Spoilers follow for Prime Video series The Terminal List.
There once was a time when Taylor Kitsch did not exclusively play military-adjacent characters, but that time has passed. Post–Friday Night Lights and the underperforming triple whammy of John Carter (underappreciated!), Battleship, and Savages, Kitsch has settled into a career nearly universally populated by law-enforcement guys. There are the outliers in content (Waco, The Normal Heart, Only the Brave) and the roles that fall within these limitations but in which Kitsch’s work is quite good (the second season of True Detective). For the most part, though, Kitsch is on a certain path, and that path led him to The Terminal List, Prime Video’s adaptation of Jack Carr’s best-selling novel and its current No. 1 streaming series.
The Terminal List is, to put it plainly, one of the worst things I’ve watched in a long time. Like Prime Video’s 2021 film Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse, it is a chest-thumping miasma of patriotic aggression and xenophobic paranoia, and wholly predictable in its presentation of both. (Example: The first interior-design suggestion made by Chris Pratt’s character as he’s walking through the new home he’s bought with his wife is about where his guns will go.) The gist: Pratt plays a Navy SEAL whose platoon is mysteriously killed in Syria and who is then framed back home for the murders of his wife and daughter. After he assumes that Iranian military forces are somehow operating out of San Francisco and targeting him, he immediately becomes a domestic terrorist who assassinates and bombs his way through eight episodes in which he’s never positioned as anything less than a morally right hero. In fact, the only heroes are the U.S. military, and everyone else — government officials, defense contractors, journalists, civilians, and of course those Iranians living both abroad and inside the U.S. — is the enemy. Carr has sneered at critics who disliked the show by calling them “triggered,” but mostly, I was just bored.
And yet. And yet! I watched all eight episodes of this thing because this is how Taylor Kitsch looks in it:
Tan. Bearded. Tattooed. Smirking! I am weak! And in case you are weak, too, but very understandably not willing to devote eight hours of your life to The Terminal List, I am here to tell you everything that Kitsch does in these episodes.
Episode 1: “The Engram”
In the premiere, which starts with Pratt’s James Reece quoting the Bible, Kitsch’s Ben Edwards picks up Reece after he returns home from the disastrous Odin’s Sword mission in Syria. Ben, who works for the CIA now but previously served with Reece, is wearing what will end up being his series uniform: slim-fit jeans, a knit top, mirrored sunglasses, very Bodhi–Point Break energy. His shirt shows off his forearm tattoos, which helps distract me from the fact that Ben mentions connecting with “Persia House” for information on the Iranian chemical-weapons-maker Reece is convinced murdered his men. (“Persia House” is a unit of the CIA devoted to gathering intelligence in and about Iran; it’s cute that The Terminal List mentions this effort but not the 1953 coup of the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh that the CIA helped engineer. Anyway!) We also learn in this episode that Ben is heavily inked, with a bunch of Navy- and military-themed artwork, including a gigantic ship on his back, a wolf on his chest, and, interestingly, a line from a Walt Whitman poem: “I am the man, I suffered, I was there.” Unexpected!
Episode 2: “Encoding”
Reece’s wife Lauren (Riley Keough) and daughter Lucy (Arlo Mertz) have been assassinated, and Kitsch’s Ben helps carry one of their coffins at the joint funeral. Reece, Reece’s uncle figure Marco (Marco Rodríguez), and Ben and Reece’s pilot friend and fellow service member Liz Riley (Tyner Rushing) give Ben crap for his series of failed marriages while also sharing memories of Lauren and Lucy. Ben’s one story about how much he liked Lauren involves a time he slept over and urinated on her couch, and I am beginning to understand why this man has had a string of divorces. After the funerals, even though Ben is “on Yemen time” (where the U.S. had been helping Saudi Arabia for a while, despite a pattern of war crimes!), he agrees to assist Reece in hunting down the first person on his kill list, who is played by Warren Kole, the same actor who portrays hapless husband Jeff on Yellowjackets. It’s unclear whether his character on The Terminal List was also devastated by news that book club was not real, though, because Reece assassinates him with Ben’s help.
Also of note in this episode: The seemingly unironic use of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” an antiwar protest song, while pro-war Reece is planning the aforementioned murder. The Terminal List also uses Bob Dylan’s similarly critical “Masters of War” in another episode, and I am begging people to actually read the lyrics, like, ever.
Episode 3: “Consolidation”
Reece kills another pursuer and is on the run hiding in a motel, so Ben stops by to deliver him a burrito and give him news that the NCIS has put out a BOLO, or “be on the lookout” warning, for Reece because he killed the NCIS agent played by Kole. Ben calls Reece “brother” many, many times throughout the series, but this first time, it’s in promising that he’ll have Reece’s back: “This isn’t an obligation for me, brother.” Reece replies by mocking Ben as being “dressed like Big Lebowski,” which isn’t exactly inaccurate. Ben later puts on a Titleist cap while scoping out a golf tournament where some of Reece’s other targets are doing business, and later on he and Reece chat about why Ben left the service: “too many” rules. Are you getting the sense that Ben’s role within the CIA is probably pretty gross? As am I!
