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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Tyrant: Compelling Debut

Tyrant made a compelling debut on FX last night, with an especially excellent three-part twist at the end of the episode to set up the series.

The story of an American pediatrician who goes back with his wife and two kids to a Syria-like Arab country for his nephew's wedding was good in any case.   His father is the tyrant, beset by the Arab Spring, and his brother, the heir-apparent, is cruel and vicious to everyone other than his family, including not only enemies but just about all women.   Understandably, Barry nee Bassam Al Fayeed is less than thrilled about going back home, even for just a few days for the wedding, but he lets his wife talk him into it (who, by the way, is implausibly clueless about what's going on in her husband's country, in one of the few flaws in this series).

The first twist - the sudden death of his father (by apparently natural causes) - also understandably sets Barry in motion to leave the country as quickly as possible.   His daughter is happy enough to do this, but the exit sets off a major argument with his wife, and the son would just as soon stay as well, seduced by the opulence of the palace.

The second and third twists now come into play.  Jamal is seriously wounded in a car crash, which shoves the reigns of power Barry's way, and we learn that it was Barry who as boy shot the prisoner in the series of flashbacks we've been seeing.

This now puts Barry in an ironic and powerful position for this story:  Could it be that he's the tyrant of the title?   We know his late father came to think that Barry not Jamal would be a better successor, and if Barry as a boy had whatever it took to step up and kill someone ... well, that's a fearsome strength indeed.

The show is a Gideon Raff creation - of Homeland fame - and also has Howard Gordon (Homeland, 24) on board, so the propensity for brilliant, high-adrenalin staging and writing is high.   As is the case with Homeland, the borderline with reality is very carefully treaded - the killings of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi are mentioned - and given the almost daily explosive events in the Middle East on the news, there will be a lot to draw upon if this series continues in further seasons, which at this point I certainly hope it does.



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