The Big Picture
- Chris Pratt’s performance as James Reece in The Terminal List is exceptional, seamlessly bringing the character from the page to the screen.
- The TV series differs from the original novel in several ways, including the handling of Reece’s family’s deaths and the composition of the “terminal list” itself.
- Despite the changes, The Terminal List remains a solid adaptation that provides a relatively faithful portrayal of the story, appealing particularly to its target audience of soldiers and armed forces personnel.
In 2022, Chris Pratt took the streaming world by storm when he starred as Lieutenant Commander James Reece on Prime Video’s The Terminal List. The series–executive produced by Antoine Fuqua–is based on the first of Jack Carr‘s thriller novels following the ex-Navy SEAL and received pretty mixed reviews upon release. Nevertheless, fans flocked to the series, and it soon became a hit described by some as “your dad’s new favorite show.” But how close to the novel is the streaming adaptation? Well, as far as we can tell, this is a situation where the basic idea is the same, while the particulars are vastly different.
What Is ‘The Terminal List’ About?
The Terminal List follows James Reece after his SEAL unit is attacked in an ambush, leaving all of them dead but Reece and his buddy Ernest “Boozer” Vickers (Jared Shaw). But Boozer doesn’t last for long, and after he is killed back home, Reece suspects a cover-up for something more sinister. Unfortunately, the Lieutenant Commander asks all the wrong questions, and as a result an assassination attempt nearly kills him. Though Reece survives, his family is also a target, and his wife Lauren (Riley Keough) and daughter Lucy (Arlo Mertz) are murdered in their own home.
With nothing left to lose, Reece aims to enact a blend of justice and vengeance on those responsible for killing both his family and his unit, targeting them via a ‘terminal list’ he puts together while uncovering the conspiracy. To make matters worse, Reece also has a brain tumor that is the result of experiments done on him and his team that he had no prior knowledge of. Because of this, Reece is confronted by war correspondent Katie Buranek (Constance Wu) who hopes to break the story and blow the lid on what the government has been up to. Unfortunately, Reece’s bloody trail of bodies gets in the way.
The series ultimately deals with themes of grief, betrayal, and the stresses of coming home from war, specifically separating the battlefield from “normal life.” Though Chris Pratt isn’t the usual casting for a serious, political thriller-type role, he gives an exceptional performance as James Reece, bringing the character seamlessly from the page to the screen. Since the release of the original novel in 2018, author Jack Carr (who serves as an executive producer on the series) has written five follow-up adventures, with the most recent, Only The Dead, having been published in 2023.
In the ‘Terminal List’ Books, James Reece Flies Solo and Things Are a Lot More Intense
In The Terminal List, Reece decides to stage his one-man mission against the United States military-industrial complex in order to find out just who ordered the hit on both his unit and his family. It’s not a hard decision for the Navy SEAL, who will stop at nothing to see that those responsible pay in full. But unlike in the series where he has some much-needed help from his friends, the book sees Reece flying solo on this mission, going at this entire thing alone. While a show all about Reece on his own would no doubt be compelling, adding some recurring characters gave him the type of support system he needed in the wake of his wife and daughter’s deaths.
Speaking of, the deaths of Reece’s family are handled a bit differently in the book, and it’s arguably more tragic. Instead of fending off an assassination attempt of his own (which doesn’t happen in the novel) before finding their bodies at home, Reece never sees his wife and daughter again. Since the police are already at his front door, they don’t let him in to see his wife Lauren on the ground, and his daughter Lucy has already been taken to the hospital, though she dies en route. As it turns out, Lauren Reece fought off the assassins with a pistol, but it wasn’t enough. Talk about a depressing chapter.
Though the series has Reece and his unit in Syria during their ambush, the book’s version takes place in Afghanistan. As Reece travels across North America to find those he’s marked on his titular list, he comes across folks like Hammadi Izmail Masood, an ISIS supporter living in the U.S. partially responsible for the ambush. Reece kills Masood soon after and displays his head on a pike with an ISIS flag draped over it. No wonder they took that part out. Also, that bit in Mexico where Reece is looking for a lone assassin who killed his family, El Navajas (Albert Valladares), isn’t how it goes down. In the novel, Reece kills everyone in the compound, and though he finds one guy who has a bullet wound he connects to Lauren’s pistol, it’s a complete and utter bloodbath.
Ben Edwards Isn’t Who You Think He Is in the Book
Compared to the novel, Taylor Kitsch‘s Ben Edwards–Reece’s best friend and a former SEAL himself–is played a bit differently in the Prime Video series. On the show, Kitsch plays Ben as a sympathetic character, who is in on the brain tumor conspiracy but is deeply repentant of his actions. As a result, he helps Reece track down the names on his list and finds the info necessary to hunt them down. In the Season 1 finale, “Reclamation,” Ben helps Reece infiltrate Secretary of Defense Lorraine Hartley’s (Jeanne Tripplehorn) compound, rescue Katie, and complete his mission. It’s only afterward that Ben confesses his involvement in the death of Reece’s unit, though he pleads innocent to the deaths of his family.
