Masumlar Apartmani is a new psychological drama based on stories by Dr. Gulseren Budayicioglu. It joins Dogdugun Ev Kaderindir and Kirmizi Oda as the third drama from the psychologist and author in the fall television line up. Her expertise in the field gives an authenticity to the story that is important as these are not topics to be taken lightly.
This drama brings to life the story of four siblings living in an apartment in Istanbul with their father. Each of the siblings has psychological trauma from their childhood and this trauma manifests itself in various ways and to various degrees. The crux of the story is the challenge of suffering from mental illness and the frustration, despair, and loneliness that it brings both to the sufferer and to the people who care for them. Mental illness can take a toll on every aspect of life and Masumlar Apartmani deftly portrays each of the sibling’s struggles.
HAN & INCI
The heart of the story is Han, played by Birkan Sokullu, looking like a renaissance angel come to life. Han has returned to Istanbul from working abroad because his father has fallen ill with diabetes and can no longer manage to look after Han’s sisters. When we first meet him, Han’s whole life is work and home, he has no social life and no real friends except Esat who works with him.
One night, Han gets into an accident with Inci (Farah Zeynep Abdullah) and she accompanies him to the emergency department. Han is required to stay at the hospital overnight because of a fear of concussion and Inci offers to stay with him. He declines her offer, but she insists, and the two of them spend the evening together. They talk, go out for food, and even watch a movie on his phone; it’s like the first three dates a couple would normally have all rolled into one night. We can see the attraction between the two characters almost right away. In the morning they part ways and we think that that is the end of their story.
Inci lives with her grandfather Memduh and younger brother Ege but they are being evicted from their current apartment and need to quickly move. Inci works for a radio station and is involved romantically with Uygar who also works there but, as her friend Esra points out, she needs to end things with him. The night she has the accident with Han, she is driving back from a surprise birthday celebration for her where Uygar had proposed, she had fled without answering him, and on the drive home she is distracted by her phone and basically drives Han’s car into a concrete post. We find out later that Inci does not love Uygar, but he is an alcoholic and she was afraid if she broke up with him his drinking would get worse. Ege is the one who manages to find them an apartment on short notice and the morning after she spends in the hospital with Han, they are packing up the moving truck and heading out to their new apartment. Low and behold, the apartment is in the building that Han’s family owns and where he also lives. The move in does not go smoothly however because Han’s oldest sister Safiye wasn’t informed that they had new tenants and tries to prevent them from even stepping foot into the building.
Safiye, played by the amazing Ezgi Mola, is the most significantly psychologically affected of Han’s sisters. She displays the classic signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder. She is obsessed with cleanliness and the fear of dirt and contamination. This manifests in a variety of ways, the most destructive of which are the need to thoroughly clean everything they eat. She washes vegetables each 4 times with bar soap, often losing count and starting over again. In the second episode, she reduces a kilogram of spinach to a few mouthfuls by washing it until it disintegrates.
An interesting thing about OCD is that unlike psychotic disorders, the person fully understands their actions and the consequences of their actions. Safiye knows that if she does not have the food prepared on time it’s bad for her father because as a diabetic it is important for him to eat at regular intervals. However, she just cannot put aside her rituals to stick to the timeline for meals, the food cannot be eaten if it isn’t properly cleaned. She also knows that the fumes from the cleaning products they use can set off youngest sister Neriman’s asthma, but she cannot abide the windows being opened for fear of germs coming into their apartment. This is the heartbreak of OCD; the sufferer knows what they are doing and that it could be harmful, but they believe that if the actions are not taken, a bigger catastrophe will occur.
She is aided in this obsessive behavior by sister Gülben, who she is in a co-dependent relationship with, and whom she also tortures as their mother tortured her. In a flashback we see that Safiye has raised Gülben and then the other children who come later as their mother’s mental health declined. Gülben states that if it were not for Safiye she would have died so for her Safiye is her saviour and she will therefore do anything for her.
Gülben is a sad figure, bent almost completely to her sister’s will, but we see flashes of independence and self-actualization. She helps Neriman and Han work around Safiye’s rigid rules and plays distractor when necessary. One cannot help but think if she could be removed from Safiye’s influence, her own mental health would improve. But Safiye infantilizes her, to the point where she still wets the bed as a grown woman. This provides a harrowing example of how far the sisters will go to keep their apartment sanitary; they take the soiled sheets to another apartment in the building to be disposed of because they can’t be washed in their washing machine as that would make the machine forever unclean. Instead they steal upstairs with the sheets in a garbage bag and add it to a pile of what appears to be dozens if not hundreds of other bags. These images of the bags coupled with the pine tree air fresheners hanging from the ceiling provide a visual representation of the nightmare of their existence.
