Chaos captivates

The newest season of Fauda is the most complex and thus the most satisfying so far

On Television

This article is taken from the March 2023 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

After Moscow, Munich, Berlin, Buenos Aires and even Baltimore, Budapest has a new imitation game. In season four of Fauda the Hungarian capital stands in for Brussels. Kiev was the original plan, but recent events put paid to that. The substitution works, mostly, although once again landmarks such as Andrássy út, Budapest’s grandest avenue, are instantly recognisable to anyone who knows the city.

Fauda topped Netflix’s streaming chart in Lebanon, and the show was in the top ten in Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates

Fauda, Arabic for chaos, is less a television series than a global phenomenon. The Netflix series follows an under-
cover Israeli special forces unit as they track down terrorists in the Palestinian territories and the Gaza Strip. Sold around the world, Fauda is especially popular in the Middle East, partly because its Arab characters are complex and nuanced, showing agency and courage.

Earlier this year Fauda topped Netflix’s streaming chart in Lebanon, and the show was in the top ten in Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Fauda has even been dubbed into Farsi by a Persian-language channel based in London. Its creators Lior Raz and Avi Issacharoff have first-hand experience of this world — they both served in the Israeli army and Issacharoff is a veteran reporter covering Arab affairs.

Season four sees Doron Kavillio, the lynchpin of the unit, exiled to his farm, traumatised and suffering from PTSD. None of which stops Doron, played by Raz, from swiftly hospitalising several burglars rash enough to take him on. The action soon switches to Jenin — recently the site of real-life Israeli military incursions — and then Brussels, where Captain Ayub, of the Shin Bet, the Israeli security service, has been kidnapped by operatives of Hezbollah, the Lebanese terror network.

This is a catastrophe as Ayub knows the details of numerous operations and the identity of agents and assets. Meanwhile, Maya Binyamin, a courageous, decorated Arab Israeli police officer, receives a message from her brother, Omar, who is involved in Ayub’s kidnapping.

The plot twists and turns along enjoyably familiar avenues, but this season is the most complex and thus the most satisfying. By now the team is aging — not only Doron is paying the psychological price for so much death, violence and guilt over the team members who lost their lives. Marriages are collapsing, doubts and fears
for the future are piling up.

The workings of the Shin Bet feel very authentic, showing their inner debates — and not shying away from the Israelis’ readiness to use threats and physical intimidation to get the answers they need. But the most outstanding storyline is the relationship between Maya and Doron.

Some of the roots of modern-day Israel lie in the killing fields and camps of eastern Europe

Maya is brilliantly played by Lucy Ayoub, an Israeli TV presenter, herself of mixed Palestinian and Jewish heritage. Maya’s dangerous journey with Doron into Lebanon and Syria is shot through with mutual anger, distrust, resentment — and a growing, if unwilling aff ection. Maya and Doron’s realisation that like it or not, they
are stuck with each other, is an apt metaphor for the whole tangled story of Jews and Arabs in the Middle East.

Some of the roots of modern-day Israel lie in the killing fields and camps of eastern Europe. What if the West, especially the United States, had accepted more Jewish refugees instead of closing its doors? The US and the Holocaust, available on BBC iPlayer, examines that and much more in a richly authoritative three-part documentary series.

Made by the acclaimed director Ken Burns and his team, this is good old-fashioned television history, its informed commentary interspersed with contemporaneous footage, interviews with survivors and historians. I’ve read and
written quite extensively about the Holocaust but the extent of anti-Semitism across the pre-war US, and the refusal of the State Department to allow in Jewish refugees, still have the power to shock.

In How the Holocaust Began, also available on BBC iPlayer, historian James Bulgin travels to Liepaja in Latvia. Nowadays the town is a jolly beach resort. But in 1941, after the Nazi invasion, the area was a killing field, where the Einsatzgruppen and their local allies murdered thousands of Jews.

The contemporaneous footage of Jewish men stepping off the trucks into the trench, their bodies crumpling while the smoke curls from the rifle barrels is beyond haunting. Meanwhile the locals stand around watching, chatting, smoking and enjoying the spectacle.

Finally, do check out The Rig, on Amazon Prime. A closed story arena always cranks up the drama factor — witness the number of series set in prisons or even The Office. The Rig, out in the North Sea, takes this to a new level.

A closed story arena always cranks up the drama factor

Oil rigs are isolated, claustrophobic, freezing and battered by the weather. When the wind howls and storms are blowing there is no escape. So where to go when a thick fog comes in and a strange black dust fills the air? Some who come into contact with the powder find their wounds heal far too quickly. Others start dying.

Here the ocean itself is a character, adding a new layer to a smart, unsettling series with an intriguing supernatural layer. Millennia ago, Britain and Europe were one land mass, until a tsunami flooded the plains and forests, cutting off the mainland. Even now we still don’t really know what lurks beneath the waves, but on the rig something wicked this way comes. Wrap up warm when you watch this one.

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