In the last installment of my Arabian Nights Series, we left off with Scheherazade(Mili Avital) marrying her childhood friend, the mad sultan Shahryar. Shahryar is suffering from a madness similar to PTSD after a failed assignation attempted by his brother and his now-deceased wife, the Sultana. Shahryar(Dougray Scott) is planning on having Scheherazade killed with a silk rope the morning after their wedding night.
The wedding takes place on the palace balcony facing the people of Baghdad. Schahazenan(James Frain) enters the city in a great procession making his way to the balcony where Shahryar and Scheherazade are. Jafar tells Shahryar to show the people they are brothers again and the embraces Schahazenan. Immediately Shahryar begins to have flashbacks of the assignation attempt while his brother whispers in his ear, ” I hope you have better luck this time brother. Your late wife loved me remember.”
The episode then flashes forward to the couples wedding night, where Shahryar continues to have flashbacks of an assignation attempt. Scheherazade immediately tries to appeal to Shahryar’s emotions by getting him to remember the fun they had as children. This elicits an angry response from Shahryar but does succeed in getting him to move from the shadows to the bed a few feet away from her. Sheherazade takes this opportunity to continue talking with Shahryar about what is bothering him. Shahryar tells Sheherazade that he has not slept for forty nights due to the nightmares he is having. Sheherazade then offers him a sesame seed biscuit, which he rejects, saying” that he does not like Sesame seeds.” At this point, things are not looking good for Sheherazade, and Shahryar is getting increasingly more frustrated with every passing minute.
Sheherazade uses humor to break the tension in the room and then draw Shahryar into the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Sheherazade laughs at his comment about the Sesame seeds and,” says it reminds me of a story.” He protests but then she says, ” Ah but you have not heard the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.” At this point, she has captured his interest in hearing the story but loses almost immediately. The moment that she heard that he was curious about the story because he made a connection between the forty nights of dreams and the forty thieves in the story’s title she should have known to open the story with the forty thieves. Instead, Sheherezade opens the story by introducing the main characters Ali Baba (Rufus Sewell), Saffron( his camel), and Cassim(Andy Serkis)( his older brother), which loses Shahryar’s interest immediately. He is lost and grasping to connect what the main characters have to do with the Forty Thieves. Sheherezade then creates the character of Black Coda(Tcheky Karyo) a ruthless master of disguise to lead the Forty Thieves in raids on the trade routes around Damascus.
The introduction of Black Coda regains Shahryar’s attention; she continues the story until the morning after her wedding night. Sheherezade not learning from her previous mistake leaves the story with Black Coda and the Forty Thieves entering the town in a wagon to get revenge on Ali Baba for stealing their loot. Scherezade ends the story in what should have been the climax of the story in order to draw in Shahryar and continue the story for another day. This backfires as the spot she ends the story is too plan to draw in Shahryar’s interest. This leads to Shahryar to drag Scherezade into the Chief Executioner’s chamber where he intends to have her executed. Scherezade pleads with him for her life and promises to finish the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves in the evening. Shahryar spares her life wanting to finish the story but it becomes very clear that if she makes another mistake it could very well mean her life. A lesson that Scherezade learns the hard way is that you only have a finite amount of time to engage your audience and if you miss it that is it. In her case, if she makes another mistake she will lose her very life.