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Series / Sleeper Cell

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Also known as Sleeper Cell: American Terror.

A miniseries showing between 2005-2006, starring Michael Ealy, Oded Fehr and Henri Lubatti.

It concerns Darwyn al-Sayeed, a Muslim FBI agent who infiltrates a terrorist cell; fair enough, but this show also deals with the terrorists' psychology, providing insights into their backgrounds and motives, as well as their relationships to each other and their families.

Showtime has suggested that it doesn't rule out the possibility of a third season in the future.


This show provides examples of:

  • All Muslims Are Arab: Completely averted, with the terrorists in fact weaponizing this stereotype to their benefit. They purposefully use people of other backgrounds to escape detection. Only two of the original cell's members are Arabs. In the second season, only one is.
  • Anyone Can Die: Ray Fuller and Patrice Serxner, two of Darwyn's bosses, are killed as is Darwyn's love interest Gayle. Even Darwyn himself may not be exempt from this trope as he is left wounded in a street at the end of Season 2. It is not confirmed if he survived.
  • Arranged Marriage: Salim's parents arrange a marriage between him and a Muslim woman. However, the woman is too Westernized for his taste. She drinks alcohol, wears Western clothes, does not stick to halal food, and believes in religious tolerance between different Islamic sects.
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  • Artistic License – Religion: In-Universe, on a train some thugs start harassing a Sikh man thinking he's a Muslim. Darwyn beats them up and then delivers a lecture pointing out that traditionally Muslims have actually been the enemies of Sikhs, with conflict going back centuries. He also notes multiple times that Muslim terrorists twist real Islamic teachings to justify themselves, which disgusts him.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Ken Walls is a Muslim extremist who trains soldiers to fight for the insurgency in Iraq. However, he only targets the American military, which he views as a legitimate target, and refuses to help Farik hurt civilians, leading to a violent confrontation between him and the cell. Apparently it had been a point of contention between them in the past.
  • Blofeld Ploy: In the first episode, Farik claims that a member of his cell is a traitor, possibly referring to FBI agent Darwyn. However, he was actually accusing Bobby Habib.
  • Bolivian Army Cliffhanger: The series ends with Darwyn lying in the street shot in a shoulder and suffering from other wounds sustained in a brutal fight with Farik, but not quite dead.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Ilija hooks up with a woman like this after he's on the run in the wake of the first season's terrorist attack. She believes he's innocent, with both the attack and 9/11 being staged by the government. As a result, she willingly shelters him so Ilija can flee the US.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • One for both Darwyn and Farik on their first meeting in a synagogue. Farik maintains a cover as "Yossi", a proud and kind member of the LA Jewish community. He verbally confronts Darwyn and asks if he's here to see the Judaic swine which Allah has condemned. This sets the precedent for Farik's use of subterfuge to hide his identity as the leader of an Islamic extremist cell, and his misunderstanding of Islam. In response, Darwyn tells him that the Quran only states that some of the Jews and Christians were turned into pigs, i.e. only the evil ones. This insistence on quoting and defending the holy text correctly underlines Darwyn's righteous beliefs in the law and the fact that he's the only true believer in the ways of his religion, unlike his fellow cell members. It also allows him to maintain the cover of a righteous terrorist.
    • Christian is a sore loser when Darwyn beats him in touch football, so he brutally tackles him from behind during celebration like a cowardly scumbag.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Farik has a wife and daughter while Christian has a pregnant wife (whom he's estranged from as she disagrees with his plans to commit terrorist acts).
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Darwyn invokes this on Farik to turn the cell's talents to justice for a change. Morally disgusted by their financier's use of child prostitutes, he flat out states to Farik that "this is not Islam!". With initial reluctance, the Saudi boss man leads an assault on the Mexican cartel. He tells the second in command that he can take leadership and a bigger cut of earnings from their prostitution, gambling, drug dealing and pirated DVD sales. Just no children anymore.
    • Ken Walls secretly trains soldiers to join the mujahideen. However, he only targets the American military and refuses to help Farik attack civilians.
  • Foreign-Looking Font: Naturally, an Arabic font for the credits sequence.
  • The Fundamentalist: All the cell members (except for Darwyn, of course).
  • Hollywood Atheist: Bob, Farik's interrogator in Season 2, is a mild example (assuming his story is true and not an interrogation tactic to shake Farik). Raised a devout Christian as a child, Bob died for twenty minutes after a drowning accident and saw no afterlife. After that experience, he became an atheist. Farik is not swayed in the least by hearing this.
