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Behzat Ç : burned by love, yet loves to burn

Lawrence Russell | filmcourt.ca

Created by Emrah Serbes | Written by Emrah Serbes & Ercan Mehmet Erdem | Directed by Serdar Akar & Dogan Ümit Karaca | Starring Erdal Besikçioglu Nejat Isler Canan Ergüder Inanç Konukçu Fatih Artman Berkan Sal Ayça Eren Seda Bakan Hakan Hatipoglu Berke Üzrek Ege Aydan et. al. | Country of origin Turkey

(Yapimci: Adam Film - Tarkan Karlidag Genel Yönetmen: Serdar Akar Yönetmen: Sadullah Sentürk Senaryo: Ercan Mehmet Erdem Eser Sahibi: Emrah Serbes Oyuncular: Erdal Besikçioglu, Ege Aydan, Seda Bakan, Fatih Artman, Ayça Eren, Inanç Konukçu, Berkan Sal, Canan Ergüder)

Behzat Ç is available on Netflix

Behzat Ç opening credits with theme

Star TV preview clip of Behzat Ç episode 48

baglama saz sequence in Behzat Ç

§ The Cop Noir drama seems inexhaustible as a genre these days, especially since it went international and has been able to rejuvenate the cliches of murder in search of easy money and righteous revenge by the use of exotic settings and detuned criminal codes. Behzat Ç is a beautiful example, a TV series set in Ankara -- the post WW 1 capital of Turkey -- filmed and broadcast between 2010 and 2013 domestically and in Europe. To say that the action 'kicks ass' is an understatement -- Behzat Ç might possibly be the most swiftly brutal homicide series out there, although it's not all easy death, dames and madness (and it has all these things). It's funny -- if executions, heartache, and domestic misery can be funny. It has many of the raw characteristics of the 70's Hollywood 'Blaxploitation' films, with endlessly profane dialogue, easy violence, cynical behavior and uninhibited animal action. Maybe it's a cross between the vigilante charm of 'Dirty Harry" and the fatalistic bourgeois misery of 'Wallander' or simply a brilliant expression of Turkish manners. Black humour is relentless, tragedy inherent, salvation the next drink of raki or a long-necked bottle of beer... or a diva in a tight red dress wearing stiletto hi-fives. So in Behzat Ç, you see Turkey, down and dirty, in its chaotic mix of modernity and tradition, secularism and spirituality.

Erdal Besikcioglu as Behzat C

The setting and sociology certainly deliver some cachet. The drone and whine of the Ankara traffic continually cross-fades into the Phrygian mode, the hypnotic melodies of the ancient stringed saz (Turkish lute) and the nightclub chansons of the purring divas and male supplicants, now armed with amps, pickups, and silver bullet mics. Scene transition shots often feature the famous Ankara landmark buildings: the Kocatepe mosque, the Ankara Castle, and the Seljuq-Ottoman tomb of Kemal Ataturk, founder of the modern secular Turkish state. And murder happens 24/7: domestic, political, sexual, expressionist and existential. Women have had enough of their men's brutal beatings and drunken sexism -- a broad blade kitchen knife between the shoulder blades or straight into the gut solves that. Some fat guy is pissed at his neighbour or his brother or his woman -- a quick throat slash solves that. A taxi driver is irritated by some other driver stealing his fares -- a 9 millimeter shot to the head solves that. A movie starlet "disrespects" a wealthy businessman -- some duct tape, a snowy bivouac, a bullet to the Ankara-Istanbul road sign solves that... a motor cycle assassin kills a pedestrian in the rush hour traffic with a passing slash from a medieval sabre... a sex abuser is hung from the rafters by a trip hidden below the body of another abuser in a staged mise en scene... a cop moonlights as a serial killer, creates her own case... and so on and so on.

Ugly moments, beautiful choreography. So you get it all, suicide-by-cop or murder-as-a-fine-art, on it goes, 96 episodes of devolving fascist action, both sides of the game of law and order.

And the hero is an engine of despair, driven by arrogance, alcohol, grief and romantic self-destruction. And he's armed. And his name is Behzat -- Captain Behzat.

