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Tyrant - Spring - Review



FX's Tyrant is a curious show, and one I am deeply conflicted about. A massive disappointment in season one (especially given the network it's on), I decided not to come back for season two. I had seen enough. It was a show that attempted to provide some smart and insightful commentary on Middle Eastern affairs, but was so blunt and clumsy in it's delivery of themes and message, while also failing to contain any interesting characterization (except, perhaps from Ashraf Barhom's Jamal), that I quickly lost interest.

But then I heard from a couple of people - who's opinions I mostly trust - that season two was a significant improvement, and so after a while I binged the whole thing. And truthfully, I had a lot of fun doing so. The show didn't completely abandon it's attempts at political commentary, but what it did do was embrace the pulp factor that was present but restricted in the first season.

Perhaps the show's biggest problem in season one was its protagonist, Bassam "Barry" Al-Fayeed. A character that was rightly criticized when the show first premiered, he was bland, one-dimensional and self-righteous. When the writers attempted to add depth, Adam Rayner was, in my opinion, not quite capable of portraying such complexity. Barry's attitude of being able to come into the country of Abuddin as an outsider with the intent to fix its myriad of problems could have been interesting dramatically if he wasn't right all the time. But him being so correct about every issue grew tiresome quickly.

But the show made a rather brilliant decision with its protagonist at the end of its debut season. It had Barry fail for once, knocking him down a couple a couple of pegs. And his arc then in season two was easily the best thing the show has done, because we got to see a different side of the character, isolated from everyone he knew. Because it turns out, he's kind of a badass. An insufferable moan in season one, he was a ruthless resistance leader in season two. And to be fair to the show, they did set this transformation up in season one via brief flashbacks to his childhood. Yes, Barry was still right ninety percent of the time in season two, but the change in the way he walked, talked and acted made him kind of cool, in a way.

And then the season two finale happened, and when the people of Abuddin started calling for Barry to become the next president, I also wanted it to happen. Why? Because it felt earned, whereas in season one when the writers tried to force his apparent competency on the audience, it wasn't earned at all. But while this move was indeed positive, the apparent decision to kill possibly the show's best character (or at least its most entertaining) in Jamal was worrisome. Ofttimes it felt as if Barhom was in a much trashier show than this (though it can be pretty trashy), but it was fun to watch, and so I would've been disappointed if he left the show.

So perhaps Jamal surviving is my biggest positive abut this season premiere. Overall, I am mostly positive about this episode, though I do have some negatives. Jamal continuing to be a part of the show - though perhaps not as central to the plot, at least in the early part of the season - is heartening. The character is wonderfully complicated, and one is always conflicted as a viewer about how to feel towards him. As well as that, Barhom's performance is so gleefully hammy - and frequently ridiculous - that it helps to liven the show up when it gets a little too self serious. Jamal often feels like a character lifted from another show, but I tend to enjoy him so much that I find myself not caring.

But while one cast member (rather surprisingly) stuck around, this season premiere also disposed of one, as we said goodbye to Nusrat, the character that engineered the cliffhanger at the end of last season by shooting Jamal. Nusrat was, of course, raped by Jamal in the pilot, and for the most part didn't really do all that much for the remainder of the first season, before receiving more screen-time in the show's sophomore year, which was - to me, at least - a rather welcome development, as she slowly began to not be entirely defined as a victim of sexual abuse.

So the show deciding to kill her off - and in a rather unceremonious, brutal manner - was a little disappointing. She really began to blossom as a character in the second season, though I suppose shooting Jamal was the climax of her arc (therefore, it may have been smarter for the show to actually kill Jamal, in order to make Nusrat's arc more impactful). Her death in this episode really just felt more like housekeeping by the writers than anything else. There really was nowhere else for the character to go that would have been dramatically interesting and engaging. Her death will also likely lead to some conflict between Leila and Ahmed, while it also served to further show the former's ruthless, remorseless nature.

This premiere is primarily concerned with Barry's first days in office as President, and what his presidency will look like going forward. Already political machinations are taking place, so much so that soon enough Tyrant may start looking like House of Cards: Abuddin. Again, Barry's constant competency can be a little irritating. It's often important for a protagonist to be intelligent and resourceful, but he/she has to be wrong occasionally to be dramatically engaging. But Barry remain mostly likable here, and as usual doesn't shy from making significant decisions. One example of which is his decision to hold elections, and that he would not run in them. This decision was, of course, much to the chagrin of Leslie Hope's Lea Exley (who basically functions as the face of the U.S government), as at the end of the episode we witness the arrival of U.S troops.

Oh, and what's that I smell in the air? *inhales* Is that what I think it is? *inhales again* Why, yes it is. A love triangle! The most wonderfully contrived form of dramatic tension in existence. Due to Daliyah's continued presence in the series, it looks like she will prove a source of tension in Barry' marriage, as seeing Daliyah for the first time made Molly instantly jealous. Of course, Barry (that sly dog) played the whole thing very cool, but that is sure not to last. Now, I am someone that absolutely loathes love triangles, not because I'm against the concept, but because they almost always feel like a forced source of dramatic tension in a series (though there are some good examples, such as Hulu's The Path, which is a show almost entirely built atop a love triangle). And I can't say I'm looking forward to this one, but the silver lining is that it does ensure that we'll see more Daliyah, who is a likable character who was introduced in season two.

This leads into what - or perhaps I should say who - is my biggest problem with the show: Molly. There have been many characters like Molly on television over the last fifteen years or so: the wife of the protagonist. These characters can be of great depth (e.g Carmela Soprano or Betty Draper), they can be competent and consistent (e.g Skyler White), or they can be terrible, and Molly is the prime example of the latter. In the first season she was so ill-defined it was unbelievable, her motivations and core character traits malleable depending on the demands of the plot. The show made feeble attempts at giving her depth in season two, but to no avail. And now she has returned to being the inconsistent cipher she was in season one. Take, for example, her stare-down with Daliyah late in the episode, in which she showed a certain coldness and cunning that she never had before. This woman is supposed to be a doctor from California, a rather ordinary - though obviously intelligent - American woman. And now the show wants to turn her into Claire Underwood. That development could have been fascinating to witness on screen, but instead it feels rushed and under-cooked.

Being honest, I'm not sure how to feel about this episode, as it's sole purpose was to simply rearrange the pieces on the board for the new season. It did so competently, though until I see more episodes I really can't say whether I like the direction the show is going in. There's some things I haven't talked about, like the fact that Ihab Rashid is still alive and kicking (though ever so slightly burned and maimed), and will surely continue to be a thorn in the side of other characters. But what I can say is I was glad to be back in this world once again, and I didn't not enjoy what I watched. I suppose that says something.




About the Author - candon_sean
Sean is a student living in Ireland. He has a keen interest in dramatic television (as well as some comedies). Some of his favourite shows right now include The Leftovers, The Americans, Game of Thrones, Black Sails, Mr Robot and Person of Interest. Some of his favourite shows of all time include The Wire, The Sopranos, Deadwood, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Lost. He is also an ""A Song of Ice and Fire"" obsessive. You can visit his blog at www.discussingtelevision.wordpress.com.
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