Tyrant: Pax Abuddin

We should’ve known it was coming; after excellent penultimate finales of various shows, the finales themselves often disappoint. So after last week’s ‘Desert Storm’, Tyrant had its work cut out for it.

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First Date
It’s reunion time in Abuddin, with Barry – now only going by his birth name Bassam, or so it seems – finally holding Molly in his arms again. After all that’s happened, they’re going to have to get to know each other again; get properly reacquainted. Apparently leading an improvised civil army into battle against another improvised army and win makes one kind of horny; Bassam wants to know if there’s any chance Molly might sleep with him on their first date.

Honor
Bassam doesn’t go and see his brother Jamal; Jamal goes and sees Bassam. Quite an honor for the president to pay such a visit, as Jamal explains the reason of him coming over. A little megalomania goes a long way, he must be thinking, placing himself above his brother like that. Well, nothing Jamal says or does really surprises me anymore. His run has ended, that’s becoming Abuddintly clear. There are no more cards to play. Especially with an ace, suddenly coming out of the sleeve of one of the writers on the show: the Arab League, who are investigating Jamal and his war crimes, specifically the gas attack. They want to remove him from power, but they need a witness. Someone to testify against him.

Feelers
Leila’s agreed to do just that, on one condition. Her son should at the very least get a seat at the table. But there are other forces at work, too. Lea Exley (Leslie Hope) is back in town, putting her feelers out there. From all sides – leagues, agencies, the U.S. Embassy – there seems to be only one objective: Bassam for President. The only one hesitant to step up, is Bassam himself.

Staying in Abuddin
Although their daughter Emma’s doing god knows what god knows where – the show just stopped mentioning her completely – Molly and Sammy came to the same conclusion: it is their war now. They don’t say it with so many words, but the gist of it is they’re staying in Abuddin, as long as it takes, supporting Bassam, whatever he may decide.

Plead Guilty
Jamal’s out of options. His wife’s already signed a written statement that says she’s heard him say he deployed poison gas – which is something he actually didn’t do. There’s no other way out than to step down, promise to make sure the transition goes as smoothly as possible and live out the rest of his days in an Abuddinian equivalent of Camp David. But he didn’t do it. He did not order the annihilation of an entire village. He did in fact order not to use poison gas in any shape or form, but his uncle couldn’t resist. Therefor, he cannot for the life of him, plead guilty. Jamal stepping down is not going to happen.

Telling Frames
When everybody’s gathered around to watch Jamal give his final speech, there are clues in the way it is shot, that something’s going to go down. For some reason, the frames chosen by the director (Gwyneth Horder-Payton) have a ‘there will be blood’ signature all over them. And there it is. While transferring from speech to rant, Jamal gets shot down.

Sand Flying Up
I think we’ve seen the last of Jamal, even though he’s proved to be one hell of a tough cookie; he survived the Pilot, which was a small miracle. But his time had come. The big question is what Tyrant is going to do with the only character who brought tension to the show now been jerked off stage. There’s no season 3 renewal yet, and FX has got some serious thinking to do, whether they want to continue the series. Tyrant has gone from an edgy, brewing desert version of 24 about one thousand and one nights, to a sort of Middle Eastern, soapy version of House of Cards. There needs to be more action. Higher stakes. Dialogue that doesn’t just recap, but drives the story forward. There’s so much this show could do, so much it could explore, but somehow they let everything play out neatly on the surface, as if they don’t want to burn their toes. Dig in, writer’s room. Dig to get that black gold, because we’re growing bored with just sand flying up the dunes.

Tyrant: Desert Storm

Like one of Howard Gordon’s other shows – Homeland, which had a second season that consisted solely of season finales, at least that’s how it felt -, this penultimate episode of Tyrant could’ve served as the closing chapter of season 2 as well. But no, there’s more to come, and that’s a good thing.

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The Legacy
The powerful scene in which Ahmed Al-Fayeed (Cameron Gharaee) finally awoke and Moran Atias cried some serious Emmy worthy tears, will be one of the standout moments of this season. Ahmed’s always been a kind of slightly overweight, naive prince, serving his dad the king and doing a lot of background work. But suddenly the pieces all came together and he saw the bigger picture; as if he pulled the curtain down between him and his parents and saw the naked, awful truth that lies behind the Al-Fayeed legacy. He’s no boy any longer, but a force to be reckoned with.

