[This is a review of Tyrant season 1, episode 4. There will be SPOILERS.]
Even though it has all the trappings of another crisis-of-the-week episode, 'Sins of the Father' is the first real effort made by Tyrant to expand into a more serialized approach to its storytelling. That, in turn, offers the show a chance to tackle a complex issue without suggesting it, or a portion of it, can be resolved within the span of a television hour.
It also gives the characters something more substantial to dig into than whether or not Barry can persuade Jamal to let some rebels out of prison as a sign of good faith. All this suggests the series, which has been somewhat sluggish so far, is at least trying to kick-start its plot and inject some energy into the proceedings. And while the effort is noticeable and appreciated, it doesn’t quite achieve its objective, or generate any substantial interest in any of the primary or secondary characters.
'Sins of the Father' largely concerns the 20th anniversary of a chemical attack that was ordered by Khaled Al-Fayeed on the rebels who opposed him. Early on, the episode demonstrates the importance of the event in flashback – showing a poorly cast college-aged Barry finding his dorm room vandalized in response to the atrocities committed by his father.
But the ramifications go well beyond ruining Barry's college experience, as the shift back to Abbudin shows a former rebel engage in an act of self-immolation to protest the actions of the Al-Fayeed government, sparking a new protest that quickly finds its voice in Ihab Rashid.
For his part, Barry appeals to Jamal, asking him to respond not with violence, but by apologizing for the attack and engaging with the protesters as a demonstration of how his intentions are different from his father's. As it was in last week's 'My Brother's Keeper,' Jamal's trust in Barry's judgment overwhelms all the other voices in his ear; namely, Gen. Tariq and his other military advisers, much to their collective chagrin.
There's a potentially interesting conflict brewing between Tariq and Barry that Tyrant has yet to truly capitalize on. The demonstration of Tariq's power in 'State of Emergency' certainly gave the audience an idea of what he was capable of, but like Jamal's blind allegiance to his brother's wishes, Tariq hasn't offered any real clash that might generate some heat.
As such, the characterization of Jamal becomes thinner with each passing episode. He is so easily swayed by his brother that there is almost no tension between them whatsoever, and because Jamal hasn't actually demonstrated what it is that he wants – like almost everyone else on the show – it's increasingly difficult to see him as anything more than an ineffectual depiction of what, it can only be presumed, is intended to be an ineffectual character.
More so than almost anyone else on the show at this point, there seems to be the potential for an interesting character buried somewhere in Jamal – one that was all but ruined by the shallow use of rape as a plot device. The outward ferocity displayed by Jamal throughout these first few episodes has been deliberately undercut by what seems to be his lack of resolve and, more pointedly, the loss of his weapon of choice.
But so far, Tyrant isn't getting its ideas about the façade the character is hiding behind out in a convincing or particularly engaging manner. There probably is a way to equate Jamal's sexual frustration with his ineffectiveness as a leader, but shoving Leila in the mix as a barely adequate Lady Macbeth-type isn't the answer; it fails to ignite Jamal's story, much less her own.
At least the American Al-Fayeeds get more screen time than they have in previous episodes. So far, it has seemed as though Molly's only concern was whether or not Barry was getting in touch with his feelings. Here, however, she moves to influence her husband in a positive way and to help him understand that if fixing Abbudin is his goal, it's not going to happen overnight.
While it's not clear if anyone is aware the implications of what Barry is trying to undertake – or the sacrifice it will require from all of them – at least one character has a clearer want; it's just too bad it had to be spelled out for him.
Meanwhile, Emma and Sammy continue to be terrible. Sammy's story consists mainly of discovering why he and Abdul can't have a relationship, which, for the first time, puts him at odds with the privilege his name affords him, so hopefully that will amount to something.
For her part, Emma rightly calls out her grandfather for being a war criminal and criticizes the family's decadent lifestyle, but there doesn't seem to be any indication she wants to do anything about it, like, say, not put a servant in a compromising position to prove a point or, you know, having a servant at all.
If the show were to make a demonstration of little things like that, to have Emma take a stand and make a decision, it might find such actions speak much louder and it might paint her as something more than a snotty teen proclaiming things everyone already knows.
Fittingly, 'Sins of the Father' ends with Barry asking Jamal what he plans to do. It's a step in the right direction to have the characters in a position to recognize the need to act, but the question is: Will they?
Hopefully, that discussion will lead to the kind of action this series desperately needs in order to get something of some significance going with regard to what has so far been a rather meandering plot.
Tyrant continues next Tuesday with 'Hail Mary' @10pm on FX.
Photos: Vered Adir/FX
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