Even though the show Tyrant is set in a fictional Middle Eastern country, it still exists in the same universe where Saddam Hussein and others lived--and eventually died. This show strives to be real and it's parallels to real-world situations are to be admired, even if the FX show indulges in quite a few well-trodden stereotypes about Middle Eastern people and cultures, while simultaneously feeling like only the briefest character outlines are sketched out in the pilot.
If you want to watch a show with similar themes and plotlines that you'd find in 24 or Homeland, but also one that borrows liberally from family soaps like Dallas, you might like FX's new series, Tyrant. Me? I'm still on the fence, especially since the lead character is a bit too vanilla.
Let's not worry too much about the future for right now. Instead, let's recap the first episode of Tyrant.
Meet the Al-Fayeed Family
Bassam "Barry" Al-Fayeed is a California pediatrician beloved by his patients--that also is the second son of a Middle Eastern dictator. He has agreed, reluctantly, to return home with his very, very American family for his nephew's wedding.
Barry's daughter, Emma, doesn't want to go either. "Just promise me we'll come back," Barry says to his wife, Molly, who along with their son, Sammy, is excited with the idea of seeing his homeland. Both seem fine with the idea of experiencing the royal life, even if that comes at the expense of so, so many other citizens. The very idea that this isn't brought up was a little troubling.
At the airport, Barry and his family learn that Barry's father bought out the entire flight so they could have a safe flight home. Barry's uncomfortable taking charity from his father and wants to sit in the seats he purchased. Emma offers to sit back with her father, but eventually Molly goes back and sits with him.
When we first meet Barry's older brother and heir to the throne, Jamal, we see him raping a girl while her husband and son wait outside. He finds out his brother has landed and shows up in a sports car, playing classic American rock music.
As the Al-Fayeed family heads for the palace, I have to admit the scope and the cinematography of the next sequence is quite breathtaking. Like Sammy, even I was taken aback by it all.
When they arrive at the palace, Jamal and Barry go to see their father. Their mother, Amira, is also Caucasian, like Molly. I even think she's British?
After an awkward greeting with the son he hasn't seen in 19 years, Barry's father asks to speak with Jamal alone. He tells Jamal that he's heard rumors of a terrorist attack coming at the wedding. Jamal claims to have paid the terrorists off to stay quiet, but assures his father he'll take care of everything. His father, however, insists he take Barry along when he goes to speak with their leader.
While Jamal and his father are conferring, we learn that Amira is the one that convinced Barry to come to the wedding. She asked him to come and even claims his father has "changed."
When Barry and his father have a chance to talk one-on-one, his father talks about how all other tyrants in the world are dead or in exile, and that he doesn't understand why his people don't love them. "I give them order and prosperity," he says. "And all they want is chaos."
Barry convinces his parents to go back to their hotel--he refuses to stay at the royal palace.
Before the wedding, there is a huge party, similar to what one might assume the bachelor and bachelorette of a royal family would get. While at the spa, Barry and Jamal go to talk to the tribal leader who has a nephew that is a terrorist. (Well, according to Jamal and his father.)
He claims to know nothing, so Jamal starts beating the shit out of him. Jamal even stops to remove his towel and continue beating him while naked. He's about to cut off his fingers when Barry jumps in and suggests an alternative: invite him and his entire family to the wedding so they'll stop the attack. Jamal agrees.
At the wedding reception, Jamal tells Barry he was right and hugs him. He is so happy, he then grabs a gun and starts firing into the air. Barry refuses to take part, however.
A bit later, Jamal goes to see his son's bride. He talks about the importance of being pure as he reaches under her dress and decides to see for himself if she still has her hymen. He then sneers "good girl" when he discovers there's blood on his finger tips. Not sure we needed this scene AND the scene of him raping the girl earlier in the episode. We get it--he's a pretty awful guy.
The Heir to the Throne
During the reception, Barry's father collapses from a stroke. In the hospital later, he tells Barry, "It should have been you," referring to the fact that Barry would make a way better leader than Jamal.
Barry exits the room and Jamal and Amira head in. We don't see what happens next, but when Jamal leaves, he says his father is dead. Bets on Jamal killing him? My money, however, is on Amira.
Jamal and his wife get into a fight and he storms off. Barry, meanwhile, wants to go home before his father's body is even cold. He gets into an argument with Sammy who wants to stay and winds up slapping him twice. Hard. But he convinces his family to go to the airport and they are boarding the plane when Jamal gets into a drinking and driving accident while forcibly getting a blowjob from a female passenger who tries to stab him with a syringe.
(Jamal is still alive, afterwards though.)
Barry and his family's airplane, of course, doesn't take off as scheduled. Instead, the pilot hands Barry a phone. He's got to be the one in charge now, right?
"I told you we shouldn't have come," Barry tells his wife as the episode ends.
Other Odds and Ends
- By the end of the pilot, we get a clear picture of what happened in the flashbacks to when Bassam and Jamal were children. Bassam killed an civilian to stop his father from screaming at Jamal for refusing to do so. The show tried to play it as a surprise, but come on, that's exactly what happened to Mr. Eko in Lost!
- Over the course of the Tyrant premiere, we meet John Tucker, the US ambassador, and his wife. Both seem to enjoy the spoils of being on good terms with the dictator. But it's because Justin Kirk is playing John Tucker that I'm especially suspicious of him.
- Making Sammy gay is an intriguing choice. Since he's the son of Barry, I think when other people find out, he'll be just fine. But when he's inevitably caught hooking up with Abdul, the son of the security chief--well, let's just say I have a bad feeling there's absolutely zero chance of Abdul surviving the season. This is a situation ripe for cliche. Hopefully the producers figure out a way to make it feel fresh.
- The one subplot, however, I am looking forward to: learning more about the journalist Barry meets with halfway through the episode. He was imprisoned for three days and severely beaten and it seems like he and Barry have been communicating for some time.
Tyrant airs Tuesdays at 10pm on FX.
(Image courtesy of FX)