‘Tyrant’: An Unwinnable Game

Published 4 months ago by

Adam Rayner and Mohammad Bakri in Tyrant Season 1 Episode 7 Tyrant: An Unwinnable Game

[This is a review of Tyrant season 1, episode 7. There will be SPOILERS.] 

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Seven episodes into its first season, Tyrant has finally shown some sign that it wants to be more than a just a chronicle of the American Al-Fayeed family’s vacation to Abbudin.

For its part, ‘Preventative Medicine’ is defined by two dramatic choices made by Barry that, with any luck, will push the narrative forward into the season’s closing arc (whether that will be the final arc of the series, or just the season, remains to be seen). After choosing to kill an unconscious Sheik Rashid, who was recovering (?) from the injuries he sustained during an encounter with Jamal, Barry phones Justin Kirk’s American diplomat John Tucker to announce that his brother, President Jamal Al-Fayeed, is unfit to serve as a brutal dictator in a land that has known only brutal dictatorship for as long as Barry’s been alive.

It’s a shift in the character of Barry to be sure, but it’s certainly not anything the audience didn’t expect. In fact, the only thing unexpected about Barry’s not-so-subtle hint that he might be willing to work with the U.S. government in deposing his brother is that it took this long for the series to get to this point.

And while it’s great to see things of consequence actually happening, it’s troubling to think that the series had to take its own narrative under the knife in order to push Barry into taking some action.

Ashraf Barhom and Moran Atias in Tyrant Season 1 Episode 7 Tyrant: An Unwinnable Game

For its part, ‘Preventative Medicine’ works very hard to try and steer the series onto the course that only the writers of the show’s synopsis seemed to be aware of. The episode bends and twists into all sorts of uncomfortable positions in order to align its various plots, so that the next three episodes can better attempt to prove the show is what it purported to be all along.

That effort, in and of itself, is certainly commendable, but as the story progresses, the exertion that’s required to pull it all off becomes painfully obvious. By the time Barry is having a heart-to-heart with his mother, wherein it is revealed his father wasn’t actually genocidal maniac, but just a man too weak to stand up to his own brother (the guy who has basically been pushed around by Barry and Jamal all season, mind you), Tyrant isn’t just straining from the effort; it’s practically going into convulsions.

But that’s not to say the episode is completely unsuccessful in constructing an interesting parallel of betrayal between two generations of brothers in the Al-Fayeed family. But it is difficult to get past the fact that it requires a 20-year-old secret to be conveniently revealed, absolving Barry’s father of being directly complicit in a horrific act of mass murder, that makes the whole thing ring as hollow as Barry’s reasons for staying in Abbudin in the first place.

Troubles with Barry’s motivation aside, ‘Preventative Medicine’ actually does a some nice work in creating an overwhelming sense of displacement that not only applies to the major players in the episode, but also works to the advantage of the younger Al-Fayeed and his struggles with finding his place in all that has transpired thus far.

While Barry is busy killing Sheik Rashid and getting his foot in the door with the U.S. government, Jamal is opening up to his mistress about his doubts and concerns with regard to what he perceives are his shortcomings in the role of president. It’s not unlike last episode when he confessed to her a desire to be loved by his people, only to come to the realization that no one, save for maybe himself, actually finds him to be lovable.

Jamal’s actions present him in an increasingly common moment of vulnerability that ostensibly winds up being wasted, as Jamal reverses his display of openness by carrying out an ill-conceived act of violence and aggression against the one woman who actually listened to him. It’s a tragic misstep for the character, as he basically becomes Fredo with a temper, instead of Sonny with a penchant for spilling his guts to the one woman who would listen.

Adam Rayner in Tyrant Season 1 Episode 7 Tyrant: An Unwinnable Game

Despite its shortcomings, ‘Preventatve Medicine’ at least shows how the series is dedicated to developing Jamal into a complete character – even though it is more or less wasting its time trying to make his crippling self-doubt something for the audience to hang on to, since he’s just going to carry out random acts of violence against women as nothing more than a plot point. (Honestly, what purpose does the death of Jamal’s mistress serve other than to tell us everything we already know about him?) And that’s really a shame, as Ashraf Barhom continues to be the liveliest performer on the series, and he really does deserve better material than he has been getting.

But instead of working to develop the characters that are deserving of it, Tyrant throws in a new character in the form of Wrenn Schmidt as Molly’s sister Jenna – who, unsurprisingly, is something of a basket case and, in keeping with the theme of the episode, unsure where she fits in the grand scheme of things. So far, Wrenn’s character has no real impact on the plot, she is just window dressing, or something to create complication and the illusion of complexity – just like the Al-Fayeed children.

