Reacher is a win for everyone who likes Lee Child's novels and wanted a TV series. The fans finally got the live-action Jack Reacher they always wanted to see. Alan Ritchson finally has a vehicle that uses him well and has turned him into a breakout star. Child has a TV adaptation he's reportedly happy with. Showrunner Nick Santora and his writing staff have a massively successful show that will keep them employed for a while. However, there is one thing that concerns me about the series as it moves into its second season. The show softens Reacher, turning him cuddly and network-friendly by the end when it didn't really need to and I'm hoping isn't a sign of things to come.
Reacher adapted the first novel "The Killing Floor" quite faithfully. It keeps all the essential plot beats and details because they're rock-solid and perfect for adaptation. Santora and his staff tweak it just a little bit so that Deputy Roscoe (Willa Fitzgerald) and Detective Finlay (Malcolm Goodwill) become more active players than bystanders to Reacher's antics and people for him to explain the plot to. The writers also introduced Reacher's female counterpart Frances Neagley (Maria Sten) into the story so that she would be the only recurring character in the next seasons in anticipation of a series renewal. Ritchson is the perfect embodiment of Reacher as the fans imagined from the novels. He uses the stillness of his sheer size to convey a cool, confident threat to the bad guys, and as a comedy actor at heart, keeps a subtle layer of dry humour under the surface that leaks out to keep the character from being a robotic stiff.
But then in the second half of the season, the writers start to sneak in the CBS-style softness in Reacher. They pull in scenes from his childhood and early life from the short stories Child wrote later on, but they put in the motif of his brother teaching him when not to cry as if they needed to remind us that Reacher has feelings. That motif is not in the stories. But the biggest softening is in the final 10 minutes of the show when all the bad guys are dead and Reacher has to leave. They have him casually and cheerfully saying goodbye to Roscoe and Findlay before he goes on his merry way. This is not how the book ends. "The Killing Floor" is the first book where Child was still figuring out Reacher's character and he seriously considers settling down permanently with Roscoe in Margate, but they both realize he can't after he singlehandedly killed so many people in the town. The feds would question him and likely charge him for a series of murders. Reacher and Roscoe weep – yes, he cries in the book, the only time he ever does – as she frantically drives him across state lines before the feds arrive, and Reacher takes to the road like David Banner in the Incredible Hulk TV series.
The outcome is the same in the TV show, but the execution is different. It's not as cheerful as the show and rings less true since nobody should be so chipper after they've slaughtered over a dozen people and burned down a warehouse with the bodies in it. In the show, Findlay cheerfully tells Reacher the feds in town are asking for him and he's covering for him so he can sneak away before Reacher goes off to cheerfully say goodbye to Roscoe. It's all soft-centered in the way network TV and CBS shows are, which isn't necessary when this is a show on a streaming service. It dilutes Reacher as the hardened, deadly unstoppable force that the show spent the first half of the season establishing.
But hey, the fans are happy, Child is happy (he had worked in television for 20 years before he became a novelist so he knows how the business works), and Amazon Studios is happy enough to renew the show, so things are fine. Let's just hope the writers don't keep softening Reacher in the next seasons till he's just a giant teddy bear.
Reacher is streaming on Amazon Prime.