The Rotten Tomatoes skew for “The Terminal List” now stands at audiences: 95, critics: 38. What that ridiculous discrepancy means, in this case, is that America’s patriotic Silent Majority are enjoying this well-told military tale, while the effete critic-crew daintily sip their cappuccinos, sniff, and pronouce feh! upon the proceedings.
Part of that 38-rating is due to many critics questioning the casting of Chris Pratt in the lead role of a Navy SEAL commander. Pratt plays Navy SEALs all the time. He was a SEAL in “Zero Dark Thirty,” also in the “Jurassic Park” series, and now in “The Terminal List.” He’s put considerable time into researching how best to portray SEALs on screen.
One has to use common sense when dealing with Rotten Tomatoes. For example, it stands to reason that actual SEALs can more correctly gauge Pratt’s performance as a SEAL than film critics can. And since the audience for this TV series undoubtedly contains quite a few actual SEALs (because it’s about SEALs, and is written by ex-SEAL Jack Carr)—when that particular audience rates the show 95, that should tell you something.
Lt. Cmdr. James Reece’s one-man wrecking crew and his methodical eye-for-an-eye vengeance spree also rankles critics. It’s so depressing! It’s not philosophically and morally uplifting! Even though it is pretty dark stuff (it’s war; war is hell), I say it is uplifting. It’s warrior creed, and it is what it is. To quote the quote I often quote in reviews about films with military content:
“We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.”
That quote is from Richard Grenier, who was actually reformulating something that Rudyard Kipling said, which is:
“Men can only be highly civilized while other men, inevitably less civilized, are there to guard and feed them.”
The military is old school and Old Testament. Traitors die. It’s New Testament as well. But that’s how America stays safe. I’ve read this five-book series a few times, and I can tell you, if war stories are your thing, “The Terminal List” is worth your while. That 95 percent, as mentioned, is likely active-duty and retired SEALs, other active-duty and retired spec ops military communities, regular branches of the military, and patriots nationwide.
“The Terminal List” is eight highly binge-watchable episodes, executive-produced by Antoine Fuqua, the man who brought us the inimitable “Training Day,” “The Equalizer,” and “Shooter.” These are manly man minimovies, which womanly women who like manly men will also like. These are definitely not 50-genders-and-a-rainbow-colored-unicorn TV episodes.
“The Terminal List” successfully weaves together different action-thriller elements. The first two episodes, “The Engram” and “Encoding,” are about Reece when he is back in the USA after a disastrous SEAL op results in his entire team being KIA, except him. He’s exhibiting significant PTSD symptoms, as well as some kind of disturbing, escalating, medical condition that leaves him dangerously delusional.
After the initial setup, it becomes clear that “The Terminal List” has a double meaning: Reece now has a list of suspects who sold him and his men down the river (and the traitors on this list need terminating); but he himself is a ticking time bomb, medically speaking, and might also be terminal.
“The Terminal List” then slowly morphs into a political thriller as Reece, along with seasoned war correspondent Katie Buranek (Constance Wu of “Crazy Rich Asians”), chases down various conspiracies to expose the coverup of why his platoon’s mission may have been intentionally sabotaged (hint: pharmaceutically) as well as why his wife and daughter were also targeted for execution.
There follows a series of—I hesitate to say “satisfying,” but there it is—executions where Reece crosses names off that terminal list that’s written in pencil on the back of one of his daughter’s drawings. Lacking a pencil at one point, his bloody fingertip crosses off the final name. As mentioned, it’s a warrior tale by, and for, warriors.
Episodes 5 and 6
In “Disruption,” and “Transience,” Reece starts making a move on the main bad guy of the series, Steve Horn (Jai Courtney). Horn is president of wealth management group Capstone Industries and a tech mogul making huge money exploiting the military.
