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Hercai: An Epic Family Saga

ATV channel in Turkey aired the 50th episode of Hercai this week to Turkish audiences. International audiences are able to enjoy the entire series, the majority of which is closed captioned with English, on YouTube. The drama series which is in its third season and on its third director, has had its ups and downs in regards to ratings but if episode 50 is any indication, there is smooth sailing ahead.


Hercai is billed as a love story born from vengeance, but in fact it is much more than that. It is an incredible story of a family's struggle with betrayal that spans generations. It is a tale of parental manipulation, parental negligence and parental sacrifice. It is a tale of miscommunication, lack of communication, deception and truth. And most of all it is a fascinating tale of forgiveness and redemption. At times the series has struggled with focus and direction wavering between a love story and an obsessive revenge story. But episode 50 as well as the previous two episodes pulled all the disparate pieces together in a neat package which I will describe below. Where the series began in season 1 is actually the middle of the story. I don't know whether this is the direction that the creators of the series set upon originally, but it is where we are today. To explain, I have to go through the history of the family, whose details were leaked sporadically in the episodes of the first two seasons and in a steady stream in the current season. But be warned there are many spoilers.



The series starts in modern day Mardin Turkey, which is an oxymoron since the culture and traditions of the region seem to be frozen in a time long ago. A young man, Miran played by Akin Akinozu, takes revenge for the death of his parents by dishonoring the daughter of the supposed murderer, Hazar Shadoglu, played by Serhat Tutumluer. One thing leads to another and the young man falls hopelessly in love with the girl, Reyyan played by Ebru Sahin, and she with him causing the young man's vengeance to go awry. That's how the series starts... but the story begins some fifty years prior when another young couple of different backgrounds fell in love.


The Original Sin


Nasuh is a Shadoglu and the heir to one of the most powerful dynasties in Mardin. He is an Aga or Turkish Lord. Ayse is a servant who with her mother and siblings serves the Shadoglus. The two fall in love, have a child, and vow to marry. But the senior Shadoglus and in particular Mrs. Shadoglu, Gul Hanim, have other plans for their son. He must marry someone of their stature. And when Nasuh refuses, Gul Hanim devises and carries out a heinous plan that will have reverberations for generations to come.


One day while Nasuh is away on a business trip, she sets fire to the Shadoglu estate causing many servants to perish. But much to her consternation, Ayse who was the target of the fire, manages to survive with near fatal burns. This does not deter Gul Hanim, who lies to Nasuh upon his return, telling him that Ayse has perished in the fire leaving their newborn son behind. Devastated and believing his beloved is dead, he takes the counsel of his mother and marries a woman of his stature and sets about raising his son. At the same time Ayse who is being treated at a local sanitarium for her burns, is told a different lie by Gul Hanim. She is told that not only has her own son has perished in the fire but that Nasuh has married someone else suitable for him and is expecting a child. She is later told that Nasuh has named his new son Hazar to replace the son he had with Ayse. In this way, Gul Hanim insures that her son retains the dignity of his name. This act of deception put in motion to satisfy some culturally accepted norm, leads to a vengeance that spans generations and is felt today.


Ayse's physical wounds heal, but the emotional wounds do not. In fact, they never even scar. They simply bleed over and over again, in her mind, in her heart and in her soul. She burns with hatred of the man she once loved believing that he betrayed her. And to cool the fire within her, she vows to make Nasuh burn in the same way. Oblivious of the fact that Hazar is her own son, she makes him the target of her vengeance. She vows to destroy Nasuh by destroying his son. It never occurs to her to find Nasuh and confront him. To ask him why he left her and married another. She simply believes the words of a cruel and deceitful woman.


Azize Aslanbey

But Ayse is nothing if not patient. She does not immediately exact vengeance. She takes 47 years to hatch her nefarious plan. This plan includes changing her identity (from Ayse to Azize played by Ayda Aksal), marrying the other most powerful man in Mardin, an Aslanbey, and taking over his fortune upon his untimely death. In doing so, she disenfranchises her husband's sister, Fusun, strips her of the family fortune and exiles her (keep this in mind). But Azize's goals are not easily achieved. She suffers massive abuse at the hand of her husband, beaten so severely at times that she requires plastic surgery that changes her appearance. Mr. Aslanbey, in addition to being a wife beater was also a philanderer who made his way through the servants' quarter. In his conquests he sired an illegitimate son (Firat, the likely Aslanbey heir) by another servant girl, Esma, who becomes Azize's confidant and accomplice due to extenuating circumstances. Nevertheless, Azize has three children with Mr. Aslanbey one of whom, Mehmet, crosses paths with Hazar Shadoglu.


The Betrayal


Hazar is the eldest of two Shadoglu sons, the younger being Cihan. They are raised in a strict, traditional home under the critical and watchful eye of their father Nasuh.

Nasuh Shadoglu

Life has not been kind to Nasuh. He has lost the only love of his life and has lived in a loveless marriage burdened by the demands of his family name. The man who in earlier years was merciful and kind, is now bitter, cantankerous and at times abusive. Young Hazar who is Nasuh's favorite (for obvious reasons) is gentle and merciful, and mindful of his duties as a son. Quite the opposite to his younger brother's ambitious and aggressive character.


