‘The Terminal List’ review: Sublime Chris Pratt anchors a middling action series

If not for Pratt’s pitch-perfect portrayal of a well-written protagonist and some great action choreography, this series might have ended up being an exhausting watch

July 05, 2022 03:49 pm | Updated 03:49 pm IST

Chris Pratt from ‘The Terminal List’

Chris Pratt from ‘The Terminal List’ | Photo Credit: -

"It's a mistake to push a man to violence when violence is what he has dedicated his life to perfecting." This popular anonymous quote paints a picture of a broken, wronged soldier who is pushed to the edge in Chris Pratt emThe Terminal List.

Pratt embodies a character called James Reece, and he utters the above quote at a crucial moment. For someone who comes across as a breathing testament of a methodical war machine, whose emotions are supplemented by logic, this line comes across as a moment of vulnerability, encapsulating what The Terminal List is about.

The soul of the show is Reece, the Commander of SEAL Team 7, who loses everything near and dear. During a covert underground mission in Syria, Reece's SEAL team is unexpectedly ambushed by enemy forces and 12 of his men perish. The wounded, confused, and grieving Reece heads back home, only to suffer more personal tragedies; days after his friend and fellow team member dies suspiciously, people closest to Reece are assassinated by a mysterious gang. The show doesn't even give him a breather to process the shock. The authorities begin to suspect Reece, who we now realise is suffering from PTSD and a tumour in his brain from the failed mission. Did a mentally-unstable soldier kill his own? Is he hallucinating these assassins? Or is there a bigger conspiracy at play?

The Terminal List
Creator: David DiGilio
Cast: Chris Pratt, Constance Wu, Taylor Kitsch, Jeanne Tripplehorn
Runtime: 8 episodes, 51–65 minutes each
Storyline: A battered, disturbedSEAL commander, James Reece, heads back home after a doomed mission in Syria which resulted in 12 of his men being killed suspiciously. Upon reaching home, things turn for worse as people closest to Reece die mysteriously

Reece goes on a mission to avenge the fallen and find the truth. The series begins with a great first episode, directed by Antonio Fuqua, that aptly registers the tone of the ones that are to follow. Every moment, in the series of tragic events that happened to Reece, is elaborated. In fact, the series takes its time to show us the real weight of trauma that Reece is suffering from. Recurring flashbacks and fascinating dream-like sequences even make him an unreliable narrator of sorts for some time.

The subsequent episodes, however, fail to capitalise on this start. Ordinary sequences with ordinary turns of events are stretched and stacked one after the other, and the broader narrative takes quite some time to unravel. A series that already reads like the 'PTSD-suffering American soldier on a revenge mission' cliche cannot afford to have such exhausting episodes.

The show eventually finds its strength in the final three episodes that don't try too many things out of the ordinary, and yet manage to surprise us now and then. The action choreography, particularly in these episodes, is a treat to watch. The writing of these 'sub-missions' is concise and the writers seem to have taken a leaf out of many older conventional greats in the genre, like Rambo. Specifically, there is a riveting chase scene set in the woods that leaves a lasting impact.

Unfortunately, even here, there is a lot of convenience in how Reece escapes the chase finally. Convenience might also be the reason for the show's liberty in changing moral stand on whom to kill and whom not to kill. For a series that puts in so much effort to get us behind the hero's cause, such discrepancies don't help.

Moreover, a character like Reece doesn't deserve such convenient settlements. From afar, he seems to be cut from the same mould as Frank Castle (Punisher), Jack Reacher (Reacher), or Jack Ryan (the TV series). They are all unbreakable, stoic, superable soldier characters who are placed in stories about revenge/false accusation/government conspiracy. Reece stands apart in the unhesitant, expansive depiction of his vulnerabilities; Pratt's gloomy eyes almost settle on our screen for some time. We see him suffer more than he wins, and the human condition of it only adds more to those moments of triumph, like those big action sequences where he single-handedly destroys all obstacles. Even when he has support, Reece is alone in his struggle. In the eyes of the world, he is the cure that became the disease. Interestingly, when he finds the truth that he chases, even that is a cure that became the disease.

On the flip side, the space that Reece takes, leaves nothing for fleshing out the many antagonists of this world. Many of them get just a dialogue at most to explain why they did what they did. Thankfully, other pivotal characters like Katie Buranek (Constance Wu), a war correspondent, and Ben Edwards (Taylor Kitsch), a CIA operative, get full-fledged roles.

Despite all the actors giving their best, The Terminal List truly belongs to a terrific Chris Pratt who brings his A-game to the fore. A character arc stretching over eight hours of screen time proves to be a good opportunity for the star to test his acting chops.

Strangely, what might make the series more memorable than the grand action sequences are, in fact, the emotional arcs of the protagonist. From how a flashback of a bird flying into a glass door gets a callback, to how the opening monologue about a biblical tale reverberates throughout the series.... after investing eight very long hours, we are left with a few good things to ponder about.

The Terminal List is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video

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