by Paola Cesarini
“Cam Tavanlar” continues to offer excitement and substance week after week thanks to Meriç Acemi’s original script; the convincing interpretations of the two young protagonists; the solid performance of a brilliantly assorted cast; and the lack of trite and annoying rom-com tropes. The series remains a breath of fresh air in a summer season heavily populated by dejá vus.
RECAP AND ANALYSIS
Episode 3 opens where the previous one ends -- namely, with the passionate kiss between Leyla and Cem, which confirms beyond any lingering doubt their powerful reciprocal attraction. For the rest of the evening, he smiles to himself like an idiot, and she falls into a trance-like state each time they recall the kiss. These brief scenes cleverly illustrate the intoxicating power of infatuation from both sides of the relationship. Instead of focusing solely on the female protagonist’s perspective, “Cem Tavanlar” intelligently reveals both lovers’ inner worlds.
Next, the “Lujuria” gang goes to a club, where everyone has a great time. Leyla watches Aylin let loose on the dance floor. Here is a confident and sexy woman, who is perfectly comfortable in her own body and is not afraid to show it. Their conversation underscores other differences. Leyla is calm, controlled, prudent, and proper, while Aylin is temperamental, spontaneous, reckless, and wild. Indeed, while “Lujuria’s” chef dances energetically and fully enjoys the moment, Leyla only watches other people dance because she never lets herself go.
When she returns home from the club, Leyla finds Cem waiting for her in the foyer of their building. He invites her to his place for “coffee.” Their ardent reciprocal glances, however, indicate that their conversation is about everything BUT coffee:
Leyla: “Will [the coffee] be very hot?”
Cem: “Are you afraid of getting burned?”
Leyla: “I worry that it may cause insomnia.”
Cem: “Let the sleep disappear, we will think of things to do. Plus, after a sleepless night, the sunrise is even more beautiful.”
In a previous scene, a literary reference already provides a clue as to Leyla’s response to Cem’s invitation. The young woman, who often gifts books to the doorkeeper’s daughter, hands him George Sand’s “La Mare au Diable” (“The Devil’s Pool,” -- available in English at Project Gutenberg, or in French at LibriVox.) Based on Sand’s childhood memories, the novella features two women -- a young girl and a 30-something widow -- who intentionally decide to refuse marriage. Thus, despite her obvious longing, Leyla lets logic and caution prevail, and spends the night alone in her apartment.
Back at work the next day, Cem tells Haldun Bey to stop complaining about Leyla, since they only have themselves to blame for losing business to “Lujuria.” Firing the young woman in such haste effectively prevented an orderly management transition, during which he could have alerted clients to the upcoming changes. The fashion in which Cem unmasks Haldun’s hypocrisy is fabulous. At the same time, it is obvious that he can afford to be so direct with his boss on account of his privilege. As a successful businessman from a prominent family, he may risk his position at Q-PERA with little or no consequence. Anyone else, however, would be too afraid to jeopardize his/her livelihood.
Just when things are about to warm up, episode 3 introduces a subterfuge to create tension between Cem and Leyla. More precisely, Haldun Bey induces Leyla to believe that the young man is seeking to plagiarize her Q-PERA international business plan. This is, however, false since Cem is already working on a new proposal of his own. For the first time in this otherwise surprising series, Leyla’s negative reaction is entirely predictable. Perhaps because unscrupulous people routinely target women for intellectual theft, Leyla fails to give Cem the benefit of the doubt. Her past experiences have ostensibly fed her sense of insecurity. As a result, Leyla’s defense mechanisms are quick to deploy -- especially when Cem is involved.
Later, Cem and Iskender unexpectedly show up for dinner at “Lujuria.” Impressed by the atmosphere of Leyla’s restaurant and the delicious food, Cem is proud of Leyla. When he goes to the kitchen to congratulate Aylin, however, Leyla becomes jealous. Cornering him in the fridge, she attempts to start an argument. Cem, acting his usual mature and sincere self, professes confusion. He begs Leyla to be transparent about what she wants from him and leaves.
After dinner, Iskender visits Leyla for the first time since she left Q-PERA. They talk and Iskender makes a first timid attempt at a declaration. Having firmly placed him inside the “friend zone,” however, Leyla completely misses his advances. While Iskender’s visit is still ongoing, Cem appears unexpectedly at Leyla’s door bearing apples. It is now Cem’s turn to jump to conclusions. Blinded by jealousy, he offers to Iskender a transfer to London, which the latter immediately accepts.
