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Series / The Spy

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The Spy is a 2019 limited series based on the real-life Israeli spy Eli Cohen. It was created and written by Gideon Raff and stars Sacha Baron Cohen as Cohen.

In 1960, Eliyahu Cohen is an Egyptian-born Israeli who works a menial job but yearns to be of service to his nation. When Mossad spymaster Dan Peleg begins looking for a new agent to send on an urgent deep-cover mission to Syria by way of Argentina, Cohen jumps at the chance. In spite of Peleg's lingering guilt over similar spies who have died under his watch, Peleg recruits him, and Cohen departs for Argentina with his loving wife Nadia none the wiser. Cohen proves a natural at espionage, and soon charms his way into the highest ranks of the Syrian power structure. But the deeper he goes, the more Cohen finds himself torn between his desire to achieve greatness, and his yearning to return to his true identity.


  • All Jews Are Ashkenazi: Discussed. Eli and his family are from Egypt (his father was born in Syria, like his cover identity claims), and Nadia's are from Iraq, what are now called Mizrahi Jews. Eli says that the Israeli Ashkenazim just think of people like him and Nadia as Arabs.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Ma'azi seems to have a crush on Cohen, but it's never confirmed whether he's bisexual, a closeted gay man, or simply infatuated with Cohen. His gaze lingers on Cohen's naked body, and he repeatedly asks about Cohen's sex life, even sending him a prostitute to see if he'll have sex with her. Cohen seems to understand Ma'azi's interest and brusquely turns him away without acknowledging it. However, in another scene, Ma'azi seems to be enjoying making out with a woman.
  • Becoming the Mask:
    • Eli has to become Thaabeth to work effectively and survive, but the blurring of his selves and the toll it takes on him emotionally and psychologically is crystal clear. Sacha Baron Cohen has said words to the effect that where he himself is sometimes in-character for up to twelve hours, Eli was in-character non-stop for five years, and he considers him the world's greatest actor.
    • Dan Peleg, to a lesser extent. He's so concerned about Eli, haunted by his past failure, and guilty about leaving Nadia to cope on her own that he tries to help her out in Eli's place, then quickly winds up with a crush on her and getting a bit too close. Although he won't listen to his assistant Maya about the inappropriateness of what he's doing, Nadia finally coolly points out he doesn't do this for all his "employees" and to please send her real husband back.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Cohen is caught, tortured, and executed, leaving his wife a widow and his children fatherless. Both his family and Israel have spent decades trying to get his remains returned, to no avail. However, the work he did made a real impact in ensuring the survival of his country.
  • Bookends: Eli is shown using his watch to bribe his way into Syria, and while the watch is taken, the bribe doesn't work. In Real Life, Cohen's watch remains the only thing the Mossad has been able to get out of Syria since 1965.
  • Celibate Hero: Cohen is in a loving marriage and does not want to cheat on his wife for any reason. He takes no lovers in his cover identity, which does not go unnoticed. He's eventually forced into stringing along a business partner's daughter as his nominal girlfriend.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The new sewing machine Eli sends Nadia by way of Mossad communications confirms Eli's identity as "88" for his cryptographer brother when he spots it in Nadia's apartment.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety:
    • Peleg takes up smoking again due to the stress of Cohen's assignment.
    • Cohen takes up smoking as part of his cover identity, but keeps smoking even when in Israel due to anxiety (and likely the onset of addiction).
  • Closest Thing We Got: Downplayed considering the extensive training Mossad puts him through, but they desperately needed a fluent Arabic speaker who was familiar enough with Arab and Muslim culture to be successfully taken for a native, and the previously-rejected Cohen was the only one who fit the profile.
  • Comfort Food: Bread and butter for both Cohen and his wife, reminding them of their time together. When Cohen feels his true identity slipping away, he raids his fancy kitchen for some simple bread and butter to remind himself of who he is. When Dan Peleg cooks breakfast for Cohen's wife and starts eating bread and butter at their table, she tells him to leave.
  • Coming and Going: Scenes of an orgy taking place at Cohen's apartment are spliced in with scenes of a bloody military coup being carried out by al-Hafiz at the presidential palace and radio station.
  • Confess to a Lesser Crime: Apparently Eli admitting to having "extremely graphic pornography" in his suitcase was enough to get the soldiers stationed at the Syrian border to quit looking through his things.
  • Cool Car:
    • Cohen fawns over a magnate's prized Peugeot to develop a connection with him.
    • Ma'azi takes Cohen out for a tour of Syria's military fortifications in a convertible Alfa Romeo.
  • Death Glare: Ahmed Suidani is almost always scowling. There's only a single scene where he breaks his scowl, giving the wife of Amin al-Hafiz a warm smile as she passes by, before going right back to his scowl.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Given that it's The '60s in the Middle East, being gay is out of the question. When Cohen seems to register that Ma'azi has a sexual interest in him, he turns him away without even acknowledging the matter. Later, Cohen is advised to get a girlfriend so his cover identity isn't thought to be "funny in that way."