When Reece kills Ben on the show, it’s a highly emotional moment that is pretty tough to watch. In fact, we don’t even see the final blow as it cuts to an establishing shot, with only the final gunshot heard. In the books, Ben Edwards is handled a bit differently. For starters, as we alluded to before, he doesn’t aid Reece much on his mission at all, but more than that, he’s a member of the conspiracy from the beginning. At the end of the book, Reece kills Hartley, Steve Horn (Jai Courtney, who dies much earlier on the show), and Ben all at the same time after the three of them hide out in Hartley’s compound, with Katie as their hostage (complete with an armed explosive).
The book portrays Ben Edwards as a much more manipulative and conniving character than we see on the show, and while some may consider this disingenuous to the original source material, the change is necessary. Kitsch’s portrayal of the character was one of the best parts of the first season, and while it’s sad that he won’t be a part of the story going forward, it’s no wonder that Amazon has already greenlit a Ben Edwards-centered prequel series.
The Terminal List Is Different in the Original Novel
Unsurprisingly, the actual terminal list itself differs a bit in the show compared to how it’s presented in the novel. Yes, the basic idea between the two is the same, but who is actually on it is a different story. In the show, the list is as follows: “Josh Holder, Saul Agnon, Steve Horn, Marcus Boykin, Navajas, Pillar, Cox, Howard, Lorraine Hartley, Ben Edwards,” while the novel adds the entire CJNG Mexico cartel, changes pillar’s name to Admiral Gerald Pilsner, and also includes Mike Tedesco, J.D. Hartley, Leonard Howard, and Hammadi Izmail Masood. Obviously, Masood was cut out of the story entirely, and Reece’s raid in Mexico focused on one man, El Navajas, rather than an entire group of sicarios, but clearly, there are other important changes.
Interestingly, The Terminal List re-imagines Dr. Mike Tedesco (Paul McCrane), the CEO of Capstone’s subsidiary Nubellum (the ones directly responsible for the RD4895 drug), as a somewhat sympathetic character. Eventually, Tedesco goes to Katie with top-secret information and is killed as a result. In the book, however, Tedesco is not only on Reece’s list, but he’s the one that the wayward SEAL sends to Admiral Gerald Pilsner (Nick Chinlund‘s Admiral Pillar in the show) to blow him up in a fiery homemade explosion. For James Reece, no one gets left alive.
Another noticeable change between the book and the show is that, in the show, Captain Leonard Howard (Matthew Rauch) and his family never make it to the Florida Keys, instead they’re apprehended by Ben Edwards who takes them to Reece. Afterward, Reece sends Howard to blow up Admiral Pillar (taking Tedesco’s role from the book), and his family is let go. In the novel, Reece finds Howard and his family in the Keys, where he leaves the disgraced Captain to the fish.
Which Characters Are Added or Changed for ‘The Terminal List’ Series?
Aside from the previously mentioned revisions, there’s another bit from The Terminal List novel that plays out differently on the show. In the novel, Reece goes to Katie Buranek with the information on the conspiracy following his family’s murder, seeking her out in the process. In the book, she’s described more as a Katie Pavlich-type, which is likely why the conservative commentator appeared briefly on-screen in two episodes of the Prime Video series. The show paints Katie as the go-getter this time around, pushing Reece for the story she so desperately wants to tell. It’s an understandable change, but possibly an unnecessary one.
J.D. Pardo‘s FBI Agent Tony Layun was created just for the show, and this thoughtful addition heightens the suspense as Reece does his Rambo thing in the mountains and in the climactic raid on the Hartley compound. Speaking of, in the novel, it’s not Lorraine Hartley who is the Secretary of Defense (though she’s still involved in the conspiracy and on Reece’s list), but rather her husband J.D. Hartley. The show removes Mr. Hartley entirely, focusing instead on Lorraine’s part in the story and replacing J.D. as the villainous Secretary of Defense. The show also makes her motives a little more sympathetic compared to the novel, which mostly just paints the Hartleys as much more self-seeking. In fact, the way Steve Horn dies in the show is how J.D. Hartley dies in the book, with Horn being one of the final members of the conspiracy filled in the novel’s climactic end.
There are a handful of characters from the book who are never addressed in the show, also, such as Raife Hastings, a character briefly mentioned as coming through for Reece with the boat needed to get to Hartley’s island. In the novel, Raife and Reece are buddies who met back at the University of Montana in the mid-1990s, and he even helps Reece escape New York. Hopefully, he’ll appear in Season 2.
Despite the Changes, ‘The Terminal List’ Is a Solid Adaptation
Although there are some significant changes between the page and the screen, Prime Video’s The Terminal List remains a relatively faithful adaptation. The basic story is still there, James Reece is arguably the same guy, and the events of the season still set up the second book, True Believer, which will likely be the basis for the second season. That’s right, although The Terminal List would work well as a story on its own, the series has been greenlit for a second season, which should expand even more on Reece’s current outlaw status. How closely it’ll follow the remainder of author Jack Carr’s original books remains to be seen.
There’s no denying that The Terminal List has been somewhat controversial, but, according to Carr, most of that criticism has come from folks who aren’t a part of their target audience. According to the author/executive producer, The Terminal List was made for soldiers, sailors, airmen, and those in the armed forces who went to places like Iraq and Afghanistan. As one of Prime Video’s biggest successes in recent years, The Terminal List proves that there is an audience for shows like this, and though other stories about Navy SEALs (such as Paramount+’s SEAL Team) are out there, this one is pretty unique.
The Terminal List is available for streaming exclusively on Prime Video in the U.S.
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