Going into the new year, Maraşlı was one of the most anticipated projects, mainly because the project is helmed by one of Turkey's very best screenwriters, Ethem Özışık. Surely, it didn't hurt either that fan favorites Burak Deniz and Alina Boz were also attached to star in the TIMS&B production.
The series premiered to much fanfare on Monday, January 11, and ever since, the buzz has been palpable.
WARNING: MAJOR PLOT SPOILERS
The series opens with Celal Kün (Burak Deniz) in an interrogation room, retelling a story that drastically altered his life forever. Zelis, his precious little daughter, had turned a year older, and in honor of it being her birthday, he decided to take her to an outdoor concert for her birthday. As Celal chilled, listening to some music, Zelis played with the dog he gifted her –– that is until a group of armed gunmen opened fire into the crowd, shooting Zelis in their rampage. Trained in special combat, Celal reacts almost immediately to the gunfire, killing one of the gunmen in the process. As we hop through the past and the present, our attention is drawn to the unnamed individuals conducting Celal's interrogation(?), one man and woman on the inside asking the questions, another person behind frosted windows observing.
Fast forward to a year later, Celal, nicknamed Maraşli, has opened a secondhand bookstore. One day, a young woman walks into his store looking for a specific book, and without even looking for it, he tells her that he doesn't have it. After some back and forth, she asks for directions to a nearby abandoned factory as she, a professional photographer named Mahur (Alina Boz), has come to take pictures of the factory's atmospheric shots. After a bit of reluctance, Maraşli gives her the directions, and as Mahur heads out, Celal's dog follows her unbeknownst to them both.
The day turns out to be an unlucky one for Mahur as in the factory, she witnesses a murder, and as she takes pictures of the Bad Guy, a man named Savaş, she's caught and has to run for her life. Thinking fast on her feet, Mahur drops the memory card with the photos somewhere on the floor in the dark factory so that it isn't found and the evidence she had collected isn't destroyed. Elsewhere, Maraşli, wanders the streets near his bookstore, searching for his dog, eventually making his way to the abandoned factory, where he spots a distressed Mahur on the run. Being the fair and just man he is, Maraşli does not hesitate to disarm and kill the men after Mahur.
As it turns out, Mahur is from a wealthy family and her father, Aziz Türel, is the owner of a major airline fleet. He comes to get her from the police station and ultimately offers Maraşli a job as her bodyguard seeing as Savaş knows Mahur took pictures of him committing a crime, her life was in serious danger. Maraşli turns down the job offer at first, but after Aziz bey appeals to him father-to-father and offers to cover the medical bills of his now-mute & severely traumatized daughter Zelis, Maraşli reluctantly agrees.
Then, we meet the rest of the Türel family. Ilhan, who works alongside his father at the airline; Necati, an alcoholic who dabbles in philosophy; and Firuzan, Aziz's second wife, who we immediately notice is a little too flirty with Celal. We also meet the staff at the Türel mansion, as well as Aziz's business' manager Ozan, who gets tangled up with Maraşli, ending not-so-well for him.
Back on the murder front, it comes to light that the man Mahur witnessed being murdered was a prosecutor named Mehmet Inci, and he is the same man that the gunmen were aiming for when Maraşli's daughter was shot. Even with the severity of the matter at hand, a temperamental Mahur vehemently rejects the idea of having Maraşli as her bodyguard, and not long after, Maraşli quits. As we soon come to find out, the memory card everyone is trying to get their hands on is actually in Maraşli's possession, and Savaş already has his suspicions about that.
It's a brand new day, and on the schedule for the evening is Mahur's big award ceremony. What better place to get rid of a target than a public place? Savaş is well aware of this fact, and he sends an assassin to eliminate Mahur at the ceremony. However, Maraşli makes it in time to defend an unknowing Mahur, eventually throwing the failed assassin off a balcony but not before being injured. With that, Maraşli is convinced that Mahur is in real danger and again agrees to be her bodyguard. In the interim, he meets with Aziz bey and agrees to work for him for a short period of time, but while in Aziz's office, he makes a connection –– the company logo for the airline Aziz bey owns is the same logo he saw on a piece of paper he found at the house of one of the hired gunmen that hurt his daughter.
…Hold your breath.
