TV: Tehran (Season 2)

While Apple’s Israeli-produced, Iran-set thriller Tehran is by no means as impressive as its hit spy series Slow Horses, it’s a brisk, respectable saga notable for its refreshingly non-western perspective. Tehran follows the precarious undercover career of Tamar Rabinyan (Niv Sultan), a Jewish Israeli woman who was born in Iran. Tamar is an agent of the Mossad, and her first deep-cover assignment on Iranian soil—which involved facilitating an airstrike against an Iranian nuclear facility—left her stuck behind enemy lines.

As season two begins, Tamar accepts a new mission: rescuing one of the pilots, who was shot down during the attack and fell into enemy hands. This new mission thrusts her into the path of a local Israeli asset, Marjan Montazami (Glenn Close), whose help draws Tamar into an even more dangerous task: assassinating the newly promoted head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Qasem Mohammadi (Vassilis Koukalani), whose ruthlessness threatens to escalate the Middle Eastern cold war. Unfortunately, Tamar’s dedication entangles her hacker boyfriend Milad (Shervin Alenabi), an underworld amateur. Marjan considers Milad a potential liability, whose emotional connection with Tamar might complicate the mission. She’s proven correct when it becomes clear the best way for Tamar to get at Mohammadi is to befriend and seduce Mohammadi’s attactive son, Peyman (Darius Homayoun). Meanwhile, the mission revives the rivalry between Tamar and Iranian intelligence officer Faraz Kamali (Shaun Toub), whose dedication to his work is constantly challenged.

Espionage buffs seeking the suspenseful tactics and strategies of spy fiction will enjoy Tehran, a sunny, multilingual serial with a genre setpiece lineage stretching all the way back to Mission: Impossible by way of Alias and 24. It possesses a distinctly different flavor, however, thanks to its focus on Middle Eastern geopolitics. While the surface is accomplished, it doesn’t quite manage the depth of the genre’s best shows. The drama suffers whenever the dialogue shifts into English, which expose a lack of nuance. Consquently, Close’s presence is problematic; while Marjan’s presence nicely enhances the plot, it doesn’t use Close to great effect and generally renders the drama less convincing. Sultan remains an interesting protagonist, an attractive, inscrutable blend of Barney Collier and Cinnamon Carter. Better is Toub, whose Faraz is perhaps the most human, sympathetic figure, increasingly conflicted as his duty clashes with his personal beliefs and loyalties. A pretty good spy show; I wouldn’t call it a home run, but sometimes all you need it a stand-up double.

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