by Cat Kerr
Aşk Mantık İntikam, a remake of the South Korean drama Cunning Single Lady, is the summer dizi of 2021 that, in its early days, had everyone saying, “This just gets better and better” each week. It reached its pinnacle in episode 9 before it moved from its original K-drama rom-com foundations (which it largely replicated ep1-9) into the world of diziland; abundant misery and repeated miscommunication trope abound.
After the ‘golden age’ of the first nine episodes, support started to wane as Çinar and Çagla Yilmaz, re-named by the fandom as the “Toxic Twins”, started to take center stage, side-lining the main characters of the show. The supposed lead pair Ozan and Esra, lovingly referred to as ‘EsZan’ and played brilliantly by Ilhan Sen and Burcu Ozberk, had till then grabbed the viewers hostage each week with their on-screen chemistry. The comedy which permeated the initial episodes, especially within the main couple itself, disappeared as tropes once used as playful jest became bitter blows to the couple and the viewers.
As the twisted plots started to stale, a time jump introduced some new hurdles for the couple to overcome, and extended the stay of the Toxic Twins beyond their expiration date. After push back from the viewers, and with no more plot devices available, the Toxic Twins’ reign of terror finally ended, leaving a wake of destruction. A lot of pieces had to be salvaged in order to give the lead couple the happy ending they rightfully deserved. As the show entered its 30’s it started to return to its rom-com roots, eventually ending on a lighter tone much like the beginning of the show.
Without Burcu as Esra Erten and Ilhan as Ozan Korfali, I cannot see the show lasting as long as it did. Their on-screen chemistry as well as their incredible comedy skills kept a lot of the viewers holding on for the little screen time they had together through the middle period of the show, including myself.
There are many themes and tropes throughout the series which tie Esra, Ozan and the viewers together through the good and the god damn awful. I am going to delve into some of these and their characters’ relationship dynamics for insight into why we clung on to this tale of love. Please be aware of spoilers aplenty.
Ozan, who suffers from abandonment issues from his father’s desertion of his young family, is haunted by Esra’s last words to him during their divorce some years ago, “I have never been in love with you!” This shatters the self-confidence he has built under the loving gaze of Esra since their childhood friendship. Even though he achieves tremendous professional success after their parting, he battles throughout the show with feelings of unworthiness, repeating mistakes from his fear of being abandoned by Esra again.
Ozan is incapable of living unless Esra is beside him, as friend or foe. Initially left vague, both Ozan and the viewers slowly discover the depth of Esra’s love for Ozan behind her enigmatic façade. He begins to understand the points of friction during their brief marriage, starting from his obliviousness to the tensions fuelled by his mother’s possessiveness to his neglect of Esra as he pursued a career to fulfil their financial dreams. However, his insecurities are so deep that, time and again, a hint of a negative comment from Esra far out-weighs the depth of her positive actions.
When Esra chooses to marry Ozan, he cannot believe she picks him over the rest. His drive to succeed is to validate Esra’s choice. However, Esra does not seek the luxury; she only wishes for a stable family life with a partner next to her.
Although Esra’s parents deeply love each other, she has seen the heartbreak her mother absorbs by being the sole provider while her father continuously drains the little family money, chasing one hare-brained business idea after another.
Esra’s biggest fear, and the reason for marrying Ozan, was to avoid her mother’s fate, worrying about money while the world rested solely on her shoulders. Yet, soon after their marriage, and without consulting Esra, Ozan quits his stable job to pursue his unproven business idea. He is clueless to her inner turmoil, partially due to his fixation on making their dreams come true but also due to Esra’s self-reliance and need to not appear weak.
Both their insecurities are rooted in relatable life issues but coupled with lack of communication and tensions from family dynamics, they lead to their divorce and EsZan’s shattered dreams. This break in trust becomes like a festering wound when they meet again. Each time they heal the distance, some ruse or another scatters them because they simply cannot trust that the other will not inflict pain again. This circular reference is a goldmine for diziland and it takes many rinse and repeat cycles before the writers can bring the plot to a happy conclusion.
Misaligned Love Languages
Ozan and Esra’s love language has been misaligned since day one, causing them both many issues. While Ozan needs words of affirmation, Esra’s love language is acts of service.
