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Sharp Writing, Excellent Cast Keep Spy Thriller The Veil Engaging

By now, we’re all aware that Elisabeth Moss can do anything. She’s proven it again and again in film and television. However, seeing the star of “Mad Men” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” play a suave super-spy with a British accent in the opening scenes of FX’s “The Veil” is initially off-putting. Really? It’s not just the accent that seems wrong at first; Moss is not the first person one would think to cast as an MI6 genius who has a 007 background and a license to kill. Unsurprisingly, this initial sense that Moss isn’t quite right for this part dissipates almost entirely by the end of the first chapter and is totally gone by mid-season. Don’t doubt her.

The Emmy winner plays Imogen—well, at least that’s her name on this mission—a spy who has a habit of blending into any situation. She’s introduced at the end of a deep undercover mission, finally revealing her true identity to her latest mark, just as Interpol agents arrive to arrest him. She immediately spins off to her next assignment: A woman has been spotted in a refugee camp, identified by someone there as a brutal commander in the ISIS terrorist organization. Is it a case of false identity? Or is Adilah El Idrissi (Yumna Marwan) one of the most wanted women in the world? And what does she know about a potential attack that’s reportedly being planned? Imogen travels to the region to get some answers, ending up traveling across the region with Adilah as power players in the spy game from around the world trying to figure out who knows what and what they plan to do about it.

Creator Steven Knight (“Peaky Blinders”) always returns to Imogen & Adilah, but the show wouldn’t work without an extended ensemble of memorable characters representing different national interests. It’s not a coincidence that almost every major player in this game comes from a very different region with very different goals. The British Imogen and Syrian Adilah are countered by a French Algerian handler and lover of Imogen’s named Mailk (Dali Benssalah) and the aggressive American Max (Josh Charles). Thibault de Montalembert, Alec Secareanu, and James Purefoy fill out a consistently engaging ensemble, all of them buoyed by Knight’s dialogue, which deftly alternates between pushing the plot forward and filling out the personalities of his characters.

Every time that “The Veil” threatens to spiral off into espionage clichés—not an infrequent occurrence—a choice made by Moss, Marwan, Charles, or a supporting player brings it back. There’s just something about spending time on a show like this with smart characters bouncing rich dialogue off each other in interesting ways. Of course, Imogen carries her own secrets, which the show is so careful to keep secret that FX has insisted that we only review four of the six episodes (despite the other two being available in rough-cut form to the press). Moss is simply phenomenal at conveying the unspoken. At first, the part does feel a little too showy, but Moss pushes through the cliché by convincing us that not only is Imogen the smartest person in most rooms but that she has seen her share of situations where that intelligence saved her life. She makes the clichés a part of how Imogen hides her true self, an essential part of her job.

Moss is excellent here, but Marwan might be even better. The Lebanese actress has an incredibly challenging role as the person who would typically be the villain of the piece. Still, Marwan keeps her motives and back story mysterious enough to make the character three-dimensional. It’s a remarkably subtle performance in a show that’s often going big with spy talk and potential betrayals. To that end, Charles, a consistently underrated performer, rocks as Max, a guy who always uses any lull in conversation to rip on his French spy counterparts. He’s funny, charming, and engaging—a welcome reminder that Josh Charles has long been an asset for TV creators like Knight.

Given the request to limit reviews to 2/3rds of the limited series, it’s hard to say if Knight and company will stick the landing. After four plot-heavy chapters, I could see the program getting weighed down by its various plot threads with only two episodes to go. Or I could see one of the best ensembles of the year bringing this story in for a perfect landing that sets up future adventures for Imogen. I’m betting on the latter.

Four episodes screened for review. Premieres on FX on Hulu on April 30, 2024.

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Managing Editor of, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and GQ, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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