I find I am no longer able to provide detailed reviews of a single episode as it stands because what we see on screen each week is a culmination of the characters and the story from weeks prior, and the emotions I experience are not just a simple reaction to what transpires on screen for the 140 minutes of this week’s plots.
As I mentioned last week, episodes 22 and, particularly, 23 made it obvious that the characterizations of Serkan and Eda had moved too far away from the characters we had come to know. It proved that writers are not fungible. With Ayse back for this episode, the subtle but important changes recovered a Serkan who is a health nut, who is a discerning businessman when faced with complex situations, an Eda who can look at Serkan adoringly without suspicion even while the world crashes around her with the arrival of Babanne, and small moments where we see their earlier camaraderie from during their process of falling in love. We see them deciding to weather their current challenges together, with the promise of making a decision about their relationship on New Year’s Eve.
With threats from Babanne looming large, and Balca at the edge of the loony bin, we get many long-awaited moments of Serkan and Eda having exchanges that is not mired in resentment or guilt. This brought us closer than we have been for 10+ weeks, to the #EdSer we fell in love with.
Within these improvements, there are still relationship dynamics and plot choices that made me wonder why I had deeply loved the earlier episodes without reservation but cannot relate to the recent ones in the same way. And while I provide my thoughts on the current episode, I will also embed supporting musings on why I feel a sense of conflict.
LOVE: A MUTUAL NEED
One of the running themes in my musings is the need for fairness and equity in a relationship. The stories I respect the most are where both the men and women are shown to have realistic flaws, and they both have to work to overcome their weaknesses to get the object of their desire.
Many stories adopt the fallacy that the primarily female audience for this genre only wish to see the man reform and adapt to become worthy of the woman’s love. In practice, such female characters often appear self-absorbed and emotionally tone-deaf, and the male characters become unrealistic. When I read the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer, and wondered why the story had become so popular, I surmised that she had to invent a 150 year old vampire as the perfect man, because obviously such men do not exist in flesh and blood in the modern world (I am being tongue in cheek for those Twilight fans out there).
Similarly, what had seemed as a fair and equitable relationship in the earlier episodes of Sen Cal Kapimi seems to have fallen into the same danger of keeping the female character rigidly static while the male character evolves dramatically around her. After all that they have been through, Eda’s inability to connect Serkan’s emotional state to his childhood issues and then appreciate how many steps he has taken towards her, portrays her as being self-absorbed and far from the empathic, compassionate girl who understands the pulse of the people around her.
Eda has been in this state for several episodes but it is most noticeable in Episodes 20 – 24, where Serkan has laid himself bare but Eda is not shown to have commensurate growth in trying to meet him halfway. The plot devices used to feed her confusion seem too flimsy against the power of their love we came to believe. For example, Serkan not showing up at the restaurant, which he explains; Ayfer commanding her to stay away from Serkan when Eda has already demonstrated selective listening skills; Eda still having trust issues because Serkan let go of her hand, which he also painfully explains. While we grapple to understand Eda’s choices, even though Serkan has been there by her side after he ‘separated’, script choices have only Eda deliver the line “Even after everything you put me through, I am always by your side.”
The simplicity of this scene above, of Serkan making her smile with "Eda Bolat" beautifully captures that even after all the ways Eda has been mistreating Serkan, he is also by her side.
Serkan’s separation was a misguided act of love, but an act of love nevertheless. After all the truths that have finally surfaced about Alptekin’s culpability, both in Eda’s parents’ death and in Serkan’s ruined childhood, Eda cannot move past blaming Serkan for the separation. She cannot take a step towards her beloved and express to him how much she has missed him.
To add insult to injury, now with Babanne’s loud threats, she is worried how Serkan may get destroyed because of Babanne’s viciousness and to protect him, she wants to step away. After creating all this ruckus with Serkan for his choice of letting her go to protect her, she is coming back with the same option. And the decisive Eda, who had no qualms about going up in front of hundreds of people to kiss a relative stranger, now cannot make up her mind about whether she is standing up to Babanne or running away from Serkan.
At its crux, I find this character evolution to be a regression of the Eda we had come to love. An Eda who was all heart and kindness, bold and impulsive, and who was never obtuse about the strength of the attraction between her and Serkan. In addition, he has left no doubt in his actions, nor words, about how much he is committed to Eda, and how important she is to him. This over-compensation from the male character, whom we loved and respected with all his flaws, is also a far cry from the characterization of the original sketch of Serkan, who is a strong-willed, intelligent, rigid but loving man. Over time, we expect his rigidity to lessen but his character has no need to reinvent himself as many of his qualities are greatly admirable as they were.
Within this backdrop, even though I appreciate that #EdSer finally had some much-needed dialogue between them that is not laced with animosity, I found the following exchange to be sadly lacking.
VC: @authorsanem/ twitter
He is telling Eda that ‘you removed your hand from my heart and I don’t feel you anymore’. He tells her, "neither can I go back to the machine I used to be nor bear the weight of being away from you" and despite all that they have been through, all the loneliness he has suffered as he isolated himself from his family, she still maintains a perceptible distance, with her current excuse being that she is unsettled by Babanne. Her mild overtures of shaving his face and straightening his tie are cute, wifely things to do but far less than their (non)-relationship demands based on where they are.
Fans of the show love both the characters and to watch several episodes of one character getting the shorter end of the stick due to precarious reasons is making us weary. Conflict is necessary for plot movement but to have only 2 episodes of togetherness in a romcom series of 24 i.e. have the main couple not be a proper couple for more than 90% of the show is an unbalanced approach to the genre. Even though we saw glimpses of the old Eda in this episode, in the ways she pokes fun at Serkan, in her admiration of his support, her goading him with Balca, the way she waits for him at the party, and hugs him on the balcony, the way she looks at him when she gets the bracelet, it still remains a distance away from the Eda she needs to be to match the evolved and enlightened Serkan.
As Orson Scott Card said,
“A character is what he does, yes – but even more, a character is what he means to do.”
While in Kerem’s depiction of Serkan, his intentions are clear, Eda remains an unpredictable, confused and confusing mystery, because neither her actions nor her words make it clear what is it that she really wants. She enjoys marking her territory with Serkan, especially around Balca, but she is not shown to be a real partner to him. She becomes all feisty against Babanne and portrays an Eda who is not cowered by her threats, but in private, she keeps making noises to Serkan about stepping away. The Eda we love has every reason to believe in her love, and fight for it while holding Serkan’s hands proudly. The Eda we admire needs to make her man feel her love in every pore of his body because he has left no doubt that that is how he feels about her.
I often need to mediate between my bickering children, nearly a decade apart in age, and remind both that intent is insufficient; content and delivery matters. We have been circling communication issues between Serkan and Eda for several episodes now. While we see Serkan be effusive with his declarations of love, Eda stands like a stone. In this episode, as Eda tries to take a few steps towards him, Serkan is almost unsure about how he should respond. Two of the skits that seemed a throwback to their days of not knowing how the other feels about them, were:
1) Kiss the Bust
Eda is staying overnight with Serkan, he just sees her in the bathtub, and she comes down in her PJs. Serkan amorous strain from a few minutes prior is now buried in some design for a museum. How ironic that his gift from Balca is a bust, and Eda cannot get enough of the absurdity.
Serkan looks mildly embarrassed because even though the words are not said, it is now obvious that Balca is anything but professional. Eda pokes fun at Serkan, and there’s a hint of an invitation in how she says goodnight. She even kisses the bust, as she looks suggestively at Serkan, but Serkan does not take a step towards her. Perhaps because she is yet to agree to be with him for a fresh start on New Year’s Eve and he cannot take advantage of her confused state regarding Babanne.
1) Small Steps With Long Shadows
Eda presents Serkan a rare edition of The Little Prince, with a drawing she has done herself, showing a little boy walking towards the light, casting a big shadow behind him. It can be seen as a symbol of what Eda feels about Serkan – someone who casts a long shadow with the little steps he has taken, and she remains under that shadow. Again, for a skit that captures so much depth from their history together, citing a book that Serkan’s estranged father gifted him for every birthday, and a book that had the quote Eda used to finally connect with Serkan, the scene dissolves into a nervous parting, almost as though the writers were not ready to take advantage of such a momentous scene between a couple painfully separated for so long.
These unfulfilled skits give us hints of their love, and we understand that their intent is to honor their love, but neither is expressing it in a timely fashion where the two of them move together. The string of missed opportunities is painful to fans who got drawn into the story because of the promised love between the two.
