‘The Looming Tower’ is brilliant television


Spoiler Alert: this article contains a thorough recap of “The Looming Tower’s” third episode, “Mistakes Were Made”

“Mistakes Were Made” starts in August 1998 with three al-Qaeda operatives discussing how they can simultaneously detonate 12 commercial jetliners over the Pacific Ocean. While plotting, a child of one of the terrorists accidentally kicks his soccer ball into the area where the meeting is being conducted. The bloodthirsty trio is unfazed by this interruption and they gently hand the ball to the boy and ask for privacy. This scene is beyond chilling because all three conspirators act with kindness while casually speaking about such a sinister act.

In 2004, the CIA’s Martin Schmidt (Peter Sarsgaard) is being questioned by the 10 members of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. Per usual, Schmidt is arrogant, condescending and borderline nasty. Sarsgaard does a phenomenal job of villainizing Schmidt. Furthermore, with the show’s alternating timelines and nonlinear subplots, it’s infuriating to see that Schmidt remains smug despite somewhat enabling Osama bin Laden’s network to murder 2,996 people in 2001.

The camera cuts to authentic footage of the aftermath of the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The directors and producers deserve kudos for expertly shifting between actual film and fact-based portrayals. With countless caskets draped with U.S. flags, FBI agent Robert Chesney (Bill Camp) observes the casualties with utter horror and sadness. Camp shines throughout this episode and deserves great applause for such a heartfelt depiction of Chesney.

Meanwhile, Chesney’s superior, John O’Neill (Jeff Daniels), is in Manchester, England, with Ali Soufan (Tahar Rahim) and a Scotland Yard officer. The three are seeking to question an extremist with potential ties to the dual attacks in East Africa that killed 224 people. Unfortunately, they arrive too late and the fanatic’s already deleted evidence from his hard drive. Upon returning to America, O’Neill becomes enraged when he learns that President Clinton has decided to bomb certain targets in Afghanistan. This episode concludes with the children who were playing soccer in the opening scene watching as missiles rapidly descend upon them.

Excluding al-Qaeda itself, the CIA is certainly presented as the tragedies’ primary wrongdoers. Yet, this show’s writers still do an incredible job of mainly staying neutral. “The Looming Tower” stands tall and is a solid viewing experience.