Tamar Rabinyan plays an Israeli agent behind enemy lines in ‘Tehran’
Tamar Rabinyan plays an Israeli agent behind enemy lines in ‘Tehran’

If you’re a young Israeli spy arriving in Tehran, perhaps the most dangerous place in the world to be a young Israeli spy, the least you could hope for is not to be identified, while ostensibly disguised, within 10 minutes of landing.

But fledgling agent Tamar Rabinyan doesn’t even make it out of the airport before she is recognised by a former army colleague. It seems that the infamously surgical Mossad hadn’t accounted for the fact that other Israelis might be on the Jordanian flight that they arranged to stop in the city, allowing their operative safe entry into Iran. And just like that, untold months of intricate planning unspool irrevocably, leaving Tamar instantly exposed in a hostile land. 

So begins Tehran, Apple TV Plus’s first non-English-language series, and arguably its first truly compelling show since launch almost a year ago. Not that the eight-parter is, strictly speaking, a piece of original Apple content. Rather, the streaming giant bought the global rights to this latest creation from Moshe Zonder, the man also behind Netflix’s lauded Fauda.

It’s easy to see why Apple were eager to adopt Tehran as their first foray into international TV. Not only is the story — a richly detailed examination of an incendiary diplomatic crisis and the individuals caught in a volatile state — likely to provoke a stream of political commentaries and debates, but it is also a thrilling watch. 

Nauseatingly so. The first few episodes are fraught with enough interrogation scenes and inner-city manhunts to guarantee that the metallic taste of adrenaline never leaves your mouth. But while the taut plotting and relentless pacing — which masterfully avoid tension-draining exposition without compromising clarity — invite us to immediately load the next episode, it’s the sensitive approach to character and identity, on an individual and national scale, that ensures that the show endures in the mind the morning after bingeing.

Where one might have reasonably expected a partisan “Us vs Them” perspective from an Israeli-made show about Iran, Zonder and his co-writers are largely successful in providing an even-handed view of the supposed enemy. Yes, the series is vociferously critical of the Iranian regime and its followers, but it is also careful to present the breadth and complexity of life in Tehran, where pro-democracy liberals are locked in an internecine struggle with zealots; where public hangings are common, but so too are underground communities where women and homosexuals can be free; where even the Republic’s cruel director of intelligence is a compassionate, doting husband. 

At times, however, Tehran is guilty of stretching the limits of credulity. That’s especially the case with Tamar who, while apparently skilled enough to helm a nuclear-weapon-related mission for Mossad, leaves not so much a trail of breadcrumbs but of baguettes for her pursuers to follow. Then again, Apple has reportedly signed on to produce two more seasons, so it’s just as well that she is so wildly inefficient. 

★★★★☆

Episodes 1-3 available on Apple TV Plus with new episodes aired every Friday

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