Israel's award-winning ‘Tehran’ is back with more nail-biting suspense

If you did not see the first season, please stop reading here, because it’s impossible to discuss the second season without mentioning the first.

NIV SULTAN in ‘Tehran.’ (photo credit: Apple TV+)
NIV SULTAN in ‘Tehran.’
(photo credit: Apple TV+)

The second season of Tehran, which won the International Emmy for Best Drama last year, premieres with a double episode on Kan 11 on May 5 at 9:15 p.m. and on May 6 on Apple TV+. It maintains the nail-biting tension that made the first season so memorable, even as it adds new characters and plot turns. If you found the first season addictive, clear your schedules to make time for the second, in which American star Glenn Close plays a major role.

Before plunging in, you may want to refresh your memory about the first season, which ended its run in October 2020. You can do that in Israel on the Kan 11 website, which features the entire season for free, and the episodes are also available on Apple TV+.

If you did not see the first season, please stop reading here, because it’s impossible to discuss the second season without mentioning the first. Tehran tells the story of Tamar Rabinyan (Niv Sultan), a Mossad agent and computer hacker from an Iranian family, who goes undercover in Tehran through a complicated scheme in which she switches places with a flight attendant  and assumes the identity of a worker in the electric company.

The end goal is for her to disable the Iranian nuclear program. On her way to doing that, she reconnects with her Iranian aunt, who has hidden her Jewish identity, and befriends a group of young people, who include pro-democracy activists, hipsters and drug dealers. One of the most interesting aspects of this show is its portrayal of these Iranian young people, who give us a glimpse into a side of Iran that is virtually never in the news.

 SULTAN AND Glenn Close. (credit: KAN 11) SULTAN AND Glenn Close. (credit: KAN 11)

Tamar becomes especially close to Milad (Shervin Alenabi), a cocaine dealer who falls in love with her and dreams of fleeing the country. Eventually, even her Israeli father is drawn into the action, as she is tracked by a ruthless Iranian intelligence agent, Faraz Kamali (played by Iranian-Jewish actor Shaun Toub). The first season ended with an attempted Israeli air raid to take out the Iranian nukes and an Israeli plane is downed.

SEASON TWO picks up right after the first season ends. An Israeli pilot was captured and is being held in a Tehran prison. Tamar is involved in an attempt to smuggle him out of the country. While it might seem like a routine plot turn, this sequence in the first episode will have you on the edge of your seat and it’s one of the most suspenseful and best chase scenes since The Bourne Identity.

At a key moment in this sequence, Close’s character is introduced. She plays Marjan, a British-born psychologist who is the widow of an Iranian psychiatrist, who is working with the Mossad. Close speaks an impressive number of lines in Farsi and carries an air of authority, as she makes contact with Tamar, telling her not to despair when certain operations do not go as planned.

“We’re playing a long game here,” Marjan says and also warns her, “Now that we’re working together, my life depends on the decisions you make. Unless we’re completely transparent with each other, it will end very badly for both of us.” Close speaks with an icy authority that may remind you of her scariest scenes in Fatal Attraction. But, she does not just talk the talk: Marjan becomes the therapist to Faraz’s wife, who has cancer, putting her right into his apartment and allowing her to put in motion a plot to take out the wiliest of the Iranian operatives.

Much of the plot in this season revolves around Tamar becoming close to the son of the vilest and most powerful Iranian general. This allows the Israeli agent to take off her hijab and don some fashionable clothes in bright patterns that suit Sultan’s elegant beauty, as she pals around with the general’s son and his friends at a high-end gym, in chic restaurants and at clubs. Once again, the series shows a side of Iran that is kept far from the headlines and it is fascinating to see how the elite lives there, with chefs whipping up dishes from international cuisines in poolside mansions and women’s kickboxing classes at a gym with all the students dressed in chic workout gear.

With its glitzy background, Close as the charming and devious new agent and its nail-biting chase sequences, the series brings back the fun of the old days of the James Bond franchise, before the Bond films started to present a more sensitive 007.

Just as important, what Tehran offers that we used to enjoy in Bond movies is really evil villains. This isn’t just a spy story. It’s a spy story about foiling a government that is on record as wanting to destroy Israel and is building up its nuclear arsenal. We don’t just cheer for Tamar, we cheer for ourselves.

The series was created by Moshe Zonder (who also wrote for Fauda), Dana Eden and Maor Kohn, and directed by Daniel Syrkin. Omri Shenhar and Zonder are the series writers and the executive producers include Eden and Shula Spiegel for Donna and Shula Productions, Alon Aranya for Paper Plane Productions, Julien Leroux for Paper Entertainment and Peter Emerson for Cineflix Studios.

The series, which was originally created for Kan, Israel’s government broadcaster, was one of the first of Kan’s string of successful series, which include Valley of Tears and The Lesson, which recently won two major awards at the Canneseries international television competition in France.

Tehran was the first series not in English to be picked up by Apple TV+. Israel has produced several masterfully crafted, suspenseful espionage dramas in recent years and Tehran is one of the very best.