The opening credits sequence for Tyrant is beautiful. Gorgeous grey towers rising up slowly in a Game of Thrones style, against a misty, almost twilight-like palette, with credits written in English before briefly appearing in silvery, ethereal Arabic script, all soundtracked by haunting music: absolutely beautiful. And utterly ironic given the programme itself is so irredeemably ugly.
Episode 2 picks up where the pilot left off, with Barry/Bassam and family headed to the hospital to see psychotic Jamal after the assassination attempt on him failed. His injury is both life-threatening and mortifying – because everything about this show has to be as unpleasant as humanly possible – but sadly for the country, he survives. Happily(ish) for the oppressed residents of Abuddin, Barry/Bassam decides to stick around and show Jamal and everyone else in the country truth, justice and the Pasadena way because the politics of this show aren’t exactly subtle. This strategy isn’t entirely successful, however, since Barry/Bassam begins believing he’s a cross between Steve McGarrett and Ban Ki Moon, trying to be all action hero and ambassador for peace at the same time – with mixed results since, yes, he saves the lives of Jamal’s frankly cursed daughter-in-law (ep 1 raped, ep 2 kidnapped, ep 3 still Jamal’s daughter-in-law – has the poor girl not suffered enough?) and Jamal’s arch-enemy Ihab Rashid (for now), but he also helps facilitate the cold-blooded executions of three young boys (ep 2, accidentally) and the poor guy who simply could not take Jamal raping his wife any longer (ep 3, not so much).
Meanwhile, Barry/Bassam’s wife Psychiatrist Barbie continues not to care about any of this, and is only concerned about Barry/Bassam “making a connection” with his murdering maniac rapist of a brother because she is a moron. Jamal’s wife Leila is much more rounded and compelling as a character but, like the credits, she doesn’t have enough screen time to make up for the nihilistic nastiness of several of the characters and the plot itself. I mean Jamal is complicated, sure, but no matter what the reasons for it may be, he’s still an appalling excuse for a human being. And since Barry/Bassam is a good guy but in the most patronising, wet tv way possible (even if his eyes are pretty), nothing in Tyrant will ever end well for anyone remotely decent or likeable who isn’t either Barry/Bassam himself or his wife and kids. Which makes the show grimly depressing on a number of levels and means that, since there’s more than enough abject horror in the Middle East in the news at the moment without me seeking it out as “entertainment” as well, it’s goodbye to Tyrant from unpopcult, and good riddance.