New Israeli spy thriller “Tehran” was this year’s TV sensation for local audiences and an affirmation of the maturity of the public broadcasting corporation, which sold the series to Apple TV+. It’s a thoughtful, high-budget drama very relevant to current events and gracefully tying into subgenres and clichés.
We get a mission gone awry, an agent in distress, time running out, chases and victims, cellphones and computers. There are collaborators and traitors, a painful family story, a hostage, well-meaning declarations by inveterate rivals and a nice dismantling of gender, cultural and political stereotypes.
Despite a few contradictions that were the fault of the screenplay and the natural limitations of TV, by the end of Episode 4 overall credibility is achieved in the story line, acting and directing. Then, alas, the big trouble begins; even the mysterious real-life explosions across Iran haven't helped.
I was very enthusiastic about this series. From the episodes released to reviewers, it definitely seemed like a breath of fresh air in a dry TV summer that didn’t sufficiently offset the coronavirus.
Curb your enthusiasm
However, had I seen all the episodes of “Tehran” in advance, I definitely would have curbed my enthusiasm. That’s because from Episode 5 on, the one-trick pony of "the mission has faltered" is no longer convincing. The attempt to build up tension and achieve catharsis becomes increasingly amateurish. The more complicated things get, the less credible they become.
Serious directing problems arise. The pace slows, possibly in order to fill the time in the absence of convincing scenes. The ultimate Israeli affliction in such dramas – the pregnant pauses and oppressive silences amid extreme close-ups of the leading characters – is present here all too often.
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Even the series’ best actors, Niv Sultan and Menashe Noy, can’t carry the burden of these awkward silences during moments that should be dripping with adrenaline-soaked fear. Instead of fear, the viewer gets a face with eyes staring into space.
The last episode connects all these flaws into one big incredulity fest. This starts with our fighter jets in the night sky looking like something from the graphics software of a 12-year-old. It continues with the bombastic declarations by the Mossad chief (Noy), and moves on to the treason of the character played by Liraz Charhi, which seems like a parody of the genre.
It ends with the realization that our planes were hit and the character played by Sultan is stuck in Iran. There she tries to hide her identity with a comically glued-on beard and a closely-cropped wig.
Part of the sympathy viewers develop for a TV series stems from a promise made in the first episodes. With “Tehran,” the promise was huge, and viewers were expected to continue watching the series. Unfortunately, the last episodes undermine the first ones for reasons I can’t completely fathom.
Was it fatigue? A dwindling imagination? A slackening in the directing? Are all these answers right? Who can tell?
We’re left with the excellent acting by Sultan; it’s heartbreaking and empathy-stoking, a superhero with many wounds, an overly developed conscience and a tendency to play with her phone even when it’s not necessary.
Considering all the sympathy and patriotic feelings the viewer might have, on top of the fear of the Iranian nuclear threat, these are huge flaws. Maybe they’ll be fixed in the next season.