TV Lessons

Thunderstorm over Corfu

“This instrument can teach. it can illuminate, and yes, it can even inspire, but it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it toward those ends.” ~ Edward R. Morrow speaking about television

I’m a big TV and movie nerd. It’s not that I know everything about the latest shows and movies, but when I like a show or movie, I watch it many times and love discussing all the layers of meaning in the story. I feel the way Edward R. Morrow expressed in the quote above. One of the ways I use entertainment is to learn something new, or to get a new perspective.

I learned this from my parents. Mom and I would read the same books and discuss them. My dad would stay up late on Friday or Saturday nights and watch old movies with me and we’d discuss the story for days afterwards. From my parents I learned that every story, even personal ones, has many layers of meaning and to truly learn something, I needed to dig deep into the character’s motivations. Doing that was one way I could not only understand other people, but myself as well.

Over the weekend my husband and I finished binge watching Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan on Amazon. I had seen the other various Jack Ryan movies, and even read The Hunt for Red October, after seeing the movie. I liked them all because in each story we get to see into most of the character’s motivations. In Red October, for example, Captain Ramius, a legend in the Soviet Union, decides to defect and hand over the Red October, a state of the art submarine with a drive that makes it virtually invisible, sonically, in the water. We see that his reasons for betraying his country have more to do with the fact that his wife died while he was at sea, than anything else. He’s tired of war. If he hands over the sub, he might be able to prevent the human race from killing itself off.

Even though Tom Clancy does a good job of showing us his character’s reasons for their attitudes and actions, this new series takes that to a whole new level. It takes place in the present time where possible terrorist attacks are a constant worry for all government intelligence agencies in the U.S. and other Western nations. As in the books, Jack works for the CIA as an analyst. He’s a “think outside the box” kind of guy, which means he gets drawn into a mission out in the field because of his unusual abilities. However, this series is different than the previous Clancy stories. We see step by step how Suleiman, the villain of this season, became radicalized and even if we can’t condone what he does, we can understand his reasons for his actions.

In the first scene of the first episode, it is 1983 during the Lebanese Civil War. Suleiman and his brother are playing on the roof of their home, when fighter planes fly overhead and drop bombs nearby. Suleiman and his brother, we find out later, are the only ones in their family to survive the attack. As the episodes progress, more of Suleiman’s story unfolds so that by the end of the series, we can understand why he believes creating a new Islamic state is necessary.

Another thing I love about this series is that we get a view into the lives of Middle Eastern people from different countries. An important character is, Hanin, Suleiman’s wife. She does not like how her husband has changed. She decides to escape with her children, but unfortunately her son refuses to go. Getting her son back so that he does not become a terrorist as well, is central to her motivation for helping Jack and Greer, but it is central to the message of the entire series as well.

In my favorite segment, a drone pilot who killed a man thought to be a terrorist, but later discovers the intel was wrong, travels to the man’s home. We’ve seen the pilot going deeper into depression as his kill count goes up. When he gets the news that this particular man he killed was not a terrorist, he breaks down emotionally and is given ten days leave. Instead of going on binges, he goes to see the man’s father and son to confess that he was the one who killed their loved one. I weep even now as I remember the dead man’s father welcoming the pilot into his home. They don’t speak the same language. They communicate with gestures and facial expressions, which makes the moments between them so much more potent. The man serves the pilot tea. They sip as they look at each other, the pilot close to tears and full of remorse, the father with eyes filled with compassion and forgiveness. This encounter changes both men.

To me the deeper meaning of that scene is that we hurt each other and ourselves when we lump certain groups together and demonize them. I’m an imperfect student of A Course In Miracles. The scene with the pilot and the father of the man he killed, shows the main teaching of the course. We are all connected and if we look for the pure essence of God that resides in each of us, we find not only our own humanity but the humanity of our brother. This series emphasizes that message in other subtle ways as well.

At one point Jack and Greer are in France trying to track down Suleiman’s brother. The French agent Jack is teamed up with says to Jack something like, “In America you have African-Americans, Chinese-Americans, Mexican-Americans, and so on. We don’t hyphenate in France. You are either French, or you are an outsider.” And it’s around that point in the story, we find out that Suleiman and his brother were sent to France as refugees after they were orphaned. Each of them attended college and got advanced degrees, but they were unable to get jobs in their fields because they were not considered “French”. Their skin color and country of origin was held against them. To survive they had to get jobs in restaurants, and live in neighborhoods filled with people without much hope just like them. Suleiman would have become a completely different person had he been given a chance to use his talents and education.

The world is such a complicated place. Every person and nation on earth has made mistakes. This series shows different facets of the conflicts we face today. Yes, Jack and Greer are the heroes of the story, but we find out they too have made mistakes that cost people their lives. They too suffer from old wounds. None of the characters in the story are completely unscarred. But in the end, when Hanin’s son is returned to her, we see that there might be a way to come together, forgive each other, and start over. Jim says to Jack, “You were right to try to get the boy back,” and Jack replies, “We’ll see.” When Jack says that, I think the writers are saying that we never know what is in another person’s heart. And even when we try to do the right thing, sometimes it goes horribly wrong.

And yet, the series does end on a hopeful note. In an interesting twist, Greer is a covert to Islam. He converted when he fell in love and married a Muslim woman, who is now divorcing him. We see him struggling with his faith at different points in the series. In the last episode, when Greer is packing to go to his new assignment in Russia, he says to Jack, “You know I went to pray the other day for the first time in a long time. It was good. In fact, it was really good and I was struck by the words of the prophet, ‘No man is a true believer unless he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself. Felt like it was a very important lesson.”

If we can learn that lesson from an action TV show, maybe there’s hope for the human race after all.

Thanks for following, liking, and commenting. I hope you consider checking out, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2018

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, an award finalist in the “Fiction: Fantasy” category of the 2017 Best Book Awards. It’s a historical, time-travel, magical realism, women’s novel, and is available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, or you can find the ebook at iBooks or Barnes and Noble. If you prefer a physical copy, you can find a print-on-demand version at Amazon. Stay tuned for news on the audiobook version Lucinda is working on. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.

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