Dogdugun Ev Kaderindir: Women, Heart & Home
Dogdugun Ev Kaderindir (“DEK”), one of the top ranking Turkish dizis of the season, is a story of how our destinies are shaped as a result of our roots, upbringing and consequent choices. Based on the story Camdiki Kiz, written by Dr. Gulsere Budayıcıoğlu who is a renowned psychiatrist in Turkey, DEK is based on a true story but has been dramatized for television. It explores the questions of whether we are defined by the home we are born into or the home that nurtures our growth or the home that we build with our life partner? As we keep reiterating on what home means to us, and where fate takes us, we start to learn how to forge a path that can reshape our destiny in ways we might not have imagined.
Under this over-arching theme, I find the show to be very female-centric, and the writing team working with Eylem Canpolat has done a beautiful job of exploring the feminine journey from multiple perspectives. We see women supporting women or being the cause for another's downfall. We see those born into money and those who are not, and yet both still struggle with emotionally and/ or physically abusive spouses. We see women who married for love, and those who never did, and still live with an innate unhappiness. Those who are born into poverty and seeking financial freedom through advantageous relationships, or those who are confined in their choices due to their past mistakes. Those who had a meaningful marriage, and those who didn’t. We see teenage girls navigate their family failings, and then we see Zeynep who, by the virtue of straddling two separate worlds, walks a narrow path at the intersection of the two, within which she needs to find herself.
This review focuses more on the character analysis of the protagonists, through a journey to better understand their choices and desires.
Zeynep Goksu / Kaya/ Karaca (Demet Ozdemir)
Zeynep, the youngest daughter of a poor, abusive household often misunderstood her father’s wrath upon the family as being her fault. Her desire for art and education got both her brother and mother into trouble with Bayram Goksu, her father, and as she witnessed the verbal and physical
abuse while they defended her, she was quick to develop the habit of agreeing to give up her desires to maintain peace in the home. The feeling of guilt became further entrenched when her beloved elder brother, Remzi, passed away from a grave illness that was not treated early enough by her neglectful and selfish father.
Her mother, Sakine, was a house cleaner in a wealthy neighborhood, and would take Zeynep along with her. She caught the attention of a childless wealthy woman Nermin Kaya, who understood Zeynep’s intelligence and wanted to afford her a proper education. She offered to ‘adopt’ Zeynep and support her education so she could fulfill her potential. In exchange, she and her self-serving, reliant-upon-wife’s-wealth husband, Ekram, offered money to Bayram, who greedily took it and was only too happy to be rid of Zeynep. Sakine, caught between a rock and a hard place, made the difficult decision to leave Zeynep with Nermin, unwilling to allow the last of her children to become lost due to Bayram’s abuse. Her elder daughter had eloped and escaped home years ago. After leaving Zeynep, Sakine came to the house as a cleaner a few times but with Bayram’s repeated demands for money from the adoptive parents, Nermin made the conscious decision to sever all ties, forbidding Zeynep to have any further communication with her birth parents.
Fast forward twelve years to when Zeynep is a last year law student at a reputable university, she carries herself with the poise of a socialite, appears as the heir apparent to Nermin’s vast fortune, has been in a year-long relationship with Farouk who is a peer in the upper echelon of society, and is about to embark on the rest of her life with higher studies in London. Nermin encourages Farouk to propose to Zeynep, and has plans to tag along with them to London and build their lives next to Zeynep and Farouk. On Zeynep’s 23rd birthday, right after Farouk’s proposal to Zeynep that she accepts, Sakine appears at her lavish birthday party along with Zeynep’s childhood friend from her old neighborhood, Emine. While Zeynep is touched and happy to see her mother after so many years, it becomes evident that Zeynep is unable to reveal Sakine’s true identity to Farouk, because Zeynep has never told him the truth about her past.
Sakine understands that Nermin has taken full ownership of Zeynep, presuming that Sakine’s sacrifice of handing over Zeynep for her education meant that Zeynep would fulfill Nermin’s need to be a mother. An abused woman for much of her life, Sakine is bitter and resentful, and cannot accept that she will lose her only glimmer of hope in life to a woman born with a silver spoon in her mouth, even though Nermin did her best in raising Zeynep with love. Sakine expresses her vehement displeasure to Zeynep and tells her that if she marries Farouk, Zeynep will be making the choice to fully close her doors to her birth parents. She insists that Zeynep marry someone from the mahalle (neighborhood) instead, someone who used to be Zeynep’s brother’s childhood best friend, Mehdi. Perhaps softened by the connection to her beloved brother, and wanting to relieve her mother’s obvious distress, Zeynep agrees to meet with Mehdi.
