by Paola Cesarini
It has been almost one year since we last saw Çagatay Ulusoy on screen, but Season 3 of "The Protector" was absolutely worth the wait. Dark, eerily current, and cleverly reminiscent of several cinematic masterpieces, it is by far the most substantive and spectacular installment of the Turkish superhero saga to date. This article will explain why, but will carefully avoid spoilers for those who have not yet seen the show.
The most welcome surprise of Season 3 is the show's more complex, elegant and meaningful script. It marks a significant improvement over the past and especially over Season 2. While still enjoyable, previous narratives in "The Protector" offered a peculiar combination of "Aladdin", "The Da Vinci Code" and "Jurassic Park." In particular, Season 1 introduced Hakan as a not-too-bright, ambitious delivery boy from Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, who is suddenly burdened with a demanding legacy. Watching him being dragged against his will into an extraordinarily dangerous adventure inspired a mix of compassion and exasperation, especially when he proved somewhat inadequate for the mission. Season 2 offered a more confident and responsible Hakan. However, it regrettably eliminated the welcome comedic interludes found in Season 1. After an interminable succession of calamities, the last season concluded with Hakan holding a moribund Zeynep in his arms and three dangerous immortals on the loose.
Surprisingly, Season 3 (which appeared on Netflix screens on March 6, 2020,) belongs to a completely different league. To start with, it displays cinematic references that are far more substantial than in the past seasons. For instance, Hakan's tangible isolation in his desperate fight against evil is reminiscent of Neo's condition in "The Matrix", while his attempts to extend his consciousness into the past bear clear reference to the early 1980s science-fi thriller "Altered States". Finally, the concluding sequence offers a spectacular cliffhanger that might well belong to the "Outlander" saga. It also hints at a more onerous mission for Hakan than anyone can imagine. What will come next for our Turkish superhero is truly anybody's guess.
The script of Season 3 delivers additional welcome surprises in the area of character development. Hakan is no longer the impulsive, lost boy we first met. He appears now as a more mature, determined and responsible adult. At the same time, he retains enough of an anti-superhero quality to maintain his character's credibility. In Season 3, Hakan's new persona is cleverly juxtaposed to Burak. A no-pretensions thief with a hidden personality, Burak appears to take on the savior qualities that one would expect of Hakan, while at the same time providing him with some serious competition in the romance department.
Through a series of well-executed flashbacks, Season 3 brings Hakan together with his "First Protector" ancestor. In the process, we learn a great deal about this fascinating character and begin to understand that Hakan's destiny is part of a much larger saga dating back to the 15th century Ottoman Empire. Already an admired, fierce warrior-hero before Sultan Mehmed tapped him to become the "First Protector", Harun Bey is a larger-than-life creature. Unlike Hakan, he appears perfectly suited to the mission. As a result of his close encounters with his ancestor, Hakan is radically transformed in more ways than one. Season 4 will reveal just how far this transformation goes.
One of the most interesting features of the "The Protector" consists of dismantling age and gender stereotypes often associated with fantasy/action movies. In Season 1, Hakan's mentor was not an elderly wise man, but a young, sassy, leather-clad, motorbike-riding, and incredibly smart young woman (Zeynep). In Season 2, Hakan's principal nemesis is not an ominous-looking, powerful male figure but a clever, diminutive, beautiful woman (Rüya). Season 3 continues to push the boundaries of the genre's stereotypes in interesting ways.
Last, but not least, in Season 3 "The Protector" becomes philosophical. Several key topics receive more than a passing reference. Life and what makes it worth living. Immortality vs. death. Duty and responsibility. Sexual promiscuity and gender-related double-standards. Leadership and the isolation that often accompanies it. Betrayal and its unexpected consequences. And the paradox of time. While "The Protector" does not rise to the complexity of "The Matrix", the introduction of more substantive themes into the script elevates the show and provides an extremely satisfactory viewing experience.
The latest installment of "The Protector" also delivers more significant roles for the protagonists of the series. As mentioned earlier, Çagatay Ulusoy's brings to life a character with significant acquired depth. Hakan is more reflective and thinks strategically in lieu of acting impulsively. No longer reckless and cocky, the former Grand Bazar boy is fully aware of his responsibility, which he appears to carry as an impossibly heavy weight on his young shoulders. In addition, the talented Turkish actor plays both the "First Protector" and Hakan's nemesis -- i.e. Vizir, who interacts with our hero through his reflection. These characters are notably different from each other, and Çagatay is to be commended for a veritable acting tour de force that finally gives justice to his considerable talent. Because of Vizir's remarkable power to communicate with others through their reflections, other protagonists in Season 3 also play a double role. Once again, the show delivers a solid overall performance by a cast that predominantly features young Turkish acting talent.
