Imagine waking up to a prison cell with no recollection as to how or why you got there. With no knowledge of the people who surround you and who you can trust. Mahkum, Şehrin Kralları which translates to Prisoner, Kings of the City is a Turkish dizi based on this premise. It is also a remake of the Korean drama title Defendant, released in 2017.
- Air channel: Fox Turkiye
- Air Date: December 14, 2021
- Number of episodes air to date: 11
- Director: Volkan Kocaturk (Zümrüdüanka, Halka)
- Main writer: Ugras Gunes (Menajerimi Ara, The Protector)
- Production company: MF Yapim
- Genre: drama, crime
The information we know going in is that fearless prosecutor Fırat Bulut, played by Onur Tuna (Mucize Doktor) is accused of killing his wife Zeynep Bulut and daughter Nezlı Bulut. He wakes up in a prison cell with no memories of the events, believing it to be the day after the celebration of his daughter’s birthday, which is the day the murders took place. He must now follow a series of clues in search for the truth.
In the opening scene, we find our male lead being chased, after escaping prison. He and the audience are in complete darkness, both literally and figuratively, as to what led to this moment and the ones that follow. As the story continues, we learn that five months have passed since the events occurred and that Fırat has lost his memories more than once during that time.
From that moment on it becomes a game of following the trail of breadcrumbs, forging a path to the truth. Each crumb by itself has no meaning or relevance to anyone but Fırat and, as he collects every bit of them, the truth about what happened starts to be revealed little by little. Several times within this process, Fırat finds himself doubting his innocence considering he has no tangible memory to rely upon, all the evidence presented in the case points to him , and even those closest to him, like fellow prosecutor and best friend Tahir, tells him that he is guilty. To overcome all these obstacles, ex-prosecutor Fırat will rely upon a group of unlikely people, his jail mates. They are introduced as Paşa, Canber, Beybaba, Eren and Haci.
This last one is the most unexpected accomplice of the bunch; he is a mafia boss imprisoned by Fırat himself, not because he was guilty, but to serve a purpose in a game built by our star prosecutor. Fırat also trusts and receives help from Cemre Uysal, a smart, passionate yet idealistic lawyer who until this point has not won any case she has defended. With Fırat’s guidance, she does everything to prove his innocence. Another character that will help our lead is the jail psychologist, whose actions go beyond the duty of her profession and spark this audience member’s curiosity as to why she behaves this way.
The main antagonist of this story is Barış/Savaş Yesari, twin brothers played by Ismail Hacıoğlu (Zümrüdüanka). We are introduced to the brothers at the celebration of their mother’s birthday, Tomris Yesari. Soon after, we become aware of the toxic dynamic in this household, where the father Zahit Yesaria only acknowledges Savaş as his son and heir while considering Barış a lost cause. Barış’s lifestyle consists of parties and reckless living. Thanks to his father’s success, he is on top of the world and feels untouchable, but the bottom line is that he is alone and unhappy.
This dynamic plays a big part in the events that follow as Barış, tired of being diminished and overlooked by his father, brother, and the woman he loves who is now married to his brother, named Büge Yesari, receives the same treatment he gets from his family, only this time from a stranger, a woman. This becomes the breaking point in his life and causes him to kill her. This is when Barış’ path crosses with Fırat’s, who becomes the prosecutor in charge of the murder investigation. This is the last case Firat will work on before going to jail, for allegedly killing his wife and child
With each passing episode, we understand how all these characters are related to the case while being introduced to events on different timelines (before the crime, the day of the events, and the present). I enjoy exploring the story, the fact that there are always two sides of a coin, and how Fırat and Barış represent a different side of this crime. It is also interesting to me the realization that there is more than one prisoner in this dizi. Yes, Fırat is physically in jail, but he is also a prisoner of his mind until he can retrieve his memories. Barış, on the other hand, in his efforts to hold on to his freedom, has fallen victim to his own game and is now forced to live another person’s life, in constant fear of discovery. Zahit Yesari only cares about maintaining the reputation of his name and now, as an outcome of his actions, he leads a life of pretense in order to preserve what he has left.
Mahkum As A Remake
If you watched the Korean drama Defendant, many scenes will bring a sense of déjà vu. Mahkum may have been adapted to fit the Turkish culture, legal system, and power structure, but the plot is identical. Certain events occur in a different order and can involve a different character but underlying theme is the same; we can even find characters saying identical lines in some cases. As an example, “I’ve lost a son, I can’t lose the other too”, are words spoken by the twins’ father in both the Defendant and Mahkum.
However, Onur Tuna and Ismail Hacıoğlu’s performances are an important differentiating factor, with both delivering great scenes week after week. I trust that as the story progresses, the story line will drift farther and farther apart from the Korean version, as has been the case with many other dizi adaptations. So, if you can overlook what you know and focus on the performance, you will enjoy a different take of the characters than in the original drama.
Mahkum is a crime drama, filled with events that will appeal to audience members who love this genre. The cast does a great job with the characters, the transition between scenes is seamless and the music complements the overall atmosphere, which is dark and in tune with the events. It is moving at a relatively fast pace, with some exceptions, and the cliffhangers are designed to make people look forward to the next episode. As the drama progresses, I hope to know the backstory of the secondary characters as well, to get a better understanding of their present behavior.
This dizi’s overall performance with the Turkish audience has been outstanding since its release, claiming the top dizi spot on its air day. I sincerely hope that, as is often the case in the dizi industry, Mahkum’s current high ratings do not unnaturally alter the length of the drama and the writers do not dilute the strength of the story. For now, I give this dizi 8 out of 10, with the fear that its success can become its Achilles heel in the future.
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Will this show ever be available to English speaking audiences?