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The Veil Review: Elisabeth Moss Plays a Female Deep State Don Draper in Spy Thriller

The FX on Hulu series is slick but lacks depth

Liam Mathews
Elisabeth Moss and Yumna Marwan, The Veil

Elisabeth Moss and Yumna Marwan, The Veil


Every streaming service wants to make a show about a "female Jack Ryan"; that is, a blockbuster globetrotting spy thriller with clear good guys and bad guys, with a likable star in the lead role. Last year, Paramount+ released Taylor Sheridan's Special Ops: Lioness, which was about a female CIA operative infiltrating a terror cell. It meaningfully engaged with how its characters' dangerous, morally complicated work affects them on the job and at home, had a point to make about how American foreign policy impacts the world, and contained memorable action sequences and dialogue. 

So far, it hasn't been renewed for Season 2. And watching The Veil, Hulu's FX-produced attempt at a female Jack Ryan show, made me long for another season. Because The Veil is like Lioness emptied of anything meaningful. It's an expensive, character-driven show that feels like a prestige show but isn't. It's politically nonpartisan, narratively easy-to-follow, and a bit bland. The Veil is a well-made and entertaining mass-market spy thriller that you will enjoy while you're watching and forget about as soon as it's over.

The Veil stars Elisabeth Moss as Imogen Salter (not her real name), an MI6 agent with a Poker Face-level knack for being able to tell when someone is lying, and an exceptional ability to get them to tell her the truth. She is also haunted by a mysterious past we see glimpses of throughout the first four episodes available for review. She smokes and drinks like a mad man, is great at her job, and has an emptiness at her core. She's basically a female, British, Deep State Don Draper. 


The Veil


  • Engaging plot
  • Good performances


  • Lack of depth
  • Distracting accent work

Her mission is to transport a female ISIS fighter named Adilah El Idrissi (Yumna Marwan) from the Syria-Turkey border, where she's being held in a refugee camp, to France, where she's from. Along the way, Imogen has to determine if Adilah is a low-level member who's in over her head and just wants to go home to her daughter in Paris like she says she is, or if she's really the "Djinn Al Raqqa," a high-ranking commander who is planning a terror attack on the United States. 

It's a satisfyingly simple premise that allows for twists and turns and ambiguities, as neither Adilah nor Imogen are totally lying or totally telling the truth about who they say they are. They're being emotionally honest with each other, at least. And since they have so much in common, they actually kind of like each other. There's a mismatched buddy comedy road movie thing happening in the first couple of episodes as they get to know each other – Planes, Trains and Automobiles meets Homeland.

Meanwhile, French and American intelligence are fighting over who gets to run the operation, with Imogen's lover Malik Amar (Dali Benssalah) representing the DGSE and Max Peterson (Josh Charles) representing the CIA, and Imogen plays them off each other to get what she wants for her mission, which she is running so independently that it's almost personal. 

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Charles, the dependable, Emmy-nominated veteran of The Good Wife, is great as usual in this, playing a swaggering Ugly American who gets results. And Marwan, a Lebanese actress appearing in her first American production, is appropriately enigmatic as Adilah, a woman whose true identity is a mystery even to herself. 

But this is Moss' show, and she serves as an executive producer as well as star. As the self-consciously charming Imogen, the Mad Men and Handmaid's Tale veteran adds a new dimension to the impressive range that has made her one of the greatest TV actors of her generation. There's a bit of Daniel Craig's James Bond to her performance here, with danger lurking below her friendly exterior. Her playful, between-you-and-me smile gets people to let their guard down so she can manipulate them. 

Elisabeth Moss, The Veil

Elisabeth Moss, The Veil


Moss speaks in a British accent, and it's hard to say if it's the right choice. There are a lot of contradictory "buts" about it. The accent is distracting, but it's consistent. But it's the posh London accent American actors always do when playing Brits. But Moss' father was British, so she's surely been practicing her British accent her whole life. And it's the accent the character would have. But the show never convinced me that this character had to be British. She just as easily could have been American, with some pretty minimal tweaks. So the choice to do a British accent really is "A Choice," said with raised eyebrows. But it's not a bad performance at all, because Moss is a pro whose natural charisma can help sell an underdeveloped character.

The show's scripts, from prolific British writer Steven Knight, are clichéd but efficient. The plot avoids the convolutions that often make spy stories impossible to follow, but isn't so obvious that it's boring. The direction, from Daina Reed (Moss' previous limited series Shining Girls) and Damon Thomas (Killing Eve), is tasteful, with a lot of long overhead shots that show off the show's intercontinental locations (The Veil was filmed in Turkey, France, and the U.K.). 

But ultimately, The Veil is a lot of style over substance. The show doesn't deeply engage with its characters or the real world around them. It doesn't have anything interesting to say about why Imogen became an intelligence agent or why Adilah joined ISIS. They never feel like real people, just collections of clichés and half-hearted attempts to subvert them (she's a terrorist, but she likes Shakespeare!). The Veil is content to stay on the surface. It doesn't have anything like Lioness' "All we did was make the next generation of terrorists." The Veil is about characters who don't know who they really are, and unfortunately it doesn't have an answer for them. 

Premieres: Tuesday, April 30 on Hulu with two episodes; new episodes air weekly
Who's in it: Elisabeth Moss, Yumna Marwan, Dali Benssalah, Josh Charles
Who's behind it: Creator Steven Knight; executive producers Elisabeth Moss, Denise Di Novi, and Nina Tassler
For fans of: British procedurals, Homeland, Jack Ryan
How many episodes we watched: 4 of 6