As per the genre (everywhere) just about everyone is a double-crosser either in love or murder. At one point even Behzat is denounced (under pressure) by one of his own squad. His number one capo, Harun, is duped by a Ukranian B-girl, driven to the brink. His brother is taken for a ride by Funda, a fake psychologist who is a honeytrap for a business rival. His illegitimate daughter Süle stalks him from the Freudian shadows of history and revenge. And even his superiors appear to be double-agents, ostensibly serving the state while being under the control of others. Corruption is systemic, morality the servant of political expediency. Sex, jealousy, money, greed, power, politics and psychosis. If it wasn't for alcohol and art, there would be little or no morality in Behzat's world at all.

Who is this Behzat? A tall lanky man in black. Black hair, black moustache, black eyes... midnight shadow in the key of B minor flat. Communicates in grunts and curses, drinks while driving or if need be, in his office. An outlaw. A 'black soul'. An insomniac, a night prowler, a habitue of down-market clubs, aficionado of Turkish folk music, indifferent to money or bourgeois comfort. Soccer fan, erstwhile coach. Soft on women, despite his failed marriage and various rocky relationships. Old school authoritarian at work, runs his team as a family. Tribal, yet institutional. Pragmatic, used to fitting square pegs into round holes. Admired, feared, and at times mad, bad, and dangerous to know. At 45, his hormones are still firing and his liver is good to go. Played to perfection by Erdal Besikçioglu with apparent ease. Surely the Behzat type will be an inspirational avatar to desperate men everywhere he is seen, destined for the pantheon of great characters in the culture of crime fiction drama.

|| The homicide team? Like firemen, they lie around the office a lot, waiting for something to happen. This is usually is signalled over the radio, which they carry everywhere 24/7 as they're always on call.

Behzat's senior lieutenant is Harun a.k.a "Mr. Biggie", a genial child-man who likes to crack jokes while cracking heads. Father a retired bus driver, mother still wears the hijab, and his sister is a student longing to break free. Harun is conflicted by traditional Turkish values concerning the roles of men and women, a slave of the double-standard, frequently irrational, passionate, eager to laugh, loyal to the boss, and uses every opportunity to intimidate witnesses, suspects, and the junior members of the squad. One foot in the past, the other in the present, his love life is nearly as crazy as Behzat's. But as the series progresses, Biggie matures, even displays wisdom. Played by Fatih Artman. Again, a large character brought to life so vividly as to be 'reality TV'. Tour de force, as they say.

Behzat C: Ghost

Hayalet (Ghost) is perhaps the sanest member of the team, except when he falls for the wrong woman, which of course makes a good story. Such as? When he becomes involved with a neighbourhood woman who has been abandoned by her husband... or so it appears. As the barrio is slated for demolition, Ghost, moved by a mixture of pity and romantic attraction, gets involved, helps her and the child out. Ghost moves in and as the relationship reaches the 'piss now or get off the pot' stage, the woman confesses that she murdered her husband because he beat her brutally and often. This is a very clever and well-executed story in the Behzat C series, and just how Ghost is helped by his colleagues to get around this tragic faux pas is sublime. You get the feeling that this a true story straight from the ancient heart of old Turkey, has the allure of a peasant tale by John Millington Synge or Liam O"Flaherty or Ivan Turgenov or any of those great writers of the primitive soul. Ghost is played by Inanç Konukçu. Again, what is there criticize about this performance? A brilliant understated projection of personality and character. He can sing too.

A siren breaks the night like a wolf surveying the snowy hillside of old Ankara. A light snow falls. A hunted man wobbles around a corner, looks over his shoulder before continuing. A musician slips between the shadows, instrument slung over his shoulder, heading for his gig at a local club. A shot rings out, echoing in the alleys. The hunted man falls face first on the icy cobblestones. Meanwhile the musician continues to the neighbourhood club where he takes his place in the traditional folk group which is backing up a large female chanson called Menekse ("Violet" in English). His instrument is the cümbüs, a 12 string fretless banjo. The ethnicity hides the cliche, and the camera cutting hides the killer.

Is Emin guilty? Probably not. In Behzat Ç, traditional folk music is the spiritual soul of Turkey, and musicians are revered as essential karma. Still, the evidence points towards Emin as the story hinges on a blood feud that follows him from his home village to the city and the revenge that incubates in the shadows. Like many of the murders in Behzat Ç, there's an ancient feel to the event, where justice is a matter of honor to be settled personally by the aggrieved or by his or her family. Later, there might be some regret by the assassin for killing the wrong person (say), although there is never regret for the action. Of course the witnesses deliver conflicting statements, and of course the musician tries to flee when Behzat and his main three lieutenants visit the club and take in the vibe. Thus the imperative for Captain Behzat is to prove Emin's innocence by capturing the real killer.

