O hushed October morning mild / Thy leaves have ripened to the fall / Tomorrow's wind, if it be wild / Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call / Tomorrow they may form and go / O hushed October morning mild / Begin the hours of this day slow / Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled / Beguile us in the way you know / Release one leaf at break of day / At noon release another leaf / One from our trees, one far away.Robert Frost
Son Yaz debuted with little fanfare in January of 2021, but slowly over time worked its way into the hearts and minds of both Turkish viewers and also has found an international audience. It is written by the same team that gave us Benim Tatli Yalanim and Günesin Kizlari, both family dramas, so it was a bit surprising that the team would take on a mafia show. However, the organized crime part of the story simply exists as a framework to place a complex and loving story of what family means, what it means to truly love someone, and how much work it takes to forgive transgressions against us, even though we may still love that person. With the show’s main themes being love, redemption, and second chances, the writers have orchestrated the characters arcs that are simply amazing and turned so many of the clichéd stereotypes of mafia dramas on their heads. We are blessed with writers who have given us flawed, complicated characters that we can both root for and, at times, dislike intensely.
This is no small feat. Genre shows tend to paint characters with broad strokes, we tend to know straight away where the characters each fall on the moral spectrum. What is so beautiful about Son Yaz is the lines between the moral boundaries get moved and throughout series one there are multiple characters that we might loathe at first but later love, and vice versa. The one truly ‘bad’ character has never been seen on camera, which is a great filming choice.
The casting for the show is exemplary, the acting is great, the setting of Izmir is beautiful and the writing elevates this show into one that that should be studied as the way to write fully actualized characters.
The action mostly takes place in Çeşme, a small resort town in the Izmir province of eastern Turkey. The removal of the action from Istanbul is useful to tone down the ‘mafia’ aspect of the story and also gives some added comedy of the ‘city’ boys being rivals to the ‘town’ boys.
The story opens with Selim Kara, a well-regarded state prosecutor, coming to see a mafia bigwig he put away 8 years ago. The man, Selcuk Taskin, tells him that he will agree to turn state’s evidence and give information about the current head of the mafia family he used to be in charge of, Khalil Sadi. The one condition he has is that Selim must look after his 20-year-old son Akgün who is heading down the same path. Selim agrees as the information that Selcuk has would allow him to put away the entire organization.
Selcuk's son, Akgün Gökalp Taskin, has indeed gone down a bad path, he is involved in a nightclub and is fighting with the son of Khalil Sadi, Soner. Soner wants a piece of the house for the nightclub and tries to make Akgün sign an agreement. Akgün stabs the pen through his hand and takes off.
Selim catches up with him and takes him to a safe house/hotel but Sadi’s men find him and Selim has to spirit him away. As they are driving Selim gets a call from his wife Canan, who reminds him that it’s their son’s birthday and he had promised to come to Çeşme, where she and their two children live. He tells her that he’s not going to be able to come because of work and she tells him that she wants a divorce. Enraged he decides to drive to Çeşme with Akgün in tow.
Akgün is bewildered at this turn of events and just wants to go back to Istanbul, but Selim eventually tells him that he can’t because his father is going to be testifying against the mob family and they will use Akgün as leverage to make sure that doesn’t happen. Akgün can’t believe his father would do that, and he’s angry as this goes against the code that he grew up with. Selim makes him see that his father is sacrificing so Akgün can have a better life and get away from the mafia. This is the ‘mafia’ part of the story but in reality, it isn’t the main storyline for the series, the real story is of the creation of a new Yara family that includes Akgün, the forging of loves stories both new and old, and the ever-changing dynamic between Selim and Akgün.
The two of them set up house next door to Selim’s wife Canan, and their children Yagmur and Altay. Yagmur is starting university and is dating a local boy named Kaan, and Altay is in high school. Canan is trying to set up her own law office after being out of the workforce for a long time. There is an instant attraction between Yagmur and Akgün, even though she doesn’t like him very much at first, and her eventual love is the catalyst for Akgün to want to leave the path his father followed and to go ‘straight’.
Selim has been absent from his family’s life for many years and in his absence is deeply felt by Canan and their children, Altay misses his father terribly, while Yagmur has grown distant and angry with her father. Selim’s journey through the course of season one is to reconcile with his wife and children. It’s not easy at first, there’s a lot of anger and resentment, but it comes to light that one of the main problems in all their relationships is Selim’s deep-seated feelings of inadequacy. He has never felt good enough for Canan and doesn’t feel like he deserves a life with their children. We find out later that his father was in organized crime, but he has always just told his family that his father was dead. These revelations bring Selim closer to Canan and their children, as Akgün suggested that they would.
