'Syria Undercover': On the edge of danger

Frontline reporter Ramita Navai meets four soldiers on Frontline reporter Ramita Navai meets four soldiers on the run at a secret location deep in the Syrian countryside in "Frontline: Syria Undercover." Photo Credit: FRONTLINE/

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REVIEW

THE SHOW "Frontline: Syria Undercover"

WHEN|WHERE Tuesday night at 9 on WNET/13

REASON TO WATCH A you-are-almost-there primer on the Syrian uprising

WHAT IT'S ABOUT In the first part of this two-part "Frontline," British-Iranian journalist Ramita Navai goes undercover in Syria to lead viewers on what might best be described as an underground tour of the Syrian protest movement. With an interpreter and handheld camera, she travels about 10 miles northeast of Damascus to the town of Douma; she visits the spot where a 14-year-old boy was shot, speaks with his father (who recalls that his son "was excited to go to the protest"); visits makeshift hospitals (injured protesters are no longer brought to public hospitals); and in an especially harrowing part, visits a safe house where three protest leaders are hiding out. They can hear Syrian militia breaking down the doors of an adjoining house. In the second part, viewers get a detailed overview on the roots of the uprising.

MY SAY In Syria, the "Arab Spring" continues unabated, but "Frontline" strips away any sense that this will follow some sort of preset narrative, with the protesters prevailing and Syrian President Bashar Assad fleeing the country to spend his forced retirement in a Paris town house. What's best -- and most chilling -- about this program is really just how clear-eyed it is. Navai's almost preposterously gutsy reporting takes viewers right to the edge of the danger zone; one knock at the door, and you realize that her camera would stop rolling, and she would thereafter become another statistic on the Committee to Protect Journalists' website. Among protesters, she finds shocking injuries and a constant fear of reprisals from the jackboots.

The second part steps back and -- with that inimitable "Frontline" sobriety -- lays out the big picture. Hafez Assad -- Bashar's father -- smashed a 1982 rebellion by almost completely destroying the Sunni city of Hama, where the Muslim Brotherhood had been based. "Frontline's" experts suggest Bashar Assad now appears resolute in deploying similar methods. The Arab spring, in other words, could be about ready to give way to the Arab winter.

BOTTOM LINE Chilling

GRADE A

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