Spoiler free review by mh musings, Editor
As Turkey’s first cinematic foray into the submarine thriller genre, the highly anticipated Yakamoz S-245 delivers as a fast paced, post-apocalyptic action series that pits strangers against each other in their bid to survive the devastating consequences of a solar flare annihilating humankind with its daytime radiation. In addition, it is the first time Netflix has produced a spin-off from another popular original series, the Belgian Into The Night, which introduces Yakamoz’s lead character, Arman Kaya, at the conclusion of its second season.
For Turkish drama enthusiasts, it marks the return of beloved actor Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ, acting in his first Netflix series. He was last seen as the lead actor in the dizi Çarpışma, which ended its run in May 2019. Alongside a strong ensemble cast full of seasoned actors such as Özge Özpirinççi (Hot Sweet Sour, Kadin), Ece Çeşmioğlu (Gecen Yaz), Hakan Salınmış (Şeref Meselesi), Meriç Aral (Medcezir) and Ertan Saban (better known in the theatrical circles), Kıvanç and team takes on science fiction, a genre typically not seen in the dizi world.
Directed by Tolga Karaçelik (Ep 1-3) and Umut Aral (Ep 4 – 7), in addition to the technical innovations brought together by the local team for its first submarine show, the dialogue is a blend of languages other than Turkish, including English, Spanish, French, German and even ancient Greek. I mention this early to set the expectation for traditional dizi lovers that the storytelling in this series is not on the same continuum as what we see on Turkish public TV. Nevertheless, it is still an interesting watch, especially if you enjoyed Into The Night, and/or if you are hungry to see Kıvanç in a different kind of role.
Both the linked series’ are rooted in the same disastrous premise, but while Into the Night bands a group of multi-lingual, multi-national strangers together on an airplane forced to depart from Brussels airport to escape sunlight, Yakamoz S-245 takes place mostly in a Turkish submarine operated by the navy, where the crew is forced to take on a group of scientists on board.
The franchise, created by Jason George who was involved with the writing team for The Protector, is touted as an adaptation of the digital book “The Old Axolotl” by Polish author Jacek Dukaj. The adaptation takes significant artistic departures from the source material, which was more of a philosophical exploration of the intersection of technology and the survivability of human souls whose minds exist without bodies. Instead, both Into the Night and Yakamoz S-245 are action packed thrillers focused more on the human dynamics that come to the fore when an individual’s survival is tantamount.
The storytelling and the questions around morality are reminiscent of the literature classic Lord of The Flies by British author William Golding. A story about a group of boys who get stranded on an island and how their social order forms, one of the pivotal characters, Piggy, says, “What are we? Humans? Or animals? Or savages? What’s grownups going to think?”. Except that Yakamoz S-245 is not a story about unruly children but trained, educated adults who must learn to survive together.
Arman (Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ) is a dedicated marine biologist who lives somewhere off the coast of Türkiye. With his long unruly locks, tan and carefree attire, he’s a principled man who chooses to live an austere life. In addition to being a diving instructor, Arman likes to build submarines for deep sea missions. His masterpiece Oya is built for precarious expeditions.
His ex-girlfriend, and old classmate, Defne (Özge Özpirinççi) hunts him down in this bright coastal town and entices him to join a mission to explore the Erebus Trench. The mission is funded by Arman’s estranged industrialist tycoon father Asil Kaya but Defne convinces Arman that the dives will find protected corals overlaid on top of the oil reserves Kaya wishes to drill. Excited by the opportunity to explore his dream region while undermining his father’s desires, Arman joins Defne’s team with his submarine. Their core team includes Cem, who is another of Arman and Defne’s classmates, an oceanographer Felix and researcher Rana.
When they come up from their test dive, they find their support ship deserted of its crew. They find a laptop with a video from Defne’s fiancé Kaan, telling them about the impending disaster with the sun and asking them to go towards Kos where one can shelter in bunkers.
The team reaches Kos and comes upon the naval team from the submarine called Yakamoz S-245. Led by Commander Erenay (Halit), First mate Umut (Ertan) and Operations Officer Yonca (Ece), the Yakamoz crew is a lean group of trained soldiers. Both crews from the two submarines are just discovering the aftermath of the solar flare – a deserted town strewn with dead bodies, no power or other signs of life. As Defne desperately searches for the shelter mentioned by Kaan, life and death choices unfold, making it obvious that there are stark differences in the decision-making powers between a militarily trained man and ones who come with the mindset of discovering God’s world.
