We open the new series in Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, in 1983, where two young boys dressed in Western clothes are dancing along to “The Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats in their bedroom. When their mother asks that they finish their chores, they reluctantly walk up to the roof to feed the chickens. On the horizon, they see a squad of fighter jets sweeping towards them, leaving a trail of bombed villages in their wake. A bomb strikes their building, and as the dust settles, we flash forward.
Now in present-day Washington D.C., Jack Ryan is beginning his morning with a row on the Potomac. Biking to work afterward, he’s nearly hit by a car. “Watch it s—head!” the driver yells out his window. “Ass—-,” Ryan mutters back. These two just might meet again…
Arriving at C.I.A. headquarters, we learn Ryan has a Ph.D. in economics and works as a financial analyst at the agency’s Terror, Finance, and Arms Division. It’s his job to monitor financial transactions around the globe and flag anything out of the ordinary. It’s like if Dunder Mifflin were a branch of the C.I.A.
Meanwhile, the driver who almost ran him over earlier arrives for his own meeting at the agency. James Greer (played by Wendell Pierce) takes a seat in a corner office, where his boss asks how his leave of absence was. “Long,” Greer grumbles. It’s clearly a sore subject. Apparently, Greer was removed as the station chief in Karachi, Pakistan, and is getting a major demotion to the finance department. “It’s a backwater post, Nate,” Greer pleads. After noting that many in the agency wanted him gone entirely, Nate urges him to make the best of the situation.
When Greer, now the new head of Ryan’s unit, arrives at the team meeting, he recognizes him immediately from the bike incident and makes a Lance Armstrong joke. Next, he asks everyone to stand up and introduce themselves. Ryan explains that he’s been monitoring SWIFT (that’s the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) transactions around Yemen, and thinks a high-level target could be moving around big money for an upcoming attack. Ryan’s coworkers discreetly try to warn him about saying too much to the new guy, but Greer is sure Ryan knows the would-be terrorist’s name and wants him to cough it up. “I believe his name is Suleiman,” Ryan finally says. “A brand new Bin Laden on my first day,” Greer sneers back, apparently dismissing the whole idea.
After the meeting, Ryan asks some other analysts how Greer ended up back in D.C. behind a desk. “He went all Col. Kurtz” in the field, they tell him. Rumor has it Greer was ordering his soldiers to dip their bullets in pig’s blood, which supposedly prevents Muslim soldiers from entering heaven. (If this sounds familiar, President Donald Trump has brought up the idea.)
We then move to Al Mnajeer, Syria, where Sheik Al Radwan has arrived at a compound looking for Suleiman, the man Ryan suspects of planning an attack. Suleiman isn’t at home, and when Al Radwan asks where he is, Suleiman’s wife says that her husband’s business is his own. Al Radwan informs her that he and his men “picked up a brother in Aleppo,” whom Suleiman said should stay with her at the compound. The “brother” from Aleppo steps out of a car, and Suleiman’s wife is surprised to see that he’s white.
Back in D.C., Ryan is eating dinner alone at his apartment, watching Jeopardy and getting all the questions right. When the phone rings, his former boss Joe invites him to his birthday party. Joe needs to speak with him urgently about something he can’t say on the phone. They haven’t talked in years, but Ryan agrees to meet up. Later that night, we see Ryan trying to sleep as a metronome ticks unhelpfully by his bedside. As he closes his eyes, he’s kept awake by battlefield flashbacks.
Giving up on sleep, Ryan goes into the office and scours over numbers, connecting financial dots with Post-it notes. By the time Greer arrives, he’s found what he thinks is a big crack in the case. Storming into his new boss’s office, he lays out what he’s found: A shell company he suspects is tied to Suleiman has laundered $9 million, more money than he’s ever seen. Asked why Suleiman would risk detection moving so much money around, Ryan suggests that his plans are so far along he knows they can’t stop him. He urges Greer to freeze the account but is told he doesn’t have enough proof yet.
In Syria, Suleiman’s wife offers a guest some tea as he tinkers around a barracks full of weapons, ammunition, and computer screens. After a brief chat in English, she leaves, and we see the man and a helper loading mysterious vials into bottles of olive oil.
