tv review – FX’s Tyrant, episode 1.6

When FX first aired their show Tyrant the character of Jamal immediately got unfairly criticized. Many critics considered this Al-Fayeed a caricature, a ridiculous archetype that was, in their minds, too over-the-top. That’s not the case: whoever has followed the news after the death of real-life tyrant Muammar Gaddafi knows that sadistic and ruthless behavior, like the type Jamal displayed, isn’t unrealistic. In fact: history has shown us time and time again that men in power do despicable things, some even far more disturbing than the actions of Tyrant‘s fictional character. It’s a testament to Ashraf Barhom’s acting that, despite his terrible deeds, Jamal is still someone we can feel sympathy for. While these heinous men have existed and do exist, it’s hard to think of them as people instead of as larger-than-life monsters or, indeed, caricatures. What Tyrant has done is therefor not a small feat: it has made a fictional version of such a person into a man of flesh and blood, someone we can actually try to understand and we could even possibly relate to. This study of Jamal Al-Fayeed is one of the key reasons why Tyrant reeled viewers in, kept them coming back, and why ‘What The World Needs Now’ was another strong episode.

While Barry’s officialy the series’ protagonist, Jamal most of the time is the more interesting character to watch. Tyrant‘s latest entry really capitalized on that and gave Jamal more screen time than he’s had in the past couple of weeks. Not only did ‘What The World Needs Now’ show us that Jamal is being pulled in a myriad of the directions as Abbudin’s president, but also as a man. Tyrant‘s pilot effectively showed us that Jamal, the oldest of two sons, could never live up to what his father wanted from him, despite he desperate struggle to do so. Over the last couple of episodes and this one Tyrant additionally showed us that, aside from love for his brother Bassam, Jamal is also incredibly jealous of the Al-Fayeed family’s golden boy. But still, up until this point, Jamal had been very loyal to his younger brother, very trusting of him, and very loving. That changed this episode: because of Barry’s lies and the fact that Barry had impressed Sheik Rashid, a dynamic that likely reminded Jamal of the relationship between his father and Bassam. In this entry’s climactic scene Jamal couldn’t take it any longer and he lashed out at the frail old man, attacked him and seemingly murdered him. While the political situation of course played a part in the way Jamal viewed Rashid and his brother at this particular moment, there was a sense that many of his actions and this one in particular were motivated by personal pain and long-standing grudges. Aside from conveying that complexity, Barhom also manages to exude a child-like quality: there’s a sense that, because of his upbringing, there’s still a vulnerable child in this man’s body, a person that doesn’t know how to deal with emotions or all the nuances and contradictions part of human nature, both in himself and others.

Much like last week’s episode, ‘What The World Needs’ dialed back on the subplots and focused firmly on the political side of things and the Al-Fayeed family dynamics. What was surprising though, was that there was a lack of the view of the people, a sudden and significant departure from the direction of the last couple of outings that focused heavily on the discontent and protests of the Abbudin people. After the sheik had made his demands clear and Barry had persuaded Jamal to allow elections in the country, a sudden time jump took viewers three weeks into the future and robbed viewers of the public’s response. It was a clunky conceit to keep things moving, and it made for a lot of “tell” and very little “show”. The subsequent inclusion of the media did make up for that decision, though: a British news crew interviewed the Al-Fayeeds and the sheik, which made for some very good scenes because, in front of the camera, many people who weren’t supportive of Jamal’s decision had to act like they were. The writing here was very clever and the acting very good: especially Tariq’s segment was done well, because both actor Raad Rawi and his character’s lines struck that fine balance between unease, aversion, loyalty and amusement. While we’ve seen Tariq as a stern general and loyal supporter of Jamal, it seems logical that Tyrant would emphasize the fact he’s also Jamal’s uncle and that he maybe even considers Jamal as a son of sorts. While Jamal looks to women for love, affection, security and sex (Jamal visited a mistress this week when his wife wouldn’t grant him any of those things), there’s a hole that all of that can’t fill up: it’s a father’s love Jamal desperately craves.

‘What The World Needs’ really gave Ashraf Barhom his change to shine and shine he did. His Jamal was mesmerizing to watch and his character’s monumental decision to murder the sheik will undoubtedly have some very grave consequences for all the Al-Fayeeds. 8/10

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