The premiere of FX’s long-anticipated Tyrant, which went through a number of directors and rewrites before settling on the current story and style (that is, a glossy Middle Eastern Godfather, in a flattering comparison), caused a divisive reaction. With the Homeland pedigree, and FX’s great (though not perfect) track record with new dramas, Tyrant was poised to potentially be the next big thing for the network. But the premiere left viewers and critics unsure. And in its second episode, “State of Emergency,” Tyrant showed there are still many kinks to be worked out. On the whole, though, it still has something elusive about it that makes watching it worthwhile. Hit the jump for why there is more to life than treating overprivileged children with ear infections.
Like the FX series The Bridge, which returns for its second season this month (which I gave up on in the first season), Tyrant seems like a niche show that viewers will either take to or not, but it’s not going to be one of the great prestige dramas of television. Tyrant‘s connection to a Godfather-esque story makes it appealing because it’s a setup we know: a man runs from his complicated past, but is drawn back into its world in a way that makes us — and him — question his motivations for doing so. Is it really about family, or about the seduction of power?
For Bassam, it’s a little bit of both. “State of Emergency” followed up on the pilot by fleshing out Bassam’s past with his home country, including a long-ago affair with Leila before she married Jamal, as well as his role as protector of his brother (and defiant of his father). The flashback of him killing a man as a child last week looked like it could have been Bassam stepping up and showing his father that it was he who deserved to lead. But instead, this week, it was revealed that Bassam simply wanted his bullying father to leave Jamal alone.
Unfortunately, Adam Rayner‘s Bassam continues to lack the necessary charisma to carry the character’s weight in the series, and to more fully portray his quandary regarding whether he should run away to California again, or stay and help his family in the wake of his father’s death. The far more interesting power dynamic is that of Leila, who is controlled by Jamal, but clearly holds her own within the family (even lightly threatening the doctor who performed the procedure to make sure it “stays off Twitter”). In fact, most of the Al-Fayeed family presents opportunities for intrigue and drama. It’s Bassam’s American family who needs to step up.
Essentially, Tyrant is somehow greater than the sum of its parts in their case: the story Sammy and his potential lover Abdul is going in a clear direction, but moving at a glacial pace. Daughter Emma is falling dangerously close into Dana Brody territory already, by sulking around and adding nothing to the story or her own character’s development. Molly is reduced to lurking around the palace, waiting for Bassam at every turn, giving him sad eyes of sympathy, not doing anything on her own but existing as his comfort blanket that he partially rejects. Yet it still more or less comes together under the assumption that sooner or later, these pieces are going to start fitting together more compellingly.
Even the central plot of the episode — the kidnapping of Nusrat — lacked any stakes, except for the fact that this poor girl can’t seem to catch a break. There also doesn’t seem to be the suggestion of any retribution for Jamal having raped her in the prior episode. Yet. However, the situation with the child soldiers being confused about their mission, and ultimately not being able to be saved by Bassam, was an interesting dialogue that deserved more time and attention, as did the motivations and desires of the resistance fighters, and Bassam’s defiance of his uncle, Tariq.
Tyrant is scattered, both in tone and message and character-building, but there’s something about it that is still captivating. It also still has a lot to prove. More evidence is needed …
Episode Rating: Baladian Al-Fayeeds: A-, American Al-Fayeeds: C+
— I liked that Jamal’s accident was reclassified as an “attack.” Finally, a woman got her moment on this show! (Although … died for it).
— Jamal telling the doctor to “speak English” was too much. Couldn’t he have just said “speak plainly”? English?? Come on, this show already has a believability problem on that front, don’t make it more obvious than it already is.
— “Father called him the hammer, every problem is the nail” – Jamal regarding Tariq.
— “You can’t pay your respects to a man you disrespected your entire life” – Amira.
— Justin Kirk‘s John Tucker actually being useful and on the right side of things in this episode was confusing. I thought he was just in it for the sunshine and free drinks.
— “Terrorists start young here, like gymnasts” – Tariq. Ooooh, lawd …
— Nusrat’s attempt at getting one of the boys to release her was to promise he’ll see boobs one day if he does. Hmm.
— “Even if I run away again, isn’t it still on my head?” – Bassam. Family ties, y’all.