(2005 – 2006) – 18 Episodes
Country: United States
Created by Cyrus Voris, Ethan Reiff
Michael Ealy, Oded Fehr, Henri Lubatti, Alex Nesic, Blake Shields, Melissa Sagemiller
Guest Stars: James LeGros, Sonya Walger, Jay R. Ferguson, Jeff Mallare, Albert Hall
Music by Paul Haslinger and Gary Meister
Main title composed by Mike Greene
Sleeper Cell is an amazing television series. It slowly draws you in and by the end it has you firmly by the scruff of the neck. The remarkable thing is that this series just gets better with each episode. The characters are slowly exposed revealing their positive and negative traits. Yep, that’s right – their positive traits! These guys are real people. They are fleshed out. It would be easy to make a series about terrorists who are bad, evil men. But this show’s genius is to make a show about terrorists who are human. Sure, they do, or will do bad things, but they also show compassion for children and care for their loved ones very much. Maybe it’s this passion that drives them on.
The cast and the performances are outstanding. It’s easy to single out Michael Ealy’s performance as he is at the forefront of the series. In essence, he carries it on his broad shoulders, displaying a full range of complex emotions. It never hurts that he is a good looking guy with piercing green eyes.
Possibly even better looking and even more charming and charismatic is Oded Fehr as the head of the terrorist cell, Farik. Fehr’s performance is all the more chilling because he is so likable.
The most complex character is Tommy, portrayed by Blake Shields. The other characters all have their extreme reasons why they have chosen to live a life of jihad, but Tommy is a clean cut all-American boy. Why does he want to be a terrorist? Well part of it has to do with a problem dealing with authority. But deeper than that, his mother is an old school hippy, who used to protest for peace. In fact her quest for peace is so militant it has driven Tommy to the polar extreme.
The other members of the cell are Christian Aumont (Alex Nesic), who is a French skinhead, and the most repugnant character in the cell; and then there’s Ilija Korjenic (Henri Lubatti) who comes into his own in the second series.
Al-Fatiha, the initial episode of Sleeper Cell is a fantastic introduction to this series. From it’s cryptic opening, it drags you into a different world, where black and white don’t meet. In between there are many, many shades of grey.
The episode begins with in Lompoc Penitentiary, and a Muslim prisoner, Darwyn Al-Sayeed (Micheal Ealy) is about to be released. On his final day on the inside, the Librarian gives him the address of a contact on the outside. Unbeknownst to Darwyn, the address is a Jewish synagogue.
Once released, Darwyn goes to the address and is confronted by some angry Jews, who are affronted that Darwyn should have the audacity to enter their sanctum. One man in particular takes offence to Darwyn’s intrusion and chooses to take the argument outside. Expecting a fight, Darwyn is surprised to find that the aggressor is Faisal Al-Farik (Oded Fehr), a fellow Muslim who is posing as a Jew. It is all a cover, because Farik is the head of an Islamic Extremist terrorist cell and he is putting together a team of Holy Warriors to carry out a mission. Now, Darwyn isn’t immediately accepted. First he has to prove himself, and to do this he is teamed with Abdula Habib – known as ‘Bobby’ Habib. Bobby and Darwyn are given a mission to follow a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl and report her movements back to Farik.
They witness the girl, out of school hours, dressed in sleazy attire and dating a white American boy. After witnessing her behaviour they report the information to Farik – and Bobby invites Darwyn to his young daughter’s birthday party which is being held in a park on the following Saturday. Darwyn accepts the invite.
The party is a very wholesome family affair. Young kids are playing in jumping castles and having fun. The adults are laughing and joking and enjoying the moment. It seems idyllic. At the party Darwyn meets a young single mother, Gayle (Melissa Sagemiller) and her four year old son, Marcus. Darwyn knows better, particularly with his secretive, more covert aspects to his lifestyle, but is immediately attracted to Gayle. It isn’t long before the two are involved in a fast and furious relationship.
Now up until this point, it may seem that Darwyn is a bit of a wild man – an American Muslim who has no sense of purpose, place or right and wrong, but he is in fact a deep cover FBI agent and his mission has been to infiltrate a terrorist cell, like the one under the control of Farik. When Darwyn goes to see his parole officer, he is actually seeing his FBI case officer Ray (James LeGros). Together, over the last six months, these men have been trying to work their way into the Al Queda network, and it appears their efforts are finally paying off.
Darwyn’s cover story is put to the test when, at three in the morning, Bobby Habib calls Darwyn away from Gayle. Darwyn reluctantly gets into the van and finds that Farik is behind the wheel and the other members of the cell are ensconced in the back. They cell travels out into the dessert, suggesting potential ‘targets’ on their route as they travel. Once in the dessert, Farik announces that they have a traitor in their midst. Naturally, it appears that Darwyn is the mole, but his story is airtight. It is Bobby Habib who has jeopardised their assignment by phoning his Uncle in Egypt and bragging about their objectives. Bobby has to be taught a lesson, and terrorist cells teach very finite lessons.
Al-Fatiha is an intense, fast paced and emotional show, and to those who are sensitive, it is pretty shocking too. As it is the first episode, all of the characters have not been fully developed yet. Christian and Illya, come off the poorest, but in the following episodes, each character is fleshed out, and each character makes you question whether or not they will actually go through with their act of terror. For me to say, whether the mission succeeds or fails would of course be a major spoiler, so I’ll be tight lipped on that score, but this series is exceptional television and well worth tracking down.