The rest of the episode provides a frustrating sequence of ups and downs. In a nutshell, Cem presents to great acclaim his own international business plan to the members of the Q-PERA board, who previously denied Leyla a chance to present hers. Once again, “Cam Tavanlar” effectively illustrates the far more favorable standards, which the company applies to Cem based solely on the latter’s sex and social status.
Next, an unspecified regulatory body hires Leyla to evaluate Cem’s business plan. After reading it, Leyla is sincerely in awe of his professional acumen. Concluding that he never needed to steal her work, she goes to his place bearing two conciliatory apples. With the communication lines finally reopened, Cem is honest about his desire for Leyla and challenges her to ask him whatever she needs to dispel her doubts. Suddenly afraid, she decides to leave without posing any of the questions that are still burning in her mind.
When Haldun Bey intervenes once more to muddy the waters, Leyla decides to offer a negative review of Cem’s plan purely out of spite. In so doing, she effectively kills Q-PERA’s international expansion, as well as Iskender’s transfer. Leyla’s temper tantrum ostensibly contradicts her character and can only be explained as the impulsive response of a woman, who has been hurt far too many times in the past.
At the start of episode 4, Cem finds out about Leyla’s review and bars her from entering “Asude,” where Iskender has already set up their romantic dinner. The rivalry over Leyla is starting negatively to impact the budding friendship between Cem and the chef. Furious, she barges into Cem’s apartment to confront him. However, Leyla has no ground left to defend her deceitful evaluation of Cem’s work.
When Leyla realizes that “Lujuria” is on the verge of bankruptcy, Süreyya suggests that she should look for potential investors. Next, she introduces her to her ex-husband Teyfik Kumcu, who happens to be Cem’s grandfather. Notwithstanding their divorce, Süreyya and Teyfik have never been able to stay away from each other for too long. Theirs is a mutual attraction that seems to defy time. Leyla thus starts to wonder whether this is the future that awaits her and Cem.
In the end, Leyla decides to reject Teyfik’s financial support on account of the latter's close connection with Cem. Her vague explanation, however, causes Teyfik to realize that Leyla is none other than the object of Cem’s affection. The LeyCem ship thus acquires a powerful new supporter.
Also, Haldun’s wife Inci decides to help Leyla by organizing a media campaign on behalf of “Lujuria.” The two former college mates thus reunite to take the struggling Leyla under their protective wings. Unfortunately, this kind of collaboration is the exception rather than the rule in both real life and fiction. Inci’s and Süreyya’s benevolence towards Leyla and their rapprochement for her sake represent, therefore, a welcome turn of events.
In episodes 3 & 4, it becomes abundantly clear that Inci is in a psychologically abusive relationship with Haldun, whom Süreyya cleverly describes as a “toxic” man. Her financial dependence enables Haldun to insult and humiliate her at will. In one instance, he goes as far as telling her that she is not entitled to express her opinion unless the latter is in unequivocal support of her husband. Seeing Süreyya again, who is very much her own free woman, makes Inci realize how empty and submissive her life really is.
Leyla receives an unexpected visit from Mükü, her adoptive mother. While she is relieved to have someone to talk to, Leyla speaks about her woes without ever mentioning Cem. She does however confess that her mind is at war with her heart. Mükü then compares Leyla to a lobster. To grow, lobsters must first shed their older shells – i.e., their exoskeletons. After molting, the new shells remain soft for a time. The “naked” lobsters thus go into hiding until their shells firm up. Similarly, to grow into a full woman, Leyla must experience a period of vulnerability, during which she may question the principles, which she holds so dear. With time, however, she will reacquire the strength that is necessary to confront life’s never-ending challenges.
Cem requests to rent “Lujuria” to host a massive gala. In urgent need of funds, Leyla reluctantly accepts. Still angry on account of the rejected business plan, he appears intent on using the gala as a pretext to irritate her. In truth, he is upset with Leyla because she turned out to be less perfect than the woman he idealized for so long.
