[This is a review of Tyrant season 1, episode 2. There will be SPOILERS.]
After a rather inauspicious debut, Tyrant now has the opportunity to better define its storyline by examining the new dynamic of its characters through the transition of power in the fictional country of Abbudin. At the same time, however, the show is tasked with creating a plausible framework for Barry to extend his weekend excursion to his family’s dictatorship indefinitely.
That puts a lot of pressure on ‘State of Emergency’ to present a compelling set of circumstances that will put Barry in a position of having to make a choice between walking back into the life he left behind 20 years ago, and putting his life in America on hold for the time being. And to a certain extent, the episode’s writers basically throw everything at the wall, just to see what sticks.
The pilot episode ended with Jamal becoming the successor to his father, only to be seriously injured in a car accident that was caused by a multitude of factors including: his inability to pay attention to the road, sexually assault a woman, and fend off her attempt to end his miserable life at the same time.
The accident is bad enough that Jamal spends most of the episode in the care of surgeons trying to make sure his manhood stays intact, which leaves Barry as the sole Al-Fayeed with any semblance of power to stand up to uncle Tariq – a power-hungry general eager to swoop in and take control after his brother’s death. To make matters more complicated, Nusrat, the new bride of Barry’s nephew, is kidnapped by a group of kids, hoping to leverage her for the release of a prisoner.
Clearly it’s a lot to put on Barry’s plate, but ‘State of Emergency’ is trying to make a point about his character’s penchant for running from matters of responsibility when it comes to what is essentially his birthright. In order to create some kind of meaningful transition from American pediatrician to once again being a full-fledged Al-Fayeed, Tyrant initiates a situation in which he cannot be, as his mother says, “absolved of responsibility.”
That means putting Barry in the middle of a hostage crisis, where he calls upon his namesake, and, since Justin Kirk reminds Barry “blood is everything,” the kids take him at his word that an Al-Fayeed can absolve them of their responsibility in kidnapping Nusrat. The standoff ends peacefully until, to absolutely no one’s surprise, General Tariq has the kids executed right there on the street.
For being the centerpiece of ‘State of Emergency,’ the hostage situation is played without a hint of dramatic uncertainty, and for that the entire episode suffers from the same lifelessness as the pilot. There’s some benefit in seeing Barry come to the realization that his name still holds a kind of currency, but the significance of that is again undercut by the largely lackadaisical reaction he, his wife and his children have toward the events of the day.
For her part, Molly is neither concerned her husband put his life on the line, nor is she capable of expressing any kind of real sentiment regarding the three kids who were summarily executed in front of him. “That’s not your fault,” she says as they lie in bed. “You did everything you could.”
Perhaps there’s something to be said for Tyrant attempting to avoid branding Molly with tired cliché of the nagging wife, but it seems Molly doesn’t have room for an emotional reaction toward much of anything. Molly doesn’t even blink when Barry casually riffs about his family being in “the oppression business.” It’s one thing for Molly to know and have accepted everything about Barry, but the writers have made it clear there’s plenty he’s not telling his wife, so her casual manner thus far reads more like cold indifference than anything else.
In the end, though, it’s clear that ‘State of Emergency’ is trying to get the audience to engage with the characters, so it throws in a couple flashbacks to expand on the previously disclosed issue of his executing a prisoner, and to introduce a past love affair between him and Leila, before she was Jamal’s wife.
These are potentially useful wrinkles to weave into Barry’s future development, but for all the complications surrounding his character at the moment, Rayner still hasn’t been given much of a chance to make Barry a truly complex or intriguing character, which is going to become more and more difficult as the narrative begins to become more plot oriented.
Now that the American Al-Fayeeds are set to remain in Abbudin for the time being, perhaps Barry can begin to affect change in the storyline, rather than simply react to it.
Tyrant continues next Tuesday with ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ @10pm on FX.
Photos: Vered Adir/FX