Some big changes are happening for the characters on “Tyrant.” I just wish I believed any of them.
It’s no secret that “Tyrant” had a troubled journey to the small screen. From executive producers unsure what story they wanted to tell to difficulties finding a leading man (and setting with a British actor playing a Middle Eastern character), those problems in production have left their mark on the finished product.
In episode 8, “Meet the New Boss,” which aired Aug. 12, Bassam Al-Fayeed (Adam Rayner) moves forward with a coup to oust his brother Jamal (Ashraf Barhom). This is met with resigned compliance from U.S. embassy man John Tucker (Justin Kirk), who tells Bassam not to inform anyone of his plan, including Bassam’s wife Molly (Jennifer Finnigan).
As the third-to-last episode of Season 1, Bassam’s move to take power was supposed to be a huge development for “Tyrant.” The biggest problem with the payoff, which was telegraphed all the way back in episode 1, is that the FX drama didn’t earn it.
“Tyrant” has done a terrible job of developing its story by offering up plot points and characters without developing them. As a result, the show has been all over the map, and its main characters have behaved with little to no consistency. Are we supposed to understand Jamal’s motivations and actions? Because I don’t. “Tyrant” simultaneously paints him as a troubled man and a ruthless, hateful monster, with no clear delineation as to which one he’s supposed to actually be.
At least Jamal is a fascinating character to watch, as Barhom has the most charisma by a long shot on “Tyrant.” But for Bassam, there is no excuse. Rayner plays him as a blank slate who can barely emote, let alone convince viewers of any of his motivations since arriving in Abbudin. Other than people telling him he would be a better leader than his brother, what justification is there for him trying to lead this coup? Is he really that foolish to think that he — a man who has been away from his home country for decades — is the best choice?
The problems with “Tyrant’s” story and character development range far beyond the two brothers. Remember when Sammy’s relationship drama was a huge part of the beginning of the season? He’s barely had a scene on the show the back half of the season. And what about Molly, who played a major role in convincing Bassam to come to Abbudin, and then to stay? What right does she have to say that he forced her to come and lied to her about leaving, as she did in episode 8?
“Tyrant” seems to have a case of TV multiple personality disorder, as so often is the case with projects whose creators don’t know what to do with them. Yes, the original germ of an idea for “Tyrant” might have been clear — “Breaking Bad’s” character arc set in the Middle East, I guess? — but every other element of the show seems to be haphazardly slapped together just to help move the show to its big payoff. It’s simply not working.
There are two episodes left in Season 1, and it’s looking inevitable that Bassam will end up taking his role as the titular tyrant by its end. It could have been a good story, if the story had actually been told. But instead “Tyrant” strung together a list of bullet points instead of a narrative, and hoped audiences would go along for the ride even if the payoffs weren’t earned.