Ethos/ Bir Başkadır

by Chris Bertram on December 16, 2020

I’ve just finished watching Netflix’s new Turkish miniseries Ethos, set in Istanbul and directed by Berkun Oya. This has been very little reviewed in the Western press, as far as I can see. The Guardian’s what-to-watch for December doesn’t even mention it. And yet, I think it is one of the most compelling dramas I have seen for a while. The eight episodes link characters from diverse backgrounds linked through Meryem, a hijab-wearing house cleaner who is seeing a psychiatrist, Peri, because of recurring fainting episodes. She lives with her brother, the permanently angry Yasin, a nightclub bouncer and his depressive wife Ruhiye. Meryem cleans the flat of Sinan, a philandering playboy. We get to see a spectrum of Turkish life from devout village people to sophisticated urbanites and a world where women actually dominate the action (the men are passive, confused, at the mercy of events). The soundtrack is wonderful and the acting superb, as is the lingering cinematography. I’ve avoided posting spoilers, which disables me from saying too much about what happens, but it might help to know that Gülbin’s family is Kurdish, and to be primed to think about what is happening when the Hodja’s daughter, Hayrünnisa, leaves the house in the final episode. Some of the interest is Turkey-specific but there’s much that’s more universal, such as the clash between the educated urban set and the more religious “rednecks” from out of town. Give it a try!



novakant 12.16.20 at 10:27 am

Ethos is great – and very funny too.

I wish that ‘western’ viewers would be more exposed to such inside views of different societies. The dominance of US/UK content is a real concern, most British people, no to speak of the Americans, don’t even realize how insular they really are and this mono-culture obviously doesn’t further mutual understanding.

It’s a bit better ‘on the continent’, e.g. it’s pretty normal to watch French films in Germany – but anything non-European / US needs a special push or hook to break through.

Hopefully things might change through Netflix et al, but we don’t have any actual viewing figures.


Robert Workman 12.16.20 at 11:04 am

Excellent review. I wish they had thought of a more colourful title. Tim says the literal translation is “That’s something else!”. As in a phrase like “Next week is Christmas. That’s something else!”


Bjorn 12.16.20 at 10:59 pm

I must say that Netflix has done a great job of exposing more international content to viewers rather than the standard Anglo fare.


Bob 12.18.20 at 12:55 am

On the strength of this post, I tried Ethos but quit after two episodes. I won’t share any spoilers, but I just thought that the acting was wooden, the Freudianism amateurish, the “ironic” parallels between characters and the coincidences in the plot too contrived, and, overall, the production values were low: soap-opera lighting, and the sickly, melodramatic music that accompanied one traumatic scene just made you want to cringe.

What is unfortunate is that the premise, or what appeared to be the premise, is interesting. Imagine that you live in London or New York, say, but everywhere outside the metropolis there are people living like they do in Afghan villages. You’re in the same country, have the same passports and the same government, but, “you” (i.e., most CT followers living in first world countries I assume) live as far apart culturally and economically as the average Londoner does from the average rural Afghan. I know people here in Toronto from Morocco and Turkey who have talked about this phenomenon. It would have been fascinating if Ethos had done a better job exploring it.

I would recommend “My Brilliant Friend” if you want to seem something that is a fine work of art as well as having a lot to say about class and culture, admittedly from within Europe.


Chris Bertram 12.18.20 at 8:58 am

My Brilliant Friend is indeed good. Obviously, I disagree with just about everything else.


Lupita 12.20.20 at 5:09 pm

Whoever wrote this series does not know how to cook. There is no way Meryem can produce buns so rapidly and I doubt a character like Sinan would have a pantry stocked to produce so many goodies he does not care for or Meryem the time to prepare them.

I did like how it portrays non-communication as a form of passive-aggressiveness and ego-centrism that takes all those surrounding the silent one down with him/her and, in the last episode, how small incidents of communication can be so beautiful and spread to others.


Lupita 12.20.20 at 5:27 pm

Furthermore, Meryem’s claim to fame was her ability to make frothy coffee using a French press, which is nonsense. Beating and milk is what makes froth.


Stephen Rive 12.21.20 at 3:26 am

OK, so now that the spoiler is out, I’ll come clean. I’m a stickler for coffee realism, and, yes, the French press and the froth is what really did it for me. I couldn’t watch any more after that.


Cranky Observer 12.21.20 at 3:10 pm

I have an accessory filter disk for my french press specifically designed to froth milk, and there are plenty of videos on YouTube showing how to make cappuccino if you are stuck in the barren wastelands of central Iowa with only your trusty Bodum.


Steve Bryant 12.22.20 at 7:15 am

Traditional Turkish coffee is also supposed to have froth/foam on top, and it’s not caused by milk or beating. I think it’s from frequently bringing the coffee close to a boil and then removing from the heat, but I’m happy to be corrected


Chris Bertram 12.22.20 at 8:10 am

Seems an odd thing for people to get hung up about, but if you use fresh beans, roasted in the previous two days or so, there will be froth on coffee made with a “French press”, as I was easily able to verify at breakfast today. Meanwhile, watch the series, in which the coffee really doesn’t play a central role.


Red 12.22.20 at 9:19 pm

Thanks, Chris, for the suggestion. I truly enjoyed Ethos. The writing is excellent and the acting wonderful (“wooden”, Bob? I’m surprised). Sure, there are flaws: the schmaltzy music is annoying, the lingering shots of Istanbul drag on too long, etc. But it’s such a delight to spend time in a world we rarely see or hear about. And it turns out I can “relate” to these people much better than to the characters in US productions, who leave me mostly indifferent.


Okan Misirli 12.23.20 at 3:12 pm

Couple of points: what is being referred as the schmaltzy music in the series is, I suspect , by design, to contrast ‘Turkish Classical Music” (yes, that is the guy with the pianoforte, signing during the end notes, namely, Ferdi ÖzbeÄŸen) with Techno music and other relevant genres. It is all about the contrasts in these series, some gets noticed others not so much, it is layers within layers.

At the same time, I think there is quite a bit of spoofing going on in this series about what is referred as Arabesque culture in Turkey. This subculture has risen with the the increasing migration from small towns and villages in Anatolia from 1970s onwards. It developed its own cultural symbols and musical genre where the vulnerability of the new comers to the city is expressed through a concept of destiny in which they are honest but passive agents; they can be subverted by the big city, fall in love to lose everything they have, including their health. In the same vein, Turkish movies and arabesque music produced in this period made a habit of juxtaposing the new comer against the riches and the rich of the city. Again, I suspect the series is having a jolly good time by torturing the latecomers to the city with these dilemmas.

It is layers within layers. Some might totally be oblivious to those who are less familiar with the ins and outs of Turkish contemporary culture. Ultimately, we are not all cultural anthropologists. And if the series is not capable of reflecting correctly these tensions, it makes it overdone and overthought. Only the select few familiar with the cultural codes would catch these signals and for those it could be extremely fun to watch.

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