Despite Esra’s fears of a financially unstable family life, she works hard to support Ozan’s dreams, working numerous jobs to fund them both whilst Ozan works on his software. Unfortunately, Ozan does not see the toll this has on her emotionally and physically. Her isolation, sacrifices and ultimately the loss of their baby without Ozan by her side is too much for her to bear, prompting her to seek the divorce. Oblivious to this build up nor knowing of their baby, Ozan feels clueless as to what happened. And with this confusion comes the anger we regularly see spill over in Ozan’s life decisions.
His first blunder after they reunite is to ignore Esra’s professions of love and efforts to rekindle their love and to marry Çagla, because he prefers to believe an overheard conversation taken out of context over the words Esra directly tells him. From his past pain, Ozan wants to abandon Esra before she abandons him.
The unhappy and manipulated marriage to Çagla starts the deviation from the original k-drama and begins the era of madness that lasts between episodes 10-28. The prior fragility of their trust now fully demolished, it doesn’t get fully restored for either of them until the end as the writers try to undo the damage caused by plots used for extending the show.
Artifacts Of Love
We see in a flashback EsZan sharing a dream of the house they would like to build. However, chasing its fulfillment leads Ozan to losing the person all these dreams surrounded. We find out later that despite their separation Ozan made this shared dream a reality.
He made sure to include everything Esra had dreamt of, as he promised he would. The house remained a secret to those in his life, much like his enduring love for Esra. The house simply waited, existing but devoid of life like Ozan, until the day she returned to him.
The house became a living dream, where the reunited EsZan discussed what they would do now they were together. But like many special artifacts of the Esra/Ozan love story, the poison seeps into the magic with every touchpoint with the Toxic Twins. When Ozan mishears Esra and believes their reunion is all a lie, he destroys the house. When she returns looking for Ozan, Esra sees her chair broken and drowning in the swimming pool. The nightmare deepens when Ozan uses the house as a ploy to hurt Esra by inviting Çagla to move in there and make whatever changes she wishes.
When it starts to become clear to Çagla that Ozan won’t let go of Esra, nor commit to a real relationship with her, she starts plotting like all dizi villain women do. Çagla conveniently intercepts a text Esra sends to techie Ozan, asking to meet at the house to tell him about Çagla’s threats. The dream house then becomes the trap, where Çagla leaves Esra for the dead when she hits her head in a fall instigated by Çagla. Luckily, Ozan is able to save Esra but from that point, the magic of the dream house is lost and the dream house is not revisited again.
We then enter a new, no holds barred nightmare with Çagla and the writers, while other important artifacts of the Ozan and Esra love story are either systematically destroyed, or they disappear into oblivion within the quagmire of a plot that gives undue prominence to the Toxic Twins. One such unforgivable offense is the defaced secret place Esra shared with Ozan since childhood.
The docks Esra runs to whenever emotions get too overwhelming for her is where she allows Ozan to take refuge when he is distressed. It is the same spot where Esra finally tells Ozan about their lost baby. And it also becomes the spot where Esra finds out Ozan is going to be ‘dad’ to Çagla’s baby, who in reality is conceived with an ex-boyfriend. The traumatized audience felt there is no end to this torture.
The writers eventually tried to right this wrong in the last episode, when EsZan discusses the news of her pregnancy and their happy future, later marrying in front of the sea surrounded by their friends and family. However, the plot choices are a clear demonstration of how diziland villainy extends beyond the overtly cruel characters on screen.
Those of us who are veteran viewers of Turkish RomComs know that the lead couple will spend majority of the story apart, on one excuse or another. What separates the good from the bad is the realism or relatability of the artistic choices for the separation.
After marrying Çagla, so as not to cause a public embarrassment, Ozan’s life begins to unravel with the aid of the Toxic Twins feeding EsZan’s fears. After a magical night together, when Esra leaves him again due to Çagla’s pregnancy, Ozan hits rock bottom, feeling the full force of abandonment.
Esra’s letter tries to soften the blow, that she couldn’t be in the middle of him and the baby, but nothing softens her leaving him again. He cannot get past her lack of trust in him to fix things and he enters into his playboy era, due to her absence and his belief she has had a baby with Çinar.
Rolling in a bed of lies, both are in sham marriages, pining for each other while thinking the other is happy in their new “families”. The Toxic Twins hide the truth about the biological fathers from both; Çagla’s daughter was fathered by her ex-boyfriend while Esra’s son was fathered by Ozan.
When Esra returns to Istanbul, she is confronted with the cold, unemotive man Ozan has become in her 5 year absence, who no longer wants to even speak to her. An Ozan vastly different from her childhood. Until then, even through their miscommunications and plot twists, their inevitable bond was evident. Parenthood and life’s repeated disappointments change them in how they are able to engage with each other. This deepens the pain for the viewers, who are privy to the Twins’ deviousness and EsZan’s unnecessary misery.
