Friday, July 01, 2022

The Terminal List, on Prime

According to the Navy SEAL Museum, 308 SEALs (and their predecessors, the Navy Underwater Demolition Team members) died in the service of their country. Understandably, Lt. Commander James Reece is quite upset to learn a shadowy cabal decided to add his men to that solemn list. Then they killed his family, as part of a plot to disgrace him. In response, Reece starts compiling his own roll of names in writer-showrunner David DiGilio’s eight-episode The Terminal List, which premieres today on Prime Video.

Reece’s team was due to be rotated back to the States, but they were not about to pass up one final mission. They thought they had the drop on an Iranian chemical weapons specialist, but instead, they were the ones who walked into an ambush. Only Reece and his close comrade Ernest “Boozer” Vickers survived the trap, but Vickers committed suicide soon after returning Stateside. Weirdly, he used his least favorite gun.

Despite suffering the lingering effects of considerable head trauma (which very definitely turns out to be serious), Reece starts questioning discrepancies in the official mission report and the circumstances of Boozer’s suicide. As a result, a hit team tries to take him out, in a manner that will look like suicide. They fail in that respect, but they had already murdered his wife Lauren and daughter Lucy, to frame him to look like a family annihilator. As you would expect, this makes Reece mad, so he starts sleuthing out who might be responsible.

At first, Reece’s only ally is his former SEAL colleague Ben Edwards, who now works at the CIA. However, he starts to trust journalist Katie Buranek. With their help, they start with the dodgy NCIS Agent whitewashing the attempt on his life and follow the trail up to the highest levels government.

There is plenty of SEAL-worthy action in DiGilio’s adaptation of Jack Carr’s novel, but it would have been more fun if the bad guys really were Iranian terrorists. Instead, we get yet another example of the villains being high-ranking American military officers and Big Pharma businessmen. Seriously, how different is this series’ worldview from that of AOC, if at all?

Still, it is clear DiGilio understand the military milieu.
 It clearly helped that producer and star Chris Pratt made a concerted effort to hire veterans for positions throughout the crew. At this point, Pratt has instant screen-credibility playing a military officer and family man. We can easily believe him in the role of Reece and get the sense the he shares the values of military families, so we feel his pain and share his desire for payback. Constance Wu shrewdly manages to play up Buranek’s intelligence and minimizes her initial obnoxiousness, so viewers will really start to root for her too. We can also buy their relationship—it is really more of an alliance, not too close, but without any kneejerk antagonism.

JD Pardo and Christina Vidal bring some relatively rare grounded nuance to the series playing the FBI Special Agent and US Marshal pursuing Reece. However, the surprise turncoat-villain is blindingly obvious. Maybe the writing is more to blame than the thesp, but as soon as “X” enters the picture, any experienced thriller watcher will recognize the not-so-well-concealed crookedness.

Arguably, the slowest episode is the pilot, directed by Antoine Fuqua, which features a lot of set-up, as well as a good deal of horrible tragedies. Probably the best segments follow Reece’s detour down to Mexico in search of the Sicario who actually pulled the trigger. The action is nicely staged throughout the series, but the attack on the Sicario training compound takes it to a higher level.

It is entertaining to watch Reece’s skills and training in action, but it would be even more so to see him target real-life enemies of freedom and American security. There is no shortage of them. Regimes in China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and Cuba all mean us harm, so take your pick. Nevertheless, Pratt’s work on the screen is a good example of why he is probably the most popular actor working today. He is not necessarily the most talented, but he connects with average viewers and appears to reflect where they are coming from. Earning a mild, qualified recommendation for its watchability,
The Terminal List starts streaming today (7/1) on Prime Video.