This also reveals the parallel paths the Selim in the past and Akgün in the present are trying to navigate. Both have very similar pasts and both are intelligent, good-hearted men trying to move beyond their histories. The story is an old one, the ‘bad boy’ is redeemed by the love of a good woman, a tale as old as time. However, the women in question here, Canan and Yagmur, are fully formed characters in their own right, with their own desires and ideals, and do not solely serve to be love objects for the men. This is one of the main places where the writing for Son Yaz is elevated above the usual fare in this genre. The women characters are as interesting as the men, they have as much to do in the story, and they have faults and virtues equally, just as the male characters do. How refreshing to have a series, especially one that is centred in a genre that is so male-centric, have realistic, fully-formed female characters.
And the writing for the female characters isn’t the only surprise. Multiple characters go through realistic transformations through the course of the season and they provide some profound treatises on stereotypes, archetypes, roles in stories, and how to realistically redeem a character. Soner, Metin, Naz, Akgün, Kaan, Kaan’s mother, even Fatih.
It is the characters and the realistic progressions of relationships that have made that series so interesting and just when one thinks they’ve figured a character out, they make different decisions or change their minds and we are shown a new side for that character. It has meant that the characters can progress and the actors can display a range of emotions and motivations. It is a powerful testament to the writing staff that they make these changes to the characters believable and organic and never does one feel that they are having the characters change to serve the plot.
The Main Characters
Canan Kara (Funda Eryigit) is also a lawyer but has been out of the workforce raising her children and is very nervous about getting back to work, but Yagmur pushes her. She is the glue that holds her family together and she loves Selim even after he has abandoned the family for several years. They have a very fiery relationship, and Selim has to work on not feeling that he’s good enough for her, but they have a real, believable journey back to being together. Canan, unlike so many of the women characters in this genre of dizi, is a fully formed character, with good and bad traits and the second chance she gets with Selim is beautiful. She and her daughter Yagmur also have an amazing relationship and as she had her very young, they bascially grew up together. She understands her daughter's love for Akgün very well as she lived the same young love with Selim.
Selim Kara (Ali Atay) is a well-regarded prosecutor who is working to take down an organized crime syndicate. He is prone to anger and has a deep-seated inferiority complex, that causes him to be manipulative and argumentative. He believes strongly in what he is doing and that anything that serves his work is necessary, even spending years away from his family. He loves Canan and their kids deeply but can’t relate to them and has a hard time finding a place with them. Throughout the season he opens up about his insecurities to Canan and tells their kids about his upbringing and it forges a much stronger bond between them. He also forges an unexpected father/son bond with Akgün, they are very much alike in reality, and this bond helps each of them to stay alive and understand themselves better.
Akgün Gökalp Taskin (Alperen Duymaz) is a young man whose mafia father has been in prison for many years. He also lost his mother to a shooting that he witnessed at age 10 or so. This has created a deep craving for a family of his own and he goes about manifesting that by getting himself adopted into the Kara family. He is the ultimate bad boy with a heart of gold and Alperen Duymaz plays the deep longings that Akgün feels beautifully. The one issue with Alperen playing Akgün is that at 28 years old he is too old to be playing a 20-21-year-old. But he captures the combination of naivety and swagger of a young man magnificently and he is tremendous in this role. This kind of character isn’t unique, the angry young man who becomes a criminal because it’s all he knows, but the writers have expanded on the possibilities of this part and created a man who wears his heart on his sleeve, can articulate his wants and needs, and is emotionally mature enough to understand himself and to grow out of his position in life/society.
Yagmur Kara (Hafsanur Sancaktutan) is the oldest child of Selim and Canan and is determined to follow her parents into the law. She is smart and steadfast and isn’t happy to see her father again or meet Akgün, at first. She too is affected by the loss of a parent, one who has chosen to stay away, and it creates a bond between her and Akgün. She is practical and honest and is able to get Akgün to think more rationally, because she doens't let him deride himself, but also shows him a different way to view the world. She doens't 'change' him but allows him the opportunity to be vunerable and make more balanced decisions. She comes to love him completely and they plan for a future together.