Episode Two opens with Mahur insisting again that she doesn't want a bodyguard. Her father, who told her that there is a continuing threat to her life because he doesn't want her to worry, does not back down and reiterates she needs one. Maraşli is invited to breakfast at the Türel mansion and we later come to find out that Mahur had a nervous breakdown after her mother died and as she continues to try to process the death, she lashes out every now and then, occasionally being a bit of a loose cannon. Maraşli has his hands full just trying to keep track of her but he remains smart and observant, spotting a tail at the restaurant they dropped by. We see several more times how sharp and intuitive he is and there are hidden depths to the character that we will surely continue to see over time.
Savaş shows up and almost gets his hands on Mahur but Maraşli manages to save her life –– once again. While at her studio, she realizes that he is hurt and makes him take off his shirt so she can re-bandage his stab wound that has started bleeding again. She sees that he has significant scars on his back and he tells her that he was wounded in an attack when he was a soldier and was in a coma for 46 days.
The sun sets and they head back to the Türel mansion and Mahur is met with the unwelcoming sight of her stepmother tearing down an outbuilding her mother had used and she flies into a rage. She leaves the house without Maraşli but he goes after her and is led on a high-speed car chase until he finally forces her to stop. He ends up taking her to a friend of hers where there is a party going on. She drinks too much and falls over and he ends up having to carry her out, ultimately deciding to take her to his house as she repeatedly said when she was conscious that she didn’t want to go home.
Later that night, a bothered Aziz meets with Savaş and demands that he leave his daughter alone. Savaş says he just wants the pictures but Aziz bey insists that Mahur doesn't have them. Savaş suggests to him that Maraşli might be in possession of them. Aziz then goes to confront Maraşli at his home and as Mahur, who is spending the night there, eavesdrops on their conversation, Maraşli admits that he does have the memory stick and hands it over to Aziz.
Mahur is up early the next morning and she treats Zelis to some swing time, rocking her back and forth as Maraşli continued resting inside. Shortly after, Maraşli wakes up and panics as he is unable to locate Mahur and Zelis in their respective beds. Mahur responds to his calls, alerting him that they were having fun outside, and for the first time since being shot, Zelis donned a beautiful smile on her face.
The day’s festivities get underway and Mahur realizes that her dad plans to give the memory card to Savaş. She returns home and decides to swap the card out for a different one and hands over the real one to the police. Savaş and his men are arrested and the Türel family is at the police station to see him taken into interrogation. Maraşli warns her that Savaş will be set free but she scoffs and says that they have picture evidence. Nearing the end of the episode, Maraşli gives Mahur the book that she was looking for the day they met. As they go their separate ways, Savaş and Maraşli cross paths and Savaş further threatens Mahur, warning Maraşli that what he has planned for Mahur “will be worse than what happened to him in Afghanistan.” Maraşli makes another connection and immediately runs to catch up with Mahur to inform and warn her that it is indeed someone in her family that's out to kill her.
It is impossible not to be enamored with the series Maraşli as an incredible job was done in all departments – from the acting and cinematography, to the music, and directing. When you couple that with its amazing plot and stellar writing, what’s to come is surely even more exciting.
At first, it’s easy to mistake this for a standard revenge plot –– a scorned father going after the people responsible for the injury to his daughter. While those elements are there, the story is masked with many more layers and mysteries.
As a fan of old movies –– especially thriller and spy ones –– one comes to mind after watching Maraşli and it's the 1962 movie called The Manchurian Candidate. The premise of the movie is an ex-soldier who is brainwashed into being an assassin. While it remains to be seen if the writers have anything that out there planned, the vibe of the scenes in the grey room is certainly eerie.
At the end of Episode 2, it’s a bit clearer what is going on in the gloomy interrogation room that appears every now and then in the series: Maraşli isn’t being interviewed or interrogated, instead, he is being trained/programmed to get his backstory straight. A clear indicator of this was when the female agent asks how long he was in a coma for and he answers 49 days. She says '49 days'? He corrects himself and changes his answer to 46 days, which is the same amount of days the audience heard him tell Mahur about his injury in combat.
The series unravels in non-linear time as we jump between the story with Mahur, and Maraşli’s time in the interrogation room which, fair to think occurs prior to his encounter with Mahur. The agents present are feeding him the story via a script that he must memorize.
