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'Tyrant' recap: Haunting childhoods, past and present

Season 1 | Episode 2 | “State of Emergency” | Aired July 1, 2014

Is it bad to say that “State of Emergency” was a better episode than the pilot simply because Jamal was incapacitated? It would seem that this episode was much more palatable simply since Jamal, the Big Bad of the series, was mostly not involved in the action.

At the end of the pilot, Jamal, who is speeding down the road with a woman in his car, has a terrible accident. Said woman—who is forced to give Jamal oral sex—tried to kill him by biting off his penis and attempting to stab him with poison. She doesn’t get to do the stabbing, but she does bite hard enough to cause Jamal to drive off a cliff. He should be dead, since his head hit rock right in the temple. But somehow, he’s still alive. This is the biggest element of the show that really drives home the point that this isn’t so much a hard-hitting drama as it is a soap opera with gruesome scenes in it.

Tyrant-State-of-Emergency-1“State of Emergency” picks up where we left off, with Jamal in intensive care with his wife, Leila, and their son—Barry’s newly married nephew—waiting on him to come out of surgery. Somehow, Barry’s nephew turned out to be a really nice guy (so far). He seems to care about his wife, Nusrat, and the only argument they’ve had so far—whether they should leave or stay at the hospital—didn’t end in misogynistic misery. Of course, Leila seems to have had a hand in her son turning out to be an understanding individual. “You’re a good son,” she says, also telling him that he’s a good husband. Nusrat also tells him he’s a good husband when he calls her while she’s en route to the palace, but then the car is suddenly under siege! Some kid militants have captured the SUV and now hold Nusrat as their hostage in an attempt to use her as leverage. The ringleader of the group has a brother who was captured by the Al-Fayeed regime and is currently in prison. It would seem that the brother is one of those “insurgents” the Al-Fayeeds keep talking about. By “insurgents,” I mean freedom fighters.

As Barry’s nephew travels with the general, Uncle Tariq Al-Fayeed, to find out more about the situation, Barry is put in a weird situation by Tucker and Tucker’s wife, Molly, and his mother, Amira. According to Tucker, Molly and Amira, Barry could help Tariq with this delicate hostage situation. When Barry rails against helping the family, his mother rounds on him, saying that all he does is run away from his family and his problems. “It must be nice to absolve yourself of all responsibility … [somewhere] where the pain of your family doesn’t follow you.” She also states that she could use her own escape. “Don’t you think I could’ve used a ‘Pasadena’ once in a while?” she asks bitterly. But of course, she’s much more noble than to give in to her pain, since she has stayed with the family for all of these years.

Barry’s penchant for running away keeps following him throughout the episode. As we saw earlier in the episode, Barry’s escape to America also robbed him of having a fully realized love with Leila. The two were once teenage sweethearts, but when Barry left for America, somehow Leila ended up as Jamal’s wife. Later in the episode, we see that the tension between the two will become a huge problem. Just seeing Leila find comfort in Barry’s arms while they’re at the hospital shows that there will be trouble down the line.

Meanwhile, Nusrat is attempting to talk her way out of her imprisonment. She manages to convince two of the kid “terrorists” that it’d be better if they let her go. The two boys who agree to this wanted out of the plan a long time ago; when they were initially trying to capture Nusrat, they realized they wouldn’t be able to capture her without the incoming soldiers seeing them. Now that the soldiers are camped outside of their makeshift hiding place—a convenience store—they really want to give up and see if they can somehow still escape with their lives. Of course, the ringleader isn’t hearing any of this.

Enter Barry, who tried to reason with Tariq to not kill the boys. Tariq, who already has resentment against Barry for emotionally disowning the family, doesn’t want to hear any suggestions he’s got. But Barry realizes that there’s another reason he doesn’t want to hear any suggestions; Tariq wants to use the death of Nusrat as an excuse for cracking down on the opposition. Tariq answers that he’s not even going to dignify Barry’s assumption with a response, but we can see the assumption is true.

Tyrant-State-of-Emergency-3Another thing that’s true about this show is its continued use of the “America is civilized!” trope. Barry tries to reason with Tariq about the kids, saying that they are just children with their lives ahead of them. Tariq, instead, comes back with a “These Americans!” line, stating that childhood over here isn’t how it is in Abbudin. But Barry, in his infinite American wisdom, knows the value of children and tries to save them. Now going by his birth name, Bassam, he goes into the lion’s den himself, reasoning with the kids to let Nusrat go and that they won’t be harmed. He even gives them his word as an Al-Fayeed.

However, he seemed to forget that he’s not the only Al-Fayeed there. Once Nusrat is safe, Tariq’s men kill the boys right in front of Barry. Barry is constantly haunted by the kids he couldn’t save, and the memory reminds him of his own childhood. Or rather, it reminds him of the childhood he lost once he killed the “terrorist” Jamal couldn’t.

It’s while lying awake at night that he finally tells his wife why he ran away. Except he doesn’t say the real reason. He gives some kind of answer that still boils down to what we already know: He’s running away from his family because of what they do. Well, he’s running away from the little he knows about what they’ve done, because it’s clear he doesn’t know as much about his own family as he thinks. But the real reason he’s running away, the reason he will never tell his wife until the very last minute, is because he knows he can become his father. He already mercilessly killed a man as a child. He knows exactly what he’s capable of. He knows he could be worse than Jamal.

He also knows he’s much smarter and much more fit to rule than Jamal, when he tells Jamal to “forget the speech” and just tell the truth at their father’s funeral. Jamal takes his lead and forgoes the script, giving a much better eulogy than the one that was written for him. With Barry’s help, Jamal presents an image of presidential stature to the public. At the end of the episode, Barry calls Jamal to tell him that he’s staying. He’s going to help build up the dynasty. Or he’ll help tear it down with his “American” ideas about childhood. Because only Americans value childhood.

Anyway, enough of the soapbox. That’s what the last recap was for. There are a few more elements to discuss.

First is the subplot between Abdul and Sammy. Again, I feel this subplot will be handled hideously. It also didn’t get addressed well in this episode. I thought we were supposed to see Abdul and Sammy hang out, like they said they would. That would have been a great character moment. Oh well.

Second is something the child ringleader says. “Why should we listen to you when no one listens to us?” he asks Barry before the standoff ends. This should be the theme to the show. There are a ton of people in Abbudin who would echo what this boy asked. Their struggles are infinitely more interesting than anything the Al-Fayeed family can give us.

Speaking of the problems of the common man, here’s the third element that needs to be addressed: Journalist Fauzi’s daughter, Samira, is in cahoots with the main “insurgent,” Ihab. Samira seems to share her father’s freedom-fighting roots, but having a relationship with Ihab will certainly get her—and her father—in trouble. Since her father’s been in trouble before, it could get him killed.

Tyrant-State-of-Emergency-4Fourth, there were more scenes of women not in compromising positions. We have the woman doctor—the head doctor, no less—and Samira, who is seen driving a car. Does this make up for the pilot’s awfulness toward women? Not at all, since in the same episode, we see poor Nusrat’s clothes somehow reveal her cleavage, cleavage that’s later clumsily used as some of her negotiating power. But at least we have some other views of women in the Middle East.

Finally, how hilarious was that Bond-villain threat Leila made to the doctor? How does she know the doctor has a seven-year-old son with a beautiful smile?

What did you think of the episode? Discuss it in the comments section!

Tyrant airs Tuesdays at 10/9C on FX.


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