And thus Behzat is always a champion of the truth, even if the truth conflicts with the imperative of the state. In modern Turkey, he walks an uneasy line between the right and wrong sides of history. Like the prayer beads he fondles when not fondling a gun or a scented neck, he feels his way forward like an injured pilgrim seeking an unknown temple in an unknown place.

Although Behzat acts with authority -- reckless driving, reckless politics, reckless fists, reckless love -- he carries a load of self-doubt which increases as the conspiracy against him increases. "We humans like to suffer," he tells his cohorts, knowing that pain and guilt are requisites for not only identifying with the victim but also for understanding the perpetrator.

Throughout the series, there's always a sense that the episode stories are more real than the backstory. Perhaps the murders are based on factual incidents taken from the newspaper or the biographies of certain people used as character models. The backstory killers are more fantastic, more fictional in their plots and actions. Any of the on-going villains are like this: Escrüment Çozer, Basgan Memduh, Bahri, et al.

Akbabba aka Vulture in Behzat C

Ghost hangs mostly with Akbaba (Vulture), a skinny long-haired anthro with a double cotter-pin hanging from his left ear. He walks slightly off kilter, as if he's just squeezed through a crack in a wall. He has the worried man look, as he carries a dark secret... and also has the least formal education in the group. He's a sniffer, a body finder, an on-site examiner. He squabbles with Ghost endlessly, who loves to wind him up. Vulture's personal story is also one of love and humiliation, a tragedy that has all the darkness of cruel paradox and familial abuse. This ties in with an ongoing story in Season 2, "The Finger-Cutter Killer" (FCK). (the interesting thing here is that not all serial killers lack a political motive). Berkan Sal is Akbaba a.k.a Vulture as easily as if he's never played anything else, just walked off the street onto the sound stage and hit his marks without looking, said his lines, no script necessary.

Sedan Bakan as Eda in Behzat C

Eda... beautiful Eda. A trained cop, but a doll in a man's world. Someone sometime says, "I knew there'd be trouble when they put a woman in this office." Not her fault, of course, as she simply wants to get on with her job and prove herself as more than a pretty face. She'd be a sit-com character if not for the brutal nature of the job, the babe who answers the phone and puts up with all the crap as the guys banter and do their thing. Good with a computer, a search engine, a smile. Lips, legs and longing. Seda Bakan.

Behzat C: Turish Cop Noir

burned by love, yet loves to burn

No doubt some people will find Behzat Ç too vulgar and too graphic in its scenes of torture and murder and general human anguish. Man's inhumanity to man (and woman and child) seems to be pushed well beyond the usual limits into a new kind of shock theatre. The photo naturalism becomes voyeurism. Chic downtown villains shoot victims between the eyes with sleek 9 millimeters as easily as blowing kisses and hi-life/low-life women knife enemies as easily as preparing a meal. Behzat Ç is violent alright and some will dismiss it as nothing more than a soap opera of death, too absurd to be taken seriously... or simply the folly of another 3rd World society pretending to be 1st World. The cheap sensationalism of homicide a la mode reduces human behaviour to a sick tango of sexy sadism and religious masochism. Predators, suckers, guns, knives... HGTV condos and open sewers, trendy clubs, cafes and hillside cemeteries. Sounds like Europe or the US, you think. You sigh, think, do I join in with some sanctions against the Ankara government or do I retire to Turkey, buy a jug of raki, and enjoy the ride?

So, in the end, is Behzat Ç little more than a commercial for this nihilist anti-social behaviour? Even Behzat himself sets a rotten example with his bullying, pro-active violence and lousy manners. He doesn't wear a uniform, dresses like a hood, drinks on the job, commits crime to solve crime, carries a badge yet operates like a gangster. If he wasn't protected by his boss and powerful, unseen people, he would be behind bars himself or prowling the sea-wall of some castellated mental home like Hamlet crying the midnight blues. Yes, Behzat suffers, and it's his suffering that allows us to see past his folly. He's a victim par excellence, a patsy, another rat in the prison lab of human existence. But he fights -- between the hangovers and the murders, he fights with a feral cunning, and even when the truth is killing, he forgives, survives, retains compassion, never surrenders completely to the dark side even though he wears a black leather coat.

