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Tyrant S01E10: "Gone Fishing"


While obsessive coverage of television can sometimes turn the proverbial mountain into a molehill when a show faces even a small amount of behind-the-scenes disruption, the first season of FX's Tyrant proved that eventually, a show can't recover from every weird or troublesome event that befalls it. From Ang Lee and Gideon Raff leaving the project before it really got off the ground to the supremely odd decision to cast a white British dude as the lead to the late-season shift in shooting from Israel to Turkey because of real-life political unrest, Tyrant's first year on the job probably couldn't've gone any worse. In fact, when the main theme of your pre-air buzz in the trades focuses solely on the turmoil, it might be time to simply take a knee. Ultimately, though, the series' most significant obstacle was that everything happening backstage was more interesting than the fictional story and characters driving the action on screen—as the Season 1 finale, "Gone Fishing," illustrated.

As I alluded to the last time I checked in on the show much earlier in the summer, Tyrant's biggest problem was that it didn't really have any energy or momentum. The premise—self-exiled son of a tyrannical dictator returns home to the Middle East and naively tries to clean up multiple generations' worth of messes—suggests one heck of a juicy story, but throughout its first season, Tyrant struggled with the question of what it wanted to be. At first, it seemed like more of a glossy, semi-ridiculous soap opera told through the prism of a very #current geopolitical climate. Then, midway through, the show more clearly committed itself to political theater, focusing on Barry's attempts to first lasso and later flat-out replace his unstable brother Jamal. Running away from the heightened drama that was hinted at early on meant that Tyrant mostly just plodded along as Barry talked himself—and, hilariously, other people—into believing that he, the pediatrician, could just decide to become the leader of an entire country. For a series with such a silly premise as that, Tyrant never got especially turnt up, and that's unfortunate.


Much of Tyrant's odd (dare I say basic) execution started and stopped with the Al-Fayed brothers. Adam Rayner and especially Ashraf Barhom were always ready to go, but the show's writers—featuring a real murderer's row in Howard Gordon, Craig Wright, and Glenn Gordon Caron—never fully settled on how the audience was supposed to view Barry and Jamal. Of course Barry was an overly earnest and naive dolt who absolutely believed he could turn his home country around, despite having absolutely no experience; but were we supposed to see that as admirable or really, really stupid? Of course Jamal acted terribly on a regular basis, raping and murdering mulitiple women and yet still desperately clinging to the idea that he could escape a job or life he never wanted; but again, did that make him a sympathetic scumbag or just a scumbag?

In this seemingly never-ending era of difficult men, you could argue that having these conflicted feelings regarding the Al-Fayed brothers was fundamental to the Tyrant experience, that they're multi-dimensional characters that don't just fall into clearly delineated categories. But where that argument goes astray is in the assumption that often backs it: that these collections of contradictions are what make "cool" or "complicated" TV characters. I don't need to like or be able to relate to the people on screen, but it's nice when their contradictions add up to something significant, or at least when a show uses them as a way to make a thematic point. On Tyrant, that didn't really happen. 

After weeks of Barry plotting in secret (barely) with diplomat John Tucker (Justin Kirk) and government official Lea Exley (Leslie Hope) to dismantle Jamal's inner circle and ultimately remove him from power by staging a coup, the show did the right thing by finally acknowledging that the probable success of this plan was very low. Barry's scheme blew up in his face, his terrible uncle Tariq was freed from prison, and Jamal was forced to put his now-traitorous brother behind bars, with the death penalty on the table. Clearly, that was the smart call for the story; any possibility of Barry actually becoming the new leader of Abbudin was outrageous. But once again, I'm still not entirely sure whether Tyrant wanted us to see it as outrageous. Barry's wife Molly (Jennifer Finnigan) constantly told him that his ideas were ridiculous, but then kowtowed to him so many times that her dissent lost all effect. Same goes for the show's late-season attempts to layer the story with references to the United States' recent involvement in regime changes; while they signaled that Tyrant knew that Barry was kind of an idiot, the show had made that point in the first four episodes too, when the character was only talking down kidnappers during hostage situations and not conspiring against and planning to overthrow his brother.


