This episode left in its wake a distraught fandom and the sadness is on multiple levels. Serkan’s broken hearted finale left many in tears, the subsequent ratings numbers were disappointing, which captures an evident fatigue in the pace of the storytelling in an otherwise stellar production so far. More than side plots and choppy editing, at the core of the disappointment is a loss of touch with the characterizations of Serkan and Eda we have come to love. Theirs is a passionate relationship that goes beyond a magnetic physical attraction. It is a meeting of equals at an intellectual, emotional and spiritual level as well. That sense of equality is less than evident for various choices in plot devices, and I wanted to delve into those in an attempt to articulate the mixed feelings felt by some of the most ardent fans of the show as well. I do this not to criticize an overworked team but to provide some avenues where the plot can be tightened with tweaks.
ETIQUETTE IN RELATIONSHIPS
In their newfound love, somehow we have quickly switched from two people who could discuss ideas to two people who can only take some stolen moments for some physical closeness. Serkan is a methodical professional who is good at compartmentalizing his life. As his father ends up in hospital, he doesn’t think to inform Eda or allow her to be a part of that process, as Selin is a more natural fit in that world. He does the same with Efe Ackman’s entrance into the company. With the collision of various factors such as the changed shareholding at the holding company and his father’s health, Serkan is out of sorts. Eda is his safe place, his home, and he wants to keep that space uncorrupted by the happenings in his professional world. He implores Selin for help but keeps Eda isolated.
Eda’s frustration is then understandable. She cannot really stand next to him and help him in constructive ways like Selin can, and she has been relegated to producing a piece of an important project but no one at the company sees her as anything more that Serkan’s pet project or his girlfriend. Without being a graduate, she is seen to have earned this position on a bias as opposed to on merit and this notion eats at her. Coupled with Serkan keeping her at an arm’s length on issues that are obviously important to him, she doesn’t feel included. When she expresses this by insisting on following through on her dream to go to Italy, Serkan combines a multitude of his aggravations and simply walks out on her without an explanation.
On the one hand, it is good that Eda perceives how upset Serkan is and decides to follow him, and it is also good that he embraces her as they give into their need for each other. In addition, it resolves in his declaration the next morning about his commitment to her dreams but it is still worrisome that this lack of communication is taking root so early in their relationship.
These mannerisms are red flags in any relationship, where our basic personality traits get reshaped to accommodate our partner. Fiery Eda has been replaced by a complacent Eda, whose greatest recent achievements seem to be her confession of love and a more professional wardrobe. Whether it is the portrayal, script or director’s vision, it flattens the character and makes it hard to relate to in the context of the trajectory we were on.
From Serkan’s perspective, giving Eda his heart is the biggest gift he can give, and he doesn’t want her involved or worrying about other aspects of his life. One cannot build a life-long relationship that way, where a partner is only desirable when it is convenient to one. Given the haphazard nature of how the plot flowed this week, it is difficult for me to discern if the writers meant to illustrate these possible fissures in a relationship that is under pressure from multiple directions.
A RELATIONSHIP UNDER PRESSURE
No sooner than our couple has finally united after 11 episodes of angst and repressed feelings, true to the dizi formula, we barely have one episode of bliss before a minefield has been laid out in front of them. There is the pressure of Serkan suddenly thrust upon his life’s goal of being the head of the holding while grappling with Efe Ackman, who is another Type A confident personality with ulterior motives and a contrasting leadership style. There is the pressure of needing to accommodate Selin and her thoughtless mistake so that, with her help, Serkan can protect the holding’s interests against the Efe/ Ferit coalition. There is the pressure from parent figures who are unsupportive of their relationship but who quickly figure out that their petty plans are futile. There is the pressure of a fallen Alptekin who finally musters the courage to tell Serkan the role his precious holding has played in destroying Eda’s life.
Amidst all these moving pieces, we spend an inordinate amount of time for Eda to finally come clean with her Aunt and, once again, fiery, confident Eda is replaced with a bland one who just reassures the aunt that she will not abandon her dreams for a man because she has been raised by Ayfer.