  • Disappeared Dad: A justified version. Cohen is a spy on foreign assignment and so he can barely be home with his family, which includes his two young daughters.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: The real-life Cohen may have had as many as 17 beautiful mistresses as Thaabeth, but in the series, he's such a Celibate Hero out of respect to his wife that it causes problems for his cover identity.
  • If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten!: A Syrian colonel invites Cohen to open fire on a group of Israeli civilians with a machinegun. Cohen is forced to either go along with it or break his cover as a Zionist-hating Syrian zealot. At the last second, the colonel tells him he was just joking.
  • "Just Joking" Justification:
    • The morning after a drunken Ma'azi meets Cohen and passes out on his couch, he wakes him up at gunpoint and gets him to the point of being "white as a ghost", before using this. Cohen is then seemingly furious, lambastes and threatens Ma'azi, and gets him to humbly beg forgiveness — before using this in turn. They laugh about it and it cements their friendship.
    • As seen above, a Syrian colonel invites Cohen to open fire on Israeli citizens and won't accept Cohen's several attempts to beg off. Only after Cohen has reluctantly aimed at a target and put his fingers on the trigger does the colonel claim he was "just joking," and tells Cohen to step away. It's ultimately ambiguous as to whether this was really a joke, if the colonel was trying to see whether Cohen would actually do it or if the colonel just changed his mind about provoking an international incident.
  • Klingon Promotion: The 1963 Syrian coup puts Amin al-Hafiz in power by killing or deposing the Syrian leaders by force.
  • Male Gaze: The camera lingers on Cohen's rear naked body as Ma'azi observes him showering. This is the first hint that Ma'azi is Ambiguously Gay.
  • Manipulative Bastard:
    • As a successful spy, Cohen takes this up to eleven, including — among other things — gaining access to a highly restricted military zone in the Golan Heights and then donating eucalyptus trees for shade there for the heat-stricken soldiers. The trees were used to let the IDF identify the hidden fortifications and played a major part in helping Israel remove the Syrian artillery threat to the border civilians after the Six-Day War in 1967.
    • Mossad themselves, of course, getting Eli fired from his accounting job in the first place so he’s free (and more willing) to accept their “offer”.
  • Manly Facial Hair: In line with the associations of masculinity in Arab culture, Eli grows a mustache for his cover while training for the Syrian mission, even when Nadia says she dislikes it.
  • Mistaken for Servant: Cohen is mistaken for a waiter at the house party of his wife's wealthy boss. This helps motivate him to take bigger risks to achieve greatness with his life.
  • My Greatest Failure: Peleg has never gotten over allowing an extremely talented field agent to get assigned to deep cover because he knew the man was too eager to please and would take excessive risks. The agent was almost immediately captured and killed. He doesn't want the same thing to happen to Cohen.
  • Nepotism: Ma'azi receives special privileges because his uncle is a powerful Syrian general who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Army.
  • Reckless Gun Usage:
    • Ma'azi, said spoiled nephew of the Commander-in-Chief, is introduced when he drunkenly hands his loaded service pistol to a bartender and demands that the Celebrity Resemblance man point it at him and pose like Jean-Paul Belmondo. In another scene, he points his gun at Cohen and threatens him, but it turns out that he's only joking. Eli/Thaabeth lambastes him for pointing a weapon at him in his own home.
    • In another dramatic scene, a Syrian colonel invites Cohen to shoot at Israeli civilians with a machine gun. After instructing Cohen to aim at a target and put his fingers on the trigger, he tells him he was "just joking".
  • Refusing the Call: Eli initially turns down Mossad for a few reasons, including the fact Mossad had earlier rejected him when he'd applied. However, this turns into a full-fledged Kidnapped by the Call as Mossad then gets him fired from his job and leaves him with no other likely way of supporting his family.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Cohen dresses very well as part of his cover identity as a wealthy playboy.
  • Sleeping with the Boss: Peleg and his assistant Maya have an on-off relationship, even though she's married and not impressed by his crush on Nadia Cohen.
  • Title Character: "The Spy" refers to Cohen.
  • Translation Convention: All spoken foreign languages, with the exception of a few snippets of religious utterances and news/radio broadcasts, are rendered as accented English. Given that the series takes place in Israel, Argentina and Syria, it's sometimes not clear what language people are supposed to be speaking. Text is usually left untranslated, but a few key snippets transform into English translations on camera.
  • Tuxedo and Martini: Cohen rubs shoulders with the Syrian elite at a variety of black-tie functions, though the Muslim prohibition of alcohol occasionally means that he claims to abstain from actual cocktails for religious reasons.
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: Eli loses everything in his stomach when he thinks the Syrian border police are about to find his spy gear. Fortunately, he made it to a toilet first.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: Cohen exports a lot of furniture to Israel, wrapped for protection in layers of ordinary Syrian newspapers. While the furniture does get used, the newspapers are a priceless regular stream of intel for Mossad.
  • Young Future Famous People: Of all of Mohamed bin Laden's children to make an appearance, of course it's Osama we see.

Alternative Title(s): Spy 2019