Face Facts
The storyline continues in ‘Desert Storm’, when he and his mother Leila plot a coup. It’s time to face facts and forcefully remove Jamal from the equation, so Ahmed can take his place and restore Abbudin. They show Jamal evidence (a video message) that Barry’s still alive. They try to convince him God isn’t out to get him; it was all part of the plan. But Jamal’s been in a very shaky state of mind as of late, so even if Barry’s alive – and it sure looks like it -, he might do something stupid (and potentially brutal) anyway.

Computer Generated
Like go after his wife Leila. She did go behind his back, and free Rami Said to coordinate the Red Hand rescue mission. In other words: treason!
Barry needed backup, but the backup never showed. He’s pinned down, surrounded by the Army of the Caliphate. There’s a nice overview of the situation. Many soldiers/boots on the ground – too many? Yes, because most of them are computer generated. The ‘live’ ones run together with video game figures, if you watch them closely. It doesn’t really matter; you don’t see it if you’re not paying attention to it. Then again, I didn’t specifically pay attention to it and I did notice. Well, who cares. The outside shots of the palace aren’t real either, now are they?

All Good
Rami and his mercenaries arrive just in time, they decimate the Caliphate, save Barry and a few other lucky ones. Everyone (everyone on the list of ‘main characters’, that is) survives, even Ihab Rashid. Together with Sammy, Barry’s stitching up the wounded, Molly’s waiting for them to return to the palace, the battle’s won, it’s all good.

Nicely Done
Now, that kind of worries me. Sure, there’s the little thread of ‘removing Jamal from power’, which won’t be an easy thing, but everything else seems to be wrapped up nicely (a little too nicely, if you ask me, but I didn’t really expect more from a very uneven season). Where to go from here, what exactly do the writers have in store for the season finale?

The Tyrant
Barry will return to the palace, have an awkward ‘hello, it’s me again’ with his brother Jamal, and finally hold Molly again. Is he going for the throne next? He does seem to have his mind completely made up about Abbudin and that he belongs there. I can only assume he’s going to try to become president again, and that’s where the title once again comes into play. The talk during the first season has gone away, but it might be time to pick up the big question again: does ‘Tyrant’ actually refer to Barry? Will he have a Walter White-like transformation, going from paediatrician to dictator in the end? Let’s hope the writers will get as much time as they need to tell that story. Whatever happens in the finale, and despite all of its flaws, the announcement of a third season of Tyrant can’t come soon enough.

Tyrant: Inside Men and Outside Women

In a somewhat predictable turn of events, Barry has dodged his own execution, survived the uncompromising heat and drought of the desert, to not just join the resistance, but basically found it and act as commander and chief of the only good guys left in Abbudin. 

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Pulled Over
We’re skipping forward with our reviews of the second season of FX’s Tyrant, mainly because every episode’s wearing a bit thin, storywise. There’ve been peaks, for sure, when the show picks up the pace, but just as many lows. These lows include stretched out scenes, that are supposedly there to build tension, but all they do is pull the Tyrant car over to the side of the road for an (emotional) chat. The show’s well written and well acted, but there’s often a feeling of ‘can we please start driving again?’ If only they could’ve fleshed out a more engaging A to B storyline, because the series doesn’t suffer from dialogue or performances, it suffers from the bigger picture.

Red Hands
And so we land at the ninth episode of season 2, ‘Inside Men and Outside Women’. Jamal’s put his newfound son in charge of the military, but quickly starts to second-guess and mistrust him; Jamal’s character’s a fickle one. Barry’s leading Abbudin’s last hope, a group called ‘The Red Hand’, which attracts a young American guy: Sammy. The cat’s out of the bag. Barry’s reunited with his son, a powerful scene, but what should’ve been a relief, isn’t. Sammy’s very conflicted about the whole thing. He’s certainly not ready to reconcile and bond with a father he never really bonded with before. He is however staying at the Red Hand Inn.

Ambush
Sammy gets into big trouble, and I don’t mean the Red Hand girl who’s after him – romantically. Barry’s mole inside the Caliphate is caught and gives up the Red Hand headquarters. It’s ambushed while Barry’s meeting with Jamal’s son Rami Said, to plot a plan to take back the city of Ma’an. Chances of that happening are slim, now most of the Red Hands are dead. Sammy managed to survive, thanks to the girl, who shot their way out of the attack. She won’t be able to tell the tale, though.

