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The Looming Tower – S1E4 – Mercury

Previously on The Looming Tower, “Mistakes Were Made”

(Photo by: JoJo Whilden/Hulu)

John O’Neal’s predication of more recruits joining al-Qaeda in the wake of the U.S. bombings comes to fruition. Throughout the episode the audience is informed of the uprising of anti-American sentiment across the globe. The President of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, criticizes President Clinton for bombing a factory in Khartoum that al-Bashir proclaims only manufactured medicines. The Arab League in Cairo also speaks out against the U.S. while protestors in Afghanistan burn an effigy of President Clinton. We even witness the lone surviving boy of the bombing of the al-Qaeda camp travel to the new al-Qaeda terror cell and begin to serve the leaders.  

In the midst of all of this, O’Neal and Martin Schmidt both get into hot water at their respective jobs.  

O’Neal is visited by a young FBI agent named Jim who warns him about his lavish spending while hosting international diplomats. Jim even scolds O’Neal about his personal indulgences, inducing a declined credit card, since unresolvable debt makes government officials targets for enemy intelligence. I wish this would’ve been expounded upon, but I assume this means that with O’Neal being in financial trouble, he is making himself vulnerable of being bribed by foreign operatives.

Trigger-happy Schmidt gets himself demoted from his post as director of Alec Station by bypassing the chain of command in the CIA. First, he implores Richard Clarke to bomb a bird hunting event of all things in Afghanistan because he has information that Bin Laden will most likely be in attendance. Even after the sound-minded Clarke informs him that American allies will be at the avian event, Schmidt merely proclaims that their deaths wouldn’t be a big deal since they are colluding with American enemies.

O’Neal advises against this attack and exclaims that killing Bin Laden will only turn him into a revered martyr with a greater following. As stated by Ali Soufan earlier, al-Qaeda is much like mercury in that one of its properties can quickly disperse and reconstitute. Just killing Bin Laden will not end the war nor put an end to al-Qaeda. Quite peeved, Schmidt doesn’t even convene with his direct supervisor, Leonard Bliss, but instead goes right to the director of the CIA, George Tenet, to demand the bird hunt be bombed. After Tenet dismisses him from his office, Schmidt smugly meets with Bliss proclaiming he can’t possibly fire him from the CIA only move him to another position at best. Calling his bluff, Bliss promptly demotes Schmidt, possibly to some sort of clerical work in the library.   

Amidst all of this disorder, the CIA continues to keep the FBI in the dark concerning the intelligence it gathers. After agent Robert Chesney received a point of contact from the Nairobi suicide bomber, the phone number was given to the CIA. Alec Station was able to determine that the phone number belonged to Ahmed al-Hada, a high ranking operative in al-Qaeda. However, FBI agent Louis Cancelemi was not even allowed to view the al-Hada electronic file and another agent’s phone calls to Alec Station go unreturned. In the meeting concerning planning another attack, Schmidt even lies to O’Neal that his office has shared all intelligence regarding the phone number with the FBI. I find this very ironic since in this very same meeting Schmidt proclaims that the administration will have to answer for their non-action against al-Qaeda all the while he chooses to not divulge information that could aid in preventing another terrorist attack. O’Neal resorts to calling U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White in an effort to get more information.  

The Terror

Considering my previous concerns about the underdeveloped female characters of the show, I actually cheered when Diane Marsh has an intelligent thought of her own this episode. Marsh figures out that al-Hada is not just a messenger, but in fact, a switch board for Al-Qaeda, delivering messages among various operatives in various countries (Malaysia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, etc.). It was nice to see her have an original thought that had nothing to do with Schmidt for once.

But the little bit of agency she was given in this revelation was quickly unraveled when Marsh visits Schmidt in the library after he is relieved of his position. She literally elevates Schmidt to messiah status by calling him a prophet and that the ladies of Alec Station always think “What would Martin do?” before making a decision. She confesses that she will keep him abreast of their progress. Keep in mind, however, that FBI agents assigned to Alec Station are being frozen out, but Marsh is going to continue to devulge confidential information to someone who now does not have the security clearance to be privy to it. Can you say treason? I wonder if a new director of Alec Station is brought in, if she will also attempt to keep them in the dark as well in some misguided loyalty to Schmidt. Even more frustrating, Marsh proclaims, “You have my undivided devotion, Martin. You have to believe me.” This was so sickening to me. Alec Station is living up to their Manson family nickname more and more.

The Cheer

I enjoyed the pacing of this episode and was able to follow it better with the well-placed title cards for the assorted locations.

What I enjoyed even more was getting a more in depth look into O’Neal’s personal quandary regarding his romantic life. O’Neal goes to confessional to confess that he is in love with and wants to marry his mistress, well one of them, Elizabeth (Liz), who we learn is an art history teacher. The priest informs him that to get a marriage nullified in the Catholic church, not just a mere legal divorce, it requires for both spouses to agree. Seeking a second opinion, O’Neal visits Cardinal Hickey, the clergyman that married him and his wife Maria. He learns that if he does not get his marriage properly annulled in the Catholic church, then he cannot get remarried in the Catholic church nor take communion. Seeing as both his wife and mistress are devout Catholics, he is pretty much screwed. However, what I cannot figure out is why O’Neal even wants to get married again to Liz. Even though he is already cheating on Liz with his wife, he is not even committed to her being his only mistress. He sleeps another woman, Sher, when is out of town and she happily says she will be relocating to New York for business. I am looking forward to seeing how he is going to balance having three women in one city.

Looming Tidbits

  • Even though Bin Laden does not make a physical appearance in the episode, his presence is still felt throughout via photographs as well as unexpected graphic tees. In Nairobi, a boy wears a shirt with Bin Laden’s face and the phrase “You (implying America) missed.” In New York, a teenage girl is seeing wearing a yellow sweat shirt that has a drawing of Bin Laden and the phrase “Still Alive.” I can’t help but to wonder if she is a supporter of Bin Laden or if she is upset that he is still alive.
  • There are two Saudi men who show up at the Al-Qaeda camp. It is revealed that they can easily get US visas. I wonder if these are two of the Saudi men that will hijack the planes on 9/11.  
  • Soufan proclaims that the promise of 72 virgins in heaven for devoted Muslim men is not in the Koran and is more of an urban legend.  
  • I am still not really invested in the Soufan and Heather romance. The episode ends with them consummating their relationship after Heather expresses her disdain with Soufan telling her that his mom tried to set him up with a Lebanese woman named Foziah. She accuses  him of only wanting to be buddies and so he takes her to bed to prove otherwise. I guess.
  • I found it an interesting choice to lead into the ending credits with Method Man’s and Mary J Blige’s “You’re All I Need”.
The Looming Tower S1E4 Review Score
  • 7/10
    Plot - 7/10
  • 8/10
    Dialogue - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Performances - 8/10


Starring: Jeff Daniels, Tahar Rahim, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg, Nezar Alderazi, Sullivan Jones, Erica Cho, Katie Flahive

User Review
5 (1 vote)
About Jada Selma (22 Articles)
Jada is a graduate student living in Atlanta, GA , who utilizes TV and podcasts to break away from her taxing life behind the lab bench. She is an admitted daydreamer and Investigation Discovery aficionado. Her fandom aspirations include co-hosting a podcast and meeting Idris Elba (at least one is bound to happen right?).
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