Watching a show in this genre some certain tropes and clichés are likely to crop up, and Son Yaz is no different. However, the gangster story is only a framework to hang what is actually a series of love stories and stories about friendship and redemption.
The writing team of Son Yaz, comprised of seasoned writers Cenk Bogatur, Deniz Dargi, and Cem Görgoç, excel at writing complex, believable characters and have elevated a male-dominated kind of show to something more nuanced and more focused on the relationships between all of the characters. There are car chases and shootouts, sure, but the family and relationship dynamics are much more important. Nor is it a show about one character, so while the focus is on the four main leads there is lots of story revolving around the secondary characters. This allows for many kinds of relationships to be developed, familial, romantic, and otherwise. This was a pleasant surprise, this kind of show does tend to be male-centric, the female characters are mostly relegated to love interest, and the mafia plotline is the centre of the story. This is not true for Son Yaz, all the characters are fleshed out, the female characters have as much agency as the male characters, and it’s love, honesty, redemption, and family that are the main storylines. Given the writers’ resumés, they have written family dramas in the past, this focus on the characters over the plot should not be surprising, it’s just unexpected in a mob story.
The writers are also exceptional at given us characters that we both love and hate at different points. The perfect example is that Soner is presented as Akgün's rival, he is the son of the mob boss that Akgün’s father is helping put away, and the two young men seemingly hate one another. However, by the end of season one, they have become brothers and support and love one another. One of the funniest running jokes is that Akgün hugs him too much and for too long. Soner falls in love with Naz, Yagmur’s cousin, but being more practical and less dreamy than Akgün sees that the relationship is impossible given who they each are.
This is just one example of secondary characters we can see as villainous or problematic, there are others like Metin, Kaan, or even Fatih who are allowed to be flawed, who do bad things but show regret and make amends, this kind of exploration of characters growth is amazing and unexpected, generally secondary characters have their role in the narrative and do not deviate from their assigned roles. Son Yaz writers allow for each character to exhibit all the human characteristics that real people possess and therefore be fully actualized people.
For a mafia show there is a suprising amount of humour throughout Son Yaz, mostly coming from how Alperen Duymaz plays Akgün. His twitchy delivery and good physical comedy bring an a lightness to many scenes. He relentlessly hugs both Soner and Selim, much to those character's discomfort, there are several car chases where he and other characters have significant conversations while been chased or shot at, and the actor isn't shy about making this macho character be a little goofy.
When first promoted last January it appears as if Son Yaz would simply be another mobster dizi, so I hadn’t planned on watching given that it’s a genre that is over-represented in Turkish television and is one that I’m a little tired of. It’s a wonderful thing when something truly surprises you and Son Yaz, a sleeper hit on Fox, is one of those things. I wasn’t going to even bother to check it out, I figured it was just another mafia dizi and would be full of guns and machismo. I couldn’t have been more wrong. And while on the surface the story has elements of an organized crime story the real story is of family, both real and created. The writing for the dizi is superb and all the characters are allowed to be complex and capricious.
It took me a few episodes to get into the series, Selim screamed too much, and it seemed as if the younger male characters would fall into the stereotype mob roles. But once the relationships between Selim and Canan, and Yagmur and Akgün started to develop, and the secondary characters turned out to be interesting and not two-dimensional my interest was peaked. Then a rare thing happened, the writers kept surprising me, enemies became the best of friends, angry young men were allowed to think logically and not just react violently, the women characters were allowed to have faults and have interests outside of their partners, and male friendships were valued and celebrated. So, Son Yaz became something unexpected, a character-driven show that elevated the genre it was based in and created a show that was greater than the sum of its parts.
It has provided some of the most entertaining and engaging television in the winter/spring season.
Season two is set to begin and the location has moved back to Istanbul and a good portion of the secondary characters have been shed. The loss of Funda Eryigit as Canan is a big loss, and it seems as if her death has fractured a lot of bonds between the main characters. It remains to be seen if they can maintain the exceptional storytelling and heart of Son Yaz with her absence and the change in focus to the Istanbul mob family. There are several new cast additions including the amazing Birce Akalay (Siyah Beyaz Aşk) as an intelligence officer forced to work with Selim. Changes such as these are both necessary to keep the show from becoming stagnant but are also worrisome because they may result in the loss of the original magic of the series. I will be following the show with great interest as it was the one show I felt always stays true to its original vision.
Son Yaz Season 2 will begin airing on Saturday, September 18th on FOX.