Another notable feature of the latest "Protector" installment is the reunion of several leading characters from "Medcezir" (I counted at least six.) There is an unmistakable camaraderie among these actors, which gives to their performance the quality of a well-oiled machine. On the other hand, this situation can be disorienting for the viewers, especially since Çagatay, Hazar, Taner, Miray, and others are called to perform roles that are almost diametrically opposed to those they played almost seven years, ago.
This review would not be complete without a list of drawbacks. For Season 3, such a list is thankfully brief. First, the show opens with an apocalyptic scene of Istanbul in the throes of a massive epidemic. In light of recent news around the world, which no one could have predicted during the shooting of Season 3, the first two episodes are quite uncomfortable to watch. However, these sequences are necessary since the events and characters associated with the epidemic introduce clues that later acquire great importance.
Second, those who expected a substantive and satisfactory resolution of the Hakan/Levent relationship will be disappointed. Regrettably, the screenwriters only weakly outlined Levent's character in Season 2. They completely miss the opportunity to flesh it out in Season 3. This is rather disappointing, especially to those who remember Içerde's splendidly moving sibling saga, and Çagatay's brilliant performance alongside Aras Bulut Iynemli.
In this blog last year, I wrote a candid review of Season 1 of "The Protector" highlighting in roughly equal measure the merits and drawbacks of the series. Following a relatively lackluster Season 2, I chose to write an episode guide in lieu of a review. It is thus a pleasant surprise to have once again enough material to pen a substantive review. In conclusion, Season 3 represents a marked improvement over the previous installments of "The Protector" because of the remarkably upgraded script, the skillful performances, and the spectacular visual effects. Most importantly, it finally gives Çagatay Ulusoy and his colleagues a significant opportunity to showcase their considerable talent.
More than ever, "The Protector" is an unapologetically ground-breaking show that successfully targets a younger demographic, both in Turkey and abroad. The over 20 million households that tuned into the show during the past two seasons will surely continue to enjoy this remarkable saga, which promises to deliver even more exciting surprises in Season 4.
@ Article Copyright by North America TEN and Paola Cesarini
All pictures and video clips belong to their original owners. No Copyright infringement intended.
*Heartfelt thanks to Mary Bloyd for her invaluable editing support.
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by Paola Cesarini
The wait is finally over! Netflix just released the official trailer for Season 3 of "The Protector", which will appear on the streaming platform on 6 March, 2020.
In the third season, Hakan will be engaged to save Istanbul from the deadly virus that Rüya concocted with the support of his own brother Levent. In this endeavor, he will cooperate with Nisan -- a scientist who will fall in love with Hakan -- and Burak -- a thief who will come handy in recuperating an ancient critical artifact in the struggle to save Istanbul. The two surviving immortals from season 2 -- Faysal and Rüya -- will again be side by side, while Hakan will have to deal with a new challenge: Vizir, the seventh surviving immortal, and also the most dangerous. Vizir is more powerful than his colleagues, with the ability to morph into someone else's appearance. He also carries a 600-year old grudge against Istanbul and all the descendants from the First Protector. The confrontation between Hakan and Vizir will shed light on Hakan's ancestorship, and the First Protector will appear prominently in the third season of the series. Zeynep will ostensibly survive her gunshot wound from the end of season 2, but will fall victim of the deadly virus that is plaguing Istanbul. She will once again fight the Immortals alongside Hakan, this time not only as a Loyal one but as his romantic partner.
As previously announced, the third season of "The Protector" will be more ambitious than the previous two, with a larger budget, and the participation of additional prominent Turkish actors, More specifically, Çağatay Ulusoy will return as Hakan; Hazar Ergüçlü as Zeynep; Engin Öztürk as Levent; Okan Yalabik as Faysal and Burçin Terzioglu as Rüya. New characters include Hasan Üner as Vizir; Funda Eryiğit as Nisan; and Taner Ölmez as Burak. Also Bige Önal; İlayda Alişan and Emre Mutlu have been added to the cast as characters who will be supporting Hakan in the fight against the Immortals. The new seasons will also include more spectacular special effects, including several underwater scenes whose filming caused health issues for Çagatay, due to his adverse reaction to chlorine.