Behzat. Burned by love, yet loves to burn.

"Suffer," he tells Harun, his deputy, when Harun goes into meltdown over Larissa, the grifter Ukrainian honeytrap. Or on another occasion, during the final showdown with Captain Suna, the hyper-feminist killer cop, when she cries, "But Behzat you torture people!", Behzat replies, "Yes, but I never kill them." While the nuances of legitimate versus illegitimate violence might seem ridiculous here because the degrees of moral separation get lost in the melodrama, the fact remains that Behzat absorbs more violence than he dishes out, and his personal suffering acts as a moral barometer in the game of right and wrong.

Even though he's a mess, Behzat functions quite well, just like Robocop, injured on the inside but rockin' on the outside. He's all business, a man of few words, preferring an Esperanto of grunts and curses, body feints and eye flashes over talk. He's so economical with language that he hangs up, or walks out rather than says goodbye or hello baby. This is especially true of the first season, when he's driven by the need to find his daughter's killer; by Season 2, you see a gradual softening in his manner (and that of his team), as if the government has told the producers of Behzat Ç that they'll shut the series down if they don't present the police in less fascist way... or perhaps it's just the script writers introducing political correctness into the scenario. There is a decided movement from the killer as evil to the killer as victim as the episodes pile up and the plotting moves inward. This is good, as it confirms humanity in a rather inhuman landscape. Not for nothing is Behzat stuck in a loop of predator and prey, symbolized by the wildlife documentaries he watches at home as he drinks himself into a stupor on his down-market suede throne.

He frequently sleeps where he passes out, fully-clothed, fully bohemian. In truth, Behzat is more like an artist than a detective, bucking convention as he does, living in fashionable squalor (his house is furnished like a cheap motel, its generic indifference at once anti-materialist and personal), yet seeking beauty as beauty is the only reason to continue living. He craves the female touch like a wild dog who can only settle down when stroked by a magic hand. Yet you do wonder if in fact Behzat is just another in a long line of Turkish bullies who use corporal punishment and violence to extract a confession just for the sheer pleasure of it. Just because he looks cute with his boy hippy haircut and western desperado moustache and dangling prayer beads doesn't mean he's a 21st Century liberal hep cat. For those of us who live further west, his swash-buckling slouch and strut is a manner we admire, a style we all harbour when we're tired of voting and nothing gets done. Behzat gets things done. He might be rough, but he's honest, and if he punches a woman in the face, well it's an honest mistake. Lawyers exist, but they only exist to clean up the mess. In fact, by Season 2, he marries a lawyer, the Public Prosecutor Esra, and she cleans up his mess, although she pays dearly for it.

The Freudian nightmare that is his life deepens like an ancient hereditary wound, echoing Oedipus or Lear or any doomed tragic hero whose misery transmits through the ages in dreams and in the genes of the deranged. When Behzat is remanded to a mental hospital following the suicide of his undergraduate daughter Berna -- actually murdered, although he doesn't know this yet -- fate delivers to him a new daughter, Süle, who becomes his saviour... and then, like a poisoned chocolate, returns him to the abyss once again. An unknown child from an old flame -- herself a suicide because of Behzat -- who in turn murders her half-sister in a jealous attempt to usurp this 'woman' in Behzat's life. It's tabloid, like anthrax in the mail... or UFOs seen through the windshield: he wants to believe but somehow the lies keeping coming.

He has conversations with multiple selves -- five, typically, like stand-ins for the five members of his squad. His old friend Tekin is murdered -- bad enough, but when he learns that Tekin had been corrupted by the gangsters who seem to control the higher echelons of the police and the judiciary, even worse. Hope fades like a bad screw.

Strangely -- or perhaps typically -- Behzat is the centre of the universe. His squad waits anxiously for his arrival, stand up when he enters, and even after hours, can't drink too long without him. Even the arch-villain Escrüment Çozer doesn't want to live without him, even though this prick cop has screwed his business schemes, vanity murders, and sex life, has forced him into exile for a period, even though he's the only one who seems to have the answers to Behzat's problems. He knows who murdered Berna, he knows Behzat's mother is alive and scheming, he knows who the bent officials are and the lines of corruption in Ankara... this chameleon criminal knows all this as the voice inside a madman's head knows, he knows, he knows, he knows what Behzat needs to know. Therefore it's no surprise that by Season 3 Escrüment decides to "collaborate" with Behzat, especially when it comes to finding out who ordered Esra's killing.

