Jack Ryan Season 2 – Intro

For the rest of the year, I’ll analyze the Jack Ryan Season 2 TV series which is available on Amazon Prime.

Here we have the 6 Core Questions every editor asks when he/she reviews a manuscript, they are the core of any great novel, the key parts that make or break the story.

Haven’t Heard of Jack Ryan?

If you didn’t see Jack Ryan Season 1, check out my analysis here.

I enjoyed the series, but I thought the writers got a little lazy with the ending, so I hope they can regroup and make this new season great.

The series description from Amazon: “After tracking a potentially suspicious shipment of illegal arms in the Venezuelan jungle, CIA Officer Jack Ryan heads to South America to investigate. Jack’s actions threaten to uncover a far-reaching conspiracy, leading him and his fellow operatives on a mission spanning the globe“.

What are the 6 Core Questions and Why Are They Important?

For the rest of this post, we’ll discuss the 6 Core Questions based on Shawn Coyne’s book The Story Grid.

According to Shawn Coyne, an editor with over 25 years of editing experience, after reading a novel one time, an editor should be able to answer these 6 Core Questions without “having any serious head scratches”. These questions will help an editor determine where any problems are in the manuscript.


Shawn Coyne describes Genre as “the most important decisions” an author needs to make. “Those choices will tell the reader what they are in for if they pick up the book”.

The six core questions are meant to be answered after reading the book, or in this case after watching the series. From watching the last season and the trailer for this season, I’m assuming the series is either in the ‘Action’ or ‘Thriller’ Genre, and both these Genres have similar components. For arguments sake, I’m going to assume that the Genre for the Jack Ryan series is the Action Genre. At the end of the series, we’ll revisit the 6 core questions and answer them accurately, but in order to progress through the rest of the questions we need to assume a Genre.

The main difference between Action and Thriller is that the hero doesn’t really change his worldview perspective, or in other words, Jack Ryan is the same in the beginning and the end of the series, he makes no big internal changes.

So for Jack Ryan Season 2 Genre:

  • External Genre: Action (Sub-Genre to be determined – though probably a Clock/Countdown or Adventure/ Doomsday or some combination of the two
  • External Value at stake: Life to Unconciousness to Death to Fate Worse than Death (Damnation)
  • Internal Genre: To be determined
  • Internal Value at Stake: To be determined

Obligatory Scenes and Conventions

These are the scenes in the story that will ultimately make it work, the scenes that the reader expects because of the Genre. As we go through the series, I’ll identify these scenes in the posts.

The Obligatory Scenes for an Action Genre Novel are:

  • An inciting Attack by the villain – we should expect some bad guy to attack in the first episode; either a terrorist attack with victims or a direct attack on the hero
  • the hero sidesteps responsibility to take action – we might not see this since Jack has done this in the first season, saying he’s not the right guy and doesn’t have the right experience or skills; however, last season he proved that he was the right guy
  • forced to leave ordinary world, hero lashes out – we might not see this either, as once again Ryan is established as a go to guy to get things done
  • discovering and understanding the antagonist’s MacGuffin (Villain’s object of desire) – I assume this will materialize in the 2nd or 3rd episode, where we should see the bad guys motivations
  • hero’s initial strategy against villain fails
  • realizing they must change their approach to salvage some form o victory, hero reaches an All Is Lost moment
  • The hero at the mercy of the villain: the central event of the Action Story, what the reader is waiting for. The her’s gift is expressed in this scene
  • The hero’s sacrifice is rewarded

The Conventions for an Action Genre Novel are:

  • Hero, Victim, Villain: these three roles must be clearly defined throughout the story. The protagonist must be a hero. Obviously, Ryan will be the hero. Usually, in this time of series the victims are the innocents, though Ryan’s love interest could also be a victim
  • The hero’s object of desire is to stop the villain and save the victim
  • The power divide between the hero and the villain is very large. The villain is far more powerful than the hero – It’s hard to show this one when the hero works for the US government, but it becomes similar to what they do with James Bond – they isolate him away from his resources so the villain is in a more powerful position
  • Speech in praise of the villain
  • Other sub-genre specific conventions – this can take the form of Sci-Fi or Fantasy tropes, and in this case might include high tech satellite and drones

Point of View

Here you list all the points of view within the novel. For a television series, and even a movie, it’s a little more difficult, because in a novel you will usually only have a few different points of view. On television, you may have scenes from many points of view that are not in a novel the show was adapted from, and this is necessary in order to show things more clearly since you can’t easily get into the head of the characters like you can in a novel.

For the Jack Ryan series, I imagine that most of the scenes will be done from the titular character’s POV, Jack Ryan. By that I mean, Jack Ryan will be in most of the scenes and the audience is seeing the plot unfold at the same time as the protagonist. There might be some other POVs from secondary characters. As I mentioned, we’ll revisit the 6 Core Questions after I analyze the whole series.

In season one, they flipped back between enemy POVs and significant victim POVs (like Saluman’s wife in a couple episodes)

Objects of Desire

What are the protagonist and antagonist’s objects of desires? What do they want? What do they need? Once the series is finished, it should be very obvious. For action and thriller genres, the want of the protagonist is usually to survive, to live – especially wince the External Value at Stake is life and death. The Internal Value at Stake will usually lead to what the protagonist needs, and I don’t know that right now. The antagonist usually wants to kill the protagonist in some way, but we’ll see how this plot develops.

Controlling Idea/ Theme

Shawn Coyne describes the controlling idea as “the takeaway message the writer wants the reader/ viewer to discover from reading or watching his story”.

For this series, I imagine the controlling idea will be something like this:

Life is preserved when the protagonist (Jack Ryan) overpowers or outwits the antagonist.

The Beginning Hook, the Middle Build, and the Ending Payoff

Shawn Coyne explains the math of most novels as broken into 3 parts or acts, the beginning Hook, the Middle Build, and the Ending Payoff. Generally, the Beginning Hook consists of about 25% of the novel, the Middle Build 50%, and the Ending Payoff about 25%.

Each one of these acts should have 5 commandments:

  • an inciting incident
  • a progressive complication
  • a crisis
  • a climax
  • a resolution

These 15 scenes (5 commandments for each act) make up the spine of the novel. The sixth question involves identifying these 15 scenes in the novel (or series) and creating a short description of each act. We’ll track these through the weeks and at the end, when we revisit the 6 Core Questions, we will summarize these 15 scenes.

In Summary

So over the next 8 weeks, I’ll analyze each episode of the Jack Ryan Season 2 series using the 5 commandments. Along the way, I’ll identify the obligatory scenes and the conventions for the Action Genre. And at the end, I’ll summarize the 6 core questions and explain why the series did or didn’t work.

Overall, as an editor, this is the process I initially go through when I review a novel for an author. I follow this up with specific scene analysis.

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!

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