Whether you liked "The Protector" or not, it is undeniable that the series was not only a resounding global success, but also marked a watershed for the Turkish TV and Film industry, and catapulted Çagatay Ulusoy and others to international fame. More than 10 million accounts watched the series for the first month on NETFLIX. 20 million accounts watched the series by May 2019. In Turkey, the number of subscribers to the digital platform increased from 200-250 thousand to 1.5 million after the release of the series. The Netflix management presented "The Protector" as evidence of its global success in a report to investors. "The Protector" was the only Turkish series mentioned in all world media, including CNN, BBC, New York Times, Fortune, Forbes, etc., and the most popular series of Netflix Turkey in 2019. Finally, "The Protector" is also among the ten most popular foreign Netflix TV shows in Latin America, Europe, Canada, Australia, Africa and the Middle East during the past year.
"The Protector" has already won several awards. On October 7th, 2019 Çagatay Ulusoy attended the GQ Middle East Man of the Year Award Ceremony, where he received the "Television Star" Award. On November 5h, 2019 at the ceremony of the 24th "Altın Objektif Ödülleri" (Golden Lens Awards) organized by Turkey's Journalists Association, "The Protector" and his main protagonists won several awards in the Digital Platform category, including: Digital platform series of the year; Best Actress in a Digital platform series (Hazar Ergüçlü) and Best Actor in a Digital platform series (Çağatay Ulusoy.) And on 13 January, 2020 Çagatay Ulusoy received the award for "Best Actor in a Digital Platform Series" at the gala of the Ayaklı Gazete Ödülleri. "The Protector also received the award for "Best Series in a Digital Platform," and Ayça Aysin Turan got the award for "Best Actress in a Digital Platform Series" for her role as Leila.
In 2016, Netflix forayed into the Turkish dizi world by buying a big bundle of streaming rights through Ecchorights, one of Turkey’s largest content distributors. They started streaming popular titles such as Kurt Seyt ve Sura, Winter Sun, Magnificent Century and more. Even though popularity of Turkish drama had been growing exponentially in the Middle East, Latin America, South Asia and other markets, its footprint in English speaking markets had been minimal until Netflix changed the game.
Judging by how lucrative the Turkish move was for Netflix (user base in Turkey has grown at a compound annual growth rate of greater than 50% since 2017), by mid-2017, it had already announced that it will invest in the first Turkish Netflix original. Unlike the typical romance, social or the occasional crime drama genres the Turkish dizis are famous for, the proposed project would focus on a young man who comes to know that he carries the centuries old heritage of supernatural powers acquired through talismanic items and is tasked as The Protector of Istanbul, fighting against the ever-increasing evil doings of the Seven Immortals. He is supported by an army of the Loyal Ones, who are all sworn to keep him safe as he pursues his quest, often at the cost of their own lives.
The cast for The Protector, which is also known as Hakan Muhafiz in Turkey, is led by the internationally popular Cagatay Ulusoy, with female leads Hazar Erguclu and Ayca Aysin Turan by his side. In addition, The Protector boasts an excellent ensemble cast that includes industry veterans such as Okan Yalabik, Yurdaer Okur and others. The local production team includes unconventional Indie filmmakers and veteran directors of local and international fame.
The end product itself pushes the boundaries on multiple dimensions. It is not only the first fantasy drama out of Turkey with the typical battles between good vs evil, the average episode lengths are commensurate with what Western audiences expect at approximately 45 minutes each as opposed to the customary 2+ hour episode length of a Turkish dizi. The characters step away from the predictable gender stereotypes that are prevalent in the majority of Turkish dramas, which are usually steeped in traditional family and moral values, and instead depicts a modernity that is at par with Western sensibilities. With 18 episodes across two seasons already available on Netflix, The Protector has been hugely successful for Netflix and has opened the flood gates to many more Netflix Turkish originals, with no limitations on the kinds of genres to be explored.
Cast & production team photos from Seasons 1 & 2, respectively
The Protector, which has been likened to the Marvel superhero series, is adapted from a book Karakalem by a female Turkish author, Nilufer Ipek Gokdel who usually goes by N. Ipek Gokdel. Much like J. K. Rowling of the Harry Potter fame, Ms. Gokdel has created an alternate world that co-exists with the mortal world as we know it. Her character’s supernatural powers are derived from historically important talismanic items that tie into Ottoman mythology. Even though the TV production takes several expected creative departures from the book, it still imaginatively maintains the essence of the Turkish heritage that Ms Gokdel had painstakingly imbibed into her book. You can read an excellent English interview of Ms. Gokdel here, where she explains some of her creative process about important elements in her book. Not all of them make it into the Netflix version, but the underlying theme of an alternate world existing within present day Istanbul remains true to the book, where characters with supernatural powers intermingle with everyday people and the interplay between the good and evil leaves the future of humankind hanging in the balance.
