Realistic portrayal of threat on home front
Sleeper Cell: American Terror 8.30pm, Showtime
A MONTH ago it would have been relatively easy to dismiss this second series of American Terror as an updated red scare, with Islamic terrorists replacing the communists as the enemy within. After all, back then it was a while since a terror strike had occurred in a Western city. But then the attacks in London and Glasgow reminded us how real the risk is.
The premise of the program is that the West is under threat from fanatics who are not interested in peace on any terms but their own. They will not be swayed from killing as many people as they can.
Sleeper Cell is TV for our times, a wartime drama that assumes civilians are on the front- line. Perhaps it includes errors that will upset police procedural purists, but for this ordinary viewer, presenting both sides of the story is disturbingly credible.
The baddies are intent on slaughter for reasons that are deeply felt, but never coherently explained.
The goodies are neither all that good nor especially able. In this episode US interrogators, desperate to break a prisoner, are brutal and stupid. And while both sides lose key people, the FBI suffers the biggest defeat.
This is classic cable noir, a drama made for subscription TV and, as such, more challenging than what the US free- to- air networks generally serve up. Sleeper Cell is beautifully assembled. It presents a California of mean streets, rather than an airbrushed, opulent fantasyland.
The first episode is complex, suggesting this is a series to stick with if you are to have any hope of understanding what happens in the last episode, scheduled for early August.
The plot is also credible, with both sides making mistakes. The charac-
For this viewer, presenting both sides of the story is disturbingly credible
ters are believable, although people coming fresh to the second series may wonder why FBI agent Darwyn AlSayeed, ( played by Michael Ealy) takes so many risks, even after he is offered a way out. And while there is no sympathy for the terrorists’ cause, there are thugs on both sides.
Most important, the combatants come from all sorts of backgrounds. There are Muslims on both sides and the terrorists have English, American and European, as well as Middle Eastern, accents. Perhaps the writers did this to avoid accusations of stereotyping. But the script makes it clear that the war on terror is a struggle between ideas, not nations or ethnic groups.
People who think the terror threat is grossly overrated may well dismiss Sleeper Cell as hysterical. For the rest of us it is a daunting drama that deals with dangers that have not yet happened here, but could.
Not many heroes on show: Oded Fehr as Farik in Sleeper Cell