by Paola Cesarini
The Protector still manages to surprise, even after four seasons. From shifting the set to Ottoman times to recreating a time-loop worthy of Groundhog Day, and revealing the Immortals' origins within the Nika Riots of 532 CE, the final installment of "Hakan; Muhafiz" is much more ambitious than most would have imagined when it first started back in 2018. This review unravels the complex tale that has just come to a satisfactory conclusion, with a particular aim to dispel any lingering confusion that the last action-packed installment of The Protector might have left behind.
Please be advised that the rest of the article contains plenty of spoilers!
Let us start with the major characters. We left Hakan at the end of season 3 in 1459 emerging from the Bosphorus waters in Harun's body, the first Protector. Viewers were thus fully expecting to see additional period scenes during season 4. What came as a surprise, however, is the extent to which almost the entire series shifts to Ottoman times. A large set built for the occasion and a variety of lavish period costumes offer a convincing background that renders the time travel both interesting and believable. In this detailed Ottoman context, Çagatay Ulusoy does an outstanding job of clearly differentiating Harun from Hakan pretending to be the latter. Furthermore, in season 4, Hakan is a radically different character than the one we first met in season 1. To put it briefly, our Bazaar boy grows up into a knowledgeable, responsible, thoughtful, and credible adult, who is fully credible as a superhero.
Hakan/Harun is admirable as the devoted father of the lovely Shirin -- a beautiful new character from the Ottoman period. The most evident sign of Hakan's character development, however, is his growing willingness to evolve his perspective on the conflict with the Immortals, so as to adapt to the time paradox he confronts in season 4. Once he finally realizes that going back to the past and performing the same actions does not prevent history from repeating itself, Hakan starts to think deeper about the ultimate causes of the present catastrophe and of possible ways of addressing them at the root.
Willing and able to go beyond his rage and frustration, Hakan learns about Harun and Valerya's relationship in the past, and thus finally understands the latter's motives for revenge in the present. To his surprise, he realizes that the Immortal's bond with Harun is profound and authentic, to the point that she is contemplating abandoning her mission for their love. In turn, Harun too is very serious about Valerya to the point of proposing marriage to her. Hakan thus concludes that, if Valerya were to recuperate her life with Harun in the past, she might not feel the need to destroy Istanbul in the present.
Season 4 thus reveals the great love between Valerya and Harun, especially once Nisan/Vizier reads the letter in which Valerya describes how falling for Harun made her more human, and how his light chased away the darkness inside of her. Their relationships had indeed the potential to become the central epic romance of the series. Unfortunately, season 4 offers only a few brief flashbacks to illustrate their story.
Already in episode 1, there are hints of how the story will end. What looks like an Oracle in Ottoman times foretells the future to Hakan/Harun:
"You are the real hero, not the talismans. Never doubt who you are. Follow your destiny. You are the one who will save us all by changing the past and the future."
This prophecy is clearly reminiscent of Neset's last words to Hakan back in season 1. Harun also reprises the Oracle's and Neset's predictions during a beautiful scene on a cliff in episode 6, when he tells Hakan that he is the bravest among the Protectors because he has the courage to do what no one else could (see the video clip at the end of the article.) Obviously the Oracle is a constant and critical presence in the story. Three different Oracles appear in key sequences of season 4: the old woman in episode 1, the Oracle in the present interpreted by Miray Daner, and -- once the latter dies -- Zeynep. Regrettably, the series offers only scant information about the Oracles. Who are they? What are their origin and purpose? And why are they so important in the development of the story?
Those wishing to see more of Burak (Taner Ölmez) stand to be disappointed, as he gets killed off very soon in season 4 for apparently no reason other than showcase Zeynep's transformation into an Immortal robot-like assassin. For most of season 4, Zeynep interacts mainly with Faysal. She appears to do his bidding without complaint. In addition to Burak, she also kills Aylin and the Oracle in cold blood. Up until the very end of the series, viewers continue to wonder whether Zeynep is really completely subdued and devoted to the Immortals' cause. Or whether there is some humanity left in her somewhere.
