by Krisha Arbour
Netflix’s newest Turkish original series, 50m2, has debuted and in its chronicles of a hitman as the protagonist, it is unlike anything they have produced to date. Promoted as a dark comedy, it is sometimes skimpy on the comedy, definitely not for the faint of heart, intelligent in its script and a really fun ride.
Written by Burak Aksak, a successful comedy writer, and co-directed by Aksak and Selçuk Aydemir, it boasts a stellar cast of familiar faces including Engin Öztürk (the Protector, Doğduğun Ev Kaderindir) and Aybüke Pusat (Her Yerde Sen, Söz), and a very funny lineup of comedic actors. Also some truly fantastic moustaches.
Anchored by Engin Öztürk, the series is a funny and often poignant tale of a man looking for his past and trying to re-shape his future. The premise is that hitman/henchman Gölge (Öztürk) is on the run from his mafia boss/father figure Servet, after betraying him and stealing an important shipment of guns. Due to a chance encounter and a case of mistaken identity, he finds himself in a new neighborhood (mahalle) and meets and makes friends with the inhabitants. It’s a glorious fish out of water tale where Gölge has to learn to fit in with a misfit stable of good-hearted characters trying to maintain their neighborhood and at the same time deal with the local mafia boss who is determined to get the people out so it can be razed to the ground to make way for new development.
Öztürk, currently displaying his dramatic chops in Doğduğun Ev Kaderindir, with his bright blue eyes and deadpan delivery turns out to be much funnier than expected. This role seems tailored to suit his strengths as an actor as he plays Gölge as an antihero with a kind streak. We see the good person he wants to be in the acts that he commits but also the ruthless man he is as measured by the amount of carnage left in his wake. He has no qualms in stealing money out of the mosque’s charity for the poor box but also returns the money tenfold. He kills a guy with a shovel but commiserates with another character when he throws up after his first kill. He romances Dilara and even decides he will tell her who he really is, but maintain his lies to almost everyone else.
Öztürk’s seemingly nonchalant and yet deeply felt delivery of some of the most profound statements adds to a standout, layered performance of a man who takes meticulous care of his body while his soul is so tormented. The dichotomy of the character makes him great to watch and the scenes of him trying to navigate normal life after being in the mob practically his whole life are entertaining.
Much of the comedy comes from several veteran comedy actors who play the characters in the mahalle. The people of the neighborhood befriend Gölge because they believe he is the long lost son (Adem) of the local tailor who has just passed away. The informal ‘mayor’ (muhtar) of the neighborhood, incidentally also called Muhtar, takes him into his home when he finds him hurt in the tailor shop. Gölge meets Muhtar’s children, Dilara (Pusat) who owns a local patisserie and teenaged son Kerim.
Gölge ends up taking over the tailor shop, a 50m2 space that gives the show its title, for a place to hide out and assumes the identity of Adem. He develops a friendship with Muhtar, seeing in him the kind of father figure he would want, and provides advice on how to deal with the local mafia, and the property developers. Muhtar, as played by comedic actor Cengiz Bozkurt, together with the other mahalle elder Turan, provide much of the true laugh out loud comedy of the series.
One night, Turan comes to pick Muhtar up to go rob the local mafia boss. He tries to get Muhtar’s attention by throwing pebbles at his window and when Muhtar opens the window he asks him ‘Why didn’t you just text me?!’ and as he turns away he mumbles ‘are we living in the Stone Age?’ The end of this set up is that they end up under a table together with Dilara, Gölge and Yakup (another neighborhood guy under Muhtar’s protection), all of whom had independently come to commit the same theft. As they huddle and hide from the mafia boss, it is a very funny scene, especially later when Turan is revealed to have fallen asleep during the caper.
Gölge’s most interesting and least expected relationship in the mahalle turns out to be with Civan, Turan’s embittered son. Their stories didn’t really intersect until the later part of the season, when they turn out to be foils for one another. As Gölge is discovering himself and finding his light, Civan is descending into the depth of his darkness. It is a very interesting parallel between the two seemingly dissimilar characters and Civan’s story, inexplicable at first, is shown to be a character on the opposite trajectory to Gölge. In a shocking turn at the end, we see the result of his own father’s lies and his long overdue reaction to his treatment by the rest of the mahalle. His final scene is a shocking one and sets him firmly on a bad path.
The comedy mostly comes from the mahalle except for Kürsat Alniaçik (Kara Sevda, Resurrection:Ertugrul) as Servet. A lonely man who loves Gölge as a father, sort of, and raised him as the hitman he is, Servet has impulse control issues and is rightfully in therapy as he’s having some pretty vivid nightmares/hallucinations. He is initially out to kill Gölge but comes to miss him and wishes to have him back in the fold. However, Gölge isn’t feeling the same nostalgia for him as he thinks that Servet may be responsible for the death of his actual family. Unfortunately for Gölge, Servet has been holding on tightly to more secrets than he even imagined.
