, mainly in different forms of private investigation, and all seem well adjusted contributors to the economy. Two have married and had children. Another has a dog. The contrast with Reacher is glaring.

Indeed, their casual conversation with their old commander really puts a spotlight on what an oddity he is. The first season presented his simple, responsibility-free lifestyle as something almost to be envied, or at least a guilty fantasy for heavily burdened middle-aged men. The second begins to deconstruct it, if only a little.

Reacher takes the gentle mockery of old friends in good part. Some of his eccentricities are very amusing - there is a great running joke about a toothbrush in which Reacher himself has the best line - but he also admits to things that actually sound a bit pathetic. He seems to be realising that himself now that he says them out loud for the first time.

That he is now with people with whom he can joke means that there is much more humour in the second season than in the first, mostly at the expense of Reacher himself. This is another improvement and is generally well handled. The quips are not overdone, as they are in too many recent productions, but some dark humour is definitely needed to lighten the tone because the actual story is pretty grim.

Reacher - Season 2

The reunion is occasioned by the horrific murder of one of the married members of the team, which we are shown in full. Needless to say, Reacher is out for justice. Equally needless to say, his notion of justice has little to do with arresting suspects and putting them in front of courts of law for a fair trial. From what we see in the "flash backs," it never did, even when he was employed by the Military Police.

If Season One suggested it, Season Two leaves us in no doubt that Jack Reacher is by any definition a murderer. Even within the vigilante context in which he has to operate, many of his killings are unnecessary. Some are deliberately cold blooded with no possible defence of justifiable homicide. There are several torture scenes but by far the most eye watering is perpetrated by our supposed "hero." He could actually teach the baddies, who just beat people up ineffectively as baddies always do in these things, how more calculated cruelty can be used to obtain information more reliably. There are definite echoes of 24 in this respect. The viewer is supposed to go along with this because the baddies are baddies and Reacher is the goody, but there comes a point when even those of us who accept there are grey areas in life begin to feel a definite line has been crossed and perhaps we should not be sympathising quite so much with a protagonist capable of such things.

There is a half joking remark about Reacher being a sociopath. In fact he seems a lot closer to the clinical definition of a psychopath. The way he says in advance, even in front of public officials and children, that he is going to kill people suggests he has no conception that what he is doing is wrong. This is actually the legal definition of insanity.

Reacher - Season 2

Perhaps more disturbing is how the members of his team not only do not challenge what he does but copy his example. Is this because he selected them on this basis or trained them to obey him without question or both? High functioning psychopaths are often, at least in some respects, very effective leaders, or rather they are very good at manipulating other people into doing things they would otherwise never do. Even in the "flash back" sequences, the standard operating procedures followed by the 110th seem to have more in common with John Wick than any police organisation.

No wonder Alan Ritchson, who plays Reacher, has come under friendly fire from some fellow Christians for the violence of his show and the amorality of his character. In fairness, there are plenty of Biblical precedents for deeply flawed people being used as instruments of righteousness. Indeed, there is more than a passing resemblance between Jack Reacher and Samson, a not headed, feckless, irresponsible womanizer and heavy drinker who nevertheless had great personal strength and proved very effective at smiting the Philistines.

Incidentally, talking of heavy drinking, the product placement by Budweiser is not exactly subtle. They obviously came to the conclusion that the best antidote to the self-induced PR problems they suffered last year as a consequence of misjudging their target market was to have to have their beer being seen drunk copiously by Jack Reacher. They may not be wrong in that.

As an actor Ritchson seems more secure in the role and is willing to play with it a little, especially in the self deprecating scenes where he is allowed to show a little more humanity and humour. He is actually very good at this.

Maria Sten returns as Reacher's streetwise former Master Sergeant. To be honest, she seemed a little out of place in the previous season, a convenient plot device, but here she is given more room to breathe and develops into a very likeable character.  One other character from the first season also turns up but in in a very brief surprise cameo, which was nevertheless welcome.

Reacher - Season 2

Serinda Swan seems an unlikely Military Policeman and accountant but is more credible as Reacher's love interest - or more like sex object - of the season. Shaun Sipos does well as the fourth member of the team in a role that nevertheless seemed to be crying out for Alan Tudyk. Robert Patrick (Terminator 2, Sons of Anarchy) and Ferdinand Kingsley, Sir Ben's son, are unambiguously villainous villains. The former is given a very amusing in joke which really sets the tone for the whole season - we are not meant to take any of this too seriously. By contrast, Domenick Lombardozzi (The Wire) brings some real emotional energy to a character who keeps us uncertain about him almost to the end, which is very powerful as a result.

Otherwise there are very few surprises in the plot. There are the usual twists but you can see most of them coming a mile away. Where the first season strained credibility, the second gives up on it completely.

Reacher - Season 2

Reacher has been described as a "Dad show" and the absurd storylines are indeed reminiscent of the far less violent episodic American action thrillers of the 1970s and 80s. Season Two is basically The A-Team, except with much better fight choreography and, partly as a consequence, a much, much higher body count.

Take it on those terms and there is a certain catharsis to be found in Reacher's merciless elimination of those we are led to assume are all bad people - so long as you are able to switch off your moral judgement for a while and do not think too hard about the plot.

Published on January 22nd, 2024. Written by John Winterson Richards for Television Heaven.

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