by Eda Savaseri
Name me a human species that is not a minority but is treated like a minority? First clue, it’s not a race but a gender. Yes, you guessed it (hopefully); I am talking about women. Netflix’s new six part Turkish thriller drama series Fatma gives a fresh perspective on a problem which may look local but, in reality, speaks to the global audience as well. Being a woman in Turkey is hard but, in different ways, it is difficult everywhere in the world.
The synopsis of the show doesn’t really do it justice, but let me say it anyway. Fatma is a cleaner and she’s desperately looking for her husband who’s been missing since he came out of prison. Apart from her, nobody around her cares about her husband’s disappearance. As the trailers suggest, in her search for her husband, she finds herself in some dangerous situations and she’s forced to kill some people, making her appear as some kind of serial killer.
This review delves into several important themes in the series and is full of spoilers. It provides some cultural context that will be interesting, but you may wish to read it after watching the series. It’s only 6 episodes and each episode lasts around 40-45 minutes.
Who Is Fatma?
One of the series’ strongest points is the script. Fatma’s screenwriter Özgür Önurme has done a marvelous job, considering this is his first time writing a series. In addition to writing, he also directed the last 3 episodes. His writing is rich but also without too much fuss. His dialogues are clean and clear. He obviously created Fatma with a lot of love and thought.
Fatma Yılmaz is one of the most ordinary names you can find. In English, it would be like a Jane Smith. However, character names are never coincidental. Fatma is an interesting name because as the meaning of the word goes, it means pure and virtuous. However, it also has a religious meaning. Fatma is Prophet Muhammad’s daughter’s name. She is the only daughter he had that gave birth, which caused her to be called mother of Muslims. As far as symbolism goes, Fatima’s Hand (or Hamsa) symbol is still commonly used as a protection in Arabic culture. In recent years, it has become popular in Turkey as an accessory as well. Fatma’s right hand is believed to protect from evil but also represents strength and power.
In this series, at first Fatma is seen as a nobody, just someone who cleans other people’s dirt. She has a very depressed and tired look and she’s late to everywhere. We find out that she is grieving her lost son, who had autism. Her husband is missing. She’s also fighting some demons from her past and we’re shown a few glimpses of those moments and think that she was probably molested during childhood. She looks battered and beaten by life.
Fatma’s identity card is shown several times. It’s so old that her photo is just a blur. In a flashback, when she goes to the police station to tell them her husband is missing, they tell her she needs to change it to be able to make any official declaration. This identity card is shown to us multiple times. Eventually it even works in her favor to run away from the police.
I believe the reason her identity card has a blurred photo is because she could be any one of us. Every woman, in one-way or another, has lived through some of what she goes through. Maybe we haven’t been molested or we haven’t lost a child, but at some time in our life men have treated us all as being inferior. Maybe it wasn’t by those close to us, but it could have been done by anyone really. The ingrained misogyny in our societies are often overlooked by men, with or without intention. Within this culture of gender inequalities, Fatma is a symbol, and she represents the deep effects of this unfairness and sexism.
Now, let’s talk about murder.
Once A Sinner Always A Sinner
I have to say there are no saints in this story. If you are the type that watches the protagonist commit crimes and feel sorry for her or get worried about her or get angry with her, this story is not asking for any of it. We are not expected to agree with Fatma. However, we do feel empathy since she doesn’t just start killing people because she’s bored. This is not Dexter or Hannibal Lecter. We are not forced to root for her, although we do feel sorry for her for doing these things, which she kind of has to until a certain point.
After I watched the show and thought about how the main characters related to the show and to Fatma, I couldn’t help but think, they really symbolize the 7 deadly sins. I am not saying the writer actually based them on these, but I will illustrate this possible interpretation as I explain the characters.
Let’s start with Ismail, Fatma’s neighbor and landlord, who is the perfect example of the first deadly sin which is lust. He continually harasses Fatma making passes at her, using her despair about her lost husband and her economic status. When she finds out that the silent calls, which she assumes are from Zafer (her husband), are actually from Ismail, she pushes him off the building and he dies. Ismail is the perfect example of men who think that when women are in need, they can use their weakness as a way to exploit them.
