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The Looming Tower Episode 2 Review: Losing My Religion

Episode 2 begins with John O’Neill (Jeff Daniels) and his protégé Ali Soufan (Tahar Rahim) explaining to Richard Clarke (Michael Stulbarg), chief counterterrorism advisor to the National Security Council, that the US Embassy attacks in Kenya and Tanzania in the previous episode have all the markers of Al-Qaeda. He gets them clearance to work on the case, but with the stipulation that O’Neill cannot go to East Africa. It seems as if some higher ups don’t like him and he must make amends. Agent Soufan is sent to London as it has the largest Muslim population and is known as the hub of communication for Al-Qaeda. There he works with Scotland Yard to chase down leads.

Meanwhile Schmidt (Peter Sarsgaard), chief of the CIA counterterrorism centre, wants to wipe out bin Laden by targeting every possible area. Considering the chance of success is low and the chance of collateral damage is high, they are not approved no matter who they ask. Agent Robert Chesney (Bill Camp) is helping with the Nairobi Embassy clean-up effort, wanting to help them get to the bottom of this. His agents interview survivors in the hope that someone saw the perpetrators of the attack. Unlike the previous episode, we don’t spend much time with the Al-Qaeda agents. We see one member of Al-Qaeda reuniting with his group; we see the perpetrator of the bombing trying to escape and seek medical care, and another important figure make his way to the west. As in the last episode, the threads come together at the end and we’re left with new questions instead of complete closure.

Given that the title references REM’s famous song, religion is an important aspect of this episode. The parallels between Catholicism and Islam are highlighted strongly in one sequence in which we see the juxtaposition of two religious services in different parts of the western world. Both showcase the articles of worship, the prayers, and the rites. These are seen from the point of view of Soufan, who seems a little taken aback by the Muslim service, and O’Neill who seems a bit bored at the Catholic one. It’s interesting that these characters are the focus of these moments because neither man seems overly religious and each one goes against the tenants of their beliefs in one way or another. Religion comes into play again with Soufan when they confront a Muslim business owner. Soufan is told he doesn’t have to prove he’s one of the “good ones” by Inspector Barry James (Tony Curran) of Scotland Yard, to which Soufan responds with how people abuse his religion and he will not stand for that. Again, I find that interesting, considering he has said he wasn’t particularly religious in the previous episode.

While the previous episode set up all the major players, and it had some shocking moments, it didn’t have the chance to be truly heart wrenching. This episode doubles down on that aspect as the Nairobi crew deals with the aftermath of the embassy bombing. The episode starts with real photographs of the injured in quick succession to showcase the impact the explosion had on the people. Some of the photos are particularly gruesome. Later on, we are privy to interviews with the some of the survivors. We see people with bandages wrapped around their faces talking about how they can only see darkness, people covered  in blood on stretchers in makeshift rooms, people without limbs. The show doesn’t shy away from showing you the deceased either, making sure there was a previous connection to make that emotional impact sting.

Stuhlbarg gets to shine much more in this episode than he did in the last. I particularly liked his interaction with Peter Skarsgaard. There was a lot of tension between their characters and it was nice to see Skarsgaard’s smug confidence crushed by Stuhlbarg’s objective authority.

Overall this episode was just a bit weaker than the first episode, and I think that’s because we didn’t get as much from Jeff Daniels this time. He had his moments, but there just wasn’t enough of him. I was still engaged in the overarching narrative, but wasn’t as compelled as I was by the first.

4 / 5

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