We also have a contradictory Serkan who has already made plans to be in Italy for Eda, citing his two months in London as an example from when he didn’t have a shaky holding company to worry about. After spending so much time with him worrying about his losing control of the holding, to suddenly have this Serkan park his professional aspirations for the sake of Eda’s educational dreams seem incongruent. His declaration that he cannot be without her is very sweet, but it doesn’t fit very well with the rest of Serkan’s expressed responsibilities. Even though the planned trip is two months away, Efe has already given a timeline of at least 6 months of being a partner.
Several romance plots take this route of showing the man to bend to accommodate the woman’s whims and desires. An innate belief is that the majority of the female audience likes to see a man change for his woman. In reality, the strongest desire is to see a relationship that is mutually accommodating, respectful and understanding. Women want partners, not subservient subjects. It is a difficult balance to portray, especially in shows that extend to nearly 2.5 hours every week, but the equality of the Serkan Eda dynamic was certainly my biggest draw into the show. In light of Serkan’s expanded role as the head of the holding, I hope this arc will be resolved in a good way as we progress into the story.
Eda’s statement “sometimes love is not enough” foreshadows what is coming their way. Even though Serkan says that chaos is good and can make them stronger, he said that with the confidence of knowing what kind the chaos could be. But it is the unknown that fells us and compels us to reach deep within to understand where our true boundaries are.
Within Serkan and Eda’s world, their love is innocent and pure. With the backdrop of extenuating circumstances, they found their soulmate in each other and their journey of acknowledging the same has been beautifully done. They see each other as being able to heal the other’s wounds. This implodes with the final revelation in this episode when Serken understands that his family is responsible for Eda’s life altering childhood loss of her parents. To learn that he is inadvertently the cause of the very wounds he wants to heal shatters the innocence of their love in irreparable ways. They can and will still find ways to be together, but the purity of their relationship so far is forever marred.
Kerem’s portrayal of an anguished Serkan as he realizes that their innocent love is lost and that it may mean that he has to let Eda go, is talent on steroids. Men crying on Turkish television is not new; some snivel uncontrollably in complete contradiction to their macho representation otherwise. Kerem has a controlled method that speaks to Serkan’s personality. One who is reluctant to express his feelings, but whose depth of feelings are overwhelming. One who has been lonely for much of his adult life and does not find peace in the arms of his parents. One who finally latched onto someone as being his partner for life, only to find that this rock is about to disappear. One who suddenly recognizes that, as Eda said, sometimes love may not be enough. Even though a heartbreaking scene, it is done so convincingly that it is the top note in this episode for me.
ARCS IN LOVE
One of my favorite exchanges in this episode is between Selin and Ferit, where Ferit tells her that even if his timing was poor, breaking up with her is not the wrong thing to do. He frames the statement in terms of where his limits are. This concept is monumental in any relationship. If we are unable to define our boundaries, we allow the other person to treat us the way they wish, which is what Selin did. I liked that it is the man who stood up for his feelings and even Selin could not argue with that. Her quiet acknowledgment of Ferit’s choice also speaks to Melo’s assessment of Selin - Selin is a good person. To err is human and they both made mistakes. It would be good to show a realistic progression of this dynamic as they are forced to work together some more. Over time, acrimonious relationships can become amicable, especially if neither had bad intentions to begin with.
Selin’s ego is hurt and being a PR specialist, she doesn’t want to be the one belittled in their society. How does she deal with the social fall out? As she gives into Serkan’s requests for her to stay, is she doing it in the hidden hopes of being with Serkan some day or to atone for her mistake in giving the shares away? Does she pounce on the storm Serkan and Eda are about to enter and continue her shtick of making Eda feel like an outsider? All is said to be fair in love and war - is this a route we are being prepped for? During her stint at the company, does Selin make peace with Ferit, who eventually realizes that he had only loved his vision of Selin? There are many interesting questions yet to be explored.
Judging from various fan reactions, I would say that trying to use Selin as the crutch for Serkan to move away from Eda will be received poorly. That whole arc has been overused already and trying to make it believable for Eda’s sake after promises made and words said will add to audience frustrations. Showing Serkan close himself off as he was before he met Eda is a far more realistic path and will keep the core audience still vested in the show.