In contrast, Ferit and Ceren get a restart to their relationship by re-enacting their first meeting and pretending that the slate has been wiped clean. Sometimes, a simple answer like this is far more appeasing to an audience rather than a stretched-out arc in a plot that has lost its elasticity.
The character development in episodes 1 – 12 is so well done that not only did we allow the characters into our living rooms, we let them into our hearts. Serkan’s logical but sensitive persona and Eda’s impulsive but kind-hearted flower girl, each with a coherent back story for why they were who they were, were perfect complements to each other. Each episode offered us new facets of their characteristics.
I found this quote by Lauren Sapala, in her blog post titled, “Peel Back The Mask Of Your Protagonist”, where she says:
Think of your character as a jewel that has about a thousand different facets. If you keep turning them over and exploring new sides, you’ll keep discovering new information about their personality and motivations. And there’s always another way to turn things.
I felt this tool was exercised fully in those first episodes, but the multi-dimensional approach to the characters diminished from when they parted ways at the end of Episode 14. The most memorable plot device in the ensuing 5 episodes was Eda standing next to Serkan when the explosion happens, and he realizes that Eda is the only person who believed in him. The momentum of the story we fell for, all but disappeared. Some of it came back in this episode with increased communication between Serkan and Eda, and opportunities to see aspects of Serkan not cloaked in guilt or shame. I hope the trend continues in a positive direction.
WORTHINESS OF CHARACTERS
While we get some much needed progress in the #EdSer arc, antithetically there are ancillary additions to the story that demonstrate a step back from building multidimensional characters . For all her faults, I have often said that Selin was a very realistic character until her depiction became unredeemable, perhaps with the knowledge that Bige wished to leave. Efe also had a purpose and delivered to that purpose with cohesion.
As a ‘replacement’ we have Balca and her con artist of a friend (who quickly puts away her laptop and switches over to the clairvoyant she pretends to be as she watches Balca walk towards her home). Almost like a bomb that falls on an unsuspecting crowd, Balca and her craziness has dropped like a nonsensical bomb that does not relate at all to the layers of the story built thus far. There is no depth to her sudden obsessive love for Serkan, and even less depth to her unprofessionalism as a PR specialist. In short, she is a caricature of a character that seems a misfit to the rest of the story. I can almost see her leaving a boiling rabbit in Serkan’s kitchen (for those of you who have watched Fatal Attraction). Even Erdem serves his well-executed purposed of being the comic relief for the show.
Once again, asking the simple question of ‘what is a character meant to do?”, Balca does not serve the purpose I had initially imagined, which is to help Eda see that she should not abandon Serkan at will. Instead, she presents herself as a visual apparition, who is far removed from the other, well thought out female characters. Her exit should be just as abrupt as her entry, and soon; no one will miss her. To help out the writers, here’s a scenario – have her go out to the street hailing a taxi, she slips on a banana peel and the said taxi is unable to stop in time. Effective, short and incredibly satisfying!
Babanne is a welcome addition to the cast and story, her threat hanging like a Damocles sword since the beginning of the series. She’s been woven into various layers over time, establishing within the first few minutes of her arrival why both Eda and Ayfer have valid reasons to erase her from their lives. Setting aside the precarious notion that she waits 20 years to make her move to be closer to her family, she comes with the desire to control Eda’s future, laying down rules about her relationship with Serkan and who she must meet and marry.
She is typical of a woman who clawed her way to the top and will not take no for an answer. She lost her children because of her stubborn pride, and unlike what I had assumed, this many years of loneliness did not soften her soul. It is interesting that it is Serkan who recognizes her as a worthy adversary. She is hard-working and meticulous, and her mission of destroying the Bolats is understood. It is obvious that the woman does not understand the meaning of love, and perhaps it will be poetic justice if Serkan is the one who teaches her what it means to love.
Her walking in with her own throne is her symbol of power and her method for testing Serkan to see what he reacts to. Even though Serkan says he is no longer the ‘old Serkan’, the way he deals with Babanne is the epitome of the old Serkan – intelligently assessing his opponent and separating emotions from logic as he methodically strengthens his alliance with his employees and partners. He has been thorough in building his business, and he knows that if his team is on the top of their game, Babanne will not find the cracks she’s looking for. The one thing unlike the old Serkan is that this time, he has empowered his team to do their individual parts instead of desiring to micro-manage everything.
