Tehran’s poisonous choices just keep coming [Apple TV+ recap] ★★★☆☆

Iranian spy chief Fraz loses everything as Mossad agent Tamar plans to do just the same thing in this week’s high-strung episode of Tehran. Having had two attempts to kill Mohammadi thwarted by circumstance, Tamar is ready to risk everything to kill him if she must.

Meanwhile, Milad finds himself at the end of his tether, Marjan must flee the country, and absolutely nobody’s cover is safe.

As the second season of the Apple TV+ spy thriller winds down, the show sticks to its best tricks: simply showing the nuts and bolts of spycraft and broken allegians.

Tehran recap: ‘Faraz’s Choice’

Season 2, episode 6: In this week’s episode of Tehran, entitled “Faraz’s Choice,” Tamar Rabinyan (played by Niv Sultan) and Faraz (Shaun Toub) finally come face to face. With Marjan (Glenn Close) holding Faraz’s wife hostage, he must make the most important decision of his life. Let her go and watch General Mohammadi (Vassilis Koukalani) die, or kill his wife and honor his loyalty to the state. He lets her go.

Still not satisfied with his decision, he checks Mohammadi’s son Peyman’s (Darius Homayoun) tennis kit. He saw Tamar rifling around in it, unsure what she was doing. So he goes in and touches the racket intended for Qassem Mohammadi, who never shows. Of course, the handle was covered in a deadly poison.

He goes home and finds Marjan and his wife, Naahid (Shila Ommi), preparing lunch. He tries to get his wife alone to explain what has happened but she won’t hear it. They’ve made lunch!

Poison and destruction

Finally he gets her alone just as the poison takes effect. She tries to explain to him that Mohammadi and his ilk are “destroying” Israel … which … I don’t know, some sense of how they’re doing this would be appreciated. On paper, Tehran is a sociopolitical thriller. But the show gives us very little sense of either the social or the political beyond its continuous parade of Iranians with no integrity.

Milad (Shervin Alenabi) is bruised internally and externally; he’s furious with Tamar for having gotten so close to Peyman. So close, in fact, that he’s invited her to a fancy dinner and a racing event with his parents tomorrow night. Wouldn’t it be great if she could get close enough to kill him?

Milad doesn’t want Tamar to die, even after all she’s put him through, so he comes up with an idea: Hack into Mohammadi’s car’s internal computer and crash the vehicle. That would spare Tamar the scrutiny she would undergo in order to attend the dinner (background checks, etc.).

A last-minute antidote

Meanwhile, Naahid tries to help Fraz as he succumbs to the poison, but she thinks it’s just a fever. He finally figures out he’s been poisoned about 10 seconds before he dies. Just then Marjan shows up at her door with the antidote. She has a condition, of course. She needs Naahid to become a double agent for Mossad. If she says yes, Marjan will save Faraz. The choice is agony, but Naahid isn’t ready to lose her husband.

After Fraz’s deputy Ali (Arash Marandi) puts two and two together and realizes that Fraz let Tamar go, he shows up demanding an explanation. Ali thinks Fraz turned against the Iranians and nothing he says discourages the notion. Ali puts Fraz in his car to drive him down to the station for debriefing where he’ll have to admit he let Tamar go so that the Israelis wouldn’t kill his wife. When he realizes he’s headed for permanent disgrace, Faraz asks Ali to just shoot him instead. He’d rather die than face what’s coming.

We know this won’t happen, because they just went through all that trouble saving him. Somewhat less expected is what happens when Ali refuses to shoot him. They struggle for Fraz’s gun and Fraz accidentally kills Ali.

I’m glad to see you’re thinking clearly

This is one of the stronger episodes of Tehran This season because it’s all about big moral compromises made under pressure, which tends to bring everybody’s humanity to the fore.

Fraz doesn’t want to suffer the further indignity of not simply being viewed as a traitor, but also for him and his wife to have to work with Mossad for the rest of their miserable lives just to be able to sleep at night. Of course, this leads Fraz to make an even more selfish decision by asking Ali to kill him, even after his wife just sold her own integrity to Marjan for the chance of a few more years with him.

Unconscionable, sure, but for once it’s believable.

Selfish and unconscionable … but believable

Fraz’s selfishness remains a consistent element on the show. It’s not seen as a product of his job or his loyalty, either, but just as a run-of-the-mill personality affectation. It’s one of the more believable things about the character. It makes Fraz watchable and empathetic, even when he does truly evil stuff.

I’m glad the show took the mask off of Marjan once and for all. They’d been keeping the benefit of the doubt alive that she was someone working for the imaginary greater good. Having her blackmail Naahid to save her dying husband is pretty grim stuff, too grim for the lie to hold up. And it feels more honest about how state-run surveillance programs actually work — though I doubt they’re run with anything like the efficiency and calculation we see here.

Are spies really this smart?

Even states like Israel and Iran, always portrayed as savvy in shows like this, make huge mistakes. Another Apple TV+ spy series, Slow Horses, also puts a lot of stock in the pure ability of even its worst spies. But that show also admits that these guys are all probably morons most of the time.

Tehran doesn’t, which is a continuous defect in my eye. Nobody so manacled by their hatred is ever so cool and collected. Fraz makes mistakes, but they’re honest ones, relatively speaking. My guess is this guy’s real-life counterpart is way dumber… at least if any stories about US intelligence are to be believed. In the real world, it’s mostly tough guys fumbling around in the dark, ruining whole countries by mistake and getting people killed.

★★★☆☆

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.

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