PARENTS & LOVE
I am glad that we got a short-lived stint of crazy mother in laws because that is one arc I have become ALLERGIC to. It showcases the worst stereotypes in women and mother figures who supposedly do these things in the best interests of their child. It belittles the mindful parenting from the earlier versions of Ayfer, who raised Eda to think for herself and make her own mistakes. This power we give to our children cannot be discretionary. Either we give it or we don’t, and once we do, we cannot continue to undermine it in various ways. It is possible to showcase parents who empathize with the struggles of their children and truly try to guide them towards their best life.
In this, I have utmost respect for Alptekin in this episode. Even though he knows that he harbors the danger of losing Serkan altogether, he still tells Serkan the truth because it is not Alptekin’s decision to make. Father son relationships can be just as contentious as mother daughter relationships. The tension between the two men is palpable and I love that we are being shown Alptekin make genuine efforts to help heal their distance.
IMPEDIMENTS IN LOVE
We have anticipated the bend in the EdSer relationship as soon as it was revealed in Episode 11 that Apltekin is indirectly responsible for Eda’s parent’s death. Stories thrive on the conflict that arises from impossible situations and the beauty then resides in how the two people in love navigate such a situation to still find their way to each other.
Now that he knows the truth, 1) Serkan will either share the truth with Eda and spend the rest of his life trying to make her whole, or 2) he will distance himself from her and let her go so that she doesn’t have to live within the people responsible for her deepest loss. Both will cause Eda pain, but in Serkan’s assessment which will be the lesser of the two evils?
Literary formula and Serkan’s personality suggest that he takes option # 2, and he takes on the burden of the truth so that Eda can live her dream in Italy. It is a realistic way to deal with such a situation, but I will hope that we are shown enough plot devices that build the scenario such that Eda is able to make a mindful choice about being with Serkan or not.
While all adults and Serkan run circles around the truth in an effort to protect Eda, let her not be shown to be so fragile that she cannot internalize the truth and then make her own choice to leave or stay. It is an opportunity for feisty Eda to make a reappearance and establish that she loves Serkan for the person he is, and not for his family’s heritage. Future episodes still hold a lot of potential for the story to keep growing in positive ways.
THE ITALIAN LEATHER MAN
We have the grand entrance of Efe Ackman with his blend of Starsky & Hutch’s leather jacket and scruffy hair, and his fancy red Tesla (as opposed to the red Ford Gran Torino driven by Starsky). He is here on someone’s behest and given the incestuous nature of the characters so far, we can only assume it will be Grandma Yildirim (since Yildiz is a made up name). He is shown to be an affable man and, unlike Serkan, he does not take an authoritative stance while he is obviously well-known in his field as well. Given the possible connection to Grandma and his talent as a landscape architect, I wonder if he will end up having a family connection to Eda.
The thing I liked is that contrary to assumptions, Efe is not making Serkan unreasonably jealous, a trope that is overdone in romantic comedies. His space within the show is respectful so far, and also provides the opportunity for Eda to showcase that, despite her youth, she is not misguided about her love or easily swayed by personalities she might idolize otherwise.
Efe’s secondary purpose seems to be to help the audience see him as the contrast to Serkan’s personality. While Efe is an overt paragon of virtue, through the outbursts of Leyla, coupled with Serkan’s silent support of the orphanage from last week, we also get a broader picture of Serkan’s personality that confirms our understanding that, like a cactus, he’s really just thorny on the outside. Sometimes, it’s good to be reminded that all that glitters is not gold, and that diamonds in the rough are more rare.
BRANDING & MARKET POSITIONING
At this stage of the show, the audience for Sen Cal Kapimi is no longer growing in leaps and bounds. As shows come back or new shows hit the air, the fight is to keep the existing audience still vested and supportive of the show, with some incremental growth from audience members who may be disenchanted with competing shows. When a product cycle has reached the stage of diminishing returns i.e. the tail end of its curve, one needs to start thinking in terms of competitive positioning while remaining true to its core values. In this case, how can Sen Cal Kapimi remain true to the elements that drew the audience to this story in the first place?
