Director: Daniel Syrkin
Cast: Niv Sultan, Shaun Toub, Navid Negahban, Liraz Charhi
Having grown up hearing the exploits of the Israeli secret service, Mossad, especially its operation at Entebbe in 1976 in which hostages were rescued from an Air France plane that was hijacked, I was a tad disappointed with Tehran, an Apple TV+ eight-part series. Shot in Athens, the story though unfolds in Iran's capital with Mossad sending its undercover agent, Tamar Rabinyan (Niv Sultan), to orchestrate a massive power outage in the city so that Israeli fighter-jets can enter Iranian air space without being detected and destroy the nuclear reactor.
What we, however, see in Tamar is not a hardcore spy, but a softer, gentler young woman who lets her heart rule her head. Born in Tehran and having migrated to Israel as a little girl, she still adores Iran and would want the county to get back to its original glory and beauty that existed before the clergy took over from the Shah in a revolution. And her mannerisms are questionable. She lets her head-scarf slip ever so often, and appears to expose herself in a way that will endanger other Mossad agents in Iran.
Even the head of Iranian security, Faraz Kamali (Shaun Toub), despite being brutally ruthless often displays his most vulnerable side. His wife is his weakness, and not being able to accompany her to Paris for her brain surgery, he gets desperate sometimes, as when the Mossad kidnaps her. He frees a Mossad agent in exchange for his wife's freedom. And even at the end when he is shot and wounded, he pleads with Tamar to take care of his wife.
Admittedly, the series, created for Israeli TV by Moshe Zonder (whose writing credits include Fauda – about Israel – Palestine ties), penned by Zonder and Omri Shenhar, and helmed by Daniel Syrkin, gives greater mileage to human relationships than hardcore spy-craft. Tamar's aunt, who stayed behind in Tehran, does not even visit her dying sister in Israel – probably fearing that she may not be allowed to return home. Her attachment to Iran appears strong and is displayed without any qualms.
Tehran explores the complex nature of Iran-Israel relations. We see the head of Mossad operations saying with the bluntness of a radical that Iran's nuclear strike capability must be destroyed, but he fails to see through an agent (Tamar) who seems undecided about how far she would like to go with her mission. Look at one of the last scenes when she sees Kamali lying down wounded. She could have finished him, but refrains from doing so and flees the scene with her Iranian boyfriend on a motorbike.
We would probably have season two that may further examine the Iranian theocratic regime and the fragile ties between Tehran and Tel-Aviv in the context of the changing geo-political scenario. However, those who may expect a female Bond in Tamar would be disappointed. She is delicate despite her punches to some security guards, and would not want her boyfriend dead.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is author, commentator and movie critic)