Sefirin Kizi (Ambassador’s Daughter), one of the top performing dramas this season, is a Turkish style modern take on the Shakespearean tragedy, Othello. It narrates the broken love story of Sancar, a poor farmer’s son, and Nare, an Ambassador’s daughter, who share a legendary love that bloomed since childhood, from when Nare would spend summers in Mugla where Sancar lived. As she traveled in far flung countries during the year, their only means of keeping in touch were through heartfelt letters, with Nare sharing her varied experiences in a world beyond Sancar’s imagination. Over the years, they gained such a sense of ownership of each other that the differences in their socio-economic backgrounds, upbringing and socialization did not stop them from secretly getting engaged to be married. The rest of the story explores the divisions created by doubt, mistrust, lies, impulse, envy, despair and more, while the audience roots for the healing powers of love to reunite the star-crossed lovers against all worldly odds.
On the night of their Islamic wedding, Sancar consummates their marriage in his humble hut at the foothills of scenic mountains, only to find that Nare was not a virgin even though she had worn the red belt customary for Turkish brides as a symbolism of virginity. Devastated that Nare’s love was not as pure as Sancar’s, who had not even dared kiss Nare before the wedding, he viciously throws her out and remains deaf to her pleas that she had been raped by her adoptive brother, Akin, who in his obsession with Nare could not accept the idea of a village boor like Sancar having her. Since that night, Nare was nowhere to be found, with Akin telling Sancar that she ran off with a boyfriend from her travels.
Fast forward 9 years, and Sancar is now an incredibly successful businessman in partnership with his friend, Gediz. Their forefathers share a layered history, making their families connected in more ways than one. Sancar and his family comprising of his self-aggrandizing mother, Halise, his misguided younger brother Yahiya and his feisty wife Elvan, and his soft-hearted but handicapped sister Zehra, live in one of the biggest manors in the area. The self-proclaimed matriarch of the manor and its surrounding village, Halise is in the need of an heir. Yahya and Elvan have failed to produce a child after years of marriage, and Halise finally convinces Sancar to marry a villager whose mother and Halise are distantly related. With no hopes of reuniting with Nare, Sancar reluctantly agrees to marry Menekshe, who is determined to make Sancar forget his legendary love so she can secure her spot as the reigning queen of the manor. On the night of his wedding, Nare reappears with a daughter, hands her over to Sancar and asks him to assume full guardianship of Melek.
Through ensuing episodes and flashbacks, we come to learn that Nare is the only child of an emotionally tone-deaf and apathetic gambler father, who values his professional reputation over his daughter’s well-being. To finance his expensive lifestyle, Guven ‘adopted’ Akin, a socio-pathic orphan who had inherited a massive fortune, and is now obsessed with Nare. With Nare’s mother’s death in her late teens, she remained at the mercy of these two vultures, with her life’s only reprieve and escapism being with Sancar when they met over the summers. It became a time she wanted to protect and keep on as much of a happy note as possible. The summer before her 18th birthday, Sancar and Nare become engaged with an exchange of seashells as a symbol of their betrothal. At the party for her 18th birthday, Nare tells Akin about her upcoming marriage to Sancar, and he rapes her in her own room.
Guven, afraid of losing his reputation and the goose that lays the golden eggs, does not believe her nor allows Nare to press charges. He discredits her in front of the authorities when she lodges a complaint. Heart-broken, she escapes to Sancar expressing her desire to follow through with their wedding vows. She hides the fact about her rape to keep Sancar from becoming a murderer, whose village code of ethics rely upon old customs around revenge outside the purview of the law. Not having grown up in Turkey, she is unaware of the significance of the red belt and allows Sancar to put it on her before the marriage, thinking it is part of the traditional wedding garb.
Sancar also disbelieves her claims of rape and throws her out, vowing to never utter her name again. Much like Othello, he gives into his doubts about her fidelity during the months they were not together, which were later further fanned by falsehoods from Akin. Devastated, Nare jumps from the cliffs behind the hut, but miraculously survives. Guven and Akin take her away to Europe and she spends more than a year in hospitals and mental institutions, where she also gives birth to Melek.
Melek becomes Nare’s reason to survive, and a reminder that she can never forgive Sancar for having so little faith in them. The only person to have witnessed her tragic fall was Kavruk, Sancar’s childhood friend who is wise beyond his years or his station in life.
Despite her vow to never forgive Sancar, Nare is compelled to return to Mugla and ensure Melek’s safety with Sancar because she is convinced she will be arrested for murder after she stabbed Akin during a physical altercation caught on tape. She quietly accepts the verbal and physical abuse from Sancar, who is shocked with her return and the child. She encourages him to reluctantly establish paternity, as she feels she is running out of time. At the time, she was unaware that Akin had survived the attack and was already plotting ways to permanently separate them.
