Season 1 | Episode 3 | “My Brother’s Keeper” | Aired July 8, 2014
From some of the comments you have left on my recaps, the reception to Tyrant seems to be lukewarm at best. I’d have to say this show is beginning to feel like it doesn’t know what it is or what it wants to be. “My Brother’s Keeper” had a lot of evidence of this confusion.
Where we last left Barry (to be known from here on out as Bassam) and his family, Bassam had decided to stay in Abbudin, much to his brother Jamal’s delight. Now Jamal is facing his first day as president, and his first action is to find and kill the husband of the woman who tried to killed him. Jamal’s army does find the man, Hamid, and brings him out to Jamal at his first presidential meeting.
By the way, the cabinet meeting scene is very much like something out of The Godfather. Indeed, the show’s one-sentence pitch is “The Godfather in the Middle East.” But the scene is a little hilarious in the juvenile way it’s presented. Jamal names Bassam as the president’s special counsel, which is setting the scene for a Michael and Fredo Corleone–style betrayal. We know that Bassam is going to become the real leader of Abbudin, right? Can’t you just see Jamal trying to fight for his title, screaming, “You broke my heart!” to Bassam, who will calmly lock him in the dungeons to rot? Back to the meeting.
Hamid is brought to the meeting for another bout of public shaming. He says that his wife (the woman Jamal raped in the first episode) was in love with Jamal and that Ihab, the “terrorist” out to get Jamal, ordered the wife to kill Jamal or else her children would be killed. As Hamid is taken back to his dank cell, Bassam’s American senses start tingling. Again, the show is proposing the idea that Americanism is right while the entirety of the Middle East is backward. It’s acting as if America has always been a true safe haven for all within its borders. Slavery, internment camps and many other everyday discriminatory issues are just as much part of “Americanism” as celebrating the Fourth of July is. But I digress.
Now that Hamid has been captured, the next issue at hand is to catch Ihab and kill him before the important pilgrimages start. Martial law is threatening the pilgrimages themselves, so the clock is racing to get Ihab in custody. Thankfully for Jamal, political advisor Yussef, and army general Tariq, Walid—the guy who was invited to the wedding in the pilot—is not only Ihab’s uncle, but he’s also easy to bend. Very quickly he tells them where his nephew is, and he’s swiftly arrested.
Jamal is pleased as punch to report to his cabinet (and Bassam) that Ihab and his compatriots have been arrested. Not only that, but (surprise!) they’ll be, as the judge from Garrow’s Law would say, “hung by the neck until dead.” Being hanged isn’t something Bassam thought would happen. In fact, he goes so far as to say it’s “barbaric.” This is yet another instance of the erroneous “the American is always right” through line. The American in question doesn’t even know anything about his country of origin, so apart from the president being his brother, he really has no place at this table giving his two cents. Everyone at the table knows this, but they humor him because he’s Jamal’s brother; however, even though Bassam has a point about the possibility of holding a trial, he had no real evidence against immediately hanging the prisoners. The reports he and Jamal received stated that the female would-be assassin had a vial of ricin. If Ihab supplied her with it, then … case closed, right?
Wrong! Turns out our journalist friend Fauzi has the truth about what went on that day in Jamal’s car. He calls Bassam saying that he will hand over the name of the real culprit, but Bassam has to do him a favor first: Save his daughter. Samira has been trying to win the heart of Ihab, who is so not into her right now. He even goes so far as to say he’s offended when she removes her hijab when she’s trying to show her feelings for him. But her efforts to win him over have gotten her arrested. Bassam does get her out of jail, and while he’s trying to give her a story to tell friends and family if anyone asks what happened to her, she spits in his face. She also disrespects him again once she gets home; Fauzi tells her to say thanks to Bassam for what he’s done, but she says, “He’s an Al-Fayeed. I don’t owe him anything. He owes me.” At least she knows the right Al-Fayeed to say that to; she couldn’t dare say that to Jamal and expect to come out whole.