While few, season 4 still offers meaningful scenes between Hakan and Zeynep. The first is when Hakan attempts to engage in dialogue with a captive Zeynep in episode 3. The second is in episode 5 when he goes back to the Loyals' hideout where he finds Zeynep, who is now the Oracle. To convince him to give up his efforts to save Istanbul, Zeynep makes him see a future where their two kids materialize. Hakan, however, believes that the vision induced by Zeynep is an illusion to distract him while the rest of the Loyals are being killed. While Zeynep appears as a lost cause, Hakan never ceases to hope. He knows that the Immortals have deviated from their mission in the past. And indeed, after she transforms into an Oracle, Zeynep finally finds the mettle to resist Faysal and prevent him from killing Hakan in episode 6.
Boran Kuzum resurfaces to play the important roles of Akim/Okhan, the Immortal Alchemist. Also, Burçin Terzioglu reappears as Cavidan, the Immortal concubine who infiltrates the Harem to assassinate Sultan Mehmet. The full team of the Immortals also re-emerges briefly in episode 6, while other characters from previous seasons make a comeback in episode 7. The criteria according to which some characters are resuscitated while others are not (e.g. Neset, Kemal, Leyla, Ceylan, Ezra, etc.) remain however unclear.
In season 4, once Husrev/Faysal realizes Valerya/Vizier's love for Harun, he concocts a plan to have Harun kill her so that he can take over the Immortals' leadership. All these machinations, however, eventually fail. In turn, one of the best sequences of season 4 is that of Okhan, Faysal, and Vizier in the villa, where they blame each other for everything that thwarted the Immortals' mission. Vizier is condemned for falling in love with Harun and betraying the others. Faysal for his infatuation with Rüya and his willingness to sacrifice the Immortals' cause for it. And Okhan for being jealous of Valerya enough to plot her demise. Vizier also admits she was the one driving the truck that killed Rüya in the present. Okhan confesses that he was willing to poison Vizier because he was in love with her and feared abandonment. Faysal proposes mutual forgiveness so that the remaining Immortals can cooperate to open the gate that will return them to their own dimension. However, collaboration among evil beings is a pipe dream.
This clever scene is strongly reminiscent of Jean-Paul Sartre's existentialist play "Huis Clos" ("No Exit,") in which three characters are punished by being locked into a room together, where they torture each other for eternity. The play is the source of the famous quotation "L'enfer, c'est les autres" ("Hell is other people".) Sartre argues that, because each individual perpetually sees him/herself through the eyes of other people's consciousness, one's own subjectivity is constantly challenged. Differently put, because, we always take in the "gaze" of others to gauge our self-perception, we can never behave authentically or have true freedom. In short, we live in "hell." According to Sartre, this hell can only be dealt with by exercising freedom of choice, action, responsibility, and life in "good faith."
As episode 7 reveals, the three Immortals too are locked up on Earth for punishment and unable to liberate themselves exactly like the protagonists of Sartre's play. And it is Hakan's purposeful choices and actions that eventually liberates them from their unique hell. Season 4 finally sheds some light on the Immortals' origin. Their story starts when an unidentified "Darkness" forged a pact with Emperor Justinian, during the Nika Riots. In 532 CE, the Emperor's life and reign came under serious threat from an internal revolt. Nearly half of Constantinople was burned or destroyed, and tens of thousands of people killed. Upon Justinian's request, the "Darkness" sent in the Immortals to quell the riots. When Justinian failed to keep his side of the agreement by sealing the portals that would have let the other immortals on earth, the "Darkness" decided not to recall those who were already in Istanbul until they destroyed the city. The Immortals worked on the task for centuries, but never managed to complete it.
The series could have ended at episode 6 with the Immortals' death in 1459. But in episode 7, "The Protector" supplies yet another interesting twist to the story. Hakan wakes up in an altered present, where at first everything seems just as when the series began in season 1. However, he soon realizes that Memo and Neset are no longer there, while Faysal still is. Hakan thus sets off in search of Zeynep in the hope of finding answers. In the alternate present, Hakan and Zeynep have not yet met. However, because she is now the Oracle, she is fully aware of who Hakan is. Back in Ottoman times, Faysal has apparently survived as the sole Immortal on earth. He then continues to fight alone against the Protectors and the Loyals, with no one ever succeeding in stopping him. In this fight, the Loyals suffer terrible losses and, eventually, decide to make a truce with Faysal.
