Its time to head back to Abbudin for the return of FX’s Tyrant.
Tyrant: Season 2: Episode 1: Mark of Cain: GRADE: B
Tyrant really is a soap opera. I came to realize and embrace that of itself once its story quality seemed to go on the upswing in its first season last year as it started out horribly. Really even looking back at the pilot it felt like that. It felt more like it thanks to its family drama elements that tried to be balanced as a show with a message to say about places such as Syria and Yumen with the horror and tragedies going on there and the government proceedings there, but it seems they might have found that balance in the second season premiere. We still get out family soap opera, but there is a bit more of an emphasis on the political intrigue with Ihab’s resistance still in effect, people calling for the release of Bassam, and a new deal with China that Jamal is making.
Lets start with Jamal shall we? Jamal is still in office four months after the events of the season finale and looks more menacing in just a suit and tie now that he’s clean shaven. He still hasn’t carried out the death sentence on Bassum as he’s internally conflicted about carrying out the act. He said it best to Tariq in a private meeting that he’s not here, but he likes to have his voice around for safe keeping. Jamal might seem to recognize the monster he is and can further become and wants Bassam as his voice of reason which would nicely balance the words that Leila also keeps putting into Jamal’s head. The opening scene in which Jamal visits Bassam in his cell is the best thing of the episode from its perfect lighting, music cues, direction, and the acting. Adam Rayner keeps up being better than he began as Bassam as he struggles with being stuck in jail and trying to reason with Jamal and their acting off of each other helps better the scene and get us right into the new year of the FX drama.
A new plotline for the season is introduced when its revealed Jamal is making a deal to ally with China in an oil deal and wants to put his son, Ahmed, in charge of deal while he wants to have his own business opprotunity, which he later reveals to Nusrat in private as an effort to get away from Jamal and his family after seeing what’s happened between his father and uncle. Its a scene I felt was one of the more soap opera-y moments of the premiere, but it works. Really shows off Cameron Gharaee who really wasn’t that much an impact last season beyond being Jamal and gives us another source of conflict of the season to see what Jamal will do and how his relationship with his father will continue, and of course the deal and leverage that Nusrat has over Jamal about keeping hush on the wedding night rape that occurred back in th pilot. (Side note: See Game of Thrones, its possible to honestly go back and address that like this show and Orange and the New Black recently have.)
Jamal also continues to deal with the resistance led by Ihab Rashid that involves a bomb taking out several of Jamal’s men with him retaliating with a concentrated chemical weapon attack, which lead to said line about Jamal keeping Bassam’s voice around. Jamal is a social psychopath who upholds the value of family when possible. Strange little mix huh? Which is why the twist at the end of the episode where Jamal doesn’t hang Bassam but leave him exiled in the dessert isn’t much a surprise, but a pretty effective way to end the episode that will clearly come back to bite Jamal in the ass going the way of many Bond villains who just don’t seem to pull the trigger. Barry’s exile though can lead to Tyrant possibly fixing one of its more glaring problems in that the culture and world of Abbudin isn’t quite fully realized and that’s a problem for a show like this or any other sort of story, regardless of medium, that’s set in this set part of a world where we must know the ongoings and such and be brought into the world that we’re witnessing.
Fauzi is still here and is heading off to Amsterdam for amnesty protection, but of course there is his daughter, Samira, that still believes in helping Ihab’s cause. This is a good setup, but is a bit underdeveloped, as much as it was when brought up last season and got shuffled off int he background. Fauzi’s nonviolent approach to resistance and Samira’s siding with Ihab’s methods should provide a fascinating subplot for the show and keep viewers captivated. That’s one hope I have of the season that this story gets more fleshed out.
Really Jamal is the more compelling character for this episode as the side stuff with Bassam isn’t as captivating. Molly is left behind and working with Lea Exley on getting Bassam out as the kids are back home, and safe from a Skype conversation, thankfully not in this episode. Molly isn’t given much here and her scene when visiting Bassam doesn’t add up to much beyond, “You failed, but you gave the people hope.” I can’t recall much beyond that scene as I write this other that how understanding a wife Molly seems to be that her husband is about to be hanged. Even Lelia isn’t given too much beyond settling the women of China in here well and trying to keep things cool. There also seems to be a slight bump in her own character as she’s a huge driving force behind Jamal and yet seems to be oblivious to disscenters among her and even global perception of Abbudin. Now this could make for interesting conflict in which their own ways of governing come to a boiling head, but its not quite getting off of the ground here.
Tyrant returns more polished than not, but there still a few blemishes that need to be wiped off so the show can more so come into its own thing and stand out among the other shows on FX’s slate, as well as just television offerings in general. It appears to be set on the right path, but how long it can stay on that path is yet to be seen.