Sancar, who has worked very hard to get over Nare, is angry at himself to discover that he hasn’t. Internally conflicted about the thin line between right and wrong, truth and lies, and his ability to live with his choices, Engin Akyurek is simply fantastic in portraying the many shades of an aggressive, intelligent, kind-hearted, tortured, impulsive person who collects admiration and loathing in equal measures. Sancar lovingly assumes responsibility for Melek, resentful for having missed the first 9 years of her life, but consciously keeps Nare at an arm’s length. Unbeknownst to Nare, a year after their fateful wedding, Sancar had scraped enough funds to follow her to Montenegro where her father had been posted. Nare was still in the clinic at the time and Akin/ Guven use a malicious ruse to convince Sancar that Nare was married and living with the love of her life. Years of bitterness from betrayal and abandonment have created chasms between Sancar and Nare that seem impassable, now further aggravated by Sancar’s legal marriage to the heinous Menekshe.
The story unfolds in the gorgeous locales and olive groves of rustic Mugla, as these two wounded souls try to find ways to live for the future. Neslihan Atagul brilliantly portrays Nare as an incredible woman of strength who has been violated, abused or disappointed by the important men in her lives, but she is not defined by them. Nare can be knocked down but not taken out. She is a force of nature, as she rises again and again to protect her daughter’s future. Scarred in unimaginable ways, she has no hidden agenda to resurrect her relationship with Sancar, even though she has never betrayed their love with anyone else. She only wants Melek to have the strength of her father behind her, something Nare never had. Her resolve against Sancar is betrayed by the depth of her own feelings, and she is shattered to learn that Sancar consummated his relationship with Menekshe the night he bought his guardianship of Melek from the blood-thirsty Guven. Nare tries to erase Sancar from her heart but he is omnipresent in their lives as she seeks meaningful ways to co-parent Melek. And just when it seems that they may have a path forward, Sancar learns that Menekshe is pregnant.
The end of the current season coincided with the shutdowns imposed by the COVID pandemic, and the last scene was a parallel to how Sancar had thrown Nare out of his home on the night of the wedding when he learns of her lost virginity. As Nare learns of Sancar’s impending fatherhood through Menekshe, she realizes that she cannot impose the same single motherhood on Menekshe that she herself had endured. She cannot keep trying to contain Sancar’s impulsiveness to ensure Melek's future in the arms of a loving father. She cannot allow her home to become the ‘other’ house and for Melek to feel unequal to the legal heir of the Efe kingdom. And with all this raging in her heart, and in contrast to Sancar’s brutality, Nare gently takes Sancar’s hand, leads him out of her home, and tells him that she will never utter his name again. A very dramatic conclusion to 15 episodes of the audience experiencing the ebbs and flows of the Sancar/ Nare relationship.
As is customary for dizis, the series has a plethora of characters and sub-plots that showcase human strengths and fallacies in dramatic ways. With circuitous relationships and unrequited feelings typical of the genre, one character worth a special mention is Gediz, who is more of a brother to Sancar than his own sibling. Gediz is shown to have fallen in love with Nare from the time he met her by coincidence, but his admiration is not of an evil kind. He is not trying to separate Sancar nor employing underhanded methods to create a wedge between them. Used as a plot device to showcase the fragility and the strength of the connection Sancar and Nare share, Gediz is one of the most entertaining characters in the show, portrayed magnificently by Uraz Kaygilaroglu. He is suave, stylish, humorous and has an emotional intelligence atypical in dizi male characters. He and Nare share a special friendship, made strong by their similarly diverse educational and cultural upbringing. Nevertheless, both the viewers and Gediz recognize that the connection he and Nare share pales in comparison to the connection she has with Sancar, a child notwithstanding. People love who they love even if the relationship is not the most emotionelly healthy path for them.
Another character I love is that of Elvan (Hivda Zizan Alp). Despite growing up poor and an orphan, her strength of clear morals puts most of the characters to shame with their shades of grey. Elvan is indomitable in her abilities to laugh, love, believe and do what is right, even if it means that her personal life gets destroyed. The fact that she continues life with a smile on her face is both enlightening and empowering. She proves that growing up in poverty or a bad childhood cannot be justifiable reasons to become women like Halise, Menekshe and their ilk, who claw at whatever they feel is an obstacle to reaching their goals. By never losing herself, it is women like Elvan who get to the finish line with the biggest prize - their integrity. I look forward to watching her character grow through ensuing episodes.
From the first episode, Sefirin Kizi has been one of the top shows for Monday, frequently trading places for the top spot with Cukur, a hugely successful show on air with its third season. It portrays complex characters with a sensitivity that makes us introspect about the opaqueness of human flaws. It provides a deep study into forgiveness, not only of others but also of ourselves. It shows the journey of making peace with the past so one can focus on the future. It portrays the best and worst of stereotypical gender characterizations in literary works, against the backdrop of some conservative cultural norms prevalent in rural areas. Engin and Neslihan embody the tortured love story of pure souls who have been led astray by manipulative characters in their lives, and who also falter due to their own follies. The audience will have many theories for how the story will evolve from here, but there is unanimous consent that in these days of tragedy and unrest, it will be lovely to have a happy conclusion for Sancar, Nare and Melek.
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