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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