A general rule of thumb with most — but not all — TV shows is that the pilot isn’t always a good indicator of whether or not a show is going to be great long-term. Some shows that I love these days, like Arrow, didn’t “find themselves” until around episode 17 or 18 of the first season, even though they had a fairly good pilot episode. And even in rare times, the pilot can be AWFUL and the show still gets really good afterwards. (Angel, anyone?) So, the pilot? That shouldn’t always be how you judge a show.

Tyrant had a reasonably okay pilot that I was much kinder to than other critics. Perhaps that was my mistake. Because, wow, the second episode is awful.

The Kidnapping

At the start of the episode, the military of Abuddin moves quickly after the events of last week’s pilot by quickly arresting “terrorists” connected to the woman who tried to bite off the penis of the new dictator in charge. I could try and tell you the names of some of the ones who have managed to stay under the radar and are plotting their escape at the beginning of the episode, but without closed captioning, it’s pretty difficult.

Samira, however, is one of the names that I’m able to discern, and she and her cohorts speak in English during the entire scene. I was one of the critics not as bothered by the use of English in the pilot since the Al-Fayeed family (Barry’s family, that is) is from America. But it seems incredibly odd — and even somewhat lazy — that other citizens of Abuddin don’t speak with some sort of Middle Eastern dialect?

(Plus, it’s not exactly as though FX is nervous with captions. The Americans has a ton of scenes that use nothing but Russian dialogue.)

Over the next few hours, there’s a lot of fighting amongst the Al-Fayeed family members. Ahmed’s wife wants to go home because she’s tired and he’s furious that she won’t stay by her new father-in-law’s side. A smart show would have her bring up the fact that Jamal raped her to her new husband, but no; instead, it’s dismissed by Leila, who suggests Ahmed let his new wife go home.

Leila instead wants to chew out her brother-in-law. She mocks him for “treating over-privileged children with ear infections.”

The Al-Fayeed family has to put their squabbles aside, however, once Ahmed’s new bride gets kidnapped by child terrorists out of the back of her limo at gunpoint.

The Stand-Off

If the kid terrorists have names, we don’t learn them or I don’t remember them. They argue a ton, mostly about one of them insisting that they do this so they can save his brother’s life. Regardless of their motivations, their tense conversations are incredibly boring, especially surprising since Howard Gordon co-wrote this episode and should know better given his experiences on 24 and Homeland.

The Al-Fayeed family discusses what they should do, at which point John Tucker of all people suggests Barry be the one to negotiate directly with the terrorists. Why? Because this is of course what’s going to get Barry more deeply involved in the family’s issues so that he eventually decides not to return home to America. Not because it actually makes sense for Barry to do so.

Barry refuses at first and his mom, Amira, is furious he won’t get involved. He said he’s not running away and that he just wants to go home. But after confronting his uncle, who is the general in charge of the situation, and learning that he plans on killing everyone, Barry decides to jump in. He refuses to let his uncle let his new sister-in-law die just so his uncle can crack down on terrorists.

Just as Barry’s about to walk in to directly negotiate, one of the kid terrorists starts to try to walk out with Ahmed’s wife ready to give up. When Barry arrives inside the storefront where they’re holding her, he reminds them that he’s their only chance. “Only an Al-Fayeed can save you now.”

And, sure enough, they walk out. Shortest hostage negotiation ever?

Yes. And then the kids die anyway. A random solider shoots all three of them in the head as they’re lying on the ground, handcuffed. It’s such a bold, incredible move that the show waves away quickly as non-important, even as the uncle tries to make a case to Barry that they would have become suicide bombers eventually anyway.

Please, please tell me the show will bring this incident up again later.

Barry Decides to Stay

At the hospital later, Jamal learns from his doctor that his penis should work again … eventually. Leila, continuing to try and assert her own authority, tells the doctor to make sure Jamal is on his feet for delivering the eulogy for his father tomorrow.

Jamal and Barry, meanwhile, try to give each other a pep talk. “You’re ready for this, Jamal,” Barry tells his brother. They do have a brotherly moment, which is weird since isn’t Jamal the perfect example of everything Barry is supposed to hate about his family?

Later that night, Barry can’t sleep. “I just keep thinking about those boys,” Barry says, which should fill Internet memes for this show for years if there are actually enough fans out there to make them.

Seriously, show: please dial down the melodrama.

Barry talks about living with extreme privilege while he witnessed protests down the streets. And then I’m reminded by the fact that this isn’t about journalists being mean to your dad, Barry. Your father was a murderer — it’s why you escaped. The show wants us to at least consider these issues, but then wimps out before making characters deal with them directly.

At the funeral the next day, Jamal won’t read the eulogy. He says it’s shit. Barry encourages him to speak the truth, so Jamal talks about how hard it was to be his father’s son, as the show gives us a montage of people listening to the speech across the nation. The show then has the nerve to play sappy, sad music to try and move you … but, um, wasn’t this guy a monster?

Instead, imagine a better show where this scene is all about how Jamal consolidates his power, despite his injury, and decides he’ll be even worse than his father. Maybe in this moment, he decides to have those kid terrorists murdered.

Now THAT is a show I would watch.

Instead, I’m watching this. But probably not for much longer.

(Oh, and if you care, the episode ends with Barry calling Jamal and asking him what he would think if he hung around for a while. Jamal is happy that he will.) 

Other Odds and Ends

— We learn, via flashback, that apparently Leila and Barry were involved when they were younger. I have to imagine that’s going to come up again down the line.

— Am I the only one surprised Sammy and Abdul haven’t hooked up yet? I’m nervous they’re actually going to set up a love story between them because, honestly, the actor who plays Sammy is not going to be capable of carrying that burden.

— I can’t think of a more awkward scene on television in the last three months than Ahmed’s wife asking one of the kid terrorists if he’s even seen breasts before when she catches him staring at hers. “There’s a woman out there for you,” she tells him, “You don’t deserve to die here.”

— I mentioned up top my annoyance at the use of English on this show, but it gets really ridiculous when the doctors are talking to Jamal and he literally says, “Speak English,” when she’s speaking in medical terms. Seriously?!

— Emma: “This whole weekend has been completely surreal.” That one line shows how badly written this show is. 


Tyrant airs Tuesdays at 10pm on FX.

(Image courtesy of FX)

Alan Danzis

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV