The Terminal List review: Overly dense plotting and a dour tone get in the way of Chris Pratt’s inherent charm in Amazon Prime Video’s big-budget show.
Yet another bloated Prime Video series dedicated to pleasing dads and nobody else, The Terminal List is a little too eager to alienate star Chris Pratt’s younger-skewing Marvel fanbase as it settles into its dense Kindle potboiler plot. It’s part conspiracy thriller and part Hitchcockian drama; a show that definitely has points to make, but takes too long to make them.
Pratt plays James Reece, a Navy SEAL whose entire squad is caught in a deadly ambush in the show’s action-packed opening episode. He survives, but notices that his memory of the doomed operation is very fuzzy. When he discovers that other surviving members of his squad are suddenly dropping dead, he is led to believe that they were all a part of a conspiracy that they weren’t meant to walk away from.
Together with a scrappy journalist, played by Constance Wu, and his CIA operative brother, played by Taylor Kitsch, Reece goes on a mission to uncover the truth. He is pursued by hitmen, gangsters, and other miscellaneous government higher-ups, as everybody rushes to keep him from pulling the curtain on whatever shady operation he’s stumbled upon.
There is no way to talk about The Terminal List properly without revealing some of its potentially surprising twists, the first of which comes at the end of episode one. By definition, stories such as this always struggle to balance the character moments with propulsive plots. And The Terminal List is no different. But one particularly harrowing personal tragedy that Reece is struck by hardly registers at all. And that’s on the show. Instead of taking a breath and acknowledging the gravity of the situation, it pushes Reece further into his mission, at the risk of making him seem rather cold, even though—and this is crucial—the personal tragedy is his only motivation to continue.
The show at least seems to be aware of this problem, and addresses it timidly when it chucks Reece into repeated emotional spirals. But this is diluted by the suggestion that his brain might’ve been addled by the authorities.
We are also told, over and over again, that Reece is a particularly remorseless killer—and certainly, we see him murder dozens of people over the course of the show’s eight episodes—but for some reason, Pratt doesn’t fit the part. It’s not because of his history as a comedic performer, but perhaps because of his limitations as a dramatic one. By comparison, John Krasinski was able to shed similar baggage as he transitioned to more serious territory, and was mostly believable as the star of another Prime Video series directed at essentially the same demographic, Jack Ryan.
The big statement that The Terminal List is trying to make is that the American government doesn’t care about its soldiers at all. One episode, for instance, features Bob Dylan’s famous flower power anthem Masters of War, which was written in response to the escalating Cold War tensions between the US and the USSR. And admittedly, when the conspiracy at the centre of The Terminal List is finally explained, it’s kooky enough to engage with on a theoretical level, and yet, close enough to reality to make you seethe.
Nearly every episode of the show has been directed by a different filmmaker, with Antoine Fuqua’s pilot setting the tone for the rest. And it’s dour to a fault, not only because it sidelines Pratt’s natural charisma, but also because this story is inherently ridiculous. And it wouldn’t have hurt anybody to be slightly tongue-in-cheek in telling it. As it stands, the show makes every character come across as a bit too robotic; each of them has a job to do, and little else. So, while you may empathise with them on a fundamental level, it’s difficult to stay invested in their journeys because the series doesn’t provide a strong enough sense of who they are as people.
That being said, The Terminal List does what it says on the tin—it’s handsomely produced, features a handful of good-looking people, keeps the twists and turns coming regularly—and for its audience, this could be enough.
The Terminal List
Creator – David DiGilio
Cast – Chris Pratt, Taylor Kitsch, Constance Wu, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Riley Keough
Rating – 3/5