Mehdi Karaca (Ibrahim Celikkol)
Mehdi is the youngest child of Zeliha, a widow living in a large home in the mahalle, alongwith her unapologetically loud-mouthed spinster elder daughter, Mujgan, and the timid younger daughter, Cemille, who is a separated, single mother of teenager Yasemin. Zeliha is a strong and fair-minded woman, who wants to see her son married, as she is inordinately scared of him following in his father’s footsteps and becoming too embroiled in neighborhood politics, which led to his father’s untimely death. Feeling it his destiny to do so, Mehdi opted to turn down his acceptance into engineering school, and runs his own auto shop instead, where he shelters two neighborhood kids in need of an affectionate home. Everybody in the neighborhood loves and respects him, including the divorcee across the street, Benal. With great aversion to marriage, Mehdi and Benal had a consensual relationship for a while, that he walked away from once she started pushing for more.
Due to a health scare with his mother, Mehdi finally consents to marriage and is pleasantly surprised to find the marriage broker introduce him to Zeynep, whom he had met outside his auto shop a few days prior. Zeynep had come to the mahalle to make peace with her mother and was on her way out when coincidentally the tire of her car burst in front of Mehdi’s shop. Despite her expensive clothing and car, Zeynep didn’t hesitate to get dirty in the mud to help an elderly, mentally challenged lady in the neighborhood, and in that instant, Mehdi saw in her a pure, inner beauty that was rare within his sphere. Similarly, as Zeynep watched Mehdi interact with the folks in his shop, she understood how deeply he was revered by all, and it touched something within her to see a male figure so authentic, comfortable and confident in his self-worth. He seemed a beloved king in the rubble of his shop.
At the brokered meeting, Zeynep was equally intrigued to find Mehdi across the table, and the two of them speak comfortably for a long time without making a commitment about the marriage. Mehdi tells her that he is ready to marry her if she will agree. Without mentioning anything to Nermin about this development, and having Farouk walk out on her when he learns of her parentage, Zeynep meets Mehdi a couple more times and discovers other admirable qualities in him. She finds that Mehdi financed her brother’s grave and its upkeep since her parents were too poor to do so. And it is while she is visiting Remzi’s grave for the first time that it coincides with Mehdi’s weekly visit to water the plants for Remzi. As they talk and Zeynep looks through the prism of truth, she understands that Mehdi is a genuine man of honor. For the first time in her life she felt that she could rest her head on a man’s shoulders and feel protected. She agrees to the marriage, to take place within days.
It is obvious that Mehdi marries Zeynep for love not knowing that Zeynep had been in an active relationship with Farouk. From the first time that Mehdi saw her, he felt the pull of fate towards her and instead of being cowered by her education and refined ways, he takes pride in her achievements, and wants to support her growth. He doesn’t flaunt his own depth of self-education, and at every turn tries to make her feel that her home is now in his heart. That, as her husband, he will always protect her and will die for her.
Episode 3; Translation credit: @turkflick.com
While Zeynep struggles with transitioning to life in the mahalle, fearing that she had regressed back to the kind of life her mother had had while being alienated from her other mother Nermin, Mehdi remains quietly by her side. He doesn’t enforce his rights in the bedroom, and lends her his support where needed, even enduring a night of humiliation at Ekram’s behest when Mehdi and his family had been over at Nermin’s for dinner. It is during this evening that Mehdi chances upon photos of Zeynep and Farouk, realizing how much Zeynep had walked away from to step into their hasty marriage. He feels that his love may not be enough for Zeynep to stay, and offers an annulment.
Due to a stacked set of circumstances, Mehdi and Zeynep come to learn that they would need to remain as a couple for another year to keep Cybrit, one of the two mahalle children Mehdi ‘adopted’, out of a children’s shelter until she is 18. Cybrit’s visible distress at being separated from Mehdi resonates with Zeynep, making her relive her early days of separation from her own family. In Zeynep’s case she had had no choice but to embrace her new life and work hard towards a worthy career to assuage her guilt of leaving her birth family in poverty. Zeynep likes the opportunity to be the one to provide Cybrit a choice and offers to stay the additional year to provide a stable family life for Cybrit. Zeynep, forever afraid of being abandoned, had thought Mehdi didn’t want her until she realized that he had only let her go because he believed she wanted to be with Farouk. At this revelatory moment, though neither profess their love for the other, they hold onto each other tightly, in a tacit expression of how much they crave to be with each other.