Not much on the romance front in season one. Dilara is obviously set up to be the love interest but it will be interesting to see how she feels after she learns the details of Gölge’s past. We get a bit of back story on her that she returned to the mahalle after her mother’s death because she felt guilty for leaving, and has a fear that she contributed to her mother’s early death by doing so. This bonds her with Gölge, as he also feels responsible for the death of his own mother, at least at first.
The natural comfort they derive from each other is well done but it is disappointing that they don’t give Aybüke Pusat more to do; she has a few good scenes, provides the ‘moral’ voice of reason occasionally, but is really missing from the narrative mostly. Perhaps she has a more substantial role in later seasons.
A lot of the writing of the show caters to local knowledge in Turkey, embedded in pithy comments or one-liners. There is a running theme of Golge needing an ID card, and towards the beginning he is talking to a man within the criminal world who has created multiple fake IDs for Golge over time, and each time he loses them somehow. In the latest such reincarnation, he is given the name Zeki Muran, who is a famous Turkish singer, also honored as “Sun of Art”. When Golge looks at the ID, he says “You should have also written Sun of Art”. There are several more of such references peppered through this tight, intelligent script.
Because of the budding romance with Dilara, Golge also has an adversarial relationship with Yakup, as they both are vying for her affections. Yakup is determined to expose Gölge to the neighbors as a fraud, is smart enough to have found the real Adem’s house and has enough proof to show that Gölge is lying, but the mahalle people don’t care as they have come to like Gölge and accept him as Adem. This notion of found family plays out throughout the series and as Gölge looks for his real name and tries to create a new identity for himself, he also begins to find his true self as the man these mahalle folks have come to respect.
50M2 is marketed as a dark comedy and there are several moments where it veers into a full on drama. There are several brutal murders, a lot of which are by the hero Gölge, and the series does not shy away from showing the gore and guts of that. The one truly scary character, nicknamed Stain, is the quintessential bogeyman, who looks like he lives on cigarettes and the souls of the people that he has killed. So, be prepared for some bloody and slightly scary scenes.
The other ‘dark’ aspect of the series is the psychological trauma suffered by many of the characters. Both of the ‘mob’ bosses reveal internal issues and Servet even visits his therapist in one of the episodes. This is played for comedy to a certain extent but the series doesn’t shy away from presenting how choices and trauma shape a person and gives us two characters that deal with their trauma in the 8 episodes of season one. One character goes towards the light and the other goes to the dark. This revelation of how difficult it is to overcome the deep seated pain in one’s life, and how easy it can be to make bad choices because of it, was an unexpected gift of the series.
Overall, this Turkish take on a Get Shorty (1995 Hollywood crime, comedy thriller) kind of premise is very enjoyable. There are plenty of interconnected themes and characters that lead to many stated and understated parallelisms and epiphanies. It is darker than imagined but there is enough laughs to maintain it as a comedy, and the focus on the psychological trauma suffered by many of the main cast is unexpected but not unwelcome. A cast of talented actors able to portray both farcical elements and pathos elevates the series into something more akin to a dark drama told in a comedic way.
There is an emphasis throughout the series on ‘names’. Gölge, meaning Shadow, has been raised as a shadow to Servet, but struggles to understand his identity. Gölge doesn’t name a boy he saves, because he doesn’t want to get attached to him. The young man who helps them get into a hostel because he knows the place, Gölge doesn’t learn his name until the man’s death, when, at his funeral he says to another character that names are important. This, after all, is what he is looking for throughout the series, his own real name, the one that Servet won’t tell him. Interestingly, he can learn it in the final scene but chooses to place more importance on the mahalle and the people, as he has found his identity among them. He is Adem, close to adam, which in Turkish means ‘man’. Gölge is not fully formed, he is still coming into being as if he were made of clay, like Adam in the Bible and the Koran.
There are some great twists and turns and unexpected character development. It really is a piece about fundamental life choices, how they shape the way we act and think, what family means, and how it isn’t too late to change our fate and shape our destiny. Here’s hoping for season two to come sooner rather than later.
For those of you yet to watch it, here is a trailer with English dubbing, but you always have the option to watch it on Netflix with original Turkish audio, with English subtitles.
Article copyright (c) North America TEN & Krisha Arbour
All pictures and video clips belong to their original owners, where applicable. No copyright infringement intended. Please ask for permission before reprints. Screenshots are courtesy of Netflix, and all copyrights belong to original creators.