Originally made for Israeli TV, Tehran is an eight-part espionage drama created by Moshe Zonder, whose writing credits include the much-feted Fauda. Written by Zonder and Omri Shenhar and directed by Daniel Syrkin, the Apple TV+ series is a high-octane thriller about a covert Mossad operation in Tehran to destroy Iran’s nuclear programme. When the plan goes awry, Tamar (Niv Sultan), the tech-savvy agent assigned an important mission, is forced to go off-grid and figure out her survival.
While Fauda spotlights fragile Israel-Palestine relations, in Tehran, Zonder uses an agent on the run to explore the complexities and volatility of Israeli-Iranian relations.
The show begins with a plane en route from Jordan to India that is forced to land in Tehran. The action shifts to the Iranian capital (the show was actually shot in Athens, Greece). The creators waste no time in amping up the suspense in a slick thriller that momentarily pushes the mission to the sidelines and focuses on questions of identity, regional geo-politics, and the conservative Islamic nation. We get a glimpse into the theocratic republic, its underground anarchist culture, the tension between those seeking “revolution” versus the conservatives upholding the religious aspects of law.
After starting promisingly, the Israelis don’t execute their plan well, which is a recurring theme from Fauda, in which Mossad is shown as fallible. Tamar isn’t as astute, skilled or focused as American agent Carrie Mathison of Homeland, the American adaptation of Israeli drama Prisoners of War or a version of Doron from Fauda. She is confused, sentimental and sometimes sympathetic, driven away from her mission at times by the people she encounters.
Tamar’s decisions are occasionally questionable – she often lets her head scarf slip, and is impulsive – thereby endangering others. But her confusion and inexperience also humanise her as she faces a crisis of conscience and a tussle between personal and professional.
Tamar’s nemesis, the determined and sharp Iranian security officer Faraz Kamali (Shaun Toub), is a ruthless hunter whose heart beats only for his ailing wife. He is not the menacing villain of the piece but the character who stirs the cauldron of terror. Shaun Toub is familiar from his roles in Homeland and Iron Man. Kamali is a fascinating character – ruthless in one moment and loving and compassionate in the next, and relishing a game of spycraft as he spars with his Israeli counterpart.
If there is a nudge to politics, there are also moments of understanding of the shared history and culture between the two warring nations. Tamar’s family has roots in Iran. An Iranian doubling as an Israeli agent undercover in Tehran claims to love his country.
Attempting to salvage her mission and escape back to Israel, Tamar encounters a variety of people – students, judges, cops, cab drivers, hackers, drug dealers, long-lost relatives – through whom we get poignant glimpses into life in Iran.
The cast (including Navid Neganban, Liraz Charhi and Shervin Alenabi) switches between Persian, Hebrew and English, which could be cinematic excess or a window into the modern-day Arab world. Suspenseful at its core, with hints of humour, a dose of emotion and fundamentally affecting, the series finally asks: who defines your identity, and what happens if you choose to question or change that?