Neriman is the youngest sister and is quite a bit younger than the rest of them as she is still in high school and is preparing to take university entrance exams. She is the best adjusted of the siblings although she is developing a self-harming ritual of scratching her wrists raw and then pour cologne on them. She is shy and socially awkward as we see in her brief interaction with a boy at school and Ege at the apartment. She also suffers from asthma which can be brought on by the fumes from the harsh cleaning products her sisters use. She is the closest of the sisters to their father, Hikmet, who implores her to get away and not become like her older sisters.
We see from the flashback that Safiye is considerably older than her siblings; she appears to be at least 11 or 12 years older than Gülben and Han and likely much more than Neriman as Neriman is still in high school. Why such large gaps between the children? Safiye is firmly in charge of her sibling’s lives, even Han’s life, partly because of her iron will and partly because of the fear of what would happen if they don’t go along with her.
Ege has rented an apartment for their family from Han’s family, so the morning after their accident, Inci and Han meet again as Safiye tries desperately to prevent them from taking possession of the apartment.
Safiye sees the attraction between her brother and Inci and says some salacious things about the two of them having spent the night together, which is unwelcome news to Inci’s grandfather. Inci had lied to him about where she had been the previous night so he is very unhappy to learn she spent the night with Han even after she explains to him about the accident. This does not bode well for the romance of Han and Inci, as both families seem to be against it from the start. Inci’s grandfather is worried that Inci will turn out like her mother and be destroyed because of poor romantic choices but Inci tries to re-assure him that she is not like her mother and will be okay.
Han and Inci are incredibly pleased by the unexpected chance situation that lead them to see one another again! Han eagerly helps them move into the apartment.
Han makes it clear that he is interested in her, and is sorry that he let her leave him at the hospital without getting her contact information, but only wants to proceed if she is sure she is done with Uygur, who had showed up at the hospital to confront Inci. She tells him she is sure and firmly breaks up with Uygur the next day at work.
The progression of the relationship is somewhat unusual as they, very matter of factly, over the course of a couple of days decide that they are going to try to be together. Their attraction to one another cannot be denied. Esat and Hikmet both comment to Han that he now has a sparkle in his eye that he has not had for a long time. Han is attracted not only to her beauty but also her kindness. Throughout the night they spend together, he could not stop smiling at her. Inci even comments about it and it is obvious that being with her has made Han feel good in a way he hasn’t in a long time. Pleasantly unlike most other television shows that would take weeks for the couple to even admit they like each other, Han and Inci have decided to give it a try, their embrace at the end of episode 2 is very sweet and viewers can see the hopefulness on their faces. Given the problems between them with their families, the relationship is not bound to be smooth, but this is a refreshing and mature start to their romance.
We also see in the second episode that Han is not without his own problems. He goes out at night in a beat-up old car, dressed in shabby clothes to dig through dumpsters for paper and cardboard. We also saw him save scraps of paper he found and then tucked away in a box in his room. I was a bit worried at first as his outfit and demeanor gave me serial killer vibes; however it seems to be a benign compulsion to collect paper trash, at least for now. Why he does it or what he does with it I assume will be revealed in later episodes.
The cinematography for the series is remarkably interesting for a show with such dark subject matter. The settings are bright and sunshine streams in the windows. The usual cliched dark and dreary setting are not present. It is also surprisingly hopeful in tone; we see the deep love in both families.
The subject of mental health, not to be taken lightly, is challenging within a fictional narrative. It needs to be honest to the disorders presented while also ensuring it is dramatically entertaining. Because Masumlar Apartmani is based on the work of an actual psychologist, there is not the same risk of stereotyped characterizations of psychological conditions. The performances, especially by Ezgi Mola and Merve Dizdar as Gulben, are outstanding and understated, never veering into histrionics or melodrama. We see in their performance and those of the other cast members the love that the characters have for one another, the frustration they face within themselves and towards each other, and the psychological challenges each face. It is surprising how upbeat the series is so far given the background subject matter; I expected a much heavier tone to the show.
Masumlar Apartmani airs Tuesdays at 8pm (GMT +03:00) on TRT 1. You can view the trailer below:
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