When the Israeli series “Fauda” hit Netflix with English subtitles in 2016, it launched the American appetite for Israeli content. Today, there is a wealth of Israeli-produced content available on most streaming services.
The third season of “Fauda” — now available to stream in its English-subtitled entirety on Netflix (but not on Israeli Netflix, because it’s still airing weekly in Israel) — delivers the dramatic tautness and moral murkiness we’ve come to expect from previous seasons: tense action sequences, shocking moments, so much smoking that one episode warns audiences about it along with “violence” and “nudity,” rogue agents, unnecessary love scenes, shifting definitions of whose actions and intentions are good or evil, and how they got that way. (Note: Mild spoilers for seasons 1-2 and some plot details from Season 3 follow.)
Season 1 introduced us to the high-stakes world of a counterterrorism unit headed by Doron Kavillio (played by Lior Raz, who presents as a cross between Bruce Willis in “Die Hard” and “Commish” star Michael Chiklis). Because Season 2 arrived on Netflix in May 2018, I rewatched that season’s finale for a refresher on our heroes. At the end of last season, Doron and his son had narrowly escaped death at the hands of a rogue ISIS member trying to avenge the deaths of his father and brother, which he blames on Doron. The finale ends with an orange-jumpsuited Doron, seriously wounded, loping toward his trusted team and toward rescue. Season 3 opens six months later, with Doron again undercover: this time as Palestinian boxing instructor Abu Fadi, who is mentoring aspiring boxer Bashar Hamdi and selling weapons to his family, in order to gain access to relatives who are connected to Hamas.
As with previous seasons of “Fauda” (and many other products of the Israeli TV industry), the action is based in the realities that Israelis experience: how close Israel and Gaza are to each other, the fact that all Jewish Israelis have relatives serving in the IDF, and that one of the things they most fear is that those family members will be abducted and or killed in the line of duty.
Even the initial scene of Palestinian commandos entering Israel via underground tunnels between Israel and Gaza is “ripped from the headlines.” According to a BBC article by defense analyst Eado Hecht, Hamas created a network of tunnels to help smuggle weapons and other sellable goods into Gaza. Hecht added that since 2001, the Palestinians have been using tunnels to attack Israeli border posts. The most famous attempt was in 2006, a surprise assault against Israeli soldiers at a border post where two soldiers were killed, one wounded and a fourth — Gilad Shalit — abducted. The Season 3 plot echoes Shalit’s story as well as that of the 2014 kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens (which resulted in a Palestinian teen being kidnapped and murdered as revenge by Jewish extremists), incidents chronicled in last year’s HBO series “Our Boys.”
The squad is made up of elite soldiers who are committed to the others in “the unit,” but after a few episodes, team members are beginning to fray in different ways, helping viewers (me, at least) to distinguish the members of the bearded bunch from one other. Eli is team leader and mission control; Steve is married and has a baby; Avihai, the sniper, makes a mistake that unearths all his previous ones; and Sagi is hotheaded and seemingly coiled for explosion. Supervising officer Itzik Cohen’s Captain Gabi Ayub (thankfully clean-shaven and therefore distinctive from the others) continues his sometimes abusive interrogations while also brokering meetings with Palestinian sources, trying to extract information or their cooperation, his weariness of the regional conflict visible on his face.
The roles for women in this series have mostly been of the girlfriend-wife-mother-daughter varieties, and this season is no exception; the women are strong but mostly marginal, and confined to these roles. Since Doron’s work led to endangering his family, he is permitted only supervised visitation with his children, from which son Iddo has been absent. Nurit, the squad’s only woman, has retired and is engaged to someone perfectly nice but (it is implied) not so exciting. She sits out most of the counterterrorism action, cheating on her fiance by hooking up with Sagi. Steve’s wife, Anat, is clearly suffering from postpartum depression, but the show doesn’t linger on or meaningfully address it. And the arrival of new Gaza desk chief Hila seemed to bring strength, but a totally unnecessary romantic dimension ultimately detracts from her impact.
The word “fauda” means “chaos” in Arabic, and throughout season 3, the characters and situations are volatile and chaotic. Peace-loving people get radicalized, reunited families get fractured and responsibility has ever-shifting borders. But there are some moments when multiple character paths get confusing and possible plot points seem to have been abandoned.
Notably, comments about Sagi “losing his mind” during an operation, which seem to point to a future screw-up — “One more strike and you’re out because you’re endangering your teammates. If you don’t get a grip, people will die” — amount to a red herring. Yet one small mistake from Doron early on sends the undercover operation into a tailspin. As it was happening, I heard myself saying, “Don’t do that… it’s going to blow your cover!” And if even I could identify it the mistake, an experienced undercover special ops agent really should have known better.
As always, Hebrew speakers will delight in how the subtitles translate Hebrew slang. During an operation, a team leader calls for total darkness with the demand of “choshech mitzrayim,” literally “the darkness of Egypt” (a reference to the penultimate of the Ten Plagues recounted in the Passover seder). When Avihai rejoins the team after an absence, another team member greets him with “baruch shepatrani me’ansho shel zeh,” which translates as “may God be blessed for freeing me of the responsibility of this [person]” and is traditionally said by parents at their children’s b’nai mitzvah. The subtitle — which “Fauda” fans can also apply to the occasion of having received a new season of this bingeable drama in a time of quarantine — is “good to have you back.”