First, though, let me say that overall, last week’s episode kept the upward trend for this season going. Last season was all over the place. But this season seems to know where it’s going. The plot seems to have been laid out six months to a year in advance, long enough to get every plotpoint ironed out. That’s great, and I’m happy. In fact, in this week’s EW.com Community Blog recap, I boast the two best scenes from the episode:
Also weighing on Jamal’s mind is Ahmed not holding up his end of the bargain as the head of energy development. Perhaps it’s because he’s still messed up from Uncle Bassam’s “hanging,” which led him to take drugs and lecture the Chinese official about the sun. Jamal calls Ahmad into his office and gives him proper father-to-son tough love. He might be a monster, but he really schooled Ahmed about his responsibilities as an Al-Fayeed. In one of the best scenes of the night, he wisely tells Ahmed that there’s much at stake for Abuddin—too much for him to be mucking up. Either he gets his act together or he just goes back to be his son. “I want both,” Ahmed says through tears. Jamal also tells Ahmed something that’s probably the most important thing he’s ever said; everyone hates an Al-Fayeed, so you have to be on your Ps and Qs. “They hate me too,” he tells his son in a loving embrace. Shared wounds.
The Abuddinian military is having a time trying to figure out who detonated the blast that killed its men. The main official looking into the case finally gets the lead he’s been looking for and begins the search for the bomber. As we know, the bomber is with Ihab and Samira. He’s only too willing to volunteer himself for the next mission, which is to kill Jamal at the ceremony celebrating Abuddin and China’s oil-drilling/refinery situation. There was yet another great scene between characters; this time, it involved Ihab, Samira, and Jamal’s would-be assassin. He talks about how alive he felt to press the button on the bomb, and how, even if he’s killed, he’ll be happy going down for the cause.
But I have to call out the problems when I see them, and the one problem I did see was the unnecessary sex scene between Leila and Jamal. Here’s what I wrote:
Did we need to see the sex scene, though? I know I’m a prude about some things, but did that [sex] scene really illuminate any kind of character beats? Or was it another way to objectify Middle Eastern women (particularly since we mostly see Leila’s face, not both of their faces)? I leave that as an open-ended question, since having sex really had nothing to do with the conversation they had about Bassam’s death later on. It’s strange pillow talk, at any rate.
And here are my elaborated thoughts on this. I don’t think the sex scene did ANYTHING other than make the show meet its MA-TV rating. If you take out people getting shot in the head (which actually doesn’t happen a lot in the show) and all the horrors that happened in the pilot, then all Tyrant really garners is a PG-13 rating. But because Tyrant is on FX, it seems like the writing room is sometimes forced to put in things that legitimizes the show being on a higher cable network like FX. Something is always off about how much sex or nudity Tyrant shoehorns into its scripts sometimes. A lot of it just isn’t necessary.
If I may go on a rant here, the raping and slapping of women in the pilot certainly wasn’t necessary, especially since they reduced Jamal’s heinousness within the first three episodes. Why make Jamal that vile in the first place if there won’t be a follow-through on his horrors and keep him as the monster that he was originally advertised to be? I think it’s because the writers realized that level of viciousness didn’t line up with the story they were trying to tell. They wanted us to be able to identify with Jamal on some level, and a man whose only additions to the story are physical and mental abuse is a character no one could identify with.
Also, a character like that might have become impossible to play for several seasons. A character like that is “fine”, for lack of a better term, for a film, since you have a finite time to be in that skin, but to play a character like that for a collection of months every year? That might get to be way too much for one brain to handle. Basically, Jamal’s original characterization was inconceivable since the sole focus was shock and terror, not shock, terror, and characterization. Once again, it was all about garnering that MA rating instead of creating a story that had characters that made sense. So, in a way, it’s like the lives of the women in the story were ruined just so the show could seem edgy. That’s a shame.
It only occurred during the writing of the first season that Jamal became a monster whose underlying motives come from wanting to earn and keep the love of his brother, the only person in his life that he has unconditional love for. That could have been revealed without the audience’s first introduction to Tyrant be a rape scene. Or, if you’re going to write a rape scene aimed at showing how subjugated the women in Abuddin really are, why not follow through and show how some Abuddinian women are working to increase women’s rights and protections? The country hates the Al-Fayeeds anyway—why not show a group of women rise up against Jamal and his family? Yes, I know the woman who was in the pilot did do her best to take Jamal out. But there need to be more women apart from her and Samira who are taking a stand against the Al-Fayeeds.
The reason I’ve brought the pilot up is because the sex scene, the rape scenes, and any scene involving a woman (usually the Middle-Eastern women) and nudity never amount to anything other than an objectification and exoticitizing (if that’s a word) of women. In actuality, the real Middle East is just as complex and dysfunctional as America is. There are many people in the Middle East, particularly women, who are working to make the region a more equal place for all, and the show does these women a great disservice to just dwindle them down to fetishized body parts. To quote myself from my recap of the pilot:
Of course, there’s no going around the fact that there are real-life atrocities committed against women every day. But what doesn’t get reported every day are the male andfemale activists fighting against hatred and inequality. What we don’t see on the news are the young people who are similar to their American counterparts in their efforts tochange the way things are intheir countries. There are shows like Pakistan’s Burka Avenger that aim to give girls hope and erase the fear of being persecuted simply for having an education. Let’s also not forget that not every Middle Eastern country has the same types of restrictions and outlooks on life. Combine that with the fact that not all people of the Islamic faith 1) are Middle Eastern or 2) condone the views of the extremists. Basically, the Middle East is far more complex and diverse than the American media, including Tyrant, makes it out to be.
So that’s my word on that. In other news, is it wrong that I found Bassam pitifully yelling “Allahhu akbar” the most hilarious part of last week’s episode? Between the forced accent and my own hatred of Bassam, I was having too much gross fun with this scene. Finally, Bassam had to beg someone for some type of mercy or forgiveness, and, of course, when you run out of people to turn to, you turn back to God. Finally, Bassam remembered he’s not God.
Last, I have to give a shout-out to Cameron Gharaee, Ahmed on Tyrant, for loving my recap of last week’s episode! I’m glad my writing is liked by Gharaee, since, despite my ascerbic critiquing, I really like the actors who are doing the best they can with what they’re given. To credit the actors, particularly the actors portraying the Al-Fayeeds, they really made me come around to reviewing the show for a second season; they brought characterization to their characters when there was none.
TYRANT — “Enter The Fates” — Episode 202 (Airs Tuesday, June 23, 10:00 pm e/p) Pictured: Armin Karima as Kasim, Adam Rayner as Barry. CR: FX