‘The Veil’ review: After exciting premiere, Hulu thriller bogs down over six episodes

Imogen (Elisabeth Moss, left) takes custody of Adilah (Yunma Marwan), suspected of being a high-level ISIS operative, in “The Veil.”


Elisabeth Moss has been one of the marquee stars of Prestige TV for some 25 years now, from “The West Wing” through “Mad Men” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Shining Girls,” and she delivers yet another scene-commanding and richly textured performance in the international espionage limited series “The Veil.”

That’s the good (and expected) news. The bad news is that despite the high-end production values, the exotic locales ranging from Istanbul to Paris to London, the gifted cast and the impressively credentialed Steven Knight (creator of the BBC series “Peaky Blinders” and writer of great films such as “Eastern Promise” and “Locke”) penning the scripts, this is a standard-issue thriller that plays like a lesser version of series such as “Homeland,” “The Americans” and “The Diplomat.”

Created by FX to stream on Hulu, “The Veil” grabs us with a thrilling and action-packed premiere episode — and then gradually chips away at our interest and our trust, reaching its nadir in the finale, which is such a tone-deaf howler of a mess that I’m almost encouraging you to stick with the series to the end, just so you can experience the insanely silly developments. (The key word being “almost.” I don’t want you yelling at me for persuading you to waste your time.)

‘The Veil’

Premieres Tuesday with two episodes on Hulu. A new episode drops each Tuesday through May 28.

Slipping into an English accent that only occasionally wobbles back across the pond, Moss plays one Imogen Salter, a brilliant albeit sometimes unconventional and borderline rogue MI6 agent (is there any other kind in movies and on TV?) who we’re told is a master of identities and a skilled operative, always on the go, always ready to take on the most dangerous missions. (Her real name isn’t Imogen; that’s the persona she’s taken on for this particular adventure.)

At the behest of the French intelligence agency DGSE, Imogen treks to a remote refugee camp on a bitterly cold and snow-covered patch of land on the Syrian/Turkish border, where a woman named Adilah El Idrissi (Yunma Marwan) has been brutalized and is being detained on suspicion of being a high-level ISIS operative.

Imogen’s mission — and she has chosen to accept it — is to rescue the wounded Adilah from near-certain execution, take her into custody and transport her to a safe space, in the hopes Adilah will reveal the time and place of an expected ISIS terrorist attack on America that chatter indicates will take place within days. Adilah maintains that when she was young and making bad choices with her life, she was recruited into ISIS, but she is no longer part of that world, and wants only to be reunited with her young daughter in Paris.

So begins an extended road trip game of cat-and-mouse, with Imogen and Adiliah promising to be honest with each other, even though it’s almost certain neither is telling the full truth. Moss and Marwan are terrific in their scenes together, even when they’re saddled with some fairly hopeless dialogue, e.g., an extended debate about the merits of (checks notes) belly dancing?

Josh Charles (“The Good Wife”) plays a boorish CIA agent.


A number of other key characters are introduced into the mix. Dali Benssalah plays the French intelligence officer Malik Amar, who is Imogen’s liaison and also her sometimes-lover and spends most of his time getting exasperated with Imogen over the phone as she refuses to stick to the plan. Then there’s the hilariously boorish and bullying CIA agent Max Peterson (Josh Charles), who is described by Malik’s supervisor as “the most American American America has ever produced,” and yes, that means Max regularly ridicules the French for their laissez-faire approach to work and is a big fan of busting heads first and asking questions later. The bickering and bantering between Max and the French is like something out of a 1980s action comedy and is in wildly contrasting tone to the gritty and dangerous journey of Imogen and Adilah. Further muddying the tone are a series of gauzy flashbacks peeling back haunting details from Imogen’s past. (It’s tragic, but also kinda nutso.)

Perhaps most disappointing is how “The Veil” becomes more and more about Imogen and less about Adilah as the episodes drone on. The finale includes a series of whiplash-inducing plot twists, some violent developments that feel arbitrary and manipulative, and one key reveal involving a piece of office equipment that is unintentionally funny. For all its Prestige TV trappings, this is a series that clearly never had it nailed down on the page before Day One of shooting.

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