Initially, Leyla puts up with Cem’s bullying, but eventually draws the line when he summons her to the Q-PERA headquarters. Uncertain on whether to punish Leyla for her failure to show up to their meeting, Cem consults with his father and grandfather. Knowing full well the reason why Cem appears fixated on Leyla, they cleverly suggest that he should let the matter go.
The series then introduces another fitting literary reference. Upon returning home, Cem sees Cemal reading "White Nights” -- a short story by Russian legend Fyodor Dostoevsky. Published early in the writer's career, “White Nights” is recounted by a lonely, nameless narrator, who resides in Saint Petersburg. One day, he meets and instantly falls in love with a young woman. They strike a friendship, but his romantic feelings for her are destined to remain unrequited because she still loves her fiancée, who disappeared a year earlier. When the two lovers are finally reunited, the narrator ends up alone again. “White Nights” was adapted seven times for the cinema. First, by Luchino Visconti in “Le Notti Bianche” (1957), and most recently by James Grey in “Two Lovers” (2008.)
Finding parallels between Dostoevsky’s tale and his romance with Leyla, Cem describes the book as following:
“It is a good read, but it has also a sad side. It is about a great love that lasted only a couple of days. When the protagonist first sees the girl, he thinks that he has found the person with whom he will spend the rest of his life. As beautiful dreams start to take shape in his mind, however, she abandons him. So much remains unsaid. Can a great love be born in one day?”
This literary reference offers a revealing glimpse into Cem’s state of mind. He realizes that the root cause of his anger is his unfulfilled love for Leyla. Sadly, he too lived his love for only one day, before she rejected him. While his logic tells him that it is impossible to develop such strong feelings in such a short time, his heart suggests otherwise. Deep down, Cem still hopes that their love might get a second chance.
The next day, all hell breaks loose when Iskender and Aylin, whom Cem is forcing to work together for the gala, get into an epic fight. At the same time, Leyla and Cem accidentally lock themselves in “Lujuria’s” refrigerator. No one is around to come to their rescue and the two start to freeze. Cem takes a shivering Leyla in his arms in a vain attempt to warm and reassure her. Faced with death, Leyla confesses that she cannot trust anyone because she grew up alone. But what can Cem, who always had everything he could wish for, possibly know about loneliness?
It turns out, however, that Cem too grew up alone as an unwanted child (was he conceived out of wedlock?) and only recently reconnected with his family. Therefore, he fully understands why Leyla is so stubborn and proud. And why she has such a hard shell. At the same time, he believes that Leyla is far less alone than she thinks. Indeed, she is surrounded by lots of people who care about her and will soon come to her rescue. No one, however, is likely to notice his absence. Thus, while they may look different on the surface, Leyla and Cem are slowly coming to realize that they have a lot more in common than meets the eye.
The moving refrigerator scene features intensely skilled performances by Bensu Soral and Kubilay Aka, whose desperation, longing, and regret are very convincing indeed. Cem and Leyla embrace more tightly and start to cry when she reveals that she is afraid to fall asleep and never wake up. Cem promises that their story will not end like this. Even if their love lasted only for one day, those few hours to him are worth an entire lifetime. When Cem is unable to wake an unconscious Leyla, he panics. Throwing his entire body repeatedly against the door, he finds the strength to force it open. Then, as he carries Leyla to safety in his arms, she slowly regains consciousness.
First, episodes 3 & 4 of "Cam Tavanlar" reveal more about Cem & Leyla’s “love at first sight.” What they experienced years earlier was not a mere fantasy but a real, powerful, and fully reciprocal feeling. When their idyll came to a premature conclusion, Cem was left with an ocean of regret, while Leyla’s mind was filled with insecurity and distrust. However, they could never forget each other. Consequently, when they meet again, it takes very little for their passion to reignite.
Second, “Cam Tavanlar” appears to echo new scientific evidence suggesting that about 60 percent of people experience “love at first sight” at one time or another.
“People really do report experiencing love at first sight in the instant they encounter a person. It's a strong initial attraction that could later become a relationship… Strangers are more likely to report experiencing love at first sight with physically attractive others, … [and] men report love, at first sight, more often than women… [However,] ‘love at first sight is typically a one-sided phenomenon … [that] can happen multiple times in a person’s life. But when it does launch a sustained relationship, the story is usually a great one.”