Similar frustrations abounded with Jamal, in both the finale and the season as a whole. The first few post-pilot episodes backtracked on his horrid mistreatment of women, trumpeting a changed-man narrative that nobody bought—but then by the middle of the season, he was trying to murder possible political opposition and suffocating his mistresses. The petulant-child routine turned pretty sour by the end of Tyrant's 10 episodes because it was the only note the show had for the character. There's something to be made out of a character who just wants to run away but can't get anyone to join him so he keeps acting out, but Jamal's reaction to Barry's "betrayal" didn't land the way the show wanted it to because there was no real reason to feel sympathy for either of them. Cliffhangers exist to trump up drama in excessive ways, but even with that in mind, the idea that Jamal would even consider killing Barry holds no water because the show couldn't make up its mind with regard to who these two men are (and to a lesser extent, what they mean to one another).

And if the story with the Al-Fayed brothers wasn't going to land, Tyrant certainly had no other characters to make the save. Whether that was due to production troubles or mediocre execution, every other character on this show was either under-developed, utterly useless, or simply dropped altogether. I mentioned Molly's wet-blanket status, but somehow Leila (Moran Atias) managed to be just as sidelined, despite her history with Barry and her troubled relationship with Jamal. The scene in the finale where Leila verbally assaulted Barry was even more lifeless than Jamal's speech to him, because it felt like two episodes' worth of story between those characters had been jettisoned somewhere along the way so that the show could squeeze in some half-baked political commentary. And she was the third or fourth best character on the show.

Everyone else fared even worse. The kids disappeared for a string of episodes in the middle of the season, only to return near the end with literally nothing to do but complain about... stuff. Barry and Jamal's mom reappeared in the finale to make the worst plea ever that Jamal spare Barry's life. Molly's sister randomly showed up in the back half of the season as well, she couldn't've been more ineffectual. And somehow, there was a C-story in "Gone Fishing" about the daughter Emma and the sister getting robbed and then trying to explain to the café owner that they were related to the president. Like three scenes! Kirk's John Tucker certainly had more to do as Barry made his moves, but it's not as if he was an actual character; he just delivered exposition. The son's gay lover fell off the face of the earth, Fares Fares' journalist dude existed only as a straw man for Barry's pig-headed leadership workshop, and I guess much of the non-Barry political opposition figured they'd take a step back and regroup for a little bit, or something. Tyrant was populated with more than a dozen regular or semi-regular characters, and it occasionally hinted at a bigger world outside the Al-Fayed mansion, but it simply never, ever realized that world in Season 1.


In the end, Tyrant's first season was all about unrealized potential. We can place a lot of the blame for that on all the drama behind the scenes, but not all of it. And we can't point fingers at the show's excessive ambition, either; after the first couple of episodes, it hit the same notes, over and over and over again. FX and Fox 21 have put a lot of money into this show, particularly in building locations in Israel. But at this point, is it really worth it to bring Tyrant back for another season? I'm not at all convinced that it is.



NOTES

– The move to Turkey definitely altered the show's ability to make the most of its location shooting. Turkey's nice and all, but it's not Israel, and it seemed fairly clear to me over the last couple of episodes that the show was simply racing to get things done and thus relying much more on interior sets. I will miss some of those early locations if the show is canceled.

– I enjoyed that early scene in the finale where Tucker and Exley explained to Barry that his plan to remove all the douche generals and yes-men worked so well that they didn't even need to get rid of Jamal after all. He's so good at politics! 

– The exasperated café owner might be my favorite character on the show. His reactions to Emma and Aunt Jenna's explanation of what happened with the robbery were surprisingly good. Make that dude a regular. 


Did you stick it out with Tyrant? If so, what'd you think of the finale? And do you want a second season?


Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 9/7/2016

Season 3 : Episode 10

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Your review was bad and you should feel bad!
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The show was good and hopefully a forthcoming season 2. Maybe this will give the writers more time to make the series even better.
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I thought the first season was OK. Agree with some of your analysis Corey but as someone else pointed out there was nothing wrong with the casting of Barry. The mother was a fair skinned English woman, plenty of light skinned people in the Middle East as well...
Show did leave a lot of story lines hanging on the vine and did seem helter skelter in its direction at points, but I was honestly thinking Barry would succeed and once in power would become the REAL Tyrant..Jamal may have done some bad things but he has a lot of room to grow if he wants to be cast as a real "Tyrant"...he didn't gas an ethnic minority, he didn't declare Marshall law..etc.. I thought Barry might get intoxicated as a leader and start doing crazy stuff...
In any case, if it gets renewed, good. If not I won't lose a lot of sleep about it. Better shows have fared worse, Worse shows have fared better
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I loved it good but whats going to happen .we want more
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This is a great show and this was an excellent episode. The actor who plays Jamal was definitely having a lot of fun here and I hope there's a second season!
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I liked it. Not the greatest thing around but entertaining enough. I agree, the fact that coup failed was a good plot device.

I liked Liela's character. She was determined to be woman behind stong man and strived entire show to do it.

And Bassam was naive. I mean, he spent his entire life running away from his country but now he thought he can jsut move in? What does he know about running a country? What does he know about country at all?
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I am hooked on this show. Jamal scares the hell out of me with his unpredictability and philosophically leading rants. I never know if Jamal is sincere or working on a trap. I must admit Barry is naive, but he makes that static connection to the American ideology vying for intervention in another middle-east nation under tyranny. As for Barry's wife Molly, I wish she would just go state side and be written out of the show. I just want to rip my eyes out when she goes off on one of her preachy, Bambi-eyed lectures. The write up from Cory Baker seems to indicate that he watches TV from a step-ladder in his neighbors backyard. He's taking in way too many variables from all that,s going on behind the cameras to effectively discern weather the show is good or not. Dude, "suspension of reality" will allow you to enjoy a fictitious program. I say GO with season 2.
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This is a grate show with lots of possibilities.
Like the Godfather and The Last Emperor, this could be epic. They could use writers who have more guts. But the cast is fine. They will grow if they are challenged., and if they are pushed to go beyond. The fact that it's on TV says that there is hope that we realize there is another world other than another LA cop show or a story about someone attacking the US. "Tyrant" is a breath of fresh air. I say "Will Don" to the the cast, crew, producers ,and the network that had the guts to put this on TV.
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I love Tyrant! Sure, as an avid series watcher, of course we know how things can unravel. Though what is so great about Tyrant is the acting between the two brothers Barry and Jamal. It is suspenseful and tension filled. I and my friends hope it is renewed for another season.
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I really dont know what everyone is talking about, this show is awesome! Its new, orginal , and intense. I cant wait til season 2 this is one of my favorite show right now.. its very eye opening if u dont know much about the middle east :)
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On one level I wan't it to be renewed so that I get resolution to the terrible storyline but I don't think it should be renewed as it's so bad!!!
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The show was a car crash from the beginning but I watched EVERY episode because I am a sucker.. I should have learnt my lesson with Dominion...(That was soooo bad!!)
The sister was a waste of space, the wife was a waste of air time, Barry was an idiot, the children served no purpose.
Most of the characters were simply caricatures: The evil rapist dictator and all the scared oppressed people in the middle East. They are so oppressed but these Western women can walk around with booty shorts and go shopping in some village without being harrassed?
Lastly, STOP WITH THE ENGLISH SPEAKING WITH GENERIC FOREIGN ACCENTS!!!
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I thought the show was great and rather true to life. I did burst out laughing when I saw Lurch aka John Kerry's picture on the wall of the embassy. It all made sense once I saw it during the scenen where Barry gets the bad news that the state department backed out. The only thing better would have been Hillary's picture. Of course the newly remodeled face of Kerry made it even funnier or should I say depressing.
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so were the state department people CIA they should have compartmentalized the entire operation then it could have succeeded they never focused on the gay son and never showed molly at the hospital so many unused sub plots
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Yes the kids were poorly used, and yes it was odd that Jamal and others constantly seemed to be trying to think of the English version of a word when English was their native language but I call bunk on the rest of it. The actor that plays Barry is no lighter-skinned than many Middle Easterners from many Middle Eastern countries. Also, his mother was an English Caucasian woman which completely undermines you're multiple rumblings about the actor they cast. As far as him being unqualified to lead, that's also pretty bogus. Anyone could be the figurehead of a country with a Government and all types of advisers and professionals already in place. The show wasn't soapy and I thought it was pretty riveting and refreshing compared to the countless crime and medical dramas already out there. A second season would be very welcome and hopefully give them more time to improve their overall pacing and use of characters.
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Also I hated the exterior shots they were similar to once upon a time in terms of quality I really despise cheap production values
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I knew when they were having dinner with the in laws the fat fucker would reveal all is it even possible to be such a coward and tell Jamal about the coup the man raped your daughter realistically that would have gave any man resolve why did the coup members need the telecommunication in law man anyway why couldn't the state department provide the money barry seems smart he should have detected his brothers changed behavior how he mentioned the stabbing in the back and trying to get Barry to go further on the boat I hope the show gets renewed but probably not since the coup didnt go through and they are going to kill barry and he is the main charachter
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i strongly recommend a second season for this show .. it may appear that the story is weak for others and even unrealistic, but hey! try to consider presidents like Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi .. if you'll try to make a movie about these tryants, i think you would really find this TV series more believable than the life story of those two!
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I knew nothing about turmoil behind the scenes. I did enjoy the show and will watch a season 2 if there is one. I enjoy reading tv critics reviews but as a viewer, I don't want to have to think that hard while watching a show. If it catches my attention and entertains me that is all I ask.
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Really was hoping that Molly and the daughter and maybe the son got executed in the firing range as well. Very disappointed with the finale.