An Interesting Dynamic
It looks like the writers are slowly turning Jamal back into the monster he once was, with a little help from Mr. Al-Kuhl. Apparently he’s been drinking out of despair, making bad to worse decisions as he goes along. Oddly enough, the only person he trusts is this mysterious leader of the Red Hands.
It’s an interesting dynamic, having Barry and Jamal talk over the phone, with the latter not knowing whom he’s actually talking to. Jamal does share a whole lot of personal stuff, but I suppose that’s what he needs right now; to get things off his chest, and I don’t think he’s the type of guy to see a therapist – or the type of guy a therapist would agree to see. Although everything he’d say would be confidential, it would be quite dangerous to know the inner feelings and past crimes Jamal’s committed.

Daughter
Because Barry’s been found/discovered by Sammy, there’s no way he’s able to still keep Molly in the dark. She takes the news just as well/bad as Sammy did. Especially now, with her trying to move on, almost having shared her bed with another man (technically she did share her bed), it’s both a welcome and very unwelcome surprise. At the end of the day, though, she’s happy he’s still alive. No word yet about Barry’s daughter; I suppose Anne Winters has silently been written out of the show completely, which would be a shame.

Tyrant: A Viper in the Palace

Let’s check in on Tyrant, a show that’s building its momentum, gaining an audience, but not exactly making headlines. It slowly ploughs on, in the middle of the summer, on FX. We’re zooming in on the fifth episode of season 2, ‘A Viper in the Palace’.

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Beard
We’re almost halfway through the season and all Barry’s done so far is grow a beard, basically. Taken out of his cell to be hanged, then left for dead in the desert, to resurface in a small town, where he mainly doesn’t do a lot of things. He doesn’t tell his real name, doesn’t call his wife or kids, isn’t in a hurry to get out of there to either confront Jamal, join the resistance or hitch a ride back to the United States. He stays put, because he’s grown a liking to a young boy and his mother?

Thoughtful
Adam Rayner is Tyrant’s leading man and we all like our leading men to be, well, leading. Be proactive. Be the hero. But Barry’s too much of a diplomat, a nuanced guy who thinks before he acts – that’s why often he doesn’t act at all. He’s just so damn thoughtful, is what I’m saying.

Powerless
The boy’s mother leaves the village to specialise herself in the noble business of solar panels – in Germany. But she doesn’t get far. She’s stopped by the resistance, or what’s left of it, that’s joined forces with a much more professionally organised rebel group called The Army of the Caliphate. They bring her back, to make an example out of her. A bullet’s got her name on it. Barry’s in the crowd and he’s powerless. There’s no way he’ll be able to rescue her, but even so, we want him to try. Grab a gun, shoot a few bad guys, make a run for it, anything but standing around, waiting for the inevitable. Unfortunately, his last name’s Al Fayeed, not Bauer.

Afraid
He’s saved by the leader of the Army, a boyish guy who’s got a thing for the mother and lets her go. Back to her family – only to be taken away again moments later, because boyish guy may be boyish, he’s also a pretty dominant asshole. Tyrant needs to decide what kind of show it wants to be, because it’s a little difficult to tell. For the majority of the first season, Jamal was the one to be afraid of, very afraid. His presence was epic; seldom a loose cannon of this magnitude captivated television screens the way he did. He grew softer and softer, and now he’s toothless. Castrated. A prisoner in his own golden palace.

The Arc
The arc was also clear. Barry was trying to manage him, to the point where he felt he needed to make a subtle dictator change. Now, Jamal’s busy with oil fields, a son he’s never known the existence of, politics, and Barry’s busy with surviving. The Army of the Caliphate is growing in strength on one side, and then there’s Sammy who’s returned to Abbudin to collect his inheritance money. For the most part, the series has become a nice, beautiful looking but without a sense of urgency Middle Eastern soap opera.

Mr. Cool
That is, until now. In the final moments of ‘A Viper in the Palace’, Barry’s forced to take matters into his own hands. After fleeing the village, he overpowers two Caliphate soldiers. There’s even a ‘hero shot’: Barry, with a head wound, pointing the gun and looking cool. This might be the turnaround we’ve been waiting for.

Tyrant: Mark of Cain

The bold FX show about a royal family in the fictional Middle Eastern country of Abbudin is back. Four months have passed since the season 1 finale (well, four months in the show, that is), and the two brothers – Bassam and Jamal – haven’t buried the hatchet, on the contrary.

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Abel
Locked in a prison cell, Bassam (or Barry, to friends and his all American family) hasn’t seen his wife for months and has been kept busy with a chess game – and growing a beard. Jamal, on the other hand, is cleaner shaven than ever. Bassam’s been sentenced to death, but his brother’s wavering. The 21st century interpretation of Cain has trouble killing Abel and keeps postponing the gallows. In the meantime, the people of Abbudin have found in Bassam a symbol of freedom. The call for his release grows louder everyday.