On the upside, maybe it’s a good thing that General Tariq has become the primary protagonist of the series, since Jamal has been reduced to a shell of his former self, crippled as much with self-doubt as he is with unresolved issues of anger toward…everyone.

There’s a clear thrust to Tyrant now, and as interesting as it’s going to be seeing how it all plays out, it will be a challenge to appreciate it knowing so much time was ostensibly wasted in order to get there.

Tyrant continues next Tuesday with ‘Meet the New Boss’ @10pm on FX.

Photos: Vered Adir/FX

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  1. This show has potential but it needs to step up pace and add some suspense if it wants to be a patch on homeland, agree Jamals character is wasted and its if writers are making us hate him with his constant abuses against women

  2. Why Jamal killed that very sweet honey who actually seemed to love his ugly self? Basically because he told her too much and was afraid that she’d spill the beans. Totally unrealistic since he’d know she’s in a part of the world where a woman making such claims could easily be dismissed by a president calling her a lier and calling for her head. That was an extremely sensless killing that probably was to open the door for him to carry on with the sister in law once he sees her.

    So finally Barry is going to make moves to run against his brother. I’m guessing there will be a lot of fireworks coming up. I’m thinking the son being gay and having a trist with his cousins companion will be discovered somehow. That whole ordeal was just a small section and hasn’t really seemed to be part of the story ever since so my guess is it was just put in there for use once Barry runs against his brother.

    I knowe in families siblings can seem far different from each other. But these two kind of remind me of something Danny Divito said once he found out that he and the Terminator were brothers…”You’re telling me they gave mom a spooge shake and he got the best half and I ended up with the garbage half” (Or something like that) These two are pretty much that exactly. OIne is cool, intelligent, has his wit about him at all times. The other seems more like the court jester than a real leader. Even his stance, walk, and strange accent make him seem like a clown rather than a leader.

    Everyone wants to see the competent brother take things over and try to make changes, but that’s not how the game is played. Just like in real politics…..Leave common sense at the door…..

  3. A strange episode. Barry finds out who the real tyrant was in killing all those people, but then kills the shiek for the sake of the country. Which was most likely the right move, but strange that he could do it.

    Will he be able to win the election away from his creepy brother? Jamal has nothing going for him as far as leadership abilities go. He’s just a creepy guy who sometimes seems like just a goofy guy, but then does horrible things that make you want him gone. Especially killing that babe who nactually seemed to want to be with his ugly self. He kills her because he revieled too much and was worried it would get out. In the middle east women don’t dare let things out because it would back fire on them in that male ran culture…..And that’s most likely death. So killing her was either a dumb plot point, or he just likes to kill.

    I too think they need to move the story along or they’ll really lose their numbers. This might end up being one of those extended mini series done after one season.

  4. I’ve watched every episode and I still like it. This episode so far is the best one and really want to see Barry go against Crazy Jamal. Barry’s kids are useless and Holly’s sister too…still don’t understand her presence either. Wonder if show will last…

    • I think the sister is there to become another play thing for Jamal and possibly spy for him once Barry runs against him. I also think that might lead to him finding out about the son, That little trist early on suddenly just dropped out of sight so you wonder why it was even included. I think it’s just to be used against Barry when he runs against Jamal….Who doesn’t want the job anyway.

  5. Will the real Tyrant stand up? Well I’m guessing that’s Barry. Foreshadowed when he slapped his son and of course evidenced by his ability and willingness to kill when Jamal failed as a child to kill his father’s enemy when ordered to do so. And now Barry kills the Sheik but did he really do that for his brother? Barry left home because there was a part of him that was afraid to become like his father or so we are led to believe. Now he has learned how to rationalize and embrace that part of himself and he enjoys the power. It should be very interesting if the plot takes this course and Barry is revealed to be a monster. I would be surprised if it doesn’t but I will continue to be entertained.

  6. Then again the father he thought was a monster so he broke off from many years ago…Has since been shown to not be THAT monster (Granted that making your child kill someone to teach a lesson still makes you a monster). I don’t think the show will go there with him turning like that. I think there’ll be enough action taking on the evil uncle.

    What happens between the brothers is anyone’s guess because you get the impression Jamal would be happy for his brother to take it……but then there’s his hot looking ice queen wife that will keep egging him into being queen……My guess…….Her biggest hate of Barry is that chubby kid is his and she had to marry Jamal to cover it up