First hug and the making of a family
While all this drama is raging within the Karaca household, we also come to learn that Benal is pregnant, allegedly from Mehdi. Zeynep, unaware of her past with Mehdi, offers her unrequited friendship to Benal during her pregnancy and she takes advantage of Zeynep’s innocence to try and manipulate an outcome that lets her have a life-long relationship with Mehdi. Even after Mehdi tells Benal that he is in love with Zeynep and considers her his only family, Benal feels Mehdi’s sense of honor and Zeynep’s innocent self-righteousness will make them separate and give Benal what she wants. As a middle-aged divorcee in a conservative society, she feels her options are limited and she wants to capitalize on her prior relationship with Mehdi. Unfortunately, her manipulative ways establish Benal as entirely too self-serving, nullifying her shallow professions of love for Mehdi.
By Episode 11, Zeynep has correctly put the clues together and her heart is wounded, knowing that Benal may not be in the past and that her trust in Mehdi may be misplaced as he hid his past even while Benal was within their world, across the street. Unaware of Benal’s pregnancy, he begs for forgiveness for not disclosing his prior relationship with her. However, before she can comply, he is gravely injured when trying to recover Zeynep’s father from the grip of a local crime gang. While he fought for his life at the hospital, Zeynep implores him to live so she can tell him that his deep love for her is reciprocated.
Preparing to say good-bye to her love
While at the hospital, Zeynep gets confirmation of the possible reality that Benal is carrying Mehdi’s child. Devastated with what it might mean for their relationship, Zeynep doesn't want to burden Mehdi with making a difficult choice between being a father and her husband. As Zeynep helps Mehdi to get back on his feet, she finally tells Mehdi about his paternity knowing that this may lead to their end. Shocked at his family’s complicit behavior in hiding this fact about the baby, and heart-broken that he cannot compel Zeynep to stay, Mehdi accepts that this is a rock in their relationship they are unlikely to overcome.
At the penultimate moment in the latest episode, Zeynep, who has become accustomed to suppressing her own desires for the benefit of others, finally acknowledges that her love for Mehdi is too great for her to simply walk away from him. For the first time in her adult life, she picks her heart over her conscience, perhaps appreciating the rare depth of love she shares with Mehdi. She cannot leave a man who does not hesitate to shelter her or try to please her, not for anything else other than to be loved back by her. In her entire life, she could not think of any relationship that was as selfless, especially with an important male figure. She realizes that she had always known in her heart that her home is in Mehdi's heart, and she was willing to fight for it.
When the search for home leads to the heart
DEK: A Complete Story
Through the lens of Zeynep and Mehdi wandering through the maze of their love, DEK offers a very relatable, complete story that essays so many different paths women find themselves on, that it seems there is something in there for everyone. All the characters are shaped by their history, their emotional burdens and how they relate to the important figures in their lives, or lack thereof. As each plot line unfolds, we learn to appreciate the characters in their opaqueness, with their flaws and imperfections. This exploration of the characters is Turkish drama at its best.
Mehdi & Zeynep, growing in their love
Ibrahim Celikkol as Mehdi provides a nuanced, deep performance where one can easily recognize an introverted, inexpressive man from the mahalle who finds himself in love for the first time in his life. Insecure in his rights in this love as the ghosts of his past cast a shadow, he is hesitant in how he expresses his love. Demet Ozdemir as the young, naïve Zeynep is fabulous in her role. She naturally embodies a character who is finally coming into her own and becoming self-aware within the competing pressures of expectations from those around her. She finds her strength in Mehdi’s love and genuine kindness. She becomes emboldened to define her fate as opposed to leaving the pen in someone else’s hands, as she is beginning to learn that there is no guilt in true love. Their relationship offers an authenticity in their lives they have never felt elsewhere, and both want to hold on to it with all that they have.
There is already a foreboding of difficult times ahead as every episode is punctuated with a broken Zeynep, speaking to her therapist about her past and her journey of love. It is evident that there will be many challenges when there is a slew of characters rooting for them to fail, driven by various vested interests. Nevertheless, it will be a joy for the audience to watch them grow in their love, however long it may last and whenever they return on screen.
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