When the viewer meets the title character, Sila Özdemir (Cansu Dere) as a young adult living in Istanbul, her life enjoys the sort of perfection that only exists on television: she lives in a mansion on the sea, she has two doting parents, she is about to go to London to attend university, and she has has a yuppie-ish boyfriend (Omar in the Arabic version of the series) who, if somewhat unimaginative (his idea of a surprise for Sila is the trophy from his tennis tournament), seems to be a satisfactory enough boyfriend, being blandly good-looking and a lawyer in Sila's father's enormous company.
All of this abruptly ends when Sila's biological family - who years earlier, had given her to her adopted parents in exchange for money - show up in Istanbul. Her father and brother claim her biological mother is dying. In truth, however, they have a plan to marry her off to Boran Genco (Jawdat Genco in the Arabic version)(Mehmet Akif Alakurt), the wealthy agha of a tribe in Mardin, as a way to restore the "honour" of both families' after Sila's brother and Jowdat's sister attempted to run off together.
Sila's life goes from dream to nightmare in a few brief episodes. After luring her to Mardin, she is forced by her father and brother, at gunpoint, to marry Jowdat(who is unaware of Sila's unwillingness to the marriage). She attempts to run away, is nearly killed by her husband's family, and is saved only by her husband's lie to protect her. When her adoptive parents come to Mardin to rescue her, they die in a tragic car accident. The relatives of her adopted parents reject her, hoping to keep her parents' considerable fortune for themselves, leaving Sila seemingly vulnerable and unprotected.
That, however, is just the very beginning of the series. Sila inherits her parents' fortune in its entirety, making escape a distinct possibility. Sila's flight back to Istanbul - despite her slowly growing feelings for her new husband, who fell in love with her almost at first sight - provokes consequences that keep the series' suspense level cranked to the maximum.
The entire cast is marvellous. Cansu Dere does a superb job conveying the full range of Sila's emotions, from rage, fear, humiliation, and desperation, to resignation, determination and love. Akif Alakurt, meanwhile, is remarkably effective at conveying the inner thoughts and emotions of a character who generally tries to keep his inner thoughts and emotions to himself, and blending the darker aspects of Jawdat's personality into a believable whole. Devrim Saltoğlu is a convincingly Machiavellian villain.
The series has lots of interesting things to say about "honour" crimes, forced marriages, and related issues. Most of the characters who are complicit in Sila's forced marriage (essentially, her entire biological family, including her mother and 13 year old sister) aren't really "bad" people. The series attributes the continued existence of such "customs" to poverty, lack of education, reactionary responses to commercialism and pressures of the outside world, and the ambition of a few persons in a position of power, who invoke such custom as a tool to control the masses and solidify their own control. This latter cause is personified by the series' main villain, Jowdat's cousin (Cihan/Jihad) who serves as the driving force behind many of the evil deeds committed throughout the course of the story. Unlike Jowdat, who genuinely cares about the well-being and continued existence of his tribe as a social unit, his cousin, while using the rhetoric of custom and their traditional tribal law, has no true interest in either the tribe,its people or its mores, but only seeks power for himself.
Finally, the series contains some lovely cinematography, such as when Sila releases Jowdat's homing pigeons from atop the roof of their house in an act of defiance. The series also boasts an unforgettable leitmotif in the form of Sıla Gençoğlu's song "Töre"("Custom"), and the other musical scores are also excellent.
The series isn't perfect - some scenes are far too melodramatic when compared to North American television, but the series makes up for it with quieter, more restrained moments. Sila's security team in Istanbul, in spite of supposedly being the best that money can buy, repeatedly demonstrate themselves to be not only the most incompetent bodyguards in Turkey, but possibly the entire Middle East and eastern Europe. The willing suspense of disbelief, however, is worth the effort.
A word of warning if watching the Arabic version: The version which airs on MBC 1 censors numerous scenes which appear in the MBC+ Drama version. While some of the edits are relatively harmless to the story, others are more serious. In the uncensored version, for example, Sila has a flashback to an earlier event prior to fleeing back to Istanbal, making clear the role that event plays in her choice to leave. In the censored version, both the flashback and the original scene are edited out. As if to add insult to injury, the censorship isn't even consistent - a flashback to the event mentioned above is later included in a conversation between Sila and her brother, even though it's arguably less necessary to the plot since it's clear what Sila is talking about from the context of the conversation. In several cases, the censorship leaves bizarre plot holes.
Hopefully, the series will one day be released on DVD with subtitles in a number of languages (and hopefully uncensored). In the meantime, however, if you understand Turkish or Arabic, or know someone who does and who's willing to watch the series with you and act as a translator, it's well worth watching in either language - regardless of whether you are interested in the series's social themes, or just enjoy a well-crafted drama with lots of action and suspense.
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