Episode 4: “Detachment”
Reece and Riley fly to Mexico because Marco has some information on the sicario that killed Lauren and Lucy, and Ben meets them there. He wears a forearm-bearing T-shirt; I appreciate that so much that I actually wrote in my notes, “short sleeves, thank God.” Mexico seems very windy, which means that Ben’s hair waves around a lot, roguishly and rakishly. I appreciate that, too. Finally, when Reece and Ben attack the sicario compound during a thunderstorm and Reece captures the assassin, guts him, and uses his own intestines to hang him, a stony-faced Ben listens outside. It’s all very intense and somber, which is basically the only vibe The Terminal List aims for.
Episode 5: “Disruption”
Flashback time! The reason that Reece and Ben are friends with Riley is because back in 2007, when they were all serving in Najaf, Iraq, Riley’s helicopter crashed and military command wanted to abandon her there, but Reece and Ben broke protocol and went to save her. Kitsch’s Ben is briefly in the opening of this episode for that flashback, then appears later on when — again interrupted in the middle of a nap, cuing the line “I swear, you time your calls just to wake me up” — Reece calls him to investigate military contractor Steve Horn (Jai Courtney) and the investors in his company. Ben is a little wary (“We are going way past side hustle here” he says of Reece constantly asking him to access CIA resources for help), but still gives him the list of actual people tied to the shell companies supporting Horn. That’s all we see of Ben this episode, as Riley helps Reece build a bomb and then murder Horn and his security team in broad daylight in downtown San Francisco. At first, she’s like, “But the civilians!”, but then Reece guilt-trips her into remembering what happened in Najaf, and that’s that. 🤷🤷🤷
Episode 6: “Transience”
Reece is on the run, but while Riley is worried about his safety as he climbs into the mountains with the FBI in pursuit, Ben is pleased that rain will make the agents’ tracking work harder: “Fucking frogman luck right there. Reece at 50 percent is better than most at 100.” And of course, he’s right; Reece evades the FBI and detonates a bomb to trigger a landslide and keep them off his back. That’s about it for Ben in this episode, except for when he picks up Reece on the beach in the closing seconds and again, unfortunately, looks very hot. Just a reminder, so you don’t have to scroll up:
Damn this man and his stupid face!
Episode 7: “Extinction”
We’ve almost reached endgame, as Reece’s kill list is narrowed down to the higher-ups at the United States Naval Special Warfare Command (WARCOM). Thanks to Ben’s intel, Reece knows it was WARCOM who helped plan the failed Odin’s Sword mission, which was to cover up its testing of a pharmaceutical drug on Reece and his platoon that gave them all brain tumors. Not only that, but the cover-up also included the murders of Lauren and Lucy to frame Reece so no one would believe his story about the RD-4895 drug being used on himself and his fellow SEALs without their knowledge. Ben poses as an FBI agent to kidnap one of the three WARCOM guys, stands by while Reece threatens to murder this guy’s son in front of him, and then helps the guy strap on a suicide-bomb vest that Reece created and sends him into WARCOM headquarters. By the end of the episode, Reece and Ben have killed all three WARCOM members, leaving only Secretary of Defense Lorraine Hartley (Jeanne Tripplehorn) on the terminal list as the person who ordered the RD-4895 testing in the first place. Reece can prove her approval via various federal documentation. A remaining mystery, though, is the person behind the shell company Oberon Analytics, which received a payout of $20 million from Horn and which the FBI, despite all its digging, could not tie to a specific individual. It has to be Hartley, right?
Episode 8: “Reclamation”
Huzzah! The end! This finale starts off with Reece and Ben all over the news, and with various roadblocks and checkpoints interrupting their route to Hartley’s house, where they’re going to murder her. But somehow, Ben’s “Patrick Swayze who lives in his van” disguise (Reece’s description) works on the cops, and the two men pass through.
Once they reach Hartley’s mansion, now being protected by private military contractors, the two share a teary, seemingly final good-bye and start their attack. Ben takes up sniper duty from a nearby lighthouse, he and Reece kill dozens of people, and Reece gets into Hartley’s panic room just in time to see her kill herself. But then! One of the FBI agents lets Reece and Ben go since they were like, justified! Three weeks later, there is “sweeping reform at the Pentagon” (lol) after Hartley’s RD-4895 testing and the Odin’s Sword cover-up are revealed, Reece is still missing, and we end up at Máncora, Peru — the country where Reece learns Oberon Analytics was based out of.
Because, twist, Ben was Oberon all along! We learn that WARCOM reached out to him and told him that Reece and the platoon were dying as a result of the experiment, and so Ben planned Odin’s Sword because “I thought, Let ’em die with their fucking boots on rather than some hospital bed,” but he didn’t know Lauren and Lucy would die, and look, he hasn’t even spent one cent of that $20 million yet. Reece is slightly moved by this admission and by Ben showing off his new bone-frog tattoo in honor of fallen Navy SEALs, but he still shoots his best friend in a moment straight from The Godfather: Part II. In our final, too-brief glimpse of shirtless Kitsch, we see the “Bila Sitikiko” rib tattoo that is his own, meaning “no regrets.”
Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for the eight hours I spent watching The Terminal List. Save yourselves!