Previously on The Looming Tower, “Now It Begins…”
This episode tackles two main issues: how to handle the aftermath of the U.S. Embassy bombing in Nairobi, Kenya and how to identify the terrorist group behind it. Concerning the latter, the FBI and the CIA unsurprisingly have differing opinions on how to handle the investigation.
Following another scathing interaction with Martin Schmidt and another CIA agent named Sanchez, John O’Neal and Ali Soufan meet with Richard Clarke to demand that the FBI have control over the case. They are granted the case since they have compelling evidence that Al-Qaeda is behind the bombings and the FBI is the most well-versed on the terrorist organization.
Agent Robert Chesney and a group of other FBI agents travel to the site of the U.S. Embassy bombing in Nairobi. While there, the team interviews victims at the hospital and learns of a potential suspect via interviewing the security guard about an Arab man who asked him how he operates the gate a mere day before the bombing. Additionally, Chesney learns from Simon, a survivor rescued from the rubble, that an informant revealed to Debra Fletcher, Chief of Station, about a year ago that the Nairobi embassy was a target for a future terrorist attack. Furious, O’Neal confronts Schmidt about this but Schmidt merely states that the CIA gets 40+ leads a day and the warning must not have been deemed credible at the time.
In the United Kingdom, agent Soufan along with Scotland Yard agent Barry James follows up with different publications that reported what organizations are taking responsibility for the bombings. They follow a fax sent to a newspaper seemingly authored by one of these terrorist groups back to a local shop. The shop owner is elusive about who paid for him to send the fax and agent Soufan angrily accuses him of being a shameful liar. Needless to say, they leave the shop with no new leads.
Contrastingly, Diane Marsh, Schmidt’s protégé, and Schmidt are advocating to Leonard Bliss, CIA Chief (Near East Division), and to Clarke to bomb an area of Afghanistan where they suspect Osama Bin Laden is residing. They imply that the hundreds of innocent Muslim lives that will be lost is worth it. Their contingency plan is to pay Pashtun tribesman to capture Bin Laden and take him to a safe house in Egypt where he can be thoroughly “interrogated.” Both of these terrible plans are thankfully dismissed as being idiotic and ineffective. The episode ends with Schmidt pouting, but then becoming strangely optimistic once a newscaster announces that President Bill Clinton will give testimony to a grand jury concerning his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Since the White House will be desperate to take America’s attention off the president’s indiscretions, Schmidt tells Marsh that they can convince Clinton to pull the trigger on Osama Bin Laden.
The show, although not as fast-paced as the pilot, still seems to treat the audience as a knowing member of Congress involved in all of the various discussions. This can leave one feeling like they have missed something rather than some of the story’s elements have just not been properly explained. For instance, the acronym MON is used throughout the episode, but yet is never defined.
Additionally, The Looming Tower presents a common rescue trope where the very person that a main character is searching for is miraculously found amongst the heaps of rubble. This episode goes a little sideways from the trope in that a survivor, Simon, has been talking to Debra Fletcher, the Chief of the Station, who Agent Chesney was looking for at the beginning of the episode. By way of a quick Google search, I do not believe that Debra Fletcher was an actual victim of the Nairobi bombing and that this is an added dramatization to pull at the audience’s heart strings and to derive sympathy for Chesney. I am curious as to why the showrunners chose to make up a fictional character as opposed to using an actual victim’s story. Legal reason, perhaps?
The show has done a pretty good job of still leaving its audience wanting to know more about the characters beyond the impending terrorism. It is mentioned in this episode that John O’Neal cannot travel to Africa because he apparently has to rebuild a relationship East Africa. I cannot help but be intrigued by what he did to sever such a vital network. Also, we learn that at least one of his mistresses thinks that he is divorced and has guilt over it due to his Catholic upbringing. Although things do seem to be fizzling out with his wife, he is still indeed married. However, he may be asking for a divorce from his wife soon based off the message he leaves for her as he heads out town for work.
I also enjoyed the attention to people of a minority group being unfairly forced to represent their entire race, religion, etc. When Lebanese agent Soufan becomes outraged at the Muslim shop owner, James accuses him of “putting on a show” to prove to the other agents that he is “not one of those Arabs.” Soufan promptly proclaims, “Now I assure you that nothing I do is for your benefit. I work for the United States government, and I live by my own conscience.” Even in his backhanded compliment, officer James still insults Soufan by implying that he clearly couldn’t have just been outraged by the terrorism that his fellow Arab shop owner was complicit in. In James’ eyes, he also had to be motivated by getting a stamp of approval from the other non-Arab officers.
- Agent Chesny goes back to the house of Bin Laden’s former secretary that he visited in episode one. The house was ransacked and the dog was dead in the front yard. I wonder if the man and his wife were killed or if they escaped.
- The episode begins with Mohammad al-Owhali, the suicide bomber who frantically abandoned his partner and ran away from the Nairobi bombing last week, calling for help and limping away from the scene. He receives care in a hospital as just another bombing victim. I am amazed that none of the terrorists he contacted for help, although surprised, were upset or skeptical by the fact that Mohammad somehow survived his suicide mission.
- Jammal Al-Fadl is a FBI confidant in witness protection that believes someone named Khallad is a potential person connected to the embassy bombings.
The Looming Tower S1E2 Review Score
"Losing My Religion"
Starring: Jeff Daniels, Tahar Rahim, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg, Nezar Alderazi, Sullivan Jones, Erica Cho, Katie Flahive