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'Tyrant' recap: Getting nowhere fast

Season 1 | Episode 6 | “What the World Needs Now” | Aired July 29, 2014

UGH. End of recap. No, I’m kidding. Let’s go.

OK, so Bassam’s deal to get Sheik Rashid to meet with Jamal is finally a go. Jamal is not excited about this at all. Even though Bassam keeps trying to Jedi mind-trick him into thinking that he didn’t lie to him, Jamal isn’t having it. It seemingly takes days for Bassam to convince Jamal to come around to his way of thinking. During this strangely shot, awkward montage, there’s even some ridiculous humor, with Jamal practicing his statesman line, “Let me take that under advisement.”

Lady Leila Macbeth isn’t having any of this talk about a meeting, though. She’s angry at Jamal for not wielding his power. Jamal repeats the lines Bassam has fed him, saying how the world isn’t the same place it used to be before the advent of phone cameras and YouTube. “Call your cousin in Egypt; it’s not that simple anymore,” he tells her. Is her cousin Hosni Mubarak, the ousted Egyptian president? Tyrant_105_1480The day finally arrives, and Jamal, Bassam and Yussef meet with the sheik and his sons (one of them being Ihab, of course). Unbeknownst to us until this episode, the sheik is deathly ill. But wasn’t he fine and well just the episode before? Could his illness have been privy to us before now so it won’t seem like a plot convenience (which it is)? Sure. But this is a minor infraction; the whole episode is full of strange plot and character choices, weird montages, awkward, irritating attempts at humor, and bizarre character motivations. Bassam making fun of the sheik’s eye? The earlier bit with Jamal practicing his diplomacy? When did this show, which has been literally introduced to us with rape, murder and abuse, suddenly become the Abbudin Comedy Hour?

Of course, the sheik and Jamal aren’t going to be on the same page. Jamal desperately wants the square cleared, but the sheik will only agree to that on one condition: if Jamal gives Abbudin free presidential elections. Jamal has to temper himself before saying, “I will take that under advisement.” The sheik already knows that’s code for a string of expletives and threats for his head. When Bassam presses him on getting the people out of the square, the sheik repeats Jamal’s “advisement” line, saying without saying it that he’s not going to make his followers budge an inch until elections are the law of the land.

Jamal goes back to Tariq to see if force is actually what he should use. Tariq is only too excited to discuss plans to kill and injure; he goes into detail about his Bull Connor-esque plan to retaliate against peaceful protesters. Still, Jamal doesn’t want people to get killed. “We kill 200 today and go to war with our people tomorrow?” Jamal asks. Tariq, gleeful, says, “Not to make light of it, but we’re quite good about going to war.”

Bassam has a plan: Give the sheik what he wants. It means the square is cleared and the sheik is appeased; however, it means that Jamal will have to run for his office and win. Jamal is right that it’s a tall order to ask him to put his office up for grabs and then try to win it back against a popular folk hero who is bound to win. The Al-Fayeed way of life will be destroyed for good because we all know Jamal can’t possibly win back his title on his own. Bassam then says that Jamal will win. With Bassam’s help, of course. Bassam says that Jamal has all the resources and power at his disposal. While the sheik is busy being poor, Jamal can be building schools and parks. You know, really become a champion of the people! Jamal hesitantly agrees. Leila doesn’t. She already knows this is a fool’s errand and that Bassam is the true mastermind.

Suddenly, we’re going a full three weeks later from this election agreement. Three weeks later? What about the resolution of the square? What about poor Fauzi and Samira standing in the square, waiting to possibly be killed by the Al-Fayeed military? Fast-forwarding is just sloppy and lazy.

Tyrant_105_0447It’s especially in bad taste to fast-forward to us seeing Jamal’s penis is working again. Are we supposed to be happy about this? Are we supposed to be cheering for him? This is the man who was raping women! I’m not excited he can finally get it on with his wife! Leila herself isn’t excited either. She’s still mad at him for throwing the Al-Fayeed dynasty away. Indeed, who would volunteer their power like that? To my knowledge, the world’s major kingdoms have either been forced out or forced to change to constitutional monarchies, either by an uprising of their people or by an invasion of another country. No king or queen (or “president”) has given up power voluntarily. Even democratic America had to put a law in place that a President can only stay in office for two consecutive terms—after Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who served four.

Since Leila won’t sleep with him, he goes to meet the Prime Minister of Norway; however, that’s just code for him going to meet, if not a prostitute, some strange blonde who is completely out of place in Abuddin. Who is she? Where does she come from?

Sleeping with Strange Blonde Lady isn’t the only eventful thing in Jamal’s day; he’s also going to be on 60 Minutes! Time for another strange montage of scenes involving the First Family discussing Jamal’s radical change towards democracy. The interviews are meant to highlight how Jamal has become a “beacon of hope” for the Middle East and the world. Supposedly, the world is fawning all over him now. But how can it? Even though Jamal recognizes how much stuff gets out due to portable phone cameras and the Internet, shouldn’t he realize that someone could have videotaped him before his change? If Abuddin is playing by the rest of society’s rules, then everyone should already know all there is to know about Jamal. His legacy of trauma should be all over the Internet, covered millions of times over by all major news outlets. The world wouldn’t be that quick to rally around him like that.

Anyways, the interview reveals how the sheik really feels about Jamal. He sees Jamal as a lion, but Bassam, according to the sheik, is the lion tamer. Jamal doesn’t like it, and neither does Bassam, who goes to the sheik to “invite” him to the signing of the constitutional amendment allowing for elections. What he’s really doing is questioning him as to why he said the lion bit in the interview. The sheik wants to drive a wedge between the two. It’s to his advantage, as he says. It’s easier to win against a puppet when his master’s not around. But the sheik also wants to prove a point; Bassam is truly his father’s son, he says. Bassam’s father was a great statesman, the sheik says, and he was believable as a man who wanted change until the day of the gassing. The sheik was led to believe they were on the same page, but someone (perhaps Bassam’s father) wanted a reason to fight the sheik’s people. So that someone gassed them. The sheik had never laid a hand on anyone. Bassam is capable of this himself—we saw him kill that guy as a kid. He knows how to act like a congenial guy, but underneath his facade, he’s ruthless.

The big day arrives. Jamal is already in a weird mental state; he’s using his sidekick as his therapist, saying how he’s not really loved by anyone except his mother. Even Bassam doesn’t love him with the brother’s love he hopes for. “I see him look at me with pity,” he says. “I think he thinks that is love. But I know it’s just pity.” This is the deepest we’ve  seen Jamal get since he was a kid in the pilot.

Tyrant_105_0348It’s when he’s in the bathroom, listening to the sheik wheeze and cough his way through praising Bassam’s political mastery, that he finally realizes he’ll never be able to win on his own. That he’s his brother’s puppet. That he’s unlovable as the man he is, but Bassam is a man who is both lovable and intelligent enough to hide his true nature. Jamal internalizes this information and acts out in a very Jamal way: He knocks the sheik out on the rim of the toilet as the sheik is having one of his coughing spells.

So now that that’s done … now what? Where does the show go from here? This ruins everything Bassam worked toward. It ruins the whole 60 Minutes interview! I can’t say I’m excited to see what happens next, but I’m a pinch intrigued. But mostly skeptical.

What did you think of this episode? Did you actually like the montages? Discuss!

Tyrant airs Tuesdays at 10/9C on FX.