Tyrant returns to television tonight. If you are not a fan of knowing anything at all about a series, maybe you shouldn't read this interview. There's nothing drastic, but spoilerphobes, beware.
At the ATX Festival recently, not only did I get a chance to sit down and personally talk to Howard Gordon, creator of Tyrant, but I also went to a panel in which he shared some insight about his career.
Gordon is an incredibly interesting man, and it's no wonder he makes interesting television.
For example, Gordon's first script was for the television show Fame. He wrote a lot of spec scripts for a lot of shows that were nothing like Tyrant or other shows he's known for like Homeland and 24.
So how did Gordon get so good at what he's doing now? The tragedy of 9/11 pointed his interest. "It was such a trauma for everybody, for America and for the world. It became evident to me that it wasn't the first chapter in that story, but an ongoing one that dates back to the crusades and before."
While it was tragedy that directed him, in college Gordon considered a career in the State Department, in foreign policy, so he knows what he's talking about when he's writing these shows. "I really am kind of a patriot. I love this [country], but not in a blind way, but there is something about this country and our founding fathers and the systems and our way of governance."
"And also our power in the world – our economic power, our military power, our cultural power – that really interests me. What it means to be an American really interests me, and I just like exploring those questions fictionally."
Telling a series creator you held out on watching their show because it just didn't look good and you couldn't imagine why anyone would want to watch it is difficult. But Gordon took it like a champ, especially after I shared I had powered through both seasons to speak with him and loved it, and we acknowledged the amazing community of Tyrant fans on TV Fanatic.
Gordon's own thoughts on the show are that he didn't really like the first season that much because Barry was such a passive character. "Writing for Barry was just a narratively challenging thing, you know? A guy who doesn't want to be in the country. You technically have a character who kind of doesn't want to be in the show, so the same thing that kept you from watching kept him from participating in an organic way, and only in the second season, I think, we got some wind at our backs."
"Not because we figured it out, but because the story allowed us to have him reconnect with his homeland that he'd willfully estranged himself from, and also fall in love with this woman, participated in a revolution and kind of be this biblical Lawrence of Arabia type of guy who got to reconnect with his family, with this place and with this woman. Finally.
"So now, the premise of the series kind of really gets tested in the third season, gets to be what it was always meant to be, which is to really deal with the questions, the ugly murk of it all."
"What happens in the third season is Barry's sort of unapologetic connection to this place and also accepting his position of power, although briefly – it's kind of framed in the context that now that his brother is out of the way and everybody, including Barry, gets to step to the fore and basically try to figure out, well, what are we going to do now?"
"So all these new characters are introduced sort of vying for power but in the context of an election. Barry only becomes the temporary president. He says, 'I'm just going to stay here until you guys figure out – you as a country – how to do this.'"
"And things are never as easy as we think they are and Barry has a personal – you know, I don't want to spoil it – the guy Ihab Rashid who he lets out of jail, whose life he saved, but whose wife he killed winds up coming back for his pound of flesh for his revenge and that tilts Barry and Molly and their marriage and the whole thing into a, you know."
And since we already know from the trailer that Jamal is alive, how alive is he going to be, I wondered? Gordon said, "He's going to be really messed up. He's kind of like a declawed lion. No longer wearing the crown, his head is oddly clearer than it's ever been. Not being bent by self loathing and rage and jealousy and all that kind of stuff, he's sort of forgiven himself, or at least trying. He has a certain clarity and a sort of sweetness."
Can new viewers just pop into Tyrant Season 3 without being too confused?
Gordon thinks so. "What I think you may lack from not watching it is easily gotten. All you need to know is Barry is here with his family. It's an American family. If you're curious, the backstory is Huluable, but you don't need it. I think you can watch it. Here's this guy who is an American president whose brother has been shot and deposed and he's there to be temporary president. You could pick it up pretty fast. Unlike Game of Thrones, which even if you follow it, it's hard!"
While there is more story to be told should FX grant Tyrant another season, Gordon also feels satisfied that this season's end could suffice as a series end if it had to. Let's not allow that to happen.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.