We can not exactly say that it abounds with original content on the (relatively) new streaming service Apple TV +, but there are some good ones among what is actually available; and in the forefront we find an Israeli spy series.
That the Israelis are among the world’s foremost in intelligence and espionage is widely known, such a central part of the country’s identity and social life they have also successfully managed to transfer to the TV format; with series such as Hatufim / Prisoners of War (the original Homeland), Fauda and now Tehran.
Behind enemy lines
We jump right into the eternally heated conflict between arch-enemies Iran and Israel. Israeli intelligence (Mossad) manages to divert a Jordanian plane to an emergency landing in Tehran, thus placing one of its spies, Tamara Rabinyan (Niv Sultan), behind the enemy’s wall.
Tamara has one task, hacking into the national power grid so that the anti-aircraft gun is put out of action, and thereby giving Israeli F-35I fighter jets freely leased to bomb Iranian military installations.
In the real world, like on film, everything rarely goes exactly according to the book.
The original plan ends in chaos, murder and the Iranian intelligence service on Tamara’s neck, in addition, she no longer trusts her own. Good advice becomes expensive for how to get out of the closed, and state-controlled, country.
A conflict with two sides – and a corrupt clerical government in the middle
The screenwriter is Moshe Zoder, who has previously written the script for the thriller Fauda, with a spotlight on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Tehran is both written and produced by Israelis, but tries to see the conflict from both sides.
Admittedly, the Iranians consistently call the Israelis Zionists and “the little Satan” (“the great Satan” is, of course, the United States), but Iranian refugees refer to the country and the people in fine terms; however, they emphasize that the country fell apart after Khomeini’s revolution.
It is then also the arch-conservative, and brutal, Iranian clerical regime that gets to go through, as the focus is on the young opposition in the country who are tired of censorship, tyranny and oppression. Tamara allies herself with the hacker Milad, a jerk who leads her behind the light time and time again.
In Tehran, it is not the glamorous jet set spy life as often portrayed in films as James Bond we see, but painstaking intelligence work, with long hours of waiting, meticulous planning, local recruitment, petty conditions and a large team backing the spies on the ground. Not unlike Homeland – but much more realistic. Think more Homeland, season 1.
Tamara’s main opponent will be the formidable intelligence chief of the Revolutionary Guards, Faraz Kamali (a brilliant Shaun Toub, who also had a role in Homeland, season 6). Faraz is a true child of the revolution, with faith in the clergy and loyal to his fingertips. He quickly suspects that they have got a Mossad agent in the middle of the capital, and, like a pit bull, he does not let go until the prey is caught / eliminated.
But Faraz is a wonderfully complex and trustworthy person, with warm feelings for his wife, family and fatherland. He gets out of balance when the Lady sings for him, and is willing to cross branches and gray areas for the families best. He can walk straight from an interrogation room, where he has rounded up a prisoner, to embrace his wife.
Toub plays him with incredible intensity and fabulous empathy, a person we get chills on our backs from.
Niv Sultan also impresses in the main role that the agent threw to the wolves, with a dubious safety net.
Tehran starts off insanely well, with a tension curve and intensity that is palpable. We stay at the far end of the chair as Tamara breaks into the power plant and during the escape, but midway through the season the balance tips a bit.
After meeting the hacker, she suddenly becomes both unprofessional and makes unrealistic choices. For example, her presence at a demonstration in the center, surrounded by local security police, makes no sense; nor does Milad’s repeated betrayal match her strong character and professional appearance.
Tamara is among Mossad’s elite and will act accordingly, something she does not do halfway through the hunt. That said, the series recovers towards the end, and gets a new nerve when both camps blatantly trample over the boundaries of privacy in the battle for intelligence “victories”.
Tehran (Photo: Apple TV+)
Zoder has written a complex script, in which the intricate plans and characters (and their double play) of flesh and blood are revealed layer by layer, like peeling an onion. Placing the action in the political powder keg of our time gives it an extra layer of realism, authenticity – and topicality
Not as elegant and sober as The Spy, but certainly (along with Le Bureau) one of the best, most exciting and credible spy series of recent years. 5 excellent stars.
The last episode of season 1 will be available on Apple TV + from Friday, October 30.