[This is a review of Tyrant season 1, episode 5. There will be SPOILERS.]
For Tyrant to work, it is going to have to do a better job of establishing what it is its characters want, and what kind of choices are going to have to be made in order for them to attempt to obtain those respective wants.
In particular, the series is going to have to establish very clearly what Barry wants from his extended trip to Abbudin, and what choices he will have to make to fulfill that particular want. And, as with all choices, there are going to have to be consequences – or at least the idea of consequences – for whatever choice he makes.
So far, the show has been a little vague on what Barry really hopes to achieve, and it even came across like Barry himself was unsure exactly how to define what it is that he planned to do, now that he has the ear of a dictator and can affect some kind of change in the government of his homeland.
But Barry has to know what he hopes to achieve, right? During the first four episodes, Barry’s wants read more like a wave of nostalgia mixed with a particularly potent strain of romantic idealism – perhaps something left over from his college days – that was calling him to undertake some kind of action and to accomplish that which no one else can, or maybe even wants to.
As has been well established, Abbudin is a place that has long been mired in the rule of a dictator, and as General Tariq says to Leila, there are those who are unwilling to stand by and see the advantages that kind of rule has brought them. But Barry, and to a certain extent, Jamal – though it’s not clear why – seem to want to try a different approach, and it through his attempts to try, Barry has inadvertently exhibited more power than his brother the president. Like Tucker says after Barry’s seemingly ill-fated peace accord with Sheik Rashid, “…The reach was impressive.”
But in his own way, Barry came through and did what no one even came close to doing since his father. So now, the question is: Just how much influence does Barry wield, and is he even aware of it enough that the show might be able to pick up the dramatic pace as a result?
There’s a tremendous amount of drama baked into the idea that Barry knows his role is to change the course of history for Abbudin, and that he may be successful in doing that, so long as he has the undivided attention of his brother. And if you squint just right, you might be able to see how that idea is still a part of Tyrant – and that it was probably a part of the essence of the show from the start.
But somehow, that one defining element wound up buried under so much unnecessary exposition and set-up it has all but been absent from the first four episodes. And while it would be best to stop just short of saying that essence has finally emerged in ‘Hail Mary,’ there is at least some sign that the show is ready to come forward and actually do something with its story.
More than anything, that feeling that, at long last, something actually happens, becomes the defining characteristic of the episode. Sure, there’s no real idea of what the ramifications are, or even will be, but finally, something of some importance has taken place and Barry is aware of his role in it. That is a start. It’s a late start, but it is a start nonetheless.
And while the episode wasn’t entirely successful – the interaction Molly has with Reema is the easiest kind of self-congratulatory drama that this series needs to steer clear of like it was the plague – but at least it finally managed to get most of the right elements in the same room with each another.
Surprisingly, that means Justin Kirk and Adam Rayner actually do a fine job of playing off one another. When they’re wheeling and dealing, it feels like something big is bound to happen. Maybe that’s not saying much, considering Kirk may as well have been in the running for the role of Barry, but at least the show has finally found someone who can generate some semblance of energy while interacting with Rayner. If the show is paying attention to what went right in this episode, it will find a way to put those two in the same room as much as possible moving forward.
Surprisingly, the show is also dealing with the fallout of Jamal’s sexual assault of his daughter-in-law. While the use of the act itself as a dramatic element was completely unnecessary and even offensive, at least the writers are trying to do something of consequence with it, and not just treating Nusrat’s victimization as a plot device to set up what kind of character Jamal is. It will be interesting to see if the act is addressed fully, but for now, at least it wasn’t swept completely under the rug.
So far, ‘Hail Mary’ has emerged as the first episode of Tyrant that has matters of actual consequence as part of its narrative. And while the show is still figuring out how to make each episode compelling and complete from a storytelling standpoint, this might be the moment things get turned around.
Tyrant continues next Tuesday with ‘What the World Needs Now’ @10pm on FX.
Photos: Vered Adir/FX