Jack Ryan S1E1

This post analyzes the Amazon Prime television series Jack Ryan using the 5 Commandments of Storytelling and the Editor’s 6 Core Questions from the book The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne.


This post will spoil everything about episode 5 from the Jack Ryan television series, so make sure you watch it before reading on.

Here we go.

Why is this series working? What makes it work and popular?

Read on

The 5 Commandments of the Scene/ Episode

Inciting Incident

The Inciting Incident kicks off the scene. Shawn Coyne says in his book The Story Grid that the Inciting Incident must “upset the life balance of your lead protagonist. It must make them uncomfortably out of sync…for good or evil”.

This can occur either as a Causal Inciting Incident or a Coincidental Inciting Incident. According to Shawn Coyne, “a Causal Inciting Incident is the result of an active choice”, while “a Coincidental Inciting Incident is when something unexpected or random or accidental happens”.

The Inciting Incident of this first episode (it’s really a Sequence or collection of scenes) is Causal, due to CIA analyst Jack Ryan’s conscious action to dig into the intelligence on Suleiman and discover financial transactions in Yemen that lead him to think Suleiman might be the next Osama Bin Laden.

Coyne says that the purpose of the Inciting Incident “must arouse a reaction by your protagonist”. The discovery of these transactions and the implied danger of Suleiman makes Ryan passionate to track him down and stop him, so much that he can’t sleep and comes in early to find new leads and eventually confronts his boss, Greer, about his findings and demands that he freeze the bank funds so they can’t be used in an attack against the US. Additionally, this incident upsets the life balance of Ryan because another attack like 9/11 could affect him or his family, and would definitely affect other Americans, and as an ex-service member this affects him emotionally.

Progressive Complication

Coyne says that Progressive Complications “move stories forward, never backward. They do so by making life more and more difficult (in positive as well as negative ways) for your lead character…You must progressively move from one dilemma to a more trying dilemma to a bigger problem to an even bigger problem”.

The Progressive Complication is also where the Turning Point of the scene is, a point in which either through Character Action or a Revelation, something in the scene happens that causes a character (usually the protagonist) to have to make a decision.

In the episode, the Progressive Complication/ Turning Point is a Revelation. After working all morning on trying to pin down this new threat to the US, Ryan confronts Greer with his intelligence, and Greer says it not enough. The Revelation to Ryan is that his boss is not going to freeze these bank funds and Ryan fears this will cause another event like 9/11. This is unacceptable to Ryan, he must do something.


The Crisis is the result of the Progressive Complication/ Turning Point. These dilemma “must coalesce into a question that offers a choice between two options. The character’s actions, not his words, define him. Compelling Crisis questions and the way they are answered are the way to reveal character.

To give real meaning to the Crisis decision making process, these need to be hard decisions with real consequences, the best of two bad choices or the choice between two irreconcilable goods.

In this episode, Ryan’s Crisis is to decide to go against his boss’s wishes and circumvent him to get the accounts frozen, which might get him fired and then he wouldn’t be around to prevent any further terrorist incidents. Or to abide by Greer’s decision, to do nothing and gather more intelligence, and risk another event like 9/11 occurring. This is representative of choosing between two bad choices.


The Climax is when the characters acts on his decision, “it is the active answer raised by the Crisis“.

In this episode, the Climax occurs when Ryan goes around Greer and convinces a colleague in the Treasury Department to freeze the account, thus risking getting fired.


The Resolution is where the scene value finally turns from either positive to negative, or negative to positive (or sometimes from negative to double negative or positive to double positive). This is where the results of the decision made in the Climax are revealed.

The best Resolutions are turned masterfully so that they are unexpected, yet on reflection obvious.

In this episode, after he decides to go behind Greer’s back, Ryan is reprimanded by Greer. This is the obvious resolution. But later on in the episode, we find out that Greer had the bank in Yemen watched after the funds were frozen, to see if any terrorists came to inquire about the money, and the CIA ends up capturing some men that might be associated with the terrorist Suleiman.

This value shift is a -/+. Ryan is initially demoralized by his boss’s reaction to the intelligence he discovered and also Greer’s reprimand, but ultimately discovers that he was right and his boss followed up on his intelligence.

Second Sequence

The first sequence ends at Ryan’s discovery his intelligence was right and that his boss acted on it. But the episode continues with another sequence, so let’s break this one down quickly.

Inciting Incident

Ryan is ordered to accompany Greer to Yemen to assist with the interrogation of the two men the CIA captured.

This is a Causal Inciting Incident since Greer orders Ryan to go with him. This incident also upsets the life balance of Ryan, because he is just an analyst and he sees this trip as putting himself in danger.

Progressive Complication/ Turning Point

The Progressive Complication/ Turning Point of this sequence is when Ryan knows that the attack on the base is coming his way and he is at risk. This is done by Character Action caused by the terrorists attacking the base.


The Crisis for Ryan is should he defend himself and risk getting killed in the fight or should he not resist and risk getting killed anyway. This is an obvious best bad choice, death or death.


The Climax is when Ryan decides to fight back.


The Resolution is that the fight ends up in a stalemate when the terrorist gets the drop on Ryan but Ryan holds a grenade.

The Value shift here is -/–/-. At the beginning, Ryan is concerned because he will be put at risk, during the fight he is almost killed, but ultimately he lives but Suleiman, the next Osama Bin Ladin escapes to plan an attack for another day.

The Global 5 Commandments

It is important to watch out for the 5 Commandments for the Beginning Hook, the Middle Build, and the Ending Payoff of the series. These 15 scenes will make up the spine of the story. Also, they will all turn on the global value of the story, which in this case is life and death since it is an action story.

I think that the Inciting Incident of the Beginning Hook will be the bombing in Lebanon at the beginning of the Episode. This is a life and death event (the bombs killed many people) and will probably be the causal event that causes Suleiman to be a terrorist (since the bombs hurt his brother and killed some of his family).

The Beginning Hook should be about the first 25% of the series, so by the second or third episode, we should be able to clearly see the other commandments and also the separation between the Beginning hook and the Middle Build.

Conventions and Obligatory Scenes

Obligatory Scenes (so far)

Inciting Attack by the Villain – this could be represented by money that Suleiman is gathering to make an attack, but I suspect that we will find out about the planned attack in the next couple episodes.

Hero sidesteps responsibility to take action – Ryan initially tells Greer he can’t go because he is just an analysis

Conventions (so far)

Hero – Jack Ryan; Villain – Suleiman; Victim – innocent Americans

Ryan’s Object of Desire is to stop Suleiman


There are some elements that might lead me to decide that the Genre is a Thriller and an Action story, but we will have to wait until later in the series to reach a final determination. For now, the similarities between the two Genres are fine for identifying the Obligatory Scenes and the Conventions.

More Story Analysis

If you want to see more applications of the Story Grid methodology, below are links to my analysis of various novels and television shows in blog posts and podcasts:

Story Grid Showrunners Podcast – Parul, Melanie, and I analyze hit TV series using the Story Grid methodology.

My blog posts analyzing other Television series – my person take using the Story grid 5 Commandments to look at my favorite TV series – Jack Ryan, Batgirl, For All Mankind, Hanna, and more.

Novel analysis – I analyze some of my favorite books using the Story Grid 5 Commandments and 6 core questions – First Blood, Old Man’s War, Waylander, and more to come!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: