September 2, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Tyrant”


TYRANT went all the way back to the source for its main plotline this season, giving Bassam Al-Fayeed (Adam Rayner) a saga so Moses-like that he might as well have witnessed a burning bush along the way.  Bassam was sentenced to death for treason by his brother Jamal (Ashraf Barhom), ruler of a Middle Eastern kingdom, but Jamal chose to eliminate his brother by leaving him to wander in the desert.  Like his biblical forebear, though, Bassam was rescued by Bedouins–and even found a great love there, Daliyah (Melia Kreiling), although in this telling theirs was a love that could not be–and the next time he emerged into public view, he was a warrior and revolutionary.  The major wrinkle was that in a nod to contemporary politics, Bassam, now renamed Khalil, led his troops against an ISIS-like group called the Caliphate rather than doing battle with his Pharoah-like brother.

The concept wasn’t exactly original, but there’s a reason people are still telling the Moses story thousands of years later, and Tyrant was considerably more enjoyable in its 2d season than in its 1st, having abandoned any pretense about having something to say about the actual Middle East.  Unfortunately, Bassam/Khalil’s war ended in the season’s next-to-last episode, and that made for a finale that, despite a last-minute cliffhanger, was probably the dullest hour of the season.

The true identity of “Khalil” having been revealed, Bassam returned to Abuddin’s capital, and the script by series co-creator Howard Gordon and Executive Producer Chris Keyser (directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton) returned the character to being the bland do-gooder he’d been before his exile.  The most interesting character on Tyrant has from the start been Jamal, but this episode found him at loose ends, a victim of his brother’s popularity, the international community’s desire to punish him for gassing rebels among his own people (which he actually didn’t do, although he might well have), and his wife Leila’s (Moran Atias) wanting to wrest control of the government on behalf of their son Ahmed (Cameron Gharaee).  A weak Jamal makes for weak drama, and the finale had him all but ready to resign his presidency in favor of a democratic regime–until he changed his mind at the last minute, only to be shot by his daughter-in-law Nusrat (Sibylla Dean), who among other things had been raped by Jamal in Season 1.  (Bassam, who’d been a doctor before the events of Tyrant began, was last seen trying to save his brother’s life, much to the dismay of everyone else.)

Tyrant did some things right in its 2d season, especially amping up the show’s action component and having enough compelling things happen to Bassam that it didn’t matter so much that neither he nor Rayner justified the show’s attention.  It also drastically rebooted the character of Bassam’s son Sammy (Noah Silver), a self-centered teen only interested in meeting boyfriends in Season 1, and a committed freedom fighter in Season 2.  (Sammy’s sister showed up for an episode or two in Season 2 and then vanished)  The introduction of Jamal’s bastard son Rami (Keon Alexander) had limited payoff, since he turned out to be a straight-arrow military man (which made Jamal think he was a traitor).  And even giving Bassam’s wife Molly (Jennifer Finnigan) a lover–when she still believed her husband was dead–didn’t impart her any meaningful new dimension.

Tyrant isn’t a particularly smart show or a prestige drama, and it has something of a void at its center.  It does, however, have a flair for combat and an distinctive setting.  The ratings have been steady but bubble-level, and the set-up for Season 3 is less than thrilling, since either Jamal will live and things will go back to where they were in Season 1, or he’ll die and the show will be about Abuddin’s transition into democracy, a worthy but not necessarily exciting topic in the hands of these writer/producers.  FX is likely to make its decision on a renewal based on what else it has on hand in development, but at this point any hope that the series will live up to its initial potential is a slim one.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."