Fauzi keeps his end of the deal and hands over his research, research he wished he could publish for public consumption. Instead, he’s handing it over to the opposition. An interesting choice—not one I would think a renegade journalist in the pursuit of the truth would do. Certainly not the same Fauzi we saw in the pilot.
The culprit isn’t Ihab at all. It’s Hamid! Also, there was no ricin in the syringe; it was just standard bathroom cleaner! By this time, it’s already late at night and Bassam is cranky about not spending time with his family, but he’s going to have to spend all night getting to the bottom of this rabbit hole. He travels back to Hamid’s prison cell and goes Law & Order on him, grilling him about who he knows and the real reason behind the assassination attempt. Hamid finally caves and tells Bassam the awful truth: Jamal had been sexually abusing his wife with Hamid and their child right outside the door, guns to their heads if they moved or spoke. Hamid and his wife decided to kill Jamal together. “Your brother’s a devil!” Hamid shouts at Bassam. Somehow, Bassam doesn’t know how awful his brother is, even though he’s seen Jamal slap Leila right in front of him.
Bassam tells Hamid that he promises to keep Hamid’s children safe. Bassam’s last pledge as an Al-Fayeed had disastrous results, so I was uneasy when he decided to give his word as an Al-Fayeed again. But he does keep the kids safe. Unfortunately, he doesn’t fight for the freedom of Hamid, whose actions could possibly be argued as self-defense (if Abbudin had a court of law, of course). Instead, Hamid gets to swing, just as Jamal wanted; however, Bassam gets Jamal to let Ihab and his rebel fighters go since they had nothing to do with the attack. Even though Bassam rightfully fights Jamal after what he’s learned, he’s still all about family coming first. His ability to “counsel” his brother into letting the rebels go (aka shadow rule) seems very benevolent and “American” and all that stuff, but it’s a big, ruthless cover-up. Unlike Jamal, Bassam knows how to keep a clean public face while doing some very dirty things in (literally) broad daylight.
Now for some nitpicks. This show always has to have a Middle Eastern woman in some form of undress. In the pilot—well, we saw what happened. In “State of Emergency,” we saw poor Nusrat somehow almost disrobed while captured by kids. It was inexplicable, to be honest. In this episode, we see Leila in the shower. It feels like this show thinks that edginess includes having these women not fully clothed at some point in an episode. All this reeks of is exoticism.
This treatment doesn’t just end at the women; the scene between Sammy and Abdul is also full of exoticism. How is it that Abdul hasn’t done or seen any Western thing? The conversation about Skype was basically like the scene in Disney’s Pocahontas in which Pocahontas is messing with John Smith’s compass and helmet. This conversation is also right before Abdul starts performing oral sex. Also remember that Abdul is in service to the Al-Fayeed family. He’s a highly qualified servant. Let’s let all of that sink in.
I’ve already mentioned the show’s through line of “America is always right.” But there were more instances of that in this episode than the ones I pointed out above. We have Jamal telling Bassam that he’s no longer any fun—”fun,” according to Jamal, is disrespecting and humiliating women. He then says that Bassam’s Western education has taken the Al-Fayeed out of him. What’s that’s supposed to mean? What are we to assume? Also, the fact that Bassam is the guy who has to come in and clean up this “barbaric” country and basically turn Jamal into a figurehead while he rules from the sidelines smacks of American privilege and makes Jamal nothing more than a violent, buffoonish, racial caricature.
Finally, when will this show start saying more? All it’s saying is a bunch of dressed-up stereotypes. When will we get into some real commentary about the Middle East? When will we get definitive characters instead of Jamal, who went from literally raping and pillaging to suddenly becoming a man who says he wants to change his ways now that he’s president? When will Bassam finally tell his wife what’s what? When will Emma become more than a character who spits out sarcastic one-liners? Sigh.
Anyway, what did you think of this episode? Discuss any and all opinions below.
Tyrant, rated TV-MA, airs Tuesdays at 10/9C on FX.