At the C.I.A., Ryan decides to go behind Greer’s back to freeze the account, enlisting a flirty colleague at the Treasury Department to do his dirty work. When Greer gets a call from a C.I.A. outpost in Yemen asking why the accounts were tampered with, he calls Ryan back into his office to unload. Now that the accounts are frozen, Greer asks what’s stopping Suleiman from disappearing. Ryan argues that no one would walk away from that kind of money, but Greer points out that if they had just sat on the account, they could have monitored every transaction. Ryan says he’s not content sitting around while another 9/11-type attack is in the works, prompting Greer to kick him out of his office.
Later, Greer digs through Ryan’s personal files. We see snippets of a report saying that 12 marines were killed in an attack involving a helicopter crash, with only one survivor: Ryan.
Back in Yemen, C.I.A. field operatives are monitoring a meeting between a bank manager and two men at an outdoor cafe. The Americans are unable to hear what’s said at the meeting, so when the two targets walk away, they decide to kidnap them off the street and bring them to a C.I.A. black site in Saudi Arabia for interrogation.
Ryan, meanwhile, arrives at his old boss’s extremely fancy birthday party set on the water behind his mansion. We learn that Joe was Ryan’s boss back when he used to work on Wall Street, and wants to know if his former protege can give him any insider information from the State Department regarding a business deal in South Korea. When Ryan insists he doesn’t know anything helpful, Joe is not happy he won’t break the law and calls him a “boy scout.” Annoyed that his old “friend” dragged him to a party for insider trading tips, Ryan heads to the open bar and flirts with his daughter, Cathy Mueller, a doctor specializing in “gross” infectious diseases.
As they chat, a helicopter swoops over the party and lands in the backyard. Two Coast Guard pilots pop out and ask if anyone’s seen Dr. Jack Ryan. After Ryan shows himself, he’s swept away from Cathy and into the helicopter without any explanation.
They land at an airport, where Greer is waiting with a private jet. He tells Ryan about the two guys at the cafe, explaining that he sent a task force to watch over the bank. He didn’t tell Ryan about this before because they don’t know each other yet and he doesn’t owe him anything. Greer just needs Ryan to tag along to the interrogation so that he can make sure they’re asking the right questions.
At the black site, one of the guys the task force picked up, a businessman named Omar Rabini, and his bodyguard are held in separate rooms. Rabini swears he doesn’t know anything about any terrorism, but when Ryan learns he was captured with a cell phone, he dials a phone number attached to one of the suspicious accounts, and sure enough, Rabini’s phone rings.
Outside the black site, a caravan of Saudis arrive with several corpses in the back of their trucks. An American soldier on patrol seems to know them and pays a fee for the bodies, all presumably former insurgents.
Meanwhile, Ryan, visibly uncomfortable about what’s going on at the site, leaves Rabini with the interrogators and brings some food and water to the bodyguard. The two chat in English, and when Ryan asks again about wire transfers and a man named Suleiman, the bodyguard stays silent but seems to know something. Ryan also notices he has scarring on his hands that look like burn marks.
After the dead bodies are deposited in a room and left alone, we see one corpse start to move. Apparently, one of these guys used the Hannibal Lecter trick, disguising himself in human skin and pretending to be dead. The man opens up another body, this one definitely dead, and removes a large gun stashed inside the abdomen. At the same time, a suicide bomber manages to blow the gate off the compound, clearing the way for a caravan of armed men to storm the base.
Inside, the former corpse makes his way to Rabini’s cell and executes him. He then looks for the bodyguard, who’s still locked in a room with Ryan. When he kicks open the door, Ryan grabs the gun, and they wrestle. Just when he’s about to get shot, Ryan grabs a grenade off a fallen soldier and removes the pin. If he’s killed, he warns that the grenade will explode and everyone will die. The bodyguard, who Ryan now realizes is not really a bodyguard, gets the keys to his cuffs and tells his rescuer not to shoot. As they leave the room, Ryan tells the fake bodyguard he knows that he’s really Suleiman.
Suleiman and his friend scale the back wall of the compound and the rest of his men begin to retreat. After they meet up with the group and escape, Suleiman and his rescuer touch their foreheads together in relief.
In the final scene, we flashback to the aftermath of the bombing in 1983. One of the young boys survived and begins searching for his brother, whom he can hear screaming nearby. When he finds him, he sees his legs are crushed under a burning beam of wood. The boy lifts the wood off his brother’s legs, burning his own hands badly in the process. After he’s freed, the two touch foreheads and embrace.