Politics and Family Relations
There isn’t a lot of Bassam (Adam Rayner) in the premiere of the second season. Most time’s given to Jamal, his uncle (head of the military), the rebels and his wife. Therefor, the episode is mostly about politics and family relations. Apart from a burning building, there isn’t a lot of action, which has been a trend; ever since the first few episodes, Tyrant has been slowing down.
That doesn’t have to be a problem, but there needs to be tension. Jamal (Ashraf Barhom) still steals the show, hasn’t lost his temper and unpredictable behaviour, but doesn’t seem to hold much power over certain other characters anymore. His wife, son, son’s wife, uncle and brother; they’re all standing up to him, and Jamal lets them. We haven’t seen his ruthlessness, moral ambiguity and aggression in a long time, actually. Still, he’s the antagonist, so we shouldn’t start liking him too much; the writers had better make him do a little more genuine bad guy stuff.

Execution
Pushed by his wife Leila (Moran Atias), Jamal decides to hang Bassam, early morning. The whole episode has been building up to this point. Are they really going to let Bassam die? He’s the leading man; that’d never happen. Or would it? But how in the world are they going to continue the show without him? There he is, taken out of his cell. Cleaned up, bag over his head, taken to the gallows. Still, that bag, we don’t see his face – is it someone else instead?
The show keeps you in the dark until the very last second. All signs point to his inevitable death. He’s got no friends, other than his wife – who comes to say goodbye to him right before he’s taken away – but she hasn’t been able to rescue him either. Is it one of Jamal’s tricks? Did he switch Bassam with somebody else? He does seem upset, even when he’s alone in the shower. Would that all be an act?

180º
There’s a fine line between creating believable drama, with a seemingly unescapable fate, and a just as believable twist at the end, where the show has to make a 180º turnaround. It’s hard to come up with a clue the audience will accept; there’s always a chance they won’t applaud the way the writers tried to fool them and feel actually fooled, instead of feeling they’ve been had but in such a clever way it’s instantly forgiven.
I’d say Tyrant’s forgiven. Although it isn’t really that clever, the ending was satisfying enough. It sure opened up a world of possibilities. This is just the beginning.

Why Tyrant Is The Best Cartoon Of 2014

Tyrant. The newest creation of Howard Gordon (24, Homeland), set in a fictional Middle Eastern country/dictatorship, has been gathering negative reviews from critics and love and praise from viewers at the same time since its pilot, seven weeks ago.

The pilot was the perfect way to start a series, for sure. Fast-paced, with a bold concept, hard to look at sometimes, a hero plagued with demons and a sidekick – his brother – as the ultimate unpredictable and very dangerous ladykiller, this was a show not afraid to dig deep, get messy, bloody, but managed to stay completely balanced. It looked believable, no, it looked fantastic. Something you’d see in a comic book. A faraway land. A world unlike ours. Different rules, different history, different paths. That’s what good television ought to do. Invite you in, present a universe like no other, and of course, you don’t necessarily have to go to the Middle East – or a version of it – to get that, but it sure helps. Besides, this must be the first time an American show is situated almost entirely in that part the world. That in itself takes guts, no matter if everyone on the show speaks English to avoid subtitles.

It’s all a bit too fantastic, however. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. The characters aren’t cardboard, but they certainly could be. The locations, set design, look in general, it’s pitch perfect. Too perfect. This series doesn’t want to be a documentary, it wants to jump off the page. It wants to be a cartoon.
The brother, Jamal, played by Ashraf Barhom, is jumping all over the page, flexing his muscles, having sex, punching people with a big ‘KAPOOWW’ above his head. His wife plays the wicked witch of the East, the absolutely stunning Moran Atias, who’s the manipulatrix behind the scenes. The leading man, Adam Rayner, will turn out to be the real Tyrant. As a different shade of Walter White, he’ll rise up to become what he was always destined to become. A dictator. His father.

Around these three characters, the supporting cast orbits. Depending on the story at hand, they’re given screen time or none at all. Barry Al Fayeed – Adam Rayner – and his family are larger than life. It’s heightened reality. It’s nearly bursting out of drama proportions, but as I said, it always stays on the right side of believability. The writing and performances keep the arch, the very ambitious plot, under control. 

Forget everything you think you know about the Middle East and dictators, like you forget all about the real Springfield when watching The Simpsons, and just enjoy the ride. Springfield doesn’t exist in real life? Neither does Abbudin.