Nearly two years and two months after it debuted on FX, the reign of Tyrant came to an end with tonight’s Season 3 finale titled “Two Graves.” Earlier today, FX boss John Landgraf pulled the plug on the Middle East-set political family drama from executive producers Howard Gordon, Chris Keyser, Gideon Raff and Avi Nir with a lament. “The creators of Tyrant have done their utmost over three seasons to tell American audiences a tiny fraction of the many gripping, human stories coursing through the Middle East today,” said the cable net exec mere hours before the airing of the long-completed season finale that is now a series finale — or is it?
Feeling as contemporary and relevant as the latest breaking news, tonight’s episode co-written by Gordon and showrunner Keyser certainly brought together many of the loose ends of the tale of the once-self-exiled and now President Bassam “Barry” Al-Fayeed and his family’s fraying control of the fictional country of Abuddin. Death and retribution stood side by side with hopes for the nation, the region and for the faith of Islam as Abuddin went to war with the extremist Caliphate.
Speaking from Europe, Gordon discussed tonight’s finale, the cancellation, and serving “two masters” with “Two Graves.” Touching on the feedback the series has received in the Middle East, the 24 and Homeland exec producer also suggested that although no longer on FX, Tyrant might actually not be over — and that there could be new life for the Al-Fayeeds and Abuddin online.
DEADLINE: With the assassinations, the revolt, the beginning of the war against the Caliphate, Leila’s swearing in as a President in opposition and more, it really felt like you were trying to tie up loose ends with tonight’s finale instead of going the cliffhanger route.
GORDON: This episode, like this season actually, was the culmination of the challenges facing people in power. The conundrum of intractable tribal, familial, and theological differences. And, at the same time, the very human and very universal themes of revenge and love. Also, though things were tragic on many levels, we wanted to crack open the door on some kind of hope — which was exemplified in the speech of Leila (Moran Atias).
DEADLINE: And you had that speech by Annet Mahenddru’s widowed Nafisa Al-Qadi proclaiming that “Islam is peace” — not exactly a statement we hear on TV of late, especially during this election season.
GORDON: One of the ideas and one of the themes we had this season was the battle for the heart and the soul of Islam. Obviously, neither Chris nor I are speak with any authority on that, but we did want to reflect voices in Islam that don’t get a platform or that stage enough in real life because they are blunted by louder, more violent and angrier voices. So we gave a fictional platform to some very real voices. Those are some of the voices that some of our regional consultants on the show felt the series had kept out of the story.
DEADLINE: Obviously you heard about Tyrant’s cancellation before it went public today, but what’s your reaction today?
GORDON: It’s disappointing on one hand but on the other hand, we have had tremendous partners in FX, John Landgraf and the entire team. I guess I feel too that we never got the critical notice and the attention that the show would have required to keep going.
DEADLINE: Sounds like you have made peace with it. True?
GORDON: Well, I’m disappointed but not entirely surprised. We were hoping for an eleventh-hour reprieve, but I’ve long known it was an uphill battle. But look, I also don’t think the first season was our strongest season and that didn’t help matters unfortunately. I try to be pretty honest in my own assessment of what seasons worked and how they worked in relation to each other. We got off to a slow start and never really recovered from it, that’s just a fact.
DEADLINE: After that first episode the ratings never really got up there, even when you had some good Live+3s…
GORDON: Yeah, and that continued this year: decent numbers but not enough to compel John to give us another season.
DEADLINE: Is there more Tyrant there? Bert Salke at Fox 21 TV Studios today hinted that there could be another home or platform for the show.
GORDON: Of course I think there is more there. But we also knew this season was a make-or-break year so in fairness we were trying to serve two masters by making tonight’s show a series ender and something at the same time that wouldn’t foreclose on the future. That’s always a tricky thing, but I think we did a good job on that.
Part of the challenge of this season finale is that Chris and I wanted to write something that should this be the end it, would be a satisfying end. But, at the same time, we wanted to leave the door open for the possibility of telling the story more. Because we really do think there is more story to tell.
DEADLINE: So where could Tyrant land next?
GORDON: That’s above or out of my pay grade, but we’ve talked about a couple of places. I don’t know how realistic any of them are. We’ve just begun those conversations now so you know I’ll know more in the next few weeks. Right now, honestly, I don’t know.
DEADLINE: Seems to me, like The Mindy Project being dropped by Fox and then picked up by Hulu, the steaming services could be a natural new home. Is that what you guys are looking at?
GORDON: Yeah, I think so. Hulu, Amazon or Netflix would be terrific places for the show. That’s probably the most likely option if there is another chance.
DEADLINE: With the two masters concept in mind, what was the intention of that very last line of the show? When Adam Rayner’s now-President Bassam Al-Fayeed says, “Yes, I’m afraid it does,” after Cameron Gharaee’s Ahmed remarks that the new portrait of him really captures his essence?
GORDON: (laughs) I’ll take a page from a much more talented writer than me, David Chase, when he said, “I’ll let you decide.” I think in that moment Barry recognizes himself and I think it means everything you think it means, truthfully – right down to the wonderful pun of it all. This is a guy who fled as far as possible from Ground Zero, his father’s office, and now there he is at the center of it where his father was, looking at himself. I’m very fond of that last line and especially because Chris wrote it — that was his scene.
DEADLINE: You got some stick for the show from some who thought it wasn’t for a non-Muslim American to produce Tyrant, but what response did you get from viewers in the Middle East, if any?
GORDON: I’ve already been called on the carpet for telling a story that some people don’t think is ours to tell, but I can tell you from social media and fan letters this show really gained a following in the Middle East. In fact, we’ve been approached by producers in some countries in the region about acquiring the format.
We are apparently quite popular in Egypt, in Jordan and in the UAE. I don’t know how they get it — I have to imagine some get it illegally, some from iTunes, I don’t really know. But I’m surprised when I travel and people say, “I love your show,” ’cause I expect they are going to say Homeland. But when I hear Tyrant and I hear it from some unlikely people in some unlikely places, it tells me that we’ve got more right than we got wrong.
DEADLINE: In that vein, what were the lessons learned?
GORDON: The fact that we made it this long is extraordinary to me. I wish we did go longer, I wish we do go longer. I’m very proud we went as long as we did and finally told the story we wanted to tell. We may have done it imperfectly and I think the challenges were there for anyone, but I’m very proud of the work and the people who worked on the show.
At one point we had 13 different nationalities in the cast and for all the people involved in the project, some of them came from that part of the world, this was really a passionate project — as it was for Chris and for me.
As much as a bummer as it is to be cancelled on FX, you have to appreciate what you got to do.