As the story goes, Hazar meets and falls in love with Dilshah, a young village girl of humble means. The two vow to marry when Hazar returns from his mandatory military service. But Azize's son, Mehmet, falls for Dilshah and pursues her relentlessly. Azize who has been keeping tabs on Hazar Shadoglu's every move for years, sees her son Mehmet's obsession as a path to her elaborate revenge. So when Hazar leaves for military service she jumps at the opportunity to force a union between Dilshah and Mehmet. Dilshah implores to be left alone and tells Azize she is pregnant with Hazar's child. But this fact appears to fall on deaf ears. In her desperation, Dilshah begs Nasuh to help her only to be met with intransigence. In an ironic twist, Nasuh parrots the words of his mother from many years before... "Hazar will marry someone of his own stature, not a servant girl like you." Without recourse and forced to bend to the will of the powerful Aslanbey family, Dilshah marries Mehmet, keeping secret Miran's true paternity under threat from Azize. History repeats itself and when Hazar returns from his military service, he finds Dilshah married and with a son (Miran). Dejected and shocked he believes that Dilshah has married for love. It never occurs to Hazar to ask Dilshah for an explanation. Had he questioned her, he might have seen the love in her eyes. Indeed this is a point of great contention with Miran who blames Hazar for dooming Dilshah to her tragic fate. Miran who is the epitome of perseverance, cannot understand how Hazar who purports to have loved Dilshah would accept what he was told so easily.


"If you loved her, you would have run away from the military when the letters stopped. You would have risked imprisonment, even death to find her and asked her. yourself You had to hear it for yourself that she didn't love you. If you loved her, you would not leave your loved one unless she told you to your face to leave."


Hazar Shadoglu

Indeed this was Hazar's greatest mistake, and one that he paid for all his adult life. A lesson he learned too late, but a lesson that Miran was born knowing the answer to.


On with the story... The years pass and Dilshah endures life with her abusive husband in the Aslanbey mansion, and when she cannot take it anymore she calls Hazar for help. She begs him to help her and Miran escape the mansion. One fateful night, when Hazar comes to give safe passage to Dilshah they are confronted by Mehmet and disaster strikes. In his rage, Mehmet shoots Dilshah and Hazar and then kills himself. Hazar survives the shooting but cannot remember the events of that night. He lives for decades not knowing whether he was culpable in their murder. This becomes another reason for Azize to hate the Shadoglus and despite having witnessed the shootings, blames Hazar anyway. And thus, Miran grows up believing that Hazar Shadoglu raped his mother before mercilessly killing her and his father.


With his parents death as the impetus, Azize grooms Miran to exact the vengeance that has taken her 30 years to plan.


The Revenge


After Dilshah and Mehmet's death, Azize moves her family, which include her grandchildren from her three dead sons and her daughter in law, away from Mardin. While away, Azize builds her wealth and fortune and sets about brainwashing Miran and her other grandchildren about the evil Shadoglus. She continues to monitor the Shadoglus from far away and learns that Hazar has married a woman pregnant with another man's child. Hazar who had lost the love of his life is resigned to living a loveless life with Zehra who was abandoned by the father of her child (Mahfuz).



Reyyan Shadoglu

Zehra gives birth to a baby girl, Reyyan who lives under the watchful, compassionate shadow of her father Hazar. In time Hazar learns to love Zehra and has a second child, Gul (named after the infamous Gul Hanim). With Reyyan, Azize's plan comes into focus. She plots to have Miran seduce the young Reyyan, marry her and leave her at her parent's doorstep- an act of dishonor in traditional Mardin that denotes an impure woman. Such dishonor is punishable by death. This would destroy the Shadoglu name, bring shame to Hazar and his family, and set into motion the feud that would result in the death of Hazar at the hands of his own son, Miran. It is at this point that the series begins. As you can see it is well into the saga of the Shadoglus and the Aslanbeys.


The Inferno


Miran

Miran's love for Reyyan softens his heart and opens him up to possibilities he never knew existed. He was raised by Azize as a weapon against the Shadoglus but his nature is not cruel. He immediately regrets what he did to Reyyan and spends the remainder of the series trying to make up for his betrayal. Reyyan who innocently gave her heart to the dashing young Miran is shattered by his actions which cause her great pain and dishonor. She is beaten by her grandfather, Nasuh, and shunned by her family and her community. And Miran's relentless pursuit distresses and confuses her. But for Miran, she is his only salvation. She is a reminder of the beauty and kindness he experienced with his mother, and he will not let her go.


Needless to say he goes through fire for her. He suffers humiliation, defeat and rejection. He is marginalized and viewed with distrust by Reyyan and her family. But he refuses to give up his love. All this against the borage of poison spewed by Azize, and the constant reminder that Hazar Shadoglu killed his parents. He is torn between honoring his parents (which he misguidedly believes is achieved by vengeance) and his undying love for Reyyan. Along the way he learns little truths that tear down the wall of lies that Azize built around him. He learns of his mother's love for Hazar and his love for her. He learns of his maternal grandmother who is still living. He learns that his mother suffered abuse at the hands of Mehmet. And he learns that his mother was not raped before her death. But he learns the greatest truth of his paternity from a voice recording of his mother.