The EsZan Bond
Forged in their shared childhood, the “I know you better than anyone” trope is used often, especially for comedy, to show us how deeply EsZan is embedded in each other’s backstory. Through scenes from the past and present, we learn that not much has changed in their dynamic; Ozan has his heart eyes for Esra from afar and Esra keeps him at arm’s length but enjoys his undivided attention. We also learn that even though she loved him from the beginning, her standoffish behaviour is rooted in protecting herself from the vulnerability that comes with love, a problem she battles with throughout the story.
Despite Ozan’s obliviousness to Esra’s turmoil at the end of their first marriage, we see him improving as the series progresses. Ozan is able to decipher Esra better, questioning her when he starts to realize she might be hiding something. And our Esra is always hiding something to ‘protect’ Ozan.
Due to him trusting words more than actions, he repeatedly misconstrues Esra’s words, creating more problems for them both. Esra says to Ozan they can’t be together whilst he is married to Çagla, meaning “get a divorce ASAP and we can salvage this.” Ozan, however, fixates on the words of rejection and then hits the massive self-destruct button, leading to another plot created to keep them apart.
The same thoughts lead to the same choice. The same choice leads to the same behaviour. The same behaviour leads to the same experience. The same experience produces the same emotion. Esra not sharing and exclaiming he doesn’t understand what she’s been through and getting angry is balanced by Ozan being more confused resulting in him getting angry. This trope is overused to the point of viewers having futile hope for this couple ever learning how to couple.
However, the writers paint this ‘flaw’ as the strength in their relationship. The constant bickering is what keeps their fire alive and, whether it’s a healthy dynamic or not, to the viewers they wouldn’t be EsZan without it.
Jealousy has always been a key part of EsZan’s bickering. We see Ozan battling with his jealousy over Çinar’s interest in Esra, who can see this is impacting him and enjoys it. In the earlier episodes this was used to bring to a head that Ozan is still in love with Esra. The writers even poke fun at this in the last episodes and show Ozan get blinded by the green-eyed monster when it comes to Esra. Esra also has a similar green-eyed monster when she feels Ozan’s eyes are no longer on her, leading to numerous comedy skits between the pair. Their mutual possessiveness is their strength and their weakness.
Even though the jealousy tropes were sometimes funny and pushes us to the glorious heights of ep9, where he can’t take it anymore and admits his love for Esra, some went into torturous territory and even a die-hard fan like myself struggled to remain with the show.
Due to being blackmailed by Çagla, Esra makes up feelings for Çinar to keep Ozan at arm’s length when they are on the cusp of reuniting. Here comes the worst plot device for me: at this beginning stages of separation 3.0, self-destructive Ozan drinks to oblivion when he believes Esra is in a relationship with Cinar. Çagla, being the vile villain she is, takes advantage of drunk Ozan, and makes EsZan believe that he slept with her. The film editing makes it seem true at the time, making the viewers believe that Çagla had non-consensual sex with Ozan. This unleashes a nasty slew of plot twists and the aftertaste of this artistic choice is still bitter.
Eventually, despite the above, Ozan and Esra start to orbit each other again. Upping her game, Çagla turns her unexpected pregnancy by another man into her biggest leverage and claims Ozan as the father in order to keep him away from Esra. Esra is devastated when Çagla forges documents to prove Ozan’s paternity and she decides she cannot be with Ozan now a child is involved, knowing his own pain from lacking a father. They have one last day/night together where EsZan conceive Atlas, but she runs away believing she leaves him a beautiful memory of the love they are not fated to live together.
Still reeling from her departure, Ozan is utterly destroyed when he finds out about Çinar and Esra’s marriage, along with the baby news. Çinar knows the full truth about both fathers but he is happy to play along because he finally gets to flaunt Esra to his arch-nemesis Ozan.
The above compact version of events led to many dropping the show, tired of their characters’ suffering and their own. It was during this time the show began to be referred to as Fox channel’s “cockroach”. Despite all the toxicity thrown at the viewers, which usually kills shows in the ratings game, Aşk Mantık İntikam’s viewers just would not die. This led to other cancellations in Fox’s overcrowded fall line-up because Aşk Mantık İntikam wasn’t originally planned to run as long.