This element of undercover or coercion makes this a much more interesting story than the usual trope of a father out to avenge his daughter. The shadiness of the Türel family members and Maraşli’s ability to physically fight against the forces allied against him and Mahur but also out-think and maneuver them as well elevates the story to something much more compelling than your average Liam Neeson movie.
There are some fantastic performances worth acknowledging.
Burak Deniz is proving himself to be one of the best young actors of his generation and with his performance in Maraşli, he is cementing his status as someone to watch. He plays the gruff, taciturn titular character with ease and he is so compelling even when he is at rest on the screen. This role belies his still relatively young age and he easily gives us all the beats necessary for this role to work; hardened soldier, a grieving father, possible lover, and an avenging angel.
Saygin Soysal, is another favourite. He has such a great presence and although not a classically handsome man, he has the grace of a dancer, the menace necessary for a bad guy role, and tons of charisma. He was a favourite from Kara Para Ask, playing a similar role that turned into more of an anti-hero role. His character, Savaş', introduction in Maraşli was perfect as straight off the bat, it is clear that he's our bad guy, complete with a black hat. His character suffers from xeroderma pigmentosum, a condition that means he is highly sensitive to sunlight and needs to stay in the shadows. These characteristics give us some great cinematic moments of him in his Batcave.
Lastly, Serhat Kiliç is outstanding as Necati. He spouts poetry and philosophy to the staff, doesn't appear to have a job, holes up in his book-filled room, and is never seen without his flask. An imposing man who shleps around in an oversized cardigan and annoys the rest of the family except Mahur, who he seems to have a soft spot for. The one complaint of this character is that actor Serhat Kiliç is obviously much older than his character is meant to be, and is in fact only 7 years younger than the actor playing his father. It’s not yet clear if this will be explained later in the series; Could the character have been adopted as a teenager, or could it just be it's a tv sleight of hand that we are not meant to pay attention to? Either way, it was quite distracting. That said, the character is interesting especially after Episode 3's fragman, where he appears much more coherent whilst traveling in a car with Savas. The actor is talented enough to sell a fake alcoholic story, an alibi perhaps for some later deed?
Cinematography and Symbolism
The series is beautifully shot, with lots of atmospherically dark, shadowy scenes but also a lot of visual impressions and symbolism laced into the visual storytelling. It's interesting that although it's shot in colour, the shadows and moodiness of some of the scenes make it seem like it's black and white. There are lots of night scenes, dark scenes in Savaş' Batcave, and the interrogation room where Maraşli tells his story is dark grey blocks. Even the costuming of the actors reflects an almost monochromatic palette, lots of black, white, and neutral tones are worn by the main cast.
Symbolically, Celal has recurring nightmares about a stag, and being that he is from Kahramanmaras (formerly known as Maraş where he gets his nickname Maraşli from) this could be a nice bit of symbolism thrown in. In ancient times, the area was home to the Syro-Hittite people and to these people, a red stag was symbolic of strength*.
As we see in Episode 2, the woman on the other side of the one-way glass from Maraşli has sketched a stag which is what made us think that maybe this isn't just training him to go undercover, but maybe there is an element of some kind of hypnosis if he is constantly seeing a stag in his dreams. We see the stag flash on the screen every once in a while, and also a scene of wrecked cars at a dump. They are only visible for a moment and don't seem to have anything to do with the plot, at least not yet.
The other recurring symbol is that of a black umbrella, usually carried by Savaş to shield him from the sun's damaging rays. Visually, it serves to make him stand out in a crowd, and as we saw, it came in handy for Maraşli to spot him homing in on Mahur. On the flip side, it also serves to keep Savaş shrouded in darkness even on a sunny day, a visual representation of his character's darkness.
After episode two there are so many questions that come to mind:
- Who is Maraşli/Celal really? Is he voluntarily undercover or being coerced? Is anything in the story he is telling real? Currently, the assumption is that his daughter is indeed real as that seems like an unnecessary element to add to an undercover story.
- Is Türel family the target of the undercover operation, and if so, how did they maneuver Mahur towards Celal?
- Who is the family member involved or are there multiple members?
- Is there more to Mahur's mother's death than what's on the surface?
- Who is Celal making recordings for?
* Bryce, Trevor (2012). The World of The Neo-Hittite Kingdoms: A Political and Military History. OUP Oxford. ISBN 978-0-19-921872-1