I’m not exactly sure who knocked on Hulu’s door to request yet another demon-themed show, but I’m not sure it was a door that needed to be opened.
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 temporarily taking down Iran’s air defenses and clearing the way for a critical Israeli bombing run.
Even under the best of circumstances, Tamar’s homecoming 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.
Tehran, an eight-episode import from Israel that has made its way to Apple TV+, already works as a straight-ahead spy thriller, Tamar pitting her wits against her sudden, relentless Iranian nemesis, Faraz Kamali.
But the show (like many a secret mission, I’d imagine) unfolds to reveal some unexpected complexity.
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. We don’t hear a great deal of language in Tehran. And alcohol is, of course, illegal in this very conservative city. Still virtual visitors (via Apple TV+) will still be forced to navigate some issues.
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.
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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