Justin Kirk, Ashraf Barhom (Photo: Vered Adir: FX)
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In its fourth episode, Tyrant finally decides to confront some of the political realities of life in Abbudin. A man sets himself on fire to protest the 20th anniversary of the chemical attack that Barry and Jamal’s father used to kill 20,000 people. Barry advises Jamal to address the protesters assembled on the site in order to apologize for their father’s actions. Young rebel leader Ihab Rashid (Alexander Karim) takes the anniversary protests as an opportunity to bring his growing insurgency to a head. Jamal must decide whether to follow his brother’s path to peaceful resolution of the protest or his general uncle Tariq’s usual advice and massacre everyone gathered there. And the Americans, as personified by Justin Kirk’s smarmy diplomat John Tucker, make vague threats, all while balancing the need for Abbudin’s continued support of the US military base in the country. After Tyrant’s first three episodes mainly concerned themselves with Barry’s inner turmoil over returning home and the attendant family squabbles that causes, “Sins Of The Father” finally gets around to expanding the show’s world beyond the Al-Fayeed family’s problems. Unfortunately, the script, credited to Peter Noah (Scandal), is both simplistic and dull, leaving Abbudin as bereft of life as it ever was.


Part of the problem remains that Adam Rayner’s Barry is such a nonentity at the show’s center, the character’s motivations and actions too pedestrian and naïve to anchor the series. While he does show a little spunk responding to Tariq’s description of the protest as an unlawful gathering (“Is there such a thing here as a lawful gathering?”), his role as advisor continues to consist of looking mildly shocked at things he should already know about and then urging everyone to be nicer. Here, he convinces Jamal to acknowledge the crimes of their father in a speech to the protesters and is shocked—shocked!—when, instead, the assembled, riled up masses react with anger to the sight of a government limo surrounded by troops rolling into their midst. And when, later, he meets reporter pal Fauzi to warn him that Tariq’s troops are going to storm the square, his response to Fauzi angrily calling him on his dilettante’s approach to Abbudin’s problems is an incredulous, “Where’s this coming from?” Fares Fares’ Fauzi continues to have to explain “how things really are” to Barry, which can be a drag dramatically, but Fares’ exasperation at his former friend is shared by the audience—Barry simply shouldn’t be this provincial about his home country.

Meanwhile, Tyrant’s delineation of Abbudin’s many problems in the episode should be welcome—but a number of factors are working together to deaden any political or dramatic impact. For one, every fact has to be filtered through Barry’s perceptions, which, as noted, are woefully uninformed. So, striving for clarity, instead Tyrant achieves only superficiality. The Al-Fayeeds are tyrannical, the insurgency is led by an Islamist opportunist, the people are easily manipulated—that’s all there really is to the show’s world, even after an episode devoted to building that world. When Barry, at episode’s end, brings Jamal a taste of the real world via film of Gaddafi’s death, it’s with Barry’s signature platitudes (“Twenty years later, they won’t look the other way any more,” “I’m not saying don’t use violence because it’s wrong, I’m saying don’t use violence because it doesn’t work!”) and the advice that Jamal sit down and talk with Ihab Rashid.  That Ashraf Barhom’s Jamal needs a tempering influence is true. That he chooses to follow his brother’s lead leaches the character of whatever energy Barhom brings to the role.

In addition to Barry’s lines above, Tyrant’s dialogue remains deadeningly mundane. Every character in the episode makes speeches, and everyone’s speech sounds exactly the same. Part of that is the wall-to-wall vaguely accented English the show has settled on, a sop to the potential audience that would sap all the vitality out of the words, even if they were inherently compelling. Which they are not. Ihab’s “They want to give us platitudes instead of work, instead of food!” and Fauzi’s “They just want you to trade one form of subjugation for another,” and Barry’s “They follow Ihab because he gives them a voice,” and “All my daughter really wants is to read what she wants to read, to live her own life” (Fauzi again)—every character proclaims their assigned position in the schematic of the story with dogged earnestness and no conviction. Even the graffiti the prep school kids left in young Barry’s room in the flashback that introduces the chemical attack is neatly factual. (Only cartoonishly evil Uncle Tariq continues to squeeze any juice out of his lines. This week’s winner: “Protests like these need to be strangled in their crib!”)


Ashraf Barhom remains the only standout in the cast, although Jamal’s ferocious unpredictability keeps getting reined in the more he listens to Barry’s advice. Tyrant’s plan to portray Jamal as something of a tragic figure at the center of the series is a risky one considering how he was introduced in the pilot, but a little risk is what this show needs. Unfortunately, Jamal is being let off the hook, acceding to Barry’s bland influence too easily. Plus, the show is setting up Tariq as the show’s real villain, suggesting that the Al-Fayeed’s rule would be just fine if that hotheaded military weren’t ruining things all the time. “Sins Of The Father,” in attempting to bring the show’s fictional nation into sharper focus, only succeeds in magnifying its own weaknesses.

Stray observations:

  • In the flashback, the kids who trashed Barry’s room also left Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” playing on his boom box. That’ll show him.
  • Both the protester’s wife and Jamal’s wife Leila (Moran Atias) are presented as cold, unsupportive scolds in the episode, an unfortunate parallel which is nonetheless preferable to the continuing blank-eyed cluelessness of Jennifer Finnigan’s Molly. Tyrant—not home to great women’s roles, is what I’m saying.
  • Molly, responding to Barry wanting Jamal to commemorate the chemical attack: “Honey, it happened 20 years ago.”
  • Finnigan as an actress is just helpless playing this character. Seeing her give an identical sigh to her worries about the kids coming home late and to the news that Tariq is planning to massacre the protesters in the morning in the same scene is simply insufferable.
  • Someone in the comments compared Raad Rawl’s Tariq to Grand Moff Tarkin, which is how I’m going to think of him from now on.
  • Oh, and Sammy has been texting Abdul and Abdul hasn’t been texting him back, leading to Sammy’s line, “You’re just gonna blow me, then blow me off?” This storyline took up about ten minutes of the episode’s running time. Ten minutes.
  • Sammy and Emma’s cousin Ahmed is turning out to be his father’s son, all right, humiliating poor Abdul and being impatient with wife Nusrat’s inability to get into the nightclubbing spirit after the kidnapping a few days ago.
  • Women of Abbudin, breathe easier—Jamal’s penis is still on the fritz.