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'Tehran,' a Taut Spy Thriller, Debuts on Apple TV+
September 25, 2020  | By David Hinckley

A new Apple TV+ series gives us a brave young woman undertaking a dangerous espionage mission in the snakepit of the Middle East.

Sorry, hoss, Carrie Mathisen isn't back. She's retired.

The young woman in Tehran, which becomes available Friday on the Apple TV+ streaming service, is Tamar Rabinyan (Niv Sultan, top), an Israeli Mossad agent who goes undercover into Iran in a bold, ultra-high-risk move to shut down part of Iran's power grid.

This would disable Iran's air defenses and give Israeli planes a window in which to bomb and, with a little bit of luck, destroy an Iranian nuclear plant.

Sneaking an Israeli agent into Iran and positioning her to turn off the lights is as complex a notion as it sounds, and the opening episode of Tehran requires close attention from viewers.

Not only is it challenging to discern what's going on, but it's also often hard to tell which characters are on which side. Plus, the whole story has a darker, more menacing feel than Homeland, which often played as a traditional spy adventure.

Tehran is almost more a character drama, and by the end of the first episode, we have a rough idea of the lineups on each side.

Rabinyan has support from Mossad, of course, but once the mission launches, she's primarily on her own. Fortunately for her, she was born in Iran, so she's got a few cards she can play.

That's good because she also has an adversary who's playing with a full magazine of ammo and zero compulsion about deploying it.

That would be Faraz Kamali (Shaun Toub), who will be recognizable to the Homeland faithful as Majid Javadi. He's no warmer or fuzzier here, and if you're an undercover agent, you don't want him on your trail.

Unfortunately for Rabinyan, she's got him, and without throwing out any spoilers, it doesn't take all that long. This quickly ratchets up the tension and the darkness of Tehran, expanding some of its focus from Rabinyan's original mission to a cat-and-mouse game.

Rabinyan proves remarkably resourceful without ever losing her sense of potential dread. Even more than Carrie, she's always looking over her shoulder.

Her mission also spawns a series of smaller dramas – another way it will conjure memories of Homeland, and if things play out on less of a grand scale, that makes them no less interesting.

The politics of Tehran start with a clear tilt by having the story revolve around an Israeli agent on a seemingly justifiable mission. The story does not, however, paint either this drama or the larger Middle East picture in blacks and whites. It's a region seemingly imbued with a permanent sense of danger, and it can be as dangerous for the innocent as for fully engaged players.

In a way, it's unfair to frame Tehran in the context of the acclaimed Homeland. But it's hard to imagine any Homeland fan won't immediately do just that. The encouraging part is that once we get the lineup sorted out, Tehran grows into a solid espionage thriller and survival tale of its own.

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