As expected, this week Kurulus Osman stole the night with the return of its second season, and even their replay performed better than Sen Cal Kapimi. That is understandable as the audience tries to refresh their memory about the show. Sadaketsiz also had a great premiere because who doesn’t want to watch the empowering arc of “Hell Hath No Fury Like A Woman Scorned.” Next week, Show TV will premiere Seref Sozu on Wednesday, another highly anticipated show. As I have cautioned for the past month, just at the junction when Sen Cal Kapimi had to find an innovative turn in its story, it fell into the well trodden rut by other Turkish summer romcoms that begin to flounder at around this time. The team has been working all summer, they are tired and do not have stock episodes in inventory. An already tight schedule is further exacerbated by weather problems, pushing an overworked team to its limits, while its competition is fresh and has a number of episodes in stock or well sketched out. What options do they have?
Here I share some basic principles in marketing and competitive strategy. The Golden Rule in branding is simple: Do unto others as you would have done to you. When you have a captive audience, the way to keep and grow the pie is through respectful engagement with that audience. The audience for Sen Cal Kapimi are empaths with discerning taste. Much as the BTS and Instagram lives are entertaining, the reasons to watch the show reside in the strength of the plot and the expectations set. MF Yapim is trying to delight their audience by giving them something at the end of each episode but it has been falling short of the hype created about the surprise.
1) Don’t set expectations. We are far more delighted when genuine surprises come without an announcement. The announced surprise at the end of the episode angered the fandom because there wasn't anything new we hadn't seen before. Whereas this unexpected clip released the next day by the drone cam operator delighted the fandom beyond reason. And it isn't always love scenes that delights a loving audience.
2) Remain true to promises. If you have shown even a second of footage in the trailers, do not edit it out of the actual episode. Given the popularity of the show, fans are scrutinizing the trailers with a fine tooth comb and they understand when you have changed course, especially in scenes shared by Eda and Serkan.
3) Avoid audience fatigue. Kerem and Hande are doing an excellent job with their characters but over-exposure can lead to disenchantment. We are seeing BTS photos or trailers of almost all their outfits worn throughout the episode, allowing us to reconstruct much of the flow of the show ahead of time. Keep some elements of surprise for us to discover during the show.
4) Focus on one central idea. The audience disproportionately cares only about the Serkan Eda narrative. The rest are filler material and while the comedy or the realism in these complementary arcs are appreciated, focus cannot shift away from the Serkan Eda relationship and the ways their relationship grows. This episode gave mixed signals as I tried to highlight in sections above
5) Differentiate Sen Cal Kapimi’s winning strategy so far resides in its differentiation from how other romantic comedies have been told, rich with literary references and an emotional awareness by the main characters of each other’s aura. Both of these elements were missing in this episode while it coincided with common tropes of aggravating parents and potential jealousy arcs. An audience that is so vested in the show, these subtle changes do not go unnoticed
As a genre, Sen Cal Kapimi is the only romantic comedy that has been in top ten shows for the week in the past few weeks. Obviously, the Turkish audience has a preference for dramatic shows and the ways some of the new ones are pushing new boundaries. Within that threat, while the production quality is similar across the various genres, the way that Sen Cal Kapimi maintains its share of its audience is by treating its captive audience with the reverence it deserves. Separating Serkan and Eda for a prolonged period of time will drop the viewership numbers drastically. What this audience wants to see is for Serkan and Eda to fight for their love, as they internalize the ways fate has played with them. As Rumi says, “The wound is the place where the light enters you” and aligned with the story of hope so far, what the audience wants to see is how Serkan and Eda learn to allow the light to enter when life has left them with so many wounds.
I empathize with a team that is trying its best to put quality product out there. These are leaner times for them while the competition is endowed with rest, funding and a staggered start. During lean times, we need to become more efficient with the decisions we make and make each one count. If Sen Cal Kapimi had to put all its eggs in one basket, I would say it should put it into strengthening the dialogue, interaction and narrative between Serkan and Eda. Shortfalls in everything else will be easily forgiven.
Till we meet again.
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