  • If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten!:
    • At the end of the first episode, Farik is still testing Darwyn. During the stoning to death of Bobby Habib, he orders Darwyn to throw one of the stones, but it misses. Next time round, he gestures to Darwyn to do it and hit Bobby this time. Darwyn feigns reaching for another rock, but he pulls Farik's ankle-holstered gun. Holding it on Farik for a second, he then shoots Bobby as a Mercy Kill. While the cell members are surprised by this turn of events (and Farik warns him not to do it again), this is convincing enough for them for Farik to officially induct Darwyn into the cell.
    • Notably, nobody forced Darwyn into a moment like this over the second season, because for most of it he's the leader of the new cell.
  • Insistent Terminology:
    • They are not terrorists. They are holy warriors.
    • They buy explosives from white separatists, not "supremacists."
  • Interservice Rivalry: Like nothing else. The various wings of government, the police and foreign policy all stand in the way of a truly effective counter-terrorism strategy.
  • Ironic Name: One of the Muslim cell members is named Christian.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: Gail's well-meaning concerns threaten Darwyn's case in the first season when she tells the LAPD she thinks he's a terrorist. It comes to a head when the LAPD moves to arrest him and Patrice is forced to reveal his identity as an undercover FBI agent, dispersing the LAPD just in time to avoid blowing his cover.
  • Mistaken for Terrorist: As mentioned above, when Gail mistakenly thinks Darwyn is a real terrorist (justified as he's undercover ''pretending to be one).
  • Mr. Fanservice: Yes, this show deals with the extremely serious subject matter of terrorism. Michael Ealy and Oded Fehr are still freaking hot, with Fehr in particular benefiting from the fact that Evil Is Sexy.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Gail is shown topless in a couple scenes.
  • Mutual Kill: Farik has ordered Khashul, the troubled Afghan would-be jihadi, to be killed as he's a potential liability for the cell. Darwyn hopes to have him safely escape from the US, but his ex has actually set Khashul up to be recaptured by the authorities. Ray Fuller takes him into custody, but Khashul cuts his throat and runs away. Before he can escape though, Fuller shoots him dead, and both of these kills further the tragedy of the show.
  • Only the Knowledgable May Pass: The secret password between terrorists goes:
    Questioner: Where is God's paradise?
    Initiate: Paradise is in the shadow of the swords.
    • When conversing in public, they use the more common "As-salam alaykum" "Wa ‘alaykum al-salaam" Arabic greeting.
  • Pre-Climax Climax: Farik meets his wife in Las Vegas and they have an argument about his plot to martyr himself in two days' time. But believing he cannot be dissuaded, he ends it and seduces her for the first time in years (due to their estrangement). Unfortunately for him, he neither got to blow himself up nor ever have sex with her again.
  • Pretend Prejudice:
    • One of Farik's interrogators makes bigoted comments while questioning him. But when he meets Darwyn, he treats him courteously and knows not to offer a Muslim alcohol.
    • Darwyn appears to fake chauvinistic contempt towards Mina when he first meets her, because most Mujaheed would likely feel the same (it's a male-dominated ideology, surprisingly enough). But he soon accepts her as a full member of the cell for the sake of the investigation.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Abdullah "Bobby" Habib. Presented as one of the main members of the cell but executed by Farik for being a "traitor" who bragged about their plot to his uncle at the end of the very first episode.
  • Spies in a Van: As expected for a counter-terrorism show.
  • Staged Pedestrian Accident: Done not for money but to delay the terrorists.
  • Translation Convention: It can be assumed that this is in play largely during scenes with Arabic speakers conversing in privacy, especially in countries such as Yemen and Saudi Arabia. After all, one wouldn't expect senior Al-Queda members to be using English with each other. This is averted by some dialogue though, which is subtitled Arabic.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: The first season ends with Tommy's mom making a statement before the media that she'll sue the US Military for the breakdown her son endured after his dishonorable discharge and joined with al-Farik's cell.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Tommy and Christian.
  • Western Terrorists:
    • Type IV. Only two of the terrorists in the Season 1 cell are Arab. The others are a white Frenchman, a white Bosnian, a white American (plus one Arab was also quickly killed off). The Season 2 cell includes a Hispanic American and a white Dutchwoman (all those examples were based on real terrorists).
    • Type III. White separatists also make an appearance, trading explosives to the cell for Afghan cocaine. They also appear to draw parallels between them and Al-Qaeda. Christian, an ex-skinhead, claims that he was once a lot like them. The leader of the white separatists answers that Christian is still like them.