Third, one has got to love a dizi, where the (unmarried) protagonists talk openly and honestly about making love. And in a fashion that is remarkably sincere, refreshing, and free of irritating virginal modesty or pretentious macho come-hither. In “Cam Tavanlar,” Cem is no predator and Leyla is no prey. They stand on equal ground, just like they are supposed to. Notwithstanding his sexy voice, Cem never ever pressures Leyla into lovemaking. Quite the opposite, he intentionally leaves her in control of what may happen next. Their interaction is a wonderful illustration of how a lover may manifest desire for his partner in a completely non-threatening fashion.
Fourth, far too often, Turkish dizis provide unrealistic representations of elderly and middle-aged women. They portray the former either as placid grandmothers or as über-villains. Middle-aged women, on the other hand, are often called to perform the role of irrational and/or controlling mothers, who torture their children, their spouses, and especially their daughters-in-law. When the female lead works together with an older woman, the latter usually feels threatened by the younger and more intelligent heroine and, in turn, undermines her at every turn. Inci and Süreyya offer instead positive models of reciprocal support at any age, as well as of constructive mentorship towards a younger woman.
Finally, “Cam Tavanlar” illustrates the interesting relationship between Süreyya and Teyfik. Since summer romcoms mostly feature actors at the peak of their youthful splendor, it is a nice surprise to see two mature adults engage in a tasteful flirtation.
Süreyya is one of the most original dizi characters of the season. Neither pretentious nor annoying, she speaks her mind based on her considerable experience with life and with men. She is in many ways Leyla’s alter ego. Careful and disillusioned far beyond her years, the young protagonist stands greatly to benefit from the influence of a well-intentioned and mature woman, whose life is remarkably drama-free.
During a revealing scene with Aylin and Leyla, Süreyya delivers a classic “He’s not that into you” moment. More specifically, she tells the young chef to dump her boyfriend since he is far less interested in her than she thinks.
When their conversation shifts to the nature of love, Leyla insists on a logical approach. She argues that any romantic relationship should allow participants to have their own space and interests. And that, before entering a relationship, she intends first to ascertain the true nature of her suitor’s interest. Süreyya, on the other hand, declares that true love leaves no room for anything else but one’s lover. Moreover, the older woman suggests that Leyla should enjoy the inebriation (and the fantasies) that love initially causes and leave all questions for later. Süreyya’s words clearly impress Leyla, who still secretly longs for Cem.
First, the succession of misunderstandings between Cem and Leyla regarding the international business plan was hard to believe. Why indeed would anyone hire a former disgruntled employee to evaluate the plan of the very company, which fired her just a short time earlier? And why would someone as successful as Leyla, who has always been careful to keep her personal life and career separate, suddenly decide to behave so unprofessionally?
Second, while her lobster allegory was nothing short of delightful, the series has yet to reveal much about Mükü, who adopted Leyla when she was orphaned. Why did she take Leyla on? How did she shape the young girl as she was growing up into a beautiful and talented young woman? What life experiences did she have? And what role does she still play in Leyla’s life?
Third, the fight between Aylin and Iskender was farcical but not necessarily funny. It would only make sense if the screenwriter designed it as the counterintuitive prelude to a budding relationship. Be it as it may, these characters deserve more depth – especially if their roles are to become increasingly important in the series.
Finally, the time has come for “Cam Tavanlar” to address Leyla’s internal contradictions. The series introduced her character as a strong and independent young woman, whose tenacity, sense of responsibility, and mettle appear unrivaled. Currently, however, such personality traits seem confined to her professional life. When it comes to love, she looks instead tentative, inconsistent, and naïve. Insisting on a split personality is not doing Leyla any favors vis-à-vis the audience. We, therefore, hope that her character will soon evolve in a more appealing direction.
“Cam Tavanlar” draws an important distinction between “love” and a “great love.” Moreover, the protagonists themselves openly question whether a “great love” can be born in one day. While the literary references to Sand and Dostoevsky express skepticism on the matter, the sentiments that Cem and Leyla experience in the series point to its legitimacy. Paradoxically, then, the fragility of their relationship is directly proportional to the intensity of their love.
Is nurturing a romantic interest into a loving relationship easier than negotiating the dangerous and unpredictable waters between an intense passion and a stable commitment? While “Cam Tavanlar” has yet to provide an answer, we fully expect this interesting series to continue exploring the question in a fashion that is both tasteful and intelligent.
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