Ghosts of Beirut Season 1 Review: Dexterously balances narrative priorities with historical significance

Dexterously balances narrative priorities with historical significance


Season 1

Episode Rating

Episode 1 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 2 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 3 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 4 -| Review Score – 4/5


Ghosts of Beirut is a four-part limited series available to watch on Showtime. It is a fictionalized version of the CIA’s decades-long manhunt for a terrorist who was considered more vicious and evil than Osama himself: Imad Mughniyeh.

The series features interviews from the experts and professionals who were closely attached to Mughniyeh’s story. Retired agents from the Agency also feature to give us an insider perspective. But it is primarily a dramatic adaptation of the story. Even though the account is itself fictionalized, Lior Raz and Avi Issacharoff, the creators of the show, deploy their academic backgrounds to create a deeply researched story.

Muhgniyeh’s story began when he was 14 years old. He had been inclined to radicalism since that young age. The show begins when Muhgniyeh turned 21 and was contacted by a faction of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard to organize terrorist camps. His putrid hatred for institutes of democracy and Israel’s actions in the Middle East spurred his ideology. In modern-day, his name is tied with that of Hezbollah, a deadly terrorist outfit infamous for wanton acts of destruction around the globe. Some even called him a more astute, organized, and dangerous terrorist than Bin Laden.

In Ghosts of Beirut, we begin in 1982, when Mughniyeh paired hands with Shiite patrons from Iran and formed the Islamic Jihad Revolution. From there on in until his death in 2008, Mughniyeh masterminded numerous brutal terrorist attacks, mostly on Americans outside American soil. Hisham Suleiman (younger) and Amir Khoury (older) play him admirably in the series. With all projects of such nature, the creators must play their hand mindfully to balance narrative priorities and the historical significance of the accounts. Raz and Issacharoff are certainly up to the task here, dextrously navigating this tricky predicament.

By their own admission, there is an element of humanizing Mughniyeh, to the point of showing his reverence among his admirers and supporters. Many interviees featured in the show talk about how, in their experience, Mughniyeh was the most efficient, unglamorous terrorist operative they had ever seen. He never let on more than what the intelligence agencies knew, remaining a step ahead at all times. In fact, the manhunt only became successful because Muhgniyeh got casual and let down his guard. He became overconfident in his ability to stay in the shadows and keep the agencies at his heels.

At just four episodes long, Ghosts of Beirut packs way too much digestible information. The focus keeps shifting to different locations and into different timelines since the manhunt went on for decades. The complexity comes from the conscious creative choice to fall back on detailed research in order to give an academically authentic account of how it all transpired. It is ingenious and gives weight to the gravity of the subject matter. However, this choice also comes with its downsides.

The flip side is that Ghosts of Beirut becomes quite dense to follow properly. Since the episodes are spaced out on a weekly basis, the lag or continuity conundrum remains unresolved. A Spy Among Friends, despite being a brilliant show, shares this problem. That didn’t have mass appeal because the makers wanted the complexity element to be present in the final product, and Ghosts of Beirut follows suit.

Ghosts of Beirut is shot in six different languages. A number of consultants worked together on the show to uphold the uniqueness of each of the regions focused on. But even then, a lot of the meaning in words is lost in translation. And the use of so many languages and dialects makes the experience overwhelming for viewers.

The narrative in Ghosts of Beirut is not loyal to any one person or entity. It maintains razor-sharp clarity about narrative priorities and makes the storytelling efforts wholesome. The story has many heroes and villains but the larger focus is to develop the arc as authentically and respectfully as possible.

Watching the show is like reading a book with well-distinguished chapters and a familiar order to how things unfold. Credit must also be given to both the casting choices and the actors themselves, who are perfect fits in their roles.

Dina Shihabi is undeniably the most significant presence in the context of the show. Even though her character is fictional, Shihabi’s own diverse background allows her to root her portrayal in a genuine cause. The generational trauma, anger, and years of suffering are brought to the surface in a few headline moments. The most intriguing was when she says to Teddy, ” I hate my job,” to which the Mossad agent replies, “It is because you are good at it.” That, in a nutshell, encapsulates the weariness of the real-life operators across the globe who engage in the thankless job. Iddo Goldberg (Teddy), Garret Dillahunt, and Rafi Gavron (Chet) also turn in great work.

Ghosts of Beirut is neither straightforward nor preachy. It means business and gets to it in a professional manner. The conduct of the makers in treating the subject matter is top-notch but this comes at the expense of mass appeal. Any latent interest in international relations and global geo-political relations from our readers will improve their experience of the show.

Ghosts of Beirut is a rare Showtime offering that stands out for its uniqueness of execution and clarity of thought. For more on this series, check out our episode reviews which are linked above.

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  • Verdict - 7.5/10

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