Tyrant‘s third episode, “My Brother’s Keeper,” suggested that the series wants to soar to great heights, but it doesn’t quite know how to get there. The hour was full of political intrigue and interest, yet it also dragged. The extreme complications in the relationship between Jamal and Bassam were worked out almost instantly thanks to a late night steam bath (not like that … this isn’t Game of Thrones!) There was a public hanging and actual fireworks, yet things felt hollow. Hit the jump for why you may be walking away from an excellent college essay experience.
For all of its desired complexity, Tyrant oversimplifies itself when it has the chance to be so much more. This was forgivable as of the first two episodes — a great show might have come out of the gate with deeper considerations of family and politics, but Tyrant did an ok job of setting up its characters in easily definable boxes. The problem is, they aren’t leaving them.
Usually a new series reveals itself within its first three episodes (though not always — some shows do change and grow by leaps a bounds later), because the creators at least know what they’re going to do with the first season. Season 3, Season 4 … that’s when things sometimes start to fall apart, because the chances of a series lasting that long are so slim, it’s not a prepared-for outcome.
But Tyrant already seems lost to itself. Like I mentioned last week, the Abbudinian Al Fayeeds remain far more interesting than Bassam’s American family, but even they have problems. Jamal is written as a one-dimensional character, but Ashraf Barhom makes him more interesting by his portrayal. Leila’s machinations of power (even though ultimately she doesn’t seem to have any) are also worth exploring, as is the development of Jamal’s over-protected son Ahmed, whose wife in “My Brother’s Keeper” is finally showing signs of the trauma she went through in the first two episodes.
Yet, the series still feels like it’s treading water with these characters, and most, like Leila and Ahmed, don’t get much if any time to themselves to show what they’re up to outside of their relationship with Jamal. As was clear in the steam room scene, Jamal — for all his bluster — still kowtows almost immediately to his brother, whose ideas are exceptionally radical for Abbudin.
The setup for Tyrant moving forward just seems to be that every week, Jamal will do something stupid (or do nothing at all, like quell Tariq’s desire for martial law), and Bassam will clean it up. “My Brother’s Keeper” ended with an interesting consideration though, when Bassam essentially traded the husband of Jamal’s mistress for the freedom of so many rebels like Ihab. Is this him starting to turn? On the other hand, he’s also stepping into a role and playing it exceptionally well for a man who has ignored everything to do with his home country and politics for the past two decades, to the point of farce. Isn’t it important for Bassam to make some clear mistakes, too?
One of Tyrant‘s weakest points is that Bassam’s American family is so isolated that Sammy’s callous statement about a college essay experience speaks to how willfully uninformed they are. Though eye-rolling daughter Emma gives some push-back, it’s mostly in the form of said eye-rolls and sighing (which she presumably does all day). Molly still remains a husk of a character, reduced to still hanging around, desperate for Bassam to run to her and need her comforts. Sammy’s sure-to-be-ill-fated affair with Abdul holds some tangential interest, but other than his sexuality, we know nothing about Sammy.
Tyrant‘s plot wants to move forward quickly (like having Ihab’s uncle almost immediately turn on him, then Ihab imprisoned, then released, all in one episode), but it’s leaving its characterization behind.
Episode Rating: C+
— Jamal provides the show’s only humor, and much of it unintentional. I particularly liked the moment when Bassam was strangling him, and he chokes out to his bodyguard, “It’s ok! He’s my brother!”
— An American named “Rob Duane,” reporting for BBC News from Abbudin? Doubtful.
— Great performance by the man who created the poison for Jamal. At first I thought Bassam was insinuating that Tariq had somehow been the one to give him the poison to get rid of Jamal so he could take over. That would have been a lot more interesting.
— Your kids are fine. Look, they have popsicles!
— “Cigarette?” – Yousef, tired of this BS.
— I wish they had done more with the discussion of American interest in the checkpoints, road blocks and curfews. Fauzi and his daughter provide somewhat of a look at life outside of the palace, but not seemingly enough.
— Molly will presumably shatter into a thousand pieces when she finds out that Bassam sent a father to his death. Or perhaps she’ll become cold and power-hungry like Leila.