Sleeper Cell: Al-Baqara (season premiere)
(S02E01) Sleeper Cell is an incredibly impressive show. The first mini-series which aired a year ago was publicized quietly and didn't garner the attention it deserved until well after it had aired. Hopefully people are listening to the buzz this time around because Sleeper Cell is the closest thing Showtime has to HBO's The Wire. Yeah... it's that good. Visually impressive, rich in dialogue, a host of characters to love and despise. The list goes on. Not to mention the fact that it's topically relevant and due to it's place on a premium cable station, it can address the issues directly -- often to an uncomfortable extent. Something that a similarly themed broadcast network clock-ticking drama unfortunately can't compare to. Trust me. You owe it to yourself to be watching Sleeper Cell.
Picking up months after the failed attack on LA's Dodger Stadium, FBI Agent Darwyn Al-Sayeed (Michael Ealy) has entered "decompression." He's out of the game and doesn't want back in. His relationship with Gayle and her son Marcus is blossoming and he's even been offered a teaching job at Quantico. Despite his good fortunes, Darwyn is pushed back into the undercover world at the urging of his FBI handler, Patrice Serxner (Sonya Walger).
A new cell is uncovered via one of Darwyn's cell-mates while he spent time in Lompoc and Darywn is forced into a position where he can't just walk away. That's the one thing you have to understand about this show. Because Showtime airs it as a mini-series, things happen fast. This is a good thing. Just as quickly as Darwyn infiltrates the new cell, the leader quickly uncovers his meetings with his "parole officer" and realizes something is up. The fight between those two at the 24-hour car-wash was excellent, very tense.
The real gem of the episode was Farik. Watching him in prison, as the interrogators attempted to break him was riveting. The one agent, Bob -- collected, calm, sipping tea, and scribbling doodles on his notepad. From his story about falling through some ice as a boy, losing faith and seeing religion as bogus to the moment when Farik finally asked for and received tea, I really thought he was about to break. They set it up as such throughout the entire episode. It was wonderfully written and we really were led to believe that Bob was gaining an upper hand.
Not so. Despite his imprisonment, Farik has proved he's still a player. He can take the pain and, somehow, he still has an outside connection because he knew something about Serxner's fate. Her visit to Sudan and her abduction were expected, but I never would have predicted that ending... wow. And for Darwyn to have to see it all streaming on some website? Horrible. He's lost both his handlers during this ordeal now.
The only story that fell flat for me was Ilija's. He's been living with Carly, that girl from the record store, and he's somehow convinced her that he was the target of some elaborate government plot. However, now that the Dodger Stadium attack is no longer news worthy, the two of them are fleeing to Canada. Don't get me wrong. I like that they're keeping tabs on characters from season one, but does this contribute anything to the big picture? Maybe it will tie in later on. I am, however, glad Darwyn brought Ziad (the accountant) back into the fold. Sure he's a bad guy, but he is the only source of comic relief in a show where there's nothing to laugh at.
The new cell is questionable too. There's three members now (not counting Darwyn) and they all seem very inexperienced and bright-eyed.
There's Benny Velasquez, Darwyn's friend from prison. He was also converted by the librarian and his only contribution to the team seems to be gang connections.
Next up is Mina. She's of Dutch descent and her late husband was a holy warrior. Before he gave his life to "the cause," he taught Mina everything he knew about Islam, munitions, explosives, and demolitions. She fights for him.
Finally there's Salim. He's an Iraqi, educated in Britain. His expertise is in engineering.
Will they work well together or not? That remains to be seen, but even the simplest task of choosing a new leader became a tense argument. However, the job of bringing them down may very well be Darwyn's hardest yet. Especially since his mandate is finding out who's actually behind it all over seas. He's got some digging to do.
A note to readers: After the airing of this episode, the entire mini-series will be available on Showtime OnDemand. For those that choose to go ahead and view episodes ahead of their air date, please refrain from commenting on aspects of episodes that have yet to be shown.