As a character, Escüment Çözer starts out real, but as his outrageous killing spree (mostly matters of "disrespect") in defence of his sex life and business operations gets out-of-hand, his believability is only sustained by photography. It's the cine and film editing that makes us cringe and thrill to his master criminal agility, not the psychological portraiture. As a disco Cassanova with a 9 millimeter and a nuclear credit card, he's acted to perfection by Nejat Isler. The smile, the earrings, the up-market cars, the wine, the coke, the babes, the lackies ready to clean up his mess, a helicopter hovering nearby... sociopath, psychopath, anthropath... an Anatolian thug with a jet-set life-style, happy in Istanbul, unhappy in Ankara... except when he's messing with Behzat. As imagery, he provides comic relief from the grim social realism of the working class murders, student riots, Gulen lefty protests, robberies and domestic miseries. When he screws on his silencer to take care of business, you might think (briefly) of the need for more gun control, but more likely you're left thinking how easy it is to die at the whim of some jerkoff who takes offence too easily. Escrüment Ç isn't a character -- he's Death. He never had a childhood, never had a family, just arrives, fully-formed and goes about his dirty business. You cut finger-nails, EC cuts people. Behzat hunts killers, EC... hunts.

He's not alone. He has a pal, a minder of sorts, another hitman in the employment of the Circle. Basgan Memduh. You might think of Danny Devito when this guy arrives. He's bigger, although not by much. Less funny, although not by much. He loves to eat, worries about his weight, reminisces about his time as a special ops commando eating snakes in the mountains. He shoots people too, and when EC is in hiding or in exile, acts as an understudy. You're not quite sure if he's a partner in equal standing with EC or if he's actually his handler, someone who checks EC's excesses and supervises his escapes. The "Duck Man" tries to eliminate him but somehow it's Memduh who eliminates the Duck Man. You're not quite convinced by this scene beside the lake -- the razzle-dazzle gunplay depends too much on camera editing rather than real action -- although you hang in there for the laugh and because Memduh has become quite endearing... like a favorite dog who shouldn't be killing the bunnies, but it's in his nature, so what can you do?

A pack of feral dogs is briefly illuminated by a streetlight, cross the highway ramp after a vehicle passes, disappear into the shadows on the hunt for food. In a condo, a man 'murders' his sex doll, and the day of Harun's wedding to a traditionalist girl chosen by his parents, Ankara goes nuts with violence and murder. Man with a shotgun shoots up a cafe, while another man knifes his wife after he dreams she was unfaithful... and once again Ghost gets involved with a murderess.

A traffic cop moonlights as a cartel sniper. A hitman whines about his weight. A kid kills his grandpa with a pen. Etc.

Aristotle says "Drama is an imitation of an action". Today, the media feed-back loop accelerates the emotional need to imitate anything, including the imitation. Despite the moral imperative invariably contained in endings and exits, sex and death remain the most imitated events.

Nejat Isler as Escrument Cozer in Behzat C

Nejat Isler as the disco cassanova business man Escrument Cozer

Behzat C: Esra

Esra, Prosecutor and Behzat's second wife

"Don't let my salvation be our end," says Esra to Behzat, in what becomes a foreshadowing of her fate. She's been charged with price fixing or helping some business men win a government contract. It's a stitch-up by the Escrüment Çozer cartel (or double-agents within), of course, who have planted evidence in her office which is conveniently found by the Organized Crime squad after a tip-off. Poor, beautiful Esra, the new wife of Behzat. Before they married, when Behzat said he'd be no good for her, she said (persuasively). "Then let's be unhappy together." Well, they were briefly happy, but like everyone the tainted Behzat loves, she must either go mad or die... and she dies, taken out by a sniper's bullet as she embraces Behzat at the prison gate.