If done right, the battle of wills between Babanne and Serkan could be a sight to behold. Eda is merely the pawn between them but Eda has the potential to undermine Serkan’s effort by thinking that she can contain Babanne by yielding to her will. Serkan would never want Eda to yield and, in addition to stepping up her game in being a true partner to Serkan, this is an opportunity for Eda demonstrate the blind trust in Serkan he is asking for. He is clear in his head that if Eda is truly by his side, there is no force on Earth that can stop them. Things could be fun if they conspire against Babanne but outwardly manage to convince her otherwise.
I left this section till the very end because it has taken me the longest to internalize this loss. The fans were elated to know that Ayse and her writing team was back at the helm, and several of the small details about #EdSer that had seemed dissonant in episodes 22-23 were smoothed over in this episode. This elation lasted until the last third of the show, when Ayse announced on twitter that this is the last episode she will be working on. The characters we have come to love so deeply over the last 6 months are a manifestation of her imagination, and now to have a different set of writers acquiring the characters seem like they are being handed off to adoptive parents, and we don’t know if these new parents can provide the same loving home.
In an interview with Ezgi Mola, Kerem Bursin had said that sometimes the easier something looks, the harder it actually is. The romance trope in Sen Cal Kapimi is not new. Rigid, rich boy meets exuberant, poor girl, who teaches him about love and they find their soul mates in each other. As Kerem implies in this interview, the secret sauce is in how the story is brought together, which requires finesse and a delicate touch.
VC: North America TEN/ YouTube
Ayse has a magical touch in how she creates the softness in her characters. Subtle mannerisms, a quiet caress, a well-placed kiss, an unfiltered look of admiration, a spontaneity in the expression of a love that cannot be contained, Serkan’s idiosyncrasies, Eda’s ability to embrace people with love, are all shown with a poetic undertone in how the scenes come together.
Even though Episodes 14 – 21 are not my favorites, the inner softness in #EdSer remained a constant. Their deep affection for each other, Eda’s ability to still stand next to Serkan even when she believed he didn’t want her, Serkan’s inability to leave her side even when logic dictated otherwise - were slow in progression but evident. That is because these characters live within Ayse and the love with which she nourished them translated into nuances that made Serkan and Eda bigger than life. In this episode, this is best captured in this scene towards the end of the episode:
I had experienced a similar magic in the earlier episodes of Erkenci Kus as well, where Ayse also left partway through the show. My perception is that the dizi world has become a hard, competitive place, where the filmmaking schedules put incredible pressure on the cast and crew. Writing for two 140 minute episodes per week can get very exhausting, and just in the past week, we also had writers from Sefirin Kizi step away, citing a need for a break. Hercai has cycled through many writers as well (a total of 11 writers across 3 seasons), as have many of the other current dizis. It seems the days of having a primary writer for the whole series is getting tougher. Ece Yorenc was the writer for 76 (of 77) episodes of Medcezir (2013 – 2015), all 80 episodes of a classic like Kuzey Guney (2011 – 2013) but she didn’t complete all of Cesur ve Guzel (2016) . As audience engagement has increased and producers make a concerted effort to conquer the ratings game, perhaps the commitment to a writer’s vision has become less important. Also, perhaps, not everyone has the fortitude to adapt to the competing pressures of making the producers and the audience happy.
Though I can understand the economic pressures, it makes me sad that productions may compromise on the soul of a story, which is the hallmark of Turkish dizis. The pattern of lengthening plots for economic gain is turning many fans towards K-dramas because of their contained but layered storytelling. Maybe we will see a reversion to the mean when fans become unwilling to continue watching shows that cannot maintain a cohesive spine to the story or the increasingly successful digital platforms, where the full series gets written before filming ever starts, force a change in how network TV operates.
VC: @Denny85844730 / Twitter
Knowing that Ayse and her team no longer remains with Sen Cal Kapimi leaves a fandom feeling bereft, especially since so many of us started the journey because of her prior work with Erkenci Kus. She is unmatched in the symbolism she incorporates into her narrative, and just as the glass container broke and destroyed one of the most poignant mementos of the #EdSer relationship, it is as though Ayse broke her ties with the magical journey she had created for us. We can only hope that her departure will be short-lived or her legacy will be honored with deep attention to the details she made important in building a beautiful love story.
Till we meet again.
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A special thanks to everyone who chimed in with ideas as I went through my musings. My twitter world is my happy place. You know who you are.