No Sleep–er Cell
Saudi Arabia’s recent declaration that it would give aid to the Sunni factions in Iraq if America withdraws its forces is very revealing. The thin veneer of friendliness shown by the Saudi monarchy toward the U.S. gets ever thinner as the interests of the repressed Saudi Sunni population begin to come out. Most Americans are still living in denial in their SUV-happy-motoring dreamworld. We still think terrorism is kind of an annoyance, or something being exploited by our own government as a power grab. We still haven’t even begun to grasp the full implications of the clash of civilizations between Islamic factions, radicals, moderates, and the west, or what it means for our future. General Mark O. Schissler recently compared it to the Cold War, and predicted this would be a 100-year conflict.
In the meantime, the second ’season’ (actually an 8 hour miniseries) of Showtime’s gripping series on terrorism Sleeper Cell: American Terror was released this week for on-demand viewing, and airs nightly with the finale next Sunday, December 17. Clearly this series was written some time ago (allowing for production schedules), but it couldn’t be more topical. I missed most of the first season, but apparently it involved the buildup to a plot by an Al-Qaeda cell to blow up Dodger Stadium during a game. The plot was foiled at the last minute by undercover FBI agent Darwyn Al-Sayeed (the show’s protagonist, played by Michael Ealy).
The pilot for the second season was directed by Clark Johnson, who also directed a number of episodes of The Shield. Johnson’s influence is all over Sleeper Cell, from the choice of locations, (including a strip club used for Al-Sayeed’s covert meetings with his case agent), to the camera angles. Color-correction was used very effectively to provide different looks for different locations, a la Traffic.
Sleeper Cell returns with Al-Sayeed in command of a new cell, working for both sides and feeding information to the FBI. This time, the orders involve a nuclear attack. But this familiar terrorist bogeyman is not what makes the show great. As usual with great television, it comes down to the writing. The character dialog outlines many of the major positions being staked out by all parties to this conflict: From torture, to Saudi radical sympathies, to a western woman’s rationale for converting to Islam, to atheism, to a gay-closeted Islamic radical’s venom agains a moderate Islamic televangelist, it is all here.
If you are lucky enough to have Showtime on demand, you can watch this series whenever you want. But I have one piece of advice: don’t start it if you plan on getting any sleep.