This is going to sound a little bit bad, but the best episodes are always when Jamal kills people. I wish he'd just gunned down all Barry's family, and then maybe thrown Barry into a well to live with the bodies for a year or how much ever time there is between seasons.

:&

Big Ashraf Barhom fan tho, (he's the only reason I watch this), so I'm also insanely happy that Jamal won out and survives the day. Best evil psycho serial rapist-murderer ever!
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If this goes into a Second Season it's very likely his son or daughter will be killed. The title of the show refers to Barry, and I'm not sure what else, even the loss of his wife, would push him that far over the edge. Maybe the wife in S2 and a kid at the end of the series.
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It is quite clear to me that Barry himself is hungry for power. He may not know it himself. From the comments, it seems I am one of the few people that was hoping the coup would be successful.

It would be interesting to see him becoming president and then put into situations where his ideals are put to test. Many times we do not know how we would react until we are actually in that situation. I would season two would explore that.

The show makes more sense if Barry do become president one day and becomes a Tyrant himself.
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I did enjoyed the whole season of Tyrant. It is one of the better shows this summer. How often do you see a coup in present day on TV? How often do you see a series about middle east politics that does not involve the CIA?

The cast and the scenery is cool enough. The writing could have been better. Still it was an engaging enough story and I do hoped there is a season two.
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I liked this show. Any show that brings out real emotion in me (outrage, disgust, are you crazy...) then I usually stick it out. The character of Jamal was so sociopathic in so many ways that, like a car crash, I couldn't look away. I hope they have a season 2 but if they don't, the finale can hold as the end game for this 10 episode series. I just have no idea where it can go from here.
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I didn't make it beyond the first episode; but my husband did and said he enjoyed it.
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I can't be the only person who is rather relieved that the coup didn't go as planned, not the least of which because the actor who plays Jamal has carried the entire series on his back. He's been phenomenal, and the main reason to keep tuning in each week.

Also, as we've learned from Iraq, Jamal just might be the perfect leader for this fictional Middle East country. He may not be a saint, but he's far, far better than most of the actual tyrants in the region. While not missing Saddam Hussein, the world does miss his secular grip on a county so prone to Islamic extremism... and Jamal is a damn sight better than Hussein.