Military personnel will enjoy loathing this character. His hobby is playing at being an operator, practicing room-clearing with a team of shooters in a “kill house” on his lunch break, and sporting a bone-frog tat. The frog skeleton tattoo is beloved of SEALs (since they are frogmen, and this is how they honor their fallen brothers), but if a civilian were to get caught with one of these, by actual frogmen? Showing it off to ladies in a bar? And he hadn’t actually earned it, and was therefore engaging in “stolen valor”? As the Bible puts it, “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea. …”
The action and intrigue ramp up; Reece’s quest gets evermore desperate and foreboding—and cool. A SEAL team is sent after him, one of whom worked with Reece and knows him to be a man of upstanding character. You definitely want to see what happens after the team leader cautions, “If James Reece is off the reservation we have our work cut out for us.”
Reece, on his warpath, not knowing how much more time he has on this planet, isn’t out to clear his name or bring the cluster of corporate jackals to justice. With both his team and his family decimated, he’s the Grim Reaper, hellbent on notching souls and visiting karmic retribution on evildoers before his time runs out.
My favorite scene is in Episode 3, when one Adrian Gordonis (played by former SEAL and author Jack Carr himself), a former Marine Raider turned mercenary, tries to sneak up on Reece in a restaurant, where he’s being warned about his mental state and brain tumor by reporter Katie Buranek.
Reece’s spidey-sense immediately picks up on the imminent threat, and he’s out the back of the restaurant in a flash, with Buranek in tow, who’s wondering what the heck is going on, thinking Reece is completely delusional. Out in traffic, he suddenly backs his jeep into the car behind him (containing the would-be assassin), gets out, and blasts him to kingdom come. Grabbing a folder out of the dead man’s smoking car, he throws it at Buranek. “Read that. That’s a professional target package. Still think I’m losing my mind?”
Pratt’s partner, in getting to the bottom of all the evil wrongdoing, is his former SEAL teammate (Taylor Kitsch, who’s also played his fair share of SEALs). J.D. Pardo of “Mayans M.C.” plays a tough FBI agent, Jeanne Tripplehorn (“Basic Instinct”) is a possibly highly disingenuous secdef,
and Riley Keough (Elvis Presley’s granddaughter) plays Reece’s wife, Lauren. It’s a solid cast, with Kitsch and Pardo getting to do somewhat more than their stereotypical roles of surfer-dude “hero’s buddy” and “dogged FBI agent on hero’s trail” usually allow.
What About Next Season?
The intro to the series captures the book’s powerful portrayal of student-of-war James Reece’s home office and study, packed with military history books and darkly festooned with war mementos that warriors bequeath to one another after notable battles—a pair of crossed tomahawks on the wall, and the like. Normally, I hit the “skip intro” option when watching a TV series, but I enjoyed looking at the photos of bearded SEAL teammates and vintage firearms, repeatedly.
Luckily, this was eight episodes made out of the first book of Jack Carr’s series. There are four more books. I will say that this first book, “The Terminal List,” is the best of the series.
Reading these military operator thriller books can be problematic, in that they’re structured so that you get a chapter that focuses on the hero (and that’s excellent reading), but then there are multiple story lines dedicated solely to the antagonists, and I personally am never interested in getting to know evil foreign characters named Osama, Dmitri, Abdul, or Klaus. So I impatiently flip through ’til I find what the hero is up to next: jumping out of airplanes, sniping bad guys, and so on.
The good thing, though, is that this format is intentionally geared toward movie treatments, which means that the movies contain a high probability of being better than the books. Movies make it possible to be interested in the sections about Achmed and Yuri getting terrorist money from Saudi princes to finance dirty bombs to be detonated in Washington. So count on the next season of “The Terminal List” (should it have the same producer crew) to be at least equally as good.
“The Terminal List” is currently available on Amazon Prime Video.
‘The Terminal List’
Directors: Antoine Fuqua, Ellen Kuras, M.J. Bassett, Frederick E.O. Toye, Tucker Gates, Sylvain White
Starring: Chris Pratt, Taylor Kitsch, Constance Wu, J.D. Pardo, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Tyner Rushing, Sean Gunn, Jai Courtney, Riley Keough
MPAA Rating: TV-MA
Running Time: 8 episodes, 55 minutes each
Release Date: July 1, 2022
Rating: 4 stars out of 5