'The Comey Rule' Review: Timely and combustible

 A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Murtaza Ali Khan

If I were to ask you to pick your best scene ever in all of American television in the drama space, a lot of you would be tempted to either go with something from Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones. Some of you might go for The Sopranos, The Wire, or Mad Men. Others may pick a scene from Homeland or The Americans and so on. But, in my opinion, it’s really difficult to find a finer moment in the history of American television than when Jack Daniel’s American news anchor character Will McAvoy launches a lamenting tirade about the United States in the first season pilot episode of the 2012 HBO series The Newsroom, a monologue that he ends by declaring that “America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.” Of course, it’s brilliantly written by one of the greatest American screenwriters Aaron Sorkin but it’s the manner in which Jeff Daniels delivers it that makes it so impactful and absolutely unforgettable. The episode (and more specifically the scene) won Daniels the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. In the new Showtime series (available in India on Voot Select), Jeff Daniels is back in his element, this time playing the part of the former FBI Director James Comey who got fired by Donald J. Trump just five months after his inauguration as the 45th President of the United States of America. 

A two-part event series based on Comey’s No. 1 New York Times bestselling book ‘A Higher Loyalty’, The Comey Rule is both adapted and directed by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Billy Ray. It stars another Emmy winning actor, Brendan Gleeson, in the role of President Trump. Now, the first part of the series focuses on Comey’s appointment as the FBI Director by President Barrack Obama in 2014. Two years into his tenure, the FBI is plunged into two highly controversial cases. While the first involves the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails while serving as Secretary of State, the second deals with an investigation into Russia's ongoing attempts to derail the US presidential election of 2016. Comey's decisions on both these cases would have a long lasting impact on not just his career but also the course of history.    

The second episode mostly deals with the months that Comey serves as the FBI Director under President Trump. After Trump wins the US presidential election, a large section of Hillary Clinton’s supporters blame Comey for unjustly tipping the balance in Trump’s favor. Even as Comey deals with this, he must also find a way to work with Trump who demands “loyalty” from him. While Comey wants to maintain the neutrality his position as the FBI Director demands, Trump wants him to be flexible in his dealings. This sets the two men on a collision course that ends with Comey’s ouster from the bureau. The Comey Rule ends with a rather alarming note: “US Intelligence Agencies have now concluded that Russia is actively interfering with the 2020 US election, just as it did in 2016. The President has yet to acknowledge this finding.”

The Comey Rule is both timely and combustible. It presents a riveting account of inarguably one the most turbulent periods in the recent US history, the 2016 presidential election and its aftermath, which divided the nation like never before since the American Civil War. The Comey Rule shouldn’t be seen as a biopic of one man, for it tells the story of two powerful and diagonally opposite personalities, Comey and Trump. However, it’s important to highlight that the series doesn’t take an objective point of view on the turn of events as it’s told from the point of view of Comey who from the word go was suspicious of Trump whose very company made him feel a little uneasy. And despite trying his best to be accommodative, he ultimately failed to live up to Trump’s standards of loyalty as a result of which he got sacked unceremoniously. Gleeson brilliantly succeeds in bringing Trump's domineering personality and peremptory nature to the fore. Every dialogue he delivers feels like a piercing needle. Daniels, on the other hand, is grit and grace personified as Comey. One can feel the weight he carries on his shoulders. The scenes he shares with Gleeson are some of the finest that you will see on television this year.

The Comey Rule offers a gritty, realistic take on an insider’s journey through the corridors of power, where decisions capable of changing the course of lives of millions are taken within seconds, simply to open up possibilities that can yield political gains or negate the gains made by the adversaries. It’s all a game of one-upmanship where the likes of Comey act as pawns that get frequently sacrificed by those in seats of high power. With the 2020 presidential elections now just a couple of months away, The Comey Rule can serve as a veritable primer on US politics for the uninitiated. Also, it proves to be a strong reminder of how small slipups can lead to major upsets in politics and so there are some important lessons to be learnt here for other democracies also.

Rating: 8/10

A version of this article was first published in The Daily Guardian.

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