[This is a review of Tyrant season 1, episode 10. There will be SPOILERS.]
After 10 episodes of Tyrant, it was not the plodding nature of the show, the ultra minimalist performance of its lead, or the children who were used only as plot devices that wound up becoming the most disappointing aspect. Instead, it was the fact that after 10 episodes, the series barely suggested it could become what it had billed itself as from the get go.
In the end, it took roughly 10 hours for the show to start rolling toward something compelling, only to end on a cliffhanger that robs both the protagonist and the series of their potential. And considering the shaky start Tyrant got off to with the ill-advised casting of a white man in the role of a Middle Eastern character, or the equally ill-advised use of a propensity for sexual assault as a character foible, this simply cannot be what was envisioned when Gideon Raff delivered the elevator pitch of The Godfather in the Middle East.
How does a show sell itself as the story of man faced with the corrupting influence of absolute power end up with that very same man in a jail cell making the line “Tell my family I love them!” one of the most unintentionally funny bits of dialogue to be heard this year? It’s more disappointing than infuriating, but still, the audience was promised Tyrant and instead it was handed Wienie American Doctor Fails at Coup.
What’s worse is the coup didn’t even get off the ground. It was squashed before anything interesting could happen, in favor of a day spent fishing with Jamal as he slathered the idea of welcoming a new life as thick as possible, just so Barry can start believing he’s doing the right thing. There was something interesting in there – it made Jamal completely milquetoast, but it was interesting nonetheless.
The idea that Jamal was somehow making it easier for Barry to betray him, only to reveal he was checking to see whether or not his younger brother would have the courage to ask the president for his position is an intriguing idea. And although there were seeds of Jamal’s desire to be anyone but the president of Abbudin earlier in the season, that idea needed to be explored with his brother – i.e., the other character who can affect change – in order to have meant something.
As such, it winds up being another unexplored avenue that might have elevated the show from a plodding and ineffective political/familial drama, to one about two men wrapped up in denial and delusion about who they truly are.
Again, there were inklings that this is what Tyrant was trying to explore, but they never fully manifested. Jamal’s line about who caught the yellowtail is a perfect example of that, and yet these instances were so few and far between, they worked more to highlight the rest of the story’s shortcomings than to bolster the thematic aspects of the narrative.
The same can be said of the finale as a whole. The idea of ‘Gone Fishing’ is obviously the notion of baiting a line and waiting patiently for your prey to simply take it. From there, you reel the fish in and either throw it back or you gut it and serve it for supper. It is by no means subtle, but then again, subtlety is not Tyrant‘s strong suit. When characters aren’t saying exactly what’s on their minds, Barry and Jamal’s fishing lines are becoming entwined and they’re sharing a laugh over having effectively reeled one another in.
This is not challenging material, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be, but after all the time spent on the boat, one might expect the tension stemming from Barry’s planned coup to develop somehow. And yet here, as it has all season long, the dramatic tension that was supposed to build and then explode like an overfilled balloon, wound up being slowly released until the balloon simply deflated.
And while the lack of excitement primarily falls on how Barry and Jamal’s plot insufficiently made use of the inherent pressure of their situation, the B-plot of Emma and Jenna ruining the Al-Fayeeds chances of getting out of Abbudin did the show absolutely zero favors. In fact, it just reeked of contrivance.
It’s one thing to have two extraneous characters like Emma and Sammy simply because having kids somehow raises the dramatic stakes of your protagonist when he’s telling everyone about the coup he’s staging, but for the show to throw Barry’s sister-in-law in as well was nothing more than overkill on the useless character front.
Sammy’s plot fizzled out before the season had even reached the halfway point, while Emma wasn’t even granted the courtesy of an arc. Instead, she was sent on an infuriating excursion so that Jenna could tell her (and the audience) how much she’d changed. Not only is there no evidence of how much Emma has or has not changed, but ultimately, what does Emma’s changing or not changing even mean for the show?
It was all just dressing to cover up how lame it was that a shopping excursion prevented the Al-Fayeeds from getting to safety. In fact, it was so lame that after the entire crisis was resolved and it was too late for Molly, Jenna, and the kids to get on the plane and head to safety, it wouldn’t have been surprising or at all out of place for this show if Justin Kirk just looked at the camera, shrugged and said, “Well, the ladies do love some shopping.”
Because that’s about the extent of what characters like Emma, Jenna, and Nusrat amounted to in the 10 episodes that made up this first season. They were little more than excuses for things to happen. They had absolutely no agency of their own. They weren’t there to affect change, but to be used by others in order to progress the plot or create the illusion of character depth.
Perhaps these would have felt like less egregious examples if the larger story had delivered something more compelling and had the courage to tell the story that was embedded in its very premise. Since so little of the show’s premise was actually presented onscreen, however, the faults of the season became magnified examples of why the Tyrant didn’t work, instead of problematic areas that simply need another season in order to be ironed out.
The question of another season, then, seems to be the only thing the writers were intent on delivering here, as the purpose of the cliffhanger could have only been more obvious if Barry had yelled, “Tell the network we’ll do better next time!”
Screen Rant will keep you up-to-date with details regarding the future of Tyrant as they’re made available.
Photos: Vered Adir/FX