Tehran

Tehran season 2

Credits

Cast

Network

Reviewer

Paul Asay

TV Series Review

They say you can’t go home again. For Tamar Rabinyan, that old saying is true. And also wrong.

Tamar was born in Tehran, capital of the largest Shiite Islamic state in the world, Iran. But she’s Jewish, and her family emigrated to Israel when she was just a girl.

Now she’s quite literally back home again—as a Mossad agent tasked with taking down power grids, clearing the way for other agents and, honestly, just trying to stay alive.

Even under the best of circumstances, Tamar’s living situation would be … complicated. But when her cover’s blown and a dogged Iranian security chief catches wind of her scent, Tamar wonders whether she’ll ever leave home—or at least her hometown—again.

Spies Like Us?

Tehran, an import from Israel, has been an unlikely hit for Apple TV+. It’s not exactly the sort of show you’d think American audiences would gravitate toward, given that the dialogue toggles between Hebrew, English and Farsi. But gravitate they did. The show boasts an International Emmy award and a 94% “freshness” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. And now, in Season 2, it boasts something else: A-list actress Glenn Close.

The fact that Close signed up—and learned Farsi—for Tehran speaks to the show’s inherent strength: It’s about international intrigue, to be sure. But it’s also about the people behind that intrigue, giving us multilayered characters on both sides of the divide.  

Tamar, our heroine, is no single-minded agent. She has roots in Iran, and those roots complicate her mission. In addition, the Iranians she meets bust plenty of stereotypes that her countrymen—and perhaps her television viewers—might have as well. Iran’s theocratic government can sometimes feel a world apart from the day-to-day concerns and beliefs of some of the Iranian people. The breadth of opinion is fairly dizzying.

Even Faraz, the show’s apparent antagonist, is a bundle of contradictions (mirroring, in fairness, most of us). At times he can be shockingly, and even horrifically, brutal. But he’s no sadist—just a weary bureaucrat doing what he feels he must. He deeply loves his cancer-ridden wife, whom he worries about constantly. He feels human.

But that, of course, does not excuse his actions. We all know that we humans are capable of some pretty terrible acts. And Tehran has some quite human failings as well.

The show can be quite violent. And even as victims cry and plead and shy away from their attackers, the camera rarely flinches. Sexual content is part of the mix, too.

And the atmosphere of Tehran—the city we see here—is filled with contradictions. Though its citizens and leadership are deeply devout Muslims, we hear some cursing—including the harshest of swear words. While alcohol is outlawed in this very conservative capital, some characters still sell cocaine.

So while Tehran is cleaner than many prestige shows, virtual visitors (via Apple TV+) will still be forced to navigate Tehran’s mazelike, murky streets.

Episode Reviews

May 6, 2022—S2, Ep1: “13,000”

Tamar and her boyfriend, Milad, seem on the cusp of finally escaping Tehran for a new life in Canada. But it’s not so easy. Milad is trying to earn cash for a shady exit by dealing drugs, but he’s having a hard time selling enough before a looming deadline. Meanwhile, Israel dangles out the possibility of extraction to Tamar if she completes one last mission: helping facilitate the escape and rescue of an imprisoned Israeli pilot. But Tamar knows better than to put all her faith in a government that’s not always known for its compassion.

The Israeli pilot has clearly been beaten by his Iranian captors: His face is covered with cuts and bruises, and his clothes are stained with blood. A frantic escape from a hospital involves gunfire. Several people get shot in the fracas, a gate is blown open and a bevy of trays is dumped on some pursuers. Elsewhere, several people are executed by the Iranian regime: We see their corpses hanging from nooses on television. A man seems to suffer a seizure, which includes him foaming at the mouth.

We hear several Islamic references to God, including petitions for protection and favor. Women typically wear head-to-toe coverings (as the Islamic dictates of Iran require). We see Milad try to sell cocaine, but one prospective buyer says (after trying the drug and using crude language) that the merchandise on offer is subpar. (We also see Milad talk with his drug supplier.) Tamar is referred to as a “Zionist whore.”

The s-word is uttered five times, and the f-word is heard once. We also hear “d–n,” “h—,” “crap” and “p-ss.”

Sept. 25, 2020 – S1, Ep1: “Emergency Landing in Tehran”

A Jordanian plane headed to India is forced to make an emergency landing in Tehran, Iran—much to the discomfort of a pair of hip Israeli travelers on board. As citizens of an “enemy” country, they’re both worried they might not get out of the country alive.

Those Israelis aren’t aware that the “emergency” landing was planned—by Israel. An Iranian informant switches places with Tamar, an agent for the Mossad. Her mission: to hack into Iran’s air defense systems to clear the way for an Israeli bombing run.

[Spoiler Warning] Tamar’s mission does not go as planned. The woman Tamar is impersonating had been in some sort of “relationship” with her supervisor. (The show suggests the relationship was not entirely consensual.) The supervisor tries to rape Tamar (calling her a “whore” in the process as he tries to cover her mouth and unzips his pants) and, in the struggle, Tamar kills her attacker. (She kicks him down a short flight of stairs where he strikes his head against something. The lifeless body is soon lying in a puddle of its own blood.)

Faraz, an Iranian security official, slaps a female he’s interrogating across the face, and he threatens her life. We see a man hanging from a construction crane—the victim of a state-sanctioned execution. (We’re told he was a banker who got caught embezzling.) A man grabs a woman’s wrist roughly.

Two women change clothes in a bathroom stall, and we see both briefly in sports bras. Tamar promises a hacker a date in exchange for a critical code. A man mentions that he’s gay.

We see plenty of evidence of Iranian theocracy, including pictures of Ayatollahs hanging from office walls. A burqa becomes a disguise. Women, following Iranian law, wear very modest clothes and cover their hair; an Israeli woman, called in for questioning, is likewise forced to cover her hair and zip up her jacket (to cover, it would seem, an immodest T-shirt).

Both Israelis and Muslims talk about God, asking for His blessing in various ventures. Characters say “b–tard” and “p-ssed.” Someone vomits. A woman sneaks out of the country, and her husband laments the fact that he’ll probably never see her again.

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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