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Elisabeth Moss embraces her best role yet as a secret agent in 'The Veil'

Elisabeth Moss plays British spy Imogen Salter in <em>The Veil.</em>
Christine Tamalet
Elisabeth Moss plays British spy Imogen Salter in The Veil.

The new FX on Hulu series The Veil is a spy show about several different spy agencies – from the United States, England and France – all after the same goal. They want to discover the details of a suspected new Sept. 11-type terrorist plot, reportedly emanating from the Middle East, and stop it before it happens.

Sometimes these organizations work together – sometimes they work against one another. But throughout, the agent who is most crucial to cracking the case is a British superspy temporarily going under the name of Imogen. She's played by Elisabeth Moss, of Mad Men andThe Handmaid's Tale, and by the end of the six episodes of The Veil, I was convinced that this is Moss' best role, and best performance, yet. She's amazing.

As a secret agent, Imogen has plenty of secrets of her own, which unfold slowly as the miniseries progresses. She's a damaged soul with a haunted past – which, for her latest mission, turns out to be a valuable asset. She's been charged to locate and befriend a woman who recently surfaced in a refugee camp on the Syrian and Turkish border.

The woman, going by the name Adilah (Yumna Marwan), claims to be of Algerian descent, and from France — but several spy agencies suspect her of being the elusive mastermind behind the rumored imminent terrorist plot. Imogen's mission is to locate Adilah, who is held under guard at the camp after being attacked and stabbed by other refugees. Imogen offers to help Adilah escape, while getting close enough to try to ascertain her true identity, motives and target.

Elisabeth Moss and Yumna Marwan are more alike than either initially suspect in <em>The Veil.</em>
Christine Tamalet / FX
Elisabeth Moss and Yumna Marwan are more alike than either initially suspect in The Veil.

The terrorist Imogen is hunting is known as Djinn al Raqqa – in folklore, a shape-shifting genie who can assume any form. Is Adilah actually Djinn al Raqqa hiding in plain sight? Or is she as innocent as she claims? Imogen, a shapeshifter of sorts herself, uses all her spycraft skills to earn Adilah's trust, by helping her in her quest to cross borders and return to Paris, where her young daughter awaits.

Their journey is fascinating, with each probing to learn the other's secrets while protecting her own. It's a bit like Homelandwhere you, the viewer, are unsure of each character's true motives. And as the two women go off the grid and spend time with each other, avoiding all the authorities trying to locate them, their relationship keeps deepening.

In that way, The Veil is a bit like Thelma & Louise. Except, sometimes, it's more like Thelma v. Louise. Both characters are delightfully unpredictable. In one scene, Imogen takes Adilah to a smuggler they hope will give them new passports and identities to get to Paris. Imogen's plan is to have them pose as singers and belly dancers. But their proposed cover is at risk when the smuggler decides to test them a little by demanding that Adilah display her skills — which she does, leaving both Imogen and the smuggler suitably impressed.

These two actors are incredibly nuanced and well-matched in these roles – captivating as adversaries, and even more so if and when they decide to become allies. The writer and creator of The Veil, Steven Knight from Peaky Blinders and All the Light We Cannot See, explores their relationship brilliantly. But he also keeps escalating the terrorist plot, and following the many agents and agencies trying to crack it. One special standout here is Josh Charles, fromThe Good Wifeand Sports Night, who is cast as an aggressive CIA agent on French soil – an ugly American in Paris. He plays his part perfectly.

Even so, The Veil, at its core, is the story of two shape-shifting survivors who are more alike than either of them suspected – and whose realization of that fact may, or may not, stop a horrifying terrorist attack. It's quite a voyage – and quite a drama.

Copyright 2024 Fresh Air

David Bianculli is a guest host and TV critic on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. A contributor to the show since its inception, he has been a TV critic since 1975.