As he learns these truths he loses parts of himself... his identity. Everything he has been told and everything he has lived has been a lie. But Reyyan's constant presence, her compassion and mercy provide the salve. The Miran that Azize built crumbles and out of the wreckage rises the Miran that Reyyan helps build. Miran learns that he is not an Aslanbey, but he does not feel like a Shadoglu. So who exactly is he? Shakespeare said it well "What's in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." In episode 50 Miran realizes that he is not a name. He is a person with a goal. He is committed to Reyyan and their future together. He is Reyyan's husband and a father to be. In other words, he is Miran. When Miran understands himself, he is able to accept Hazar as his father. This may even be the best form of father/son relationship because Miran's identity is not wrapped up in Hazar's. Miran is already his own person.


Reyyan is young, but she is compassionate. She starts out innocent but her love for Miran gives her wisdom and resilience, for Miran is not an ordinary man. He is Azize's creation. He is part and parcel of the Aslanbey legacy. To love Miran she must endure the Aslanbeys and decipher the man. Loving Miran laid the groundwork for forgiving her biological father (Mahfuz) who abandoned her so many years before. Miran's betrayal was great but her father's betrayal, tremendous. If she could forgive Miran who left her for dead, she could forgive the man who did not want her to exist at all. Who are they to determine her existence? The actions of the two men were the result of their own weakness, not hers. In Episode 50 Reyyan emerges as a strong, confident woman who compassionately forgives the father who abandoned her. She does this without diminishing herself.


The beginning of atonement for Gul Hanim's original sin is demonstrated in the final scenes of the episode (see clip below). These scenes beautifully portray two young people born into deceit and betrayal caused by that first act of betrayal so many years ago, but who after enormous trials and tribulations, secure their own identity free from the chains of the past. Reyyan with her father, Mahfuz, who begs to hug her once before he leaves her life, and Miran with Hazar, proclaiming loud and clear "You are my father". The music, the cinematography and the dialogue elevate the scenes to iconic levels. Gul Hanim doesn't deserve this after what she did, but nonetheless she would have been proud!




The Road to Redemption


Episode 50 also sets into motion Azize's road to redemption. There is a saying "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned", but when that woman is Azize, hell takes a back seat. Azize's meticulously planned, multilayered revenge scheme that took decades and made complicit dozens of people unwillingly and unwittingly, is one for the history books. Throughout the series I wondered what redemption would look like for a woman of Azize's evil genius. I think we are about to discover that in the coming episodes. But in this episode Azize learns the truth from Nasuh. She learns that Hazar is the son she thought she had lost so many years ago in that catastrophic fire. She learns that she has been torturing and manipulating her own grandson and that she has spent the better part of her life scheming to kill her own son.



For a woman like Azize who's sole reason for revenge is undying love for her son, that realization alone must be earth shattering. But in her rage she has given the order for Hazar to be killed in the way "her son" was killed. In a fire! What Azize does to save Hazar is epic. In one of the earlier scenes of episode 50, Azize crosses the plains to the place where Hazar, bound and unconscious is being engulfed in flames. There are two doors with locks before her. She breaks both locks and opens the burning door with her hands oblivious to the pain. The scene is shot with flashbacks to a young Ayse carrying her baby from the fire from so long ago. Once again, Azize must burn in a fire but this time the fire will lead to her redemption.



But redemption will not be easy for Azize... Now armed with the knowledge that she has a son and grandchildren, and a great grand child on the way, she sets about seeking forgiveness and making things right. When she asks Miran "Will you be able to forgive me one day?" he responds, "Will you be able to bring my mother back?" we see a glimpse of how she hopes to win forgiveness. The final scene hints at the possibility of Miran's mother, Dilshah being alive. But whatever it is, her plan is thwarted by Fusun whose life Azize ruined on her climb to the top of the Aslanbey household. Fusun's rage seethes beneath the surface too. She has lost her family's fortune to Azize, and now she has lost a nephew (Aslan) because of her. If the adage "an eye for an eye" means anything in this context, Azize's new found family is in grave danger. Azize must once again walk through fire to save her family. And the love that she forged from vengeance- Miran and Reyyan's love- will be the soothing balm for Azize's scorched soul.


Fusun Aslanbey Bakarcioglu

The story is far from finished and Azize has her work cut out for her. Protecting her son and her grandchildren from Fusun's vengeance coupled with Cihan's jealous ambition will be a full time job. But Azize Aslanbey is perhaps one of the greatest master manipulators on the screen. I would definitely want to have her with me then against me. Let the games begin!


Azize Aslanbey's Grandchildren

Miran Gonul Gul Bahar


*Author's note: This episode and the two before it have far surpassed my expectation in terms of direction and cinematography. The exquisite attention to detail, the coherent incorporation of flashbacks, the stunning cinematography and the superb new soundtrack have elevated the series to iconic levels. Hercai is on track to becoming one of the classic family sagas of our time.



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