The series backstory evolves as a gradual exposure of the ruling crime syndicates that control "business" in Ankara, the whole entity known in the generic as "the Circle". By Season 2 the faces of the hitmen and their handlers are revealed, and the corruption of the police force at the highest levels, a corruption that reaches into the government itself. This is a familiar story to the cop genre, of course, regardless of country or culture. In Behzat, the revelations keep coming like a game of poker, where the big cards spell doom for one player, salvation for another. The ironies are often crushing, and the hero is the one most often crushed. While Behzat sails through the tainted politics of law and order, life and death, love and loneliness, with a grim determination to remain true to himself no matter what, he's constantly getting blindsided by the hidden plays of his own squad and his own family. His mother, whom he hates because she left his father for a General (one of the Circle bosses?), resurrects like a soap bubble. The revelations are partial, never complete, so that Behzat blunders from one domestic horror to next like a puppet trying to cut his strings.

This posse of investigators -- who have a tremendous success record as they (typically) solve every murder -- really don't instill confidence as a professionally disciplined group. True, they jump whenever their Captain barks, and they look to him as a 'father', but their modus operandi is pretty casual. They interrogate witnesses in public, don't seem to care who knows their business or the suspect's, and they mess up the crime scene with the casual ignorance of children. They're apparently graduates of the Police Academy (except for Vulture, who's all instinct and smell, just one step up from a police dog), yet the science of forensics is rudimentary. However, this is refreshing for the genre, as it allows the characters to perform as 'characters' rather than as CSI automatons. You get the person, not the uniform (although they don't wear any anyway). Street smart is more important than school smart in this Ankara homicide squad. As personalities, they're outsiders, and as a group, they have a 'special operations' feel, just a six-pack away from gone rogue. Behzat himself is 'protected' by a higher invisible authority and his immediate superiors for precisely this reason -- his para-legal method has the efficacy of a hitman when a hitman is needed. Murder is a disease, a corruption, requires an asymmetric response, regardless of the moral symmetry of the law.

*The subtitling is a bit ragged now and then -- missing or wrong words, antonyms instead of synonyms, typos and other minor gaffs. The 'street idiom' is very good, though.

*The 'time and place' continuity is wrong in a few scenes, although over 96 episodes this is no crime, and most viewers won't notice.

Episode 78

Although, of course, Behzat and his squad find that not all murder is as straight forward as a simple breaking of the taboo. In a society where outmoded practices are systemic, in a society where some men still treat women and children as animals, pets and/or property, well, some murders can be a matter of survival, and some even a moral accounting/reckoning in a state that has failed its people. Thus Behzat is not above looking the other way or even covering up a real crime of passion. Episode 78 is where the pros and cons of all this are hammered out. Perpetrators can be victims, and everyone carries a secret, some more ghastly than others. For the Behzat squad, well, their secrets are ghastly. You know about them, of course, although the details remain unknown to their colleagues.

Episode 78 is a group therapy session or an Alcoholics Anonymous confessional, except the assembled homicide team drink heavily and even fight. Much of the action is in "real time", so it has a live theatre feel rather than the jump cut montage of the series. Captain Behzat -- aware that the unity of his team is disintegrating due to private issues -- forces them to sit down and come clean. He acts as a moderator, although comes to the confessional himself, spills the beans about his 'secret' daughter Sule, and about his madness following Esra's death. As for Vulture's complicated complicity in the original FCK murders, he says (with a characteristic wave of the hand), "We'll cover it up." Why not? The squad had already covered up Ghost's accidental complicity in his girlfriend's murder of her husband. The silent corrosion of guilt and secret complicity is expiated, and the gang sits down for some fried tomatoes, eggs and crusty bread in the pre-dawn hours... and all is well in Turkey.

The moral is that cruelty to women and children as a form of discipline or sexual slavery is no longer acceptable, and that those women (and children) who kill in order to save themselves or someone they love, do not, in some circumstances, deserve to be punished. While 'rights for victims' is touched on in earlier episodes, Episode 78 is one that examines the issue in detail, as the problem has been personalized. This 'theatre of ideas' is actually started in Episode 75. In the hook (or setup) scene we see two men -- Barbaros (Serdar Orçin) and Muzaffer (Gökhan Yikilkan) -- sitting facing the camera discussing Chekhov and Dostoevsky and whether Dostoevsky was right when he said Chekhov should forget about writing plays, stick to short stories. The well-known Chekhov maxim about a gun-on-the-wall in scene 1, and that it should be used by scene 2 or 3, is referenced. In-joke for the writers and actors? To be sure. Yet the scene has a craziness about it that's reminiscent of the two thugs waiting around in Harold Pinter's short absurdist play The Dumb Waiter... and when the camera pulls back to reveal a man bound and gagged to chair with duct tape, you realize this idle chat is far from idle. The man -- who has been tortured and beaten -- will die soon. His crime? Cruelty to children. The nuances are revealed later, although when known, you agree with the vigilantes. One is a police autopsy doctor, the other his morgue assistant (you might think of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi in The Body Snatcher, 1945). The conflation of Theatre of the Absurd with classic Hollywood Horror is perfect for the story. And that it merges with the theatre 'workshop' dynamic of episode 78 is more than perfect.

