[This is a review of Tyrant season 1, episode 9. There will be SPOILERS.]
What’s a little slander between family members, right? Well, as is demonstrated in the penultimate episode of Tyrant season 1, just a little bit of perceived slander may ultimately be what keeps Jamal in the dark about his brother’s plans until it’s too late to reverse the course of action that has finally generated some much-needed tension in what has otherwise been a languorous season.
Jamal is so incensed about the possibility that his uncle, Gen. Tariq, is contemplating a military coup – which, considering what an awful guy he’s supposed to be, it’s rather shocking that he hasn’t done so already – and simultaneously so devoted to the notion that Barry is behind his big, oblivious, murderous brother 100 percent that even when Tariq speaks the truth, it doesn’t fall on deaf ears; it engages the mechanism of Tariq’s own destruction.
But even as the series intimates that with each passing minute Jamal unknowingly takes one step further from the presidency, while in the same instance, his brother is slowly becoming the man he’d hid from himself for the past twenty years, there seems to be an inconsistency in the portrayal of both men.
For whatever reason, Tyrant wants to present Jamal as a character deserving of some modicum of sympathy, that for all the bad he’s done – the rape, the murder, the failed murder that led to Barry becoming a killer once again – he’s just a guy trying to be something he’s not, and he’s failing miserably at it. And the only thing that Jamal has going for him is the incomparable loyalty of the brother who once walked out on his family and denied his heritage.
To be honest, at this point in the game, if anyone watching feels remotely bad about Jamal’s place in the coup that’s being staged by the people he trusts completely, it’s because the show has been laying on the “my brother is…” shtick so thick it’s a wonder Jamal hasn’t expressed his brotherly affection for Barry with an elaborate song and dance routine.
But that’s the problem when a story tries to shove the essence of Fredo and Sonny into a single character. The result is a hothead whose penchant for violence and vices is only outweighed by his own incompetence. The two defining characteristics don’t combine to make a more interesting character; they work at cross-purposes and result in a character whose struggles with inconsistency stunts the development of the one he’s essentially there to help define.
Still, despite the interplay between Barry and Jamal working too hard to play up the betrayal angle, ‘Gaslight’ does have a few intriguing aspects that might’ve produced some fascinating storylines, had they not been introduced so close to the end of the season. That is, although the series is overly concerned with depicting Barry and Molly’s relationship woes, the idea that Barry wants to reconnect with his heritage and for his children to do the same actually comes closest to resonating on a level beyond the expected.
The exploration of this culture was a large part of the initial appeal of Tyrant. And yet Barry having tea with his children, wistfully remembering his father’s interactions with the Bedouin – as the coup he had planned gradually draws nearer – is the closest the show gets to exploring what it means to be from a region of the world that is typically depicted in a rather one-dimensional way in Western culture. The beginnings of this thread are there, but unfortunately, the late-blooming plot takes precedence over such introspective matters.
That brings the episode to another aspect that also winds up being underdeveloped.
In a sense, it’s plain to see that the afternoon with his children is Barry saying goodbye to yet another family. This time, though, Barry is pushing away the family that he created in favor of the life that he left behind. He’s essentially choosing to be the man he had no choice in becoming.
There’s a paradox in there worthy of a Rust Cohle speech, but unfortunately, Rayner doesn’t provide much to make it clear to the audience. Instead, he relies too much on the reaction of his co-stars to his blank expression to suggest the importance of his shifting demeanor.
The closest the episode gets to exploring the ramifications of Barry’s decision is through Molly’s response, and even that doesn’t feel like it’s truly getting to the heart of the matter. She’s understandably concerned about her husband and her family, but much like she was when the American Al-Fayeeds arrived in Abbudin, she seems utterly unaware of the plight of her present surroundings or the implication of what’s about to happen in them.
In the end, it looks as if Tyrant will end season 1 with at least the beginnings of the coup that has dominated the plot for the last few episodes. But even if it does, it’s hard to say whether the show is any closer to understanding what that will mean for its characters than they themselves do.
Tyrant concludes next Tuesday with ‘Gone Fishing’ @10pm on FX.
Photos: Vered Adir/FX
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