Ismail’s wife Kadriye is the perfect choice for gluttony. She’s diabetic and she’s the only character that mentions food not once but twice. She’s also greedy. For her, having more money is the only important thing. She doesn’t care about Fatma one bit. She has zero interest in protecting Fatma from her own husband or Bayram and Yusuf. She only acts like her friend to learn things from her. Before her accidental murder, she even has the audacity to tell Fatma that she’s only pissed off because she couldn’t get any of the blood money that was given to her husband for her late son, Oğuz.
“Blood money” is not an official restitution but a cultural practice to protect the offender from retaliation by the injured party. When a traffic accident happens and if someone dies, the person that commits the crime may serve a sentence but even still, they pay the victim’s family a sum of money. In this case, Fatma finds out Zafer took that money and ran away with it, but first he gave some of it to Ismail, and both he and his wife knew all along that Zafer wasn’t coming back. They watched Fatma floundering through life but never told her about all this.
Zafer is the perfect example of greed. He is greedy enough to keep his own son’s blood money to himself. He’s not just greedy but also entitled. He believes he deserves a better life. In her quest to find him, Fatma finds out that he kept asking for money from people, like the guy she pushed under the train. Also, her sister says that her husband Haluk vouched for Zafer’s bank loan. Looking at the poor and miserable life they lead, Zafer probably spent all that money all for himself as well.
Sloth as a deadly sin has a special place in the series because it’s not just addressed as a person. It’s the whole justice system that fails to act when it should. As Fatma says in the interrogation room, they find her husband only when they care about it enough and that’s because there is now a trail of murders to solve. When she goes to the police to ask for help, they don’t act on it and try to help her. They use bureaucracy to avoid their responsibilities. When Fatma is called to the police station, they don’t even listen to her. When they first see her in Bayram’s room, they act like she’s invisible.
The insurance company has a floor of lawyers but Fatma has no one. So they have the audacity to demand her to cover the costs of damage to the car that killed her son. The system clearly fails to catch criminals and to help the weak and wounded. It’s the system’s inability that allows Fatma to be able to commit so many murders and still almost get away with them, until the final episode.
One of my favorite episodes is the third one, called Look At Me. Fatma has to kill a big mafia guy called Ekber. All she has to do is take some poisonous cocaine to him. While she’s waiting, she meets Ekber’s girlfriend who is clearly being abused by him. Fatma and the girl’s encounter is heartbreaking and also shows, how men use their power to leave women vulnerable. The girl says no one can save her and no one will help her because everyone fears Ekber. At this point Fatma chooses violence because if she waits, he will already die, but she can’t contain the anger anymore seeing what this girl suffered. Ekber, who symbolizes wrath, suffers the most violent death in the series.
Envy as a sin shows itself mostly in Bayram. He is the man who starts it all. He is Zafer’s boss and he is also the man Fatma steals the gun from. Bayram is an interesting character. He is a local mafia type but he’s not the usual kind, especially with his accessories and with the way he speaks. Bayram wants to become more than what he is. In his world, someone like Ekber is what aspires to. He is the one that decides to get rid of Ekber because he’s afraid of him, but also because he wants to be like him – more powerful, richer. Bayram knows that he is yet to reach the importance where he can eat at the same table with people like Ekber or Mine (Fatma’s sister). Mine looks down on him and belittles him at every encounter. He knows that there are some things that money can’t buy. Things like class and status.
This brings us to the last sin, pride, and to Mine or should I call her by her real name Emine? Mine feels she’s better and superior to everyone. Until I saw her with characters other than Fatma, I thought she only treated Fatma this way but when she met Bayram, I understood that this was her personality. Mine is selfish and entitled and she looks down on everyone. Until the last two episodes, she treats Fatma terribly. She’s a complete opposite to Fatma in her demeanor but also in her looks, in her lifestyle and in her approach to things in general.
