The tension ratchets up in Tehran [Apple TV+ recap] | Cult of Mac

The tension ratchets up in Tehran [Apple TV+ recap]

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Mossad agent Tamar from Apple TV+ show Tehran★★☆☆☆
Mossad agent Tamar must spring her boyfriend from an Iranian jail.
Photo: Photo: Apple TV+

Apple TV+’s Tehran goes to jail this week as everybody’s best-laid plans come crashing down. As the tension on the show ratchets up approaching the season finale, the obvious imbalance in the two groups of opposing Mossad and Iranian agents shrinks.

That makes watching the show for fun a little easier, but always there’s a lingering uneasiness about who Tehran’s heroes and villains really are.

Tehran season 2, episode 5 recap: ‘Double Fault’

Tehran recap on Apple TV+: Tamir's boyfriend Milad stews in jail after being framed by thug Vahid.
Tamir’s boyfriend Milad stews in jail after being framed by thug Vahid.
Photo: Apple TV+

On this week’s Tehran, entitled “Double Fault” Milad (an Iranian Mossad collaborator, played by Shervin Alenabi) is in jail thanks to an intervention from thug Vahid (Sia Alipour), who planted drugs on the hapless hanger on. Milad meets an old friend in jail, who knows his real name, not the one Mossad cooked up for him to get close to Tehran’s upper class.

Mossad agent Tamar (Niv Sultan) goes to her handler Marjan (Glenn Close), apoplectic that they let this happen to Milad, who is also her boyfriend. Marjan assures Tamar that they’re doing everything in their power to get him out, and no that isn’t a euphemism for “we’re going to kill him before he can squeal.”

Tamar only has so much time to fret about this because she’s due at the country club to play tennis with Peyman (Darius Homayoun), the son of Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Mohammadi (Vassilis Koukalani).

A meeting at the country club

Tehran recap: Mossad agent Tamir goes to play tennis with Peyman, the son of a Revolutionary Guard commander.
Mossad agent Tamir goes to play tennis with Peyman, the son of a Revolutionary Guard commander.
Photo: Apple TV+

In an annoying detail Marjan tells Tamar that they’re not going to use the decoy explosive phone that Tamar spent all of last week’s episode preparing, which renders that entire episode 45 minutes of useless misdirection and wasted time. I hate it when shows do that.

Naahid (Shila Ommi), the wife of the Revolutionary Guard investigator Faraz (Shaun Toub) calls her husband, saying Marjan, who she thinks is her therapist, won’t be in today. Can he come home and stay with her?

Faraz has already had it up to here with his new detail and he loathes his boss Mohammadi and his son both, so he has little trouble prioritizing his wife when she calls and his superior chews him out.

The cops who picked up Milad are grilling him. And though he’s tempted to rat out Vahid, whom he loathes, he doesn’t want to arouse suspicion by getting Vahid angry at him. Of course, he should have ratted because it turns out Marjan does want to kill him. She’s sick of his lack of faith in the mission.

Tamar saw through this, too. She kneecaps her protection detail and escapes to go down to the prison and bail him out, with a reluctant Vahid taking point. He wants to make good with her so she’ll sleep with him. Of course, the cops are so mad at having to give him up that they rat out Vahid to Tamar. She chases him off for good and Tamar and Milad head home to clean the wounds Milad incurred in jail.

Murder plots and hard choices

This week on Apple TV+ show Tehran: Revolutionary Guard investigator Faraz Kamali is on the trail of Tamir.
Revolutionary Guard investigator Faraz Kamali is on the trail of Tamir.
Photo: Apple TV+

Of course, this gives both of them a new idea. Tamar goes to Peyman to rat out Vahid and get in good with him. At the same time, Faraz goes to Vahid to question him. Now that Vahid has no shot with Tamar, he’ll have no problem turning state’s evidence. Faraz grills him and he leaves to go to the tennis club.

At the exact moment he’s about to catch Tamar in the act of putting a deadly contact poison on Qassem’s tennis racket, Marjan calls him and says she’s at home with Naahid. If Faraz screws up the murder plot, Marjan will kill Naahid. He now has a very important choice to make.

Cartoonish police brutality

Tehran recap: Tamir's handler Marjan (Glenn Close) hatches lethal plans.
Tamir’s handler Marjan (Glenn Close) hatches lethal plans.
Photo: Apple TV+

The bulk of this one plays out in the prison where the Iranian guards torture and beat everybody who won’t rat out other criminals for a lighter sentence. And on top of that, Vahid is so feckless and cruel that he had Milad picked up just as a way to get in good with Tamar, who he thinks is Milad’s sister.

That’s the kind of absurd cartoon brutality this show traffics in. It’s not even that I don’t believe it. There’s just something so bold-faced about calling your show Tehran and every single Iranian we meet is completely devoid of empathy.

In this same episode, you’ve got Marjan and her goons lying to Tamar and trying to stab Milad to death to keep from ratting on them, but they have the benefit of the debriefing. The Iranians never tell us why any of what they do is worth it because the writers don’t care. They can’t care because if they did, we’d have to maybe not want Tamar to kill the Mohammadis.

Kill or be killed

Marjan explained in the very beginning of the season that when a big tree falls, little trees sometimes get taken down with it. Basically the thing that the Israelis on this show have that the Iranians don’t is a more sturdy purpose. But from what I can see, everyone’s purpose is the same: kill or be killed.

This is a lot of business to come back to a pretty simple moral that’s really no moral at all. I think maybe I’d be a little more willing to let Tehran glide by on tension and action if the characters continued to develop as we moved forward. But everyone is exactly the same as they were when the show started last season.

★★☆☆☆

Watch Tehran on Apple TV+

New episodes of Tehran arrive each Friday on Apple TV+.

Rated: TV-MA

Watch on: Apple TV+

Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.