In Israel: Aired on Channel 2 in October 2015
In the UK: Mondays, 9pm, Fox. Starts Monday July 31st
If Israeli TV has a preferred genre, it’s spy shows. Think of Hatufilm (Prisoners of War), פאודה (Fauda) and even the more comedic likes of Mossad 101. No surprise then that with all that practice, it produces some of the world’s best spy shows.
It’s too early for me to say whether Fox’s כפולים (False Flag) is one of the world’s finest spy dramas, but judging by the first episode, it’s certainly up there. Made by Keshet (Prisoners of War) for Israel’s Channel 2 back in 2015 and featuring many faces familiar from its previous shows, the show sees five seemingly ordinary Israeli TV citizens turn on their TVs one morning to see their passports plastered all over the news. Unfortunately for them, the Russian government has fingered them as Mossad agents responsible for the abduction of Iran’s minister of defence.
The show’s big questions are:
- Did they do it?
- Will people, including their loved ones, believe them when they say they didn’t do it?
- How does it affect them?
A show purely about a bunch of innocents falsely accused and quickly able to prove their innocence would get boring quickly, so כפולים (False Flag) wisely gives us many levels of ambiguity, just as Hatufilm (Prisoners of War) did. All the accused have dual-citizenship and they’ve all been away at conferences or girls weekends when the kidnapping took place. One of them has way too many passports and an industrial-grade shredder. Two of them have a mutual secret. One of them is quite definitely a spy of one kind and a rather good one at that. And since the Shin Bet officer investigating the case (Mickey Leon) quickly finds out that Mossad had nothing to do with the abduction, the Israeli government wants to know if maybe the accused are spies working for another country altogether.
For the most part, though, the show is about how such an accusation affects people and their families, particularly when the media and government get involved. On the one hand, you get humble chemist Ishai Golan going up in his colleagues’ estimation as a super-spy, while would-be celeb Ania Bukstein loves all the attention. On the other, you have a whole bunch of people trying to protect Maggie Azarzar from knowing anything about the accusations against her because she’s getting ready to get married.
All of this the show handles very well, and the cast are all very good at hinting at dual aspects of their characters and skills at lying, even to the people to whom they’re closest. I find the outright slowness at which the government decided to even speak to them once they become notorious a little odd, but maybe that’s how it’s done in Israel? After all, it is inspired by a true story (the assassination in Dubai of senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh). However, my own experiences of navigating through Tel Aviv airport’s security measures suggest to me that if the actual spy gets through easily in episode two, some liberties will have been taken for the sake of a good plot, because that is one tricky place to get through (you can even hire a service to help take you through immigration).
Now I can’t speak more than three words of Hebrew, so I’m not going to question the subtitling. However, the show’s biggest problem is its title, which depending on its accuracy could be a massive spoiler or a massive bit of mistitling – כפולים actually means ‘doubled’, so it could mean that someone’s stolen everyone’s identities to create ‘doubles’ of them, or it could be spy slang, ‘doubling’ meaning turning someone into a double agent. There’s ambiguity there, no, about whether the heroes are spies or not?
However, ‘false flag’ only really has one meaning and that’s (spoiler alert) covert operations designed to appear as though they are being carried out by someone other than those who actually planned and executed them. Which gives the plot away a bit if it’s true. Oh well.
Is it any good?
כפולים (False Flag) works well as both a spy and a domestic drama. The characters are by turns likeable and impressive. It’s also amusing in places, as well as exciting. I really enjoyed it – you might, too.