tv review – FX’s Tyrant, episode 1.2

Tyrant‘s second episode ‘State Of Emergency’ was a bit more action-oriented than the show’s pilot, but unfortunately that didn’t lead to any exciting moments. It led to clichés instead. ‘State Of Emergency’ was all about Barry trying to find his way in Abbudin after last week’s big events, but it wasn’t particularly interesting: Barry seemed to get pushed around more than that he actually made his own choices. Only the final few scenes really resonated, because Barry finally made a big decision of his own, and because his dynamic and bond with his brother Jamal has been the most interesting element Tyrant has to offer so far. Whenever Adam Rayner and Ashraf Barhom are in the frame together, something happens: there’s palpable brotherly love there, a mutual reverence and the desire to take care of each other. Given Jamal’s car crash he wasn’t around all that much this episode though, which meant the bulk of ‘State Of Emergency’ saw Barry interact with characters who are still far less interesting.

During the aftermath of his father’s death and the failed attempt on his brother’s life, Barry was confronted with another difficult situation: the kidnapping of his nephew’s wife by some very young terrorists. When US ambassador John Tucker (portrayed by Angels In America and Weeds actor Justin Kirk) suggested these terrorists, just kids, would probably listen to Barry, an Al-Fayeed, Barry didn’t take any action. It was only until after a run-in with his mother, who blamed her youngest for his indecisiveness and for what he has put his father and family through, that he decided to step up. Subsequently Barry went in to talk to the terrorists, a poorly crafted scene in which Barry suddenly turned into a star negotiator who only needed a couple of sentences to save his niece (who had failed to talk her way out of the situation herself after she had asked one of her preteen captors if he had seen a woman’s breasts before; the episode’s most cringeworthy moment because of its bluntness and exploitative nature). As a result the this resolution to the hostage situation ‘State Of Emergency’ was built around was laughably bad, and the clunky dialogue and atrocious acting by the young actors portraying the terrorists didn’t help matters either. The outcome itself was also far too predictable: Barry’s uncle Tariq, a trigger-happy general who made it abundantly clear he doesn’t like the Americanized Barry, shot the boys, explaining it’s better to be safe than sorry.

The show’s lack of subtlety was also very apparent in a flashback of Barry and Jamal’s wife Leila. We were shown a scene of the two, back when they were just teens and Barry had decided to leave Abbudin. Via some very on-the-nose dialogue we were explained that Leila was actually in love with Barry back then and that she sacrificed her virginity to keep Barry with her. The idea was solid: to let Tyrant‘s audience sympathize with Leila and to let them understand there’s quite the past between her and Barry. The problem with it though, was again the way the idea was handled: Leila lured Barry into a cave and took of her clothes to seduce him, which didn’t take long. It was oversimplified and a moment curiously devoid of emotion or gravitas, which didn’t make this moment go over as well as its creators had probably hoped. The fact she sacrificed her virginity for him was a big deal, but it didn’t come across as such, more as the easiest and most insensitive of ways to illustrate how much she felt for Barry. It wasn’t tender, or thoughtful, but felt rushed and tacked-on instead, while the male-centric approach to the flashback once again showed Tyrants dubious views on sexuality and gender roles. So far the women haven’t been much more than stock characters and types: the overbearing matriarch, the ex-flame, the nagging wife, the teenage daughter and the lust object. Tyrant really needs to start developing all of its characters more, but especially its female cast: the way the women are written leaves much to be desired and, sometimes, is downright offensive.

During the episode’s last scenes Jamal was excused from the hospital, in order to deliver a speech in honor of his father. When he didn’t like the words that were written for him, Barry advised his brother to improvise and tell the truth, which Jamal did in a surprisingly effective manner. It seemed a bit to clean and well-thought-out to really come of as improvised, but the moment itself was rather touching, which, again, had mostly to do with the chemistry between Barhom’s Jamal and Rayner’s Barry. The moment that succeeded it, when Barry called his brother in the middle of the night to let him know he would stick around, was also beautifully acted, especially by Barhom. A strange editing choice lessened its impact though: the cut to credits was way too quick and that editorial decision didn’t grant the episode’s final scene any room to breathe. Hopefully Tyrant‘s third outing will give the two brothers more screen time together and also delve a little deeper into what Barry’s family is going through: we saw very little of them during ‘State Of Emergency’, even though Barry’s son was busy trying to hook up with the son of his family’s head of security, which will probably prove to have quite a few dire consequences.

‘State Of Emergency’ was significantly less inspired and much more blunt than the show’s first episode. Many problems began to rear their ugly heads and kept Tyrant‘s second outing from reaching the bar set by the pilot. 5/10

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