Fatma wanders around like a ghost and goes unnoticed almost everywhere, even at the police station where she is being interrogated. Most men on the show either ignore her or are extremely rude to her. Men express all the profanity on the show. Most of their rude remarks are sexist. They keep telling her, she’s a woman, she can’t do this, and she can’t do that. In one way or other they all try to take advantage of her.
Only three men really see her and treat her kindly; the author, Sidar (the lawyer) and the truck driver. The author is one of the white Turks as we call them. It has nothing to do with skin color; it’s the name given to urban dwelling Turkish with secular values. In the last years with AKP as the ruling party, the conservative population has grown and, as such, we can call the white Turks a minority now. As we understand from the translation scenes at the insurance company, Sidar is Kurdish or half Kurdish, and also from a minority group. We don’t know enough about the truck driver’s background to say if he’s from a minority group as well.
Although the author is generally nice to Fatma, we can see that he cares more about the story he is writing than the actual person. I loved this character because he is a perfect example of the men of that caliber; thinking women like Fatma, who are uneducated and can’t play chess, are bound to live an inferior life. They are to be observed, like animals in a zoo, while people like him are educated and are more intelligent and get to decide about them or for them. They must be the ones to be consulted when the Fatmas of the world need to make a decision. It’s interesting that when he was first writing the story, he told Fatma the cleaner would kill the writer in the end but later he changes it. When she asks how it ends, he says he hasn’t decided yet. It is also interesting that the publishing house doesn’t like the story and asks him if there could really be a woman like this?
The lawyer’s intentions are good and he really wants to help Fatma but he’s not in a position of power. He is really uncomfortable with what has been done to her and to the workers that are at the insurance company, but as his boss points out he’s a softie and the world is not a safe place for people like him. He tries to stand up for Fatma at the police station and enters the interrogation room with Fatma to help her. But he has no idea what he’s getting himself into.
This Is A Man’s World
The best part of Fatma is the acting. Burcu Biricik has embodied Fatma in every possible way. Fatma is such a complex character and Biricik has said that this has been one of her most demanding roles. It feels as though she really gives the role her everything. Fatma is in so much pain and she’s mostly timid but at times she demonstrates so much anger. I loved everything about her performance, from her intense angry looks to her posture and body language. She really made me forget the glamorous Burcu could be the same person.
Gülçin Kültür Şahin as Kadriye is a revelation. She is the typical woman next door in the rural areas. Mehmet Yılmaz Ak as Bayram is not the typical mafia type but I think that’s what made him interesting and unpredictable. Veteran actor Uğur Yücel brought a weight with his portrayal of the author writing a book called Fatma. Actually, a whole new article could come out of the irony of him writing the story and not knowing what Fatma was going through. Finally, Olgun Toker as Sidar is a great antidote to the toxic males on the show.
The cinematography and sound design are both really good, creating a believable atmosphere. I would like to believe that the murders Fatma committed were in some way metaphorical, just as I stated above, serving us messages and clichés women have to wade through in their daily lives. For those who complained the series and the killings are not realistic, that would be my reply. The murders are not meant to be realistic; they are meant to be symbolic. I think in the series, murder is just a metaphor for the anger and the resentment women feel towards these continued injustices.
With what message did I end the show? Women want to be seen and heard. They want to be validated for the things they achieve and they also want to be respected. The publisher lady tells the author that people wouldn’t read this story. I beg to differ; we want more stories about women. Enough about men, tell us about women. As demand for stories that center around women increases, more series and movies about women will be made. Here’s to hoping those days will come soon.
For those of you yet to watch the show, here is the official trailer:
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Eda Savaseri is a Turkish copywriter from Istanbul. She loves cats, books, chocolate and traveling. She loves sharing things that she learns and apply towards self-improvement.
She enjoys writing about a multitude of topics and loves to share her thoughts about TV Shows she’s watching. You can find her blog here.