Sure, you say. So the writers went to theatre school, does this make them geniuses? No, as it can be a sign of creative immaturity rather than sophisticated technique. Here it isn't, though. Here the naturalism of the action prevails. This is no workshop detour into school talk, but rather a clever means of discussing a serious social issue within the context of an action drama without stopping the action to do so. That Behzat's squad ends up interrogating themselves is inevitable, given the way they operate. Their loyalty to the institution they serve is intrinsic, yet they have free will, and are therefore bound to become subversive.

It's this subversive aspect that makes Behzat Ç such an attractive drama. Nothing is glossed, issues are dramatized and discussed, dogma avoided, pity valued, humbug acknowledged, and humour is used as a weapon. Great writing, great directing, great editing. You think, who are these Turks anyway?

(Episode 78 is dedicated to Muslum Baba, a famous Turkish throb singer and actor who died in 2013. An interesting thing about Baba is that some listeners at his concerts would mutilate themselves with razor blades. The masochism here is as provocative as it is mysterious.)

Usually after this many episodes, any serial drama will become decadent, that is, resort to unbelievable shifts in the story to keep the action going. This might involve bringing a character back from the dead (this happens in Behzat Ç), introducing new characters, catastrophes or a lucky deus ex machina to help keep it all going. In general, the extended narrative must become 'absurd'. It's interesting how the script writers handle this in Behzat. Even though Season 3 starts out a little flat -- due, in the main, to the hero's listlessness -- it does develop in a completely unpredictable way. True, the murders continue (and these get solved) but it's the post-Esra traumatic distress that zombifies Behzat that allows the narrative to go in an unusual and extremely creative direction.

Episode 81 is truly bizarre. While nominal realism is retained, the action has the hard surrealism of say, Antonioni's L'avventura, where dream, mystery and uncertainty control events. Everything looks real, but as you follow Behzat in his increasingly desperate search for Eylül -- the woman who said she was a nightclub singer known as Suzan because she was masquerading as part of an undercover police operation -- you don't know if she's real or just part of Behzat's alcoholic hallucination. Given that he's been manipulated before by the movers and shakers of 'the Circle' -- in particular, by Escrüment -- this could be just part of the big game that the various players seem to enjoy. Some old time viewers might see a resemblance here to the hallucinatory ordeals of Harry Haller, the famous protagonist of Herman Hesse's 1927 novel, Steppenwolf. Hesse was briefly married to a nighclub singer and wrote about despair and loneliness in a surrealist or expressionist manner. His hero Harry Haller and Behzat are similar in their feral, wolf-like natures and their love of music and the search for the mystic woman. While there might be no direct influence here on the script writers, the Steppenwolf zietgeist has been a persuasive force in the shaping of the classic alienated hero in recent western culture. It's hard to escape the suffering protagonist in modern and post-modern narratives. It's an extension of the Romantic movement, and there's no doubt that Behzat is a romantic, even though he sports the rough persona of the homicide detective. As the culture of murder in Ankara goes, Behzat's job is a passport to schizophrenia. A continuum of death and conspiracy will do this.

This active surrealism extends into episode 82, as Behzat continues his search for the mysterious consolation muse Eylül. This psycho-drama is a replay of his domestic follies, a dream montage of rewritten history where the present and the past blend in haunting psychiatric detail. The imagery is provocative and ironic if you can hang in there and follow it, although you might wonder if the average viewer could or would. There's some sophisticated non-linear narrative here. In Hamlet, say, this would be a soliloqy, a poetic discourse on the agony and the ecstacy. This examination of the creative process and the bicameral mind is continued in the episode 87 story of the scriptwriter found dead at his computer where he was working on a script for a local television series. The writer's name is "Ermis", not that different from the Behzat Ç scriptwriter Ercan Erdem. The in-joke continues... although it's no joke if, like Ermis, you had a cervical disc hernia from sitting at the computer cranking out scripts on demand. 96 for Behzat Ç ... two primary writers, Erdem and Serbes, over three years? Seems impossible.