Actually, that's been the one aspect I haven't really understood about this show. Barry is so convinced that Jamal isn't capable of running the country, while it looks to me like he's doing a pretty decent job, all things considered. And he's certainly a great deal better than whoever the people would end up electing.
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I hope you're joking : Jamal is doing a decent job running the country ? No freedom of journalism, no right to protest, torture, execution without judgement... Heis a great dictator. If you call that a pretty decent job...
Also he is a murderer and a rapist.
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Agreed. After Tucker and whatsherface said they weren't going through with the coup I think Barry should have backed off and came clean to Jamal. I think a scene with the truth would have been powerful. I'm glad the coup failed because Barry was crazy to think he could get away with it.
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Great review - spot on! I enjoyed the season but was disappointed by the somewhat hap-hazard drive to the finale. I did feel they left a lot of gaps in the story lines. Her sister showing up late in the season was a huge distraction for me - hate the fish out of water shake up character. I will be back for season two and hope the writing improves upon the core story lines.
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So Jordana Spiro's character, John Tucker's wife, ended up only in one scene. Did a storyline around those two characters evaporate at some point with the constant changes going on behind the scenes? I think she was mentioned once again, and she was mentioned to have had 'relapsed' and was in rehab. Yet we never even were aware of anything about her other than, she was John Tucker's wife. It seemed like stories for Tucker, with the exception of the as you mentioned scenes where he was just giving exposition, Jennifer Finnigan's Molly, Mama Al-Fayeed, Molly's jet setter sister, Sammy and Emma, et al. kind of started and evaporated. (If Jamal had uncovered the conspiracy prior to the fishing trip, how was Tucker able to so easily get the girls out of police custody?) Much of the story between the brothers was good and I think a lot of it worked but there just wasn't much else developed. What was the relationship between Barry and Leila (The lovely Moran Atias was another good thing about this show that wasn't given enough to do except look gorgeous. There has to be so much more to the story of him leaving her behind, alone. For everything awful that they put 'Nusrat' through, at least her parents were still at least semi-present, Leila appeared completely alone), remembered Moran. Atias from the very first Starz drama 'Crash') and how did she end up with Jamal after Barry exiled himself? I think they are trying to fix things and maybe if they go into Season 2 with a unified vision of going forward this show could improve and be better. I hope it gets another chance to fix what ails it. There is something there that is different from everything else on, it just needs to figure it out.
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I enjoyed Tyrant. I am hoping it continues. I think it will only get better.
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Tyrant has the necessary elements to make a great show. Once the series commits to getting a bit dirty and dealingl with real life situations, it can progress to a tremendous show!!
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I was entertained and should a season 2 happen, I will watch.
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I like Tyrant, I liked the finale, I liked the whole season. Yes, I'll stick with it. Great acting, sets, location. Intriguing political climate. Beautiful people. I love Leila, and Jamal.
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Good review, Cory. You articulated many of my thoughts and feelings far better than I can.

Unlike most FX series, my expectations were never particularly high for this show and yet it still managed not to meet even those. I was never really drawn in by the stories or the characters and rapidly tired of its many soap opera-y aspects. Too many underused or poorly used characters. Too much indecisiveness about how to portray Jamal. And would it have killed them to have Bassam -- a pediatrician, for crying out loud -- laugh and/or not be so damn dour at least once? Bah, this was all a pretty big mess in my opinion.

I sort of see why there was there a lot of creative turmoil behind the scenes. You can sense how it started out as one thing and then quickly tried to become something else. It gave me a sense of different, clashing viewpoints on the part of the creators. I think it improved towards the end when the coup began to take shape, but it was too little too late for me by then.

I wouldn't mind another three episodes (which would bring the count up to FX's typical thirteen) to wrap "everything" up but I don't need any more full seasons of it. And if it fails to get renewed, which I doubt will be the case given how much FX seems to be invested in this, I won't be bothered one bit.

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