As the love and support remained strong and stable, the show took another turn in direction; the Toxic Twins’ era abruptly ended. Some of us had stayed thus far, hoping that there will be justice for these evil characters. And did the viewers get justice? No, of course not, because that is not how diziland rolls. Before we could blink, the Toxic Twins were unceremoniously out of the show after the prolonged misery inflicted on EsZan, with no sense of closure for us.
Jealousy resurfaces in the 30’s in the form of Rüya and Efe, mere shadows of the Toxic Twins. They mirror the Twins’ purpose as plot devices that keep EsZan sniping at each other, but without the pure craziness. And, hence, throughout the series we experience the whole gamut of the trope done well to being overused to the point of being toxic.
Complexities Of Esra
The strength of Esra’s relatable character lies in her ability to carry the world on her shoulders without sharing the burden with others. Due to her childhood experiences, she is unhealthily scared of being vulnerable to anyone, and the way she protects her boundaries hurts her growth.
As we find out, it makes her vulnerable physically just as much as emotionally, the very things she is trying to avoid.
The writers use Esra hiding things from Ozan quite a lot as a plot device to keep them apart. Whether it be big things like her miscarriage, Çagla’s numerous threats, Çagla’s attempted murder of her, Atlas and her fake marriage to Çinar, to small fry stuff like his surprise birthday. This repeatedly leads to Ozan making uninformed decisions, suffering further from being shut out of Esra’s life.
One of the primary plots in the original K-drama is the revelation of the truth behind the dissolution of the couple’s earlier marriage. It is a heart-wrenching moment when the male lead fully comprehends how much his partner had internalized in her bid to support him and why she could no longer continue with their relationship.
Those of us who had watched the original had been waiting with bated breath for a richer adaptation given the EsZan chemistry we loved, but Aşk Mantık İntikam’s version was short and flat, despite the great acting from Burcu and Ilhan with the limited material they had. Not only is the scene lacking in the set up like the original, it is then followed by Ozan returning to his wedding and marrying Çagla after hearing the truth. A traumatic event that shaped the course of their lives didn’t get its due attention, and the cycle repeats when Esra has Atlas without Ozan by her side. In her desire to protect her boundaries and what she thought was best for Ozan, she shut out Ozan from the life of his son.
After many convoluted plots, they begin to heal during circumstances only possible in dramatic diziland. EsZan share a much needed heart to heart about Atlas and the missing years whilst Rüya holds them hostage. Despite the wild situation of why the conversation takes place, it is a very rewarding conversation that was long overdue.
After the birth of Atlas and secrets being shed with the removal of the Toxic Twins, we see Esra begin to share her feelings with Ozan, breaking through the walls she had erected for herself. Through acts of much appreciated comedy in the latter episodes, they both learn to be stronger together. With Esra pregnant again at the end of the show, Ozan gets the chance to do all the things he wished he could have done with Atlas and Esra, healing this old wound for both of them, and for us viewers.
The Power Of Forgiveness
Forgiveness really is the main theme throughout; to forgive others but also ourselves. The characters are deeply flawed, make mistakes just like us and need true forgiveness in order to reach their happy ending.
After all the trials and tribulations, we are rewarded with their happy ending. We see Ozan build the cot for baby Ada, repairing the haunting memory of Esra building Atlas’ cot alone. We see Ozan driving her mad trying to do everything for her, then making it up to her by arranging a surprise wedding beside the sea. They remarry in a wedding ceremony they could only dream about back when money was lacking. The writers for a split second gave the fandom one last heart attack when they make it look like Esra dies in childbirth but all is well; baby Ada joins their chaotic family, repairing old wounds and full of promises of future happiness for all.
I really enjoyed the ending as it showed the full merging of family and friends at Esra’s mother’s neighbourhood restaurant. It flashes back to when Ozan moves to the neighbourhood and first lays eyes on Esra and says “One day I will marry her.” Current Esra and Ozan share a look of contentment, happiness and love, now that all their dreams have come true.
Despite the uneven ride with the show, the positives outshine the negatives. I will no doubt re-watch this in a few years, laughing through the Toxic Twins era now that time has removed me from the weekly wait for episodes. I am glad to count myself as one of the cockroaches that did not let this show die in order to see a satisfying ending like we did. It was a joy to witness Burcu Özberk and Ilhan Sen’s on screen chemistry, and their superb storytelling of Esra and Ozan Korfali. And as a tribute to what I loved about them, I share one of my favorite video edits made for EsZan.
Article copyright (c) North America TEN & Cat Kerr/@Coolcatdizi, twitter
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