Photo: N. Ipek Gokdel and her first book in a trilogy, Karakalem. PC: Ms. Gokdel's website
It is no mean feat to create such a fantasy world that is grappling with many issues prevalent in modern times, while overlaid with the supernatural society that is fighting behind the scenes to maintain order in the mortal world. Showcasing many of Istanbul’s architectural marvels, and intricately weaving in wonders created by famed architect Mimar Sinan, some of the cat and mouse chases among the various protagonists are reminiscent of Dan Brown’s treasure hunts in his book Da Vinci Code. As much as the characters breathe life into this fantasy world, so does Istanbul herself, resplendent in her full glory.
Source: @TheProtector_ar, Twitter
Performances in The Protector are atypically Turkish. While the actors still emote with the same depth as we have come to expect from traditional dizis, emotions have to be expressed more subtly and broken out across multiple shots, as opposed to a single, multiple minutes long shot we see in the dizi. Cagatay as Hakan has a Herculean task of showing a vibrant young man, a dreamer, whose known world evaporates with the sacrificial death of his adoptive father. Simultaneously, he comes to learn of the crippling responsibility of being the revered ‘leader’ of the Loyal Ones while also having to embrace his new-found powers and his destiny as the Muhafiz.
As his story unfolds, Hakan gets the first truthful glimpses into his history since his long-forgotten childhood, and comes to learn about his parents’ horrific deaths. He realizes that much of what he knows of himself and the world around him are fake. As an individual who has to navigate this nebulous new world, he gets into predicaments that question love, life, meaning, purpose, future and the roles he needs to play in protecting those he cares about. Amidst his responsibilities, we often see him slide back into the carefree man he used to be, struggling to strike a balance between his past and the future. If you have watched Cagatay as Sarp Yilmaz in Icerde, you are aware of his ability to create a nuanced character. What at first blush might seem a shallow superhero character, Cagatay as Hakan infuses a lot of depth through micro expressions that one begins to appreciate during a repeated and more mindful watch.
Cagatay Ulusoy as Hakan/ Harun Muhafiz
When asked, this is what Ms. Gokdel has to say about Cagatay and The Protector, "Having joined social media platforms recently, I have been pleasantly surprised by the ardent support The Protector and its cast have received since its release. When I created the character of Yavuz in my books (renamed Hakan in the TV show), I wanted to create a role model for the youth of today. Someone who had an unwavering moral compass, with a strong sense of justice and integrity. To see that vision translated onto the screen, and watching how Cagatay breathed life into a character that was larger than life in my imagination, has been a joyful experience. I hope viewers will continue to enjoy the story of the Muhafiz!"
As an experimental production that was a first for Netflix in Turkey, The Protector did justice to the industry by having more than 10 million views of its first season in its first four weeks. Perhaps the success is partly fueled by Cagatay's existing global fan following, but it has also brought in new viewers for the country. The production cleverly showcases some of the best sights of Istanbul to a global audience, telling a modernistic story that draws one into the ancient layers upon which the present day city stands. Regardless of the contributing variables, the popularity for the show is indisputable and as Season 3 of a total of 4 is about to drop in Netflix at midnight Pacific Standard Time on March 6th, we hope you will tune in to binge-watch as millions of other fans plan to do. It promises to be the most ambitious installment yet and will delve deeper into the intricacies of the alternate world of The Protector, Loyal Ones and the Immortals. We leave you with an extended version of the trailers up to the third season, which has been created by @414rl for Cagatay Ulusoy North America.
You can visit the Cagatay Ulusoy North America YouTube channel to watch a 10 part short video series providing highlights of the earlier two seasons of The Protector. You can also search for our prior blog posts on The Protector, that provide deeper insights into the production, including an episode guide for older seasons.
You can find more information about Cagatay Ulusoy on any of these following platforms:
Facebook: Cagatay Ulusoy North America public page and forum
YouTube: Cagatay Ulusoy North America
For more on Ms. N. Ipek Gokdel, please visit her website: https://www.ipekgokdel.com.tr/
Article copyright by North America TEN, CUNA and mh
All pictures and video clips belong to their original owners, where applicable. No copyright infringement intended. Please ask for permission before reprints.
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