"Sleeper Cell" Scholar (TV Episode 2005) Poster

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One of the greatest hours of television I have ever seen
alansmithee129 April 2012
Warning: Spoilers
(Possible minor spoilers)

"Tell me brother, what is the greatest Jihad?"

As a hard-core fan of Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones my patience and or appreciation for anything less than the quality of the above mentioned titles has perhaps skewed my ability to appreciate TV shows I would have otherwise respected. That's why when I come across a series like Sleeper Cell I'm usually quite surprised. I'm even more surprised when said show out does itself, as this particular episode managed to do.

Special credit has to be given to Kamran Pasha for penning such an incredible piece of moving communication. Of course everyone has different ideas of what constitutes a good show, so I can only try an explain why I personally thought this was so well done, but I don't think I'm alone in my thinking. If anything, two of the most important qualities for any piece of art or entertainment to possess are the ability to connect to an audience and at the same time be surprising. This particular episode does the above masterfully.

It's been said that what makes a tragedy a tragedy is the wasted potential that existed to avert said tragedy in the first place. If such is true than Pasha did his homework given that he manages to take the viewer on a ride that, provided they are human, should leave them crying like a little baby by the time the credits role.

This installment starts in a dingy cell where a suspected terrorist is being held and most likely tortured by Yeman police/security forces. A Muslim scholar named Zayd Abdal Malik arrives to talk with said prisoner and makes a proposition to him. He tells the man that if he can convince him that the Qur'an permits the killing of innocent civilians that he will renounce his believes and join the man's cause. The man hesitantly assesses Malik and asks if this is a joke to which he receives the quote listed at the beginning of this review, and to which the audience receives the subject of the episode- inner struggle. After all, who amongst us doesn't, at some point in their life, come across an idea or belief that challenges their own perceptions of the world?

It's on this subject that Alex Nesic does a wonderful job of portraying Christian's own inner strife and, in doing so, provides some poignant depth to his character (I love his grin when Malik quotes a passage from the Quran that he is obviously familiar with). And it's partially his struggle that makes the episode so engaging. You know without a doubt that he is fighting to regain a sense of equilibrium after meeting and listening to Malik, but the question is what will his struggle lead to? He is exposed to his own doubt, tries to fight it and toss it aside, yet even at the last moment is still struggling to see which side will win out.

Not only does the episode seek to dispel certain stereotypes, it raises the questions of why people do the things they do, and why those seeking the same end take different paths to find it. Is it because of religion? Is it because of politics? Is it because sociology? Or how about economics and war? Or maybe just because of the shape of one's own soul? Of course there is really there is no one single answer to that question, but the thought process is ensnaring nonetheless.

I won't spoil the ending other than to say it's a fantastically and tragically neo-Shakespearean piece, but with a saving twist. (As corny as it sounds, the episode basically it ends where it began- at the beginning, just like a circle. Take that for what ever it's worth, but when you watch it you'll know what I'm talking about.) You could say the very last scene delivers a rope-a-dope that ties everything together by providing a message for the episode. The subject is of course about inner struggle, but the message has to do with ideas. Using close to an hour to build up to it, in the last minute Pasha (aided by an incredible score) manages to convey perhaps one of the strongest messages out there regarding the nature of ideas- that for better and worse, they are timeless; and ultimately, as clichéd as it may sound, you can kill the messenger, but you cannot kill the message.
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