I’ve watched Tyrant for a while now, and ever since the second episode of the first season, I’ve been side-eyeing Bassam as a character (I’ve been side-eyeing him for other reasons beforehand, but those reasons are really not related to Bassam as a character as much as they are related to Hollywood practices).
Bassam never seems exactly sincere to me. It seems he’s sincere to his version of the truth, but he’s never sincere to the actual truth. That truth is that he’s always been running from the fact that he killed a man in cold blood as a child so his father could notice him, that he knows he has the capabilities to be the leader his father wanted Jamal to be, and he’s scared of owning up to that truth, despite the fact that he lets his natural ability to be ruthless and conniving slip through his “I’m just an American doctor” facade all the time. (That truth is also a run-on sentence.)
Bassam knows full well he could run Abuddin blindfolded and wants the power! Not to “save” Abuddin, as he keeps saying; it’s because he’s mad that Jamal doesn’t know what to do with the power and he does! There’s not much altruistic at the heart of Bassam, but he’s easily able to couch it into altruistic activities, such as leading the resistance. What better way to start a loyal following than somehow become the leader of an uprising?
“But Bassam is helping the people who want freedom! He’s like Martin Luther King!” Pump your brakes, Imaginary Person. Unlike Bassam, King wasn’t interested in becoming President. He was truly a man of the people and wanted to champion causes in a way a politician wouldn’t have been able to do. He already consigned himself to becoming a martyr for the cause if worse came to worse. Bassam is a politician (as we have seen from his bargaining and cunning in Season One). He’s also taken no such oath of martyrdom, not within himself nor to the people he’s fighting with. Bassam’s clearly banking of staying alive to take out Jamal, but in the event something did happen to him, Bassam would hope that everyone else around him would see him a martyr for his own personal issues with pride and power, so his hollow reasons for fighting a resistance can seem like it meant something. Bassam wants to influence people because he’s Bassam Al-Fayeed and feels the world owes him its admiration of him. He doesn’t want to influence people to do better or to fight social injustice. Bassam’s selfish.
In short: this war between the Caliphate and the resistance means a whole lot more to the actual citizens of this place than it does to Bassam, a man who has removed himself from his homeland in an effort to be a white American doctor with homicidal tendencies. But Bassam’s so sneaky, he can make it seem like he truly cares about a place he hasn’t lived in for decades. He might care superficially, just like how so many Americans cared about Cecil the Lion, but just like some of the Cecil lovers can care about a lion but can’t be bothered to support fighting for the lives of minorities who are routinely stopped (and killed) by police, Bassam cares about the resistance and “freedom,” but can’t really be bothered to care about seeing a truly free Abuddin, with an elected official chosen by the people —an elected official that just might not be him.
Bassam’s sneakiness is examined in my op-ed-esque feature for Entertainment Weekly, “Does ‘Tyrant’s’ Bassam have a messiah complex?”. In the article, I compare Bassam to Michael Corleone, since, as it’s been stated, Tyrant is loosely based on The Godfather, and Bassam is this universe’s Michael Corelone. But is he really Michael Corleone? I think that, just like with his supposed love for Abuddin, a place he hated until his father said he should have been the leader, Bassam’s Corleone-esque qualities is just a part of his facade of “hero”.
To quote myself:
Bassam’s end goal is to be the ruler of Abuddin and free them from tyranny, but what would Bassam become if not a tyrant himself? In season one, he wanted to install democracy, but would he really give up his title of president for another person to take his place, the place he’s worked so hard to occupy? I doubt it. Would Bassam consider himself filling the impossible role of philosopher king? As Encyclopædia Britannica states:
“…the notion of the philosopher ruler has come to signify a general claim to domination by an unaccountable, if putatively beneficient, elite, as in certain forms of Marxism and other revolutionary political movements.”
In short: Bassam’s assertions that he wouldn’t become a tyrant while saving his people is false. He might have started out like Michael Corleone, but now it’s clear that he’s just in the game for himself.
Check it out at the link above or by clicking here!
“Fathers and Sons” — Episode 208 (Airs Tuesday, August 4, 10:00 pm e/p) Pictured: (l-r) Adam Rayner as Barry, Melia Kreiling as Daliyah. CR: Kata Vermes/FX