Season 1 is perhaps the most exciting as the behaviour of the cops is more old school bad. Basic manners and respect don't apply. In the jungle, eye contact alone is an invitation to combat. Behzat assumes all witnesses are unreliable and suspects liars and a backhand is the most efficient route to compliance. In Season 2, after his romance and marriage to Esra, the Public Prosecutor, his behaviour becomes less aggressive. Families of the bereaved get words of sympathy, even a hand shake, and the falsely accused an apology. His feral soul is tamed by three women -- Eda, Sule, and Esra. Eda, as the only woman in the office, is the first to complain about the macho barrack room profanity and lack of sympathy, and Behzat and the others give her due consideration, try to clean up their act (with some slips, of course). By Season 3, Behzat is like a soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder, somewhat chastened yet liable to go nuts. He's polite, but revenge for Esra's murder is the fuel that drives him. His squad, too, have been neutered by women and the politics of social justice. Car chases and murders don't carry the action as much as do politics and intrigue. The montage inhales, turns inward.

"You care only about the State," says Barbaros, the victim's rights killer, in a tense exchange with his father, a High Court judge. A patsy has been found to take the sole blame for Esra's murder. The fix is in. He knows it, we know it. Daddy is corrupt, and by inference, the State too.

"I can only hope my grandson isn't like you," says the Judge.

Despite the civil infractions, Behzat works within the law but Barbaros, seeing the need for extreme action, does what Behzat cannot. Barbaros becomes his existential shadow, and in the corrupt state, the last recourse for justice. Is Barbaros a criminal or just another tragic fool playing to an empty theatre? Is Behzat?

The Barbaros-Muzaffer story extends through Season 3 as a backstory commingling with Behzat's hunt for the killers of his wife Esra. The black humour is sublime, the characterizations real, tragic and driven by moral paradox. Their vigilante actions complete what Behzat needs, and gratify the viewer's need for moral orgasm in a red-light universe. While Behzat can say "Nothing will change" you shiver and smile as the bodies hit the floor.

the forgetting of the forgetting

It's fitting that Behzat's final monologue in episode 96 is accompanied by a slow, soul-burn saz and a beautifully painful dirge. You don't need to understand the singer, or even Behzat when he says that in time you forget even the forgetting.

© Lawrence Russell August 2018

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82: Behzat's car "breaks down" at night, and he has no jack in the trunk to change the tire. He hitches a ride with a man in a red Volkswagon Beatle -- most likely the one he bought for his deceased daughter Berna -- who drops him off at a gas station. He has to use the women's washroom (the Men's is locked) and in there encounters Mine, his old lover and mother of Sule. The scene is erotic, although Behzat doesn't linger, exits the station where he encounters the station owner. The man doesn't have a jack, but he does give Behzat a lift into town, where, in the heavy rain, he drops B. off at a deserted bar instead of B.'s home on Gazi Street. The bartender tells Behzat how he's going to shoot his girlfriend, and this leads to a gunfight between the two men. Eylul arrives (earlier she was seen standing on the other side of the highway as B. passed in the VW) and Behzat pursues the barman up a flight of stairs where he -- the barman -- eventually has a rendezvous with a gun-dealer in Room 23.

Meanwhile in a flashback Berna talks with Sule on the upper deck of the Club where Berna fell to her death. Eventually all this ends up in a school where Mine teaches. The barman shoots her and Behzat shoots the barman. In another classroom he discovers his mother and father discussing the need to divorce. Behzat pleads with them not to. His father, in a Turkish military uniform, seems sympathetic but his mother dismisses him, coldly insisting that this is how it goes in life. Et cetera. Is Behzat the author of his own misery? We think not... then we remember the cold way in which he blows off Mine after having sex (which led to the conception of Berna). His 'shag 'em and leave 'em' attitude might be typical of a young man on the move, yet it's similar to his mother's cruel dismissal of his father.

Artsy-fartsy late series narrative desperation... or clever post-modern non-linear inter-textural narrative with calculated surrealist intent?

Culture Court | © Lawrence Russell | 1998-2019