Air-date, time: The pilot episode aired at 9 p.m. Tuesday on FX
Last week…on “Tyrant”: Last Tuesday we met the Al-Fayeed family. The family is fractured into two parts, the half that runs a dictatorship in the fictional Middle Eastern country of Abbudin and the self-exiled son named Barry (Bassam) who escaped to America 20 years ago. In episode one we met reckless Jamal, the heir to the dictatorship. When he wasn’t banging a pauper’s wife while her husband and kids listened in the next room, Jamal was beating people up and driving expensive Italian sports cars. We also met dictator Papa Al-Fayeed, who dies near the end of episode one but not without telling Barry that it really should be him in charge, not petulant Jamal. As the episode ends Jamal wrecks his car, overwhelmed by grief. OK, not really. The wife he was forcing to have sex with him tried to kill him while he was driving on a mountain pass. Just as Barry was taking his family out of the country, he gets detained by Abbudin security.
Episode run down:
ACT 1 - With the attempt on Jamal’s life, Mrs. Jamal takes charge and starts looking for the rebel group behind the attack. Evidently the married woman Jamal was sleeping with was part of the rebel insurgency. We also see that Barry’s childhood friend, journalist Fauzi has a daughter that is part of the rebel group. Not that Fauzi knows this.
Barry and Mrs. Jamal have a bit of a stand off in the hospital as Jamal is having surgery. These two REALLY don’t like each other but we’re not given a clear reason why. I’m hoping it’s because she fell in love with Barry but he ran off and she ended up marrying Jamal out of spite.
Aaaaand right on cue, that’s exactly what we find out. We’re clumsily sent to the past in a flashback that didn’t make sense initially to see a young and beautiful Mrs. Jamal trying to talk young Barry into staying in the Abbudin. Despite her getting naked, we already know he didn’t fall for it. Oh, how I wish this show was on Showtime or HBO.
At the end of Act 1 we see Jamal’s daughter-in-law (the one woman he groped at her own wedding) get kidnapped by some kids with AK-47s. And yes, I realize I’m horrible with character names but the ones in this show are very hard to pronounce.
ACT 2 – The second act starts at the shooting range. We see Barry’s son Sammy flirting with the security guard he was making eyes at last episode. This is going to lead to nothing but trouble.
Meanwhile, Jamal’s daughter-in-law is being held by her middle school, gun-toting captives in a convenience store. This is some of the stuff I really wanted to see. The people of Abbudin are oppressed; these are the things you’d expect to see in a country like this.
With the daughter-in-law held captive, Barry talks to the slimy U.S. embassy rep John Tucker (finally a name I can remember). Barry asks him for help but he says the group holding his sister-in-law (her name is Nusrat– had to look it up– it was driving me crazy) wouldn’t listen to an American but they would listen to Barry. Yep, Barry is getting sucked deeper into the Abbudin world and he’s not likely to be happy about that.
We see the rebels taking over a factory owned by Walid. In case you forgot (like I did), Walid was the guy Jamal beat up in the sauna in episode one. Jamal heard there was a plot to bomb his son’s wedding and he knew Walid would know about it. Now Walid is getting roughed up by his nephew Ihab because he knows his uncle rides the fence. That’s the problem with riding the fence, you’re bound to get stuck on it at some point.
Act 3 – After getting lectured by his mother (the Borg Queen. Seriously, she played the Borg Queen in “Star Trek: First Contact”) Barry decides to talk to the kids holding Nusrat hostage. Barry goes into the convenience store and when asked who he is by the kid rebels, introduces himself as “Bassam Al-Fayeed” for the first time this season. That moment SHOULD be significant. It should feel important. But with so many things going on (Jamal hurt, the kidnapping, the son trying to hook up, the wife still confused about why Barry hates Abbudin, the flashback involving Mrs. Jamal and young Barry) it just falls flat.
Barry manages to talk the kid terrorists into letting Nusrat go and they all walk out of the store. Of course that was a bad decision as the military guy in charge has them all shot in the head and leaves them in the street. Again, this should be a chilling moment but it just doesn’t carry any weight.
Back at the hospital Jamal has woken up from surgery. We learn that the woman in the car he wrecked almost bit his junk off. Best moment of the episode!
Later that night we see Barry and his wife in bed. They have an odd conversation. Barry feels guilty about the terrorist kids he couldn’t save and his wife says something along the lines of, “You did the best you could; it wasn’t your fault.” REALLY?!? That’s her response? Her reaction to his father-in-law’s military regime shooting three kids in the head is to treat it like Barry left the back door open and the cat ran away?!? REALLY?!?
But wait, the conversation gets worse. Barry is actually inspired by the terrorist kids who died because they were willing to die for each other. He suddenly realizes that they’d die but he won’t even stay in Abbudin to help his own brother. What the heck is going on here? After 20 years Barry has an epiphany and comes to the realization that he should have actually stayed in the family business?!? Come on!!!
The episode wraps with Papa Al-Fayeed’s funeral. Jamal is expected to give a eulogy but refuses to read the speech some lackey prepared for him. Who steps in and inspires Jamal? Barry, of course. This “Barry as Super Al-Fayeed” schtick is getting a little out of hand.
Final thoughts: Let’s get this out of the way right now – if Barry would have just called Liam Neeson at the start of the show, Nusrat would have been home in 10 minutes…Lots of new characters were introduced this week. With their unusual names it was really hard to keep track of them all. Viewers know what’s going on, but maybe some subtitles or some text at the bottom of the screen telling us where things are taking place and with whom would help with that issue…There is too much going on right now. I’m disappointed in episode two after such a strong pilot. There are just too many story arcs, too many characters and none of them have been properly established yet. Not a good sign.
Terry Terrones is the media columnist for the daily newspaper in Colorado Springs, The Gazette. He’s also a member of the Television Critics Association. You can follow him on Twitter @terryterrones.