With Zeynep once again at this side, Hakan finds out that in the alternate present, he still possesses some of the Protector's powers even without the talismanic shirt and dagger. This is because he and all the Protectors are descendants of Faysal. In the final epic scene, Hakan agrees to confront Faysal but, when he tries to kill him, the Immortal within him awakens. Faysal then urges Hakan to bow to the "Darkness," so that they can rule over Istanbul together like father and son. Hakan, however, makes a different choice. He kills Faysal and then kills himself rather than surrender to the "Darkness." In the very final twist, the "Darkness" relinquishes Hakan's corpse and he miraculously wakes up in a world free of Immortals. The story comes full circle when the last sequence reveals that Hakan now owns Neset's antique shop and is finally free to be happy with Zeynep.
The last season of The Protector contains once again clever cinematic and literary citations. In a clear homage to The Blair Witch Project and Escape from New York, the opening sequences of episode 1 offer shaky hand-held camera footage of a chaotic Istanbul, where the evil Immortals rule and wreck havoc on the trapped inhabitants. Episode 2 starts with a wild party and a fight cage sequence eerily reminiscent of Blade Runner and The Fight Club, coupled with a curious citation from the multiple Razzies-winning The Double Team. Then, as mentioned earlier, the series nods to "Groundhog Day and Huis Clos. Finally, the references to the "Darkness" and Hakan's refusal to embrace it are clearly reminiscent of Star Wars. These quotes are a treat for avid fans of the fantasy/action genre and help elevate the overall level of the series
The clever script notwithstanding, the series leaves a number of unresolved issues. Every time Hakan travels to the past, it is unclear what happens to Harun's consciousness once Hakan takes over his body. The series also does not adequately explain why Faysal, who is an Immortal, is able to use the key to travel back to the past. Perhaps the greatest failure of the script is in regards to the elderly woman who turns out to be Harun's mother. For such a key character, she only gets a brief appearance, which, regrettably, reveals little about her relationship with Husrev/Faysal. The fact that Immortals and humans could actually reproduce likely deserved greater exploration. Also, did Hakan ever really need the shirt in the first place, since he is a descendent of an Immortal? What exactly is the dark rot that affects Faysal when he kills Vizier and Hakan once he kills Faysal? And finally, why is Hakan able to wake up in episode 7, even after killing himself?
Unresolved issues notwithstanding, season 4 of The Protector provides a fun ride and a fitting conclusion to a cinematic saga that is both internationally successful and domestically revolutionary. In addition to tackling the fantasy/action genre for the very first time in Turkey, The Protector offers a very unique Middle Eastern superhero, whose development over four seasons is very interesting to observe, especially thanks to Çagatay Ulusoy's fine interpretation. It also offers several strong female characters, which provide welcome departures from the typical dizi heroine. A brief lesbian kiss in season 4 (at the very beginning of episode 2) bravely dispenses with the curious absence of gay characters in Turkish dizi. A new and improved format offers a more fast-paced product. And superior working conditions for both the cast and crew deliver a remarkably more polished series.
In conclusion, one does not need to like the superhero genre, Turkish dizi, or Çagatay Ulusoy to enjoy The Protector. The series provides fun entertainment for all ages, while at the same time exposing audiences to a rich culture, whose history, customs and traditions viewers might feel inspired further to explore after witnessing Hakan/Harun's fabulous adventures.
Netflix and all those involved in the making of The Protector took huge corporate and personal risks when they decided to become involved in this pioneering venture. The risk paid off. The benefits of Netflix's entrance in the Turkish market have been remarkable in terms of both increased global interest in Turkey and Turkish film-making, and a more diverse supply of cinematic opportunities for Turkey's cinematic artists. It will be now hard for the genie to go back into the lamp. And hopefully, it won't have to...
(C) Copyright by North America TEN and Paola Cesarini
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