For almost a century, spy tales have been a male protect, one dominated by the likes of James Bond, or — on the classier finish — John le Carré. That has lastly begun to vary, particularly on tv. Whether or not you are speaking about Homeland, The Individuals, The Bureau or The Little Drummer Lady — le Carré’s one story centering on a heroine — we have entered a interval when among the most gripping sequence on TV inform tales about girls going into the chilly.
And issues are mighty chilly in Tehran, a brand new eight-episode Israeli present premiering on Apple TV+. A giant hit in Israel earlier this yr, this thriller a few spy mission gone flawed is not merely suspenseful. It is a glimpse of how one historical tradition portrays one other historical tradition — notably one which’s presently its avowed enemy.
Israeli star Niv Sultan stars as Tamar Rabinyan, a tech-savvy Mossad agent who’s been smuggled into Tehran to cripple the Iranian energy grid earlier than an Israeli air assault. However after a lethal snafu, Tamar should escape into the night time — then determine learn how to survive in a metropolis not precisely recognized for its hospitality towards Israeli spies. Although she does not realize it, she’s already being pursued by a crack Iranian safety agent named Faraz Kamali (Shaun Toub).
As Mossad officers again in Israel plot to get her out of Iran, Tamar retains on the transfer. Her stressed movement brings her into contact with an array of Iranians — honorable judges and corrupt cops, drug sellers and dissidents, Iranian Jews who’ve transformed to Islam and Muslims who work for Israel. Predictably, she finds somebody with whom to share a romantic spark — a dissident hacker performed by Shervin Alenabi who’s a tad … slippery. In the meantime, the relentless Kamali retains after her.
Now, even the very best spy tales typically sacrifice plausibility to maintain the viewers hooked. Right here, Tamar typically behaves in a method you may count on of an ingenue moderately than a Mossad agent with sufficient brains and martial arts expertise to be infiltrated into Iran. You retain questioning why a feminine spy on the lam would hold carrying her scarf moderately immodestly when Tehran is a metropolis wherein there’s nothing suspicious a few lady protecting her options.
Whereas the various twists do hold the present gripping, what makes it attention-grabbing is seeing how an Israeli manufacturing depicts Iran. At first, it seems that we is likely to be coping with a type of geopolitical horror present. We watch Israeli vacationers freak out when, due to a malfunction, they unexpectedly want to vary planes in Tehran, a spot that’s initially made to really feel alienating and spooky.
But the present rapidly grows extra complicated. Tehran makes it clear that the Mossad is able to unsavory violence, and it pointedly avoids lowering Iranians to monsters, fastidiously making a distinction between the individuals and their authorities. Struggling to remain protected, Tamar encounters a variety of character sorts and attitudes towards the mullahs, from zealous supporters to passionate dissidents to atypical people who find themselves quiescent or trapped. I’ve learn experiences that some viewers in Iran felt the present was too sympathetic to these within the regime.
In any case, the present’s finest and most complex character is Tamar’s nemesis, Kamali, performed by Shaun Toub, an outstanding actor it’s possible you’ll acknowledge from Homeland and the movie Crash. Kamali takes apparent pleasure in being a ruthlessly good safety agent. But his dedication to his nation is matched by his adoration of his spouse, a witty charmer who’s getting an operation for most cancers. By turns brutal and tender, Kamali discovers that his non-public emotions do not all the time mesh together with his political opinions.
You discover a comparable interior battle in Tamar, who’s a far cry from a sardonic killer like 007 or an erratic genius like Carrie Mathison in Homeland. Whereas her ethical ambivalence makes her much less thrilling — her options are tinged with mournfulness — it additionally makes her extra such as you and me than the larger-than-life spies we’re used to seeing.
That is solely becoming. Even because the sequence builds towards an explosive finale, it desires to make use of the spy style to counsel one thing grounded and considerate in regards to the weight of historical past. At its finest, Tehran does that. It offers us a narrative about characters who, caught amid shifting private and political identities, should resolve who and what they honestly care about most.