Running against time as the night fades into day, circumstances force the naval crew to take on Arman’s team on board, against the expressed wishes of the first mate Umut. Starting this journey of survival with deep rooted antagonism between the two camps, and eventually between Umut and Arman, it is a race against time and depleting resources, while the mismatched groups learn to survive together amidst suspicions and conspiracies. Layers of relationships unfurl over time, which exposes intentions and motivations not understood at first glance.
The rest of the series explores these evolving relationships within the backdrop of action-filled sequences and plot twists. The season ends with Arman coming face to face with Ayaz Kobanbay (played brilliantly by Turkish actor Mehmet Kurtulus), who is a Turkish smuggler fluent in several languages and a passenger on the Belgian flight trying to outrun the sun in “Into The Night”. Both characters have come to the same seed bank facility in Norway, in the hopes of collecting enough seeds to grow food for their sustenance. This scene ties both Yakamoz S-245 and the ending of Into The Night’s season 2 together, stamping the linked stories as part of the same universe.
Yakamoz S-245 is an excellent first attempt at a submarine thriller by a Turkish film crew. The plot moves at a clip pace and the suspenseful conclusion of each episode is well aligned with the style adopted by the Into The Night universe. The plot twists are mostly defensible and it is interesting to grow with the emotional crescendo among the various players as the resource allocation among the survivors becomes more desperate.
It lacks the international flair of Into The Night which has multiple nationalities thrown in together in the game of survival, but it subtly showcases the diversity of roots within the Turkic people. Umut is of Bosnian descent, Defne is German Turkish, Arman is blonde with blue eyes, and yet they also embody an underlying homogeneity as Turks.
The cinematography is understandably dark in a world trying to escape sunlight but instead of the greenish filter used in Into The Night, Yakamoz is mostly blue, reflecting the blues of the water that surrounds them. The scenes are well-framed by the duo of directors and the action sequences are also at par in quality to other Western productions made for TV. One needs to bear in mind that these shows will not have the same budget as a full-fledged big studio movie, but it is evident that the locations and sets in Yakamoz have been curated with care.
Yakamoz S-245 is not the traditional dizi focused on traditional family values. It’s a modern piece featuring modern professionals who are comfortable operating in the international arena. All the female characters have agency and their own sense of space, and they protect it fiercely. The typical patriarchal narrative is refreshingly absent and I enjoyed all the women showcase the strengths of their vastly different careers. Defne the inquisitive scientist with natural leadership skills, Rana the rebel, Yonca the disciplined naval officer and Hatice the fearless intelligence officer were all good in their roles.
The production has some flaws in the writing. The series is created by Jason George and he wrote the first episode, but the remaining six episodes use a rotation of three different writers. From a visual standpoint, the finished product may not seem like a patchwork of contributions from disparate sources, but some character integrity gets lost with shifts in choices of dialogue and scenes across the episodes. The last episode, in particular, seemed rushed for the characters and plot direction, compromising on the impact the scenes could have had if paced out better throughout the story. Other than this small complaint, Yakamoz S-245 does a great job as an installment within the Into The Night franchise, such that it can be watched independently or within the framework of the original series.
The four standout performances in the ensemble cast comes from Kıvanç, Özge, Ertan and Ece. They all do a great job of adopting many of the subtleties required by each of their characters and what you see on screen is a team that works well off of each other. I was impressed with Ece in Netflix’s coming of age film Gecen Yaz, and I am just as impressed with her in Yakamoz. She plays the steely Yonca very well, while showing her vulnerability as personal losses rock her being. Her severe aura is quite the opposite of the free-spirited Asli she plays in Gecen Yaz.
Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ is refined in his role as the dynamic man who can go from being the quiet moderator during heated discussions to the heroic fist-fighter when he needs to protect his own. He fits into Arman with ease, donning the mannerisms of a technically adept man who is comfortable navigating the claustrophobic spaces of a submarine, but also has the mind of a scientist who can comprehend the complexities of the vast variables they are dealing with. Kıvanç’s interpretation of Arman is aligned with the rest of his persona as he can be a loner who hides childhood wounds under his nonchalance but is also a deeply loyal friend. As one of the most popular Turkish actors of our times, Kıvanç’s role is different from the kinds of heroes he has played in his dizi career, but his preparation for the role is evident in his adept movements. It is admirable that he is trying to break out of his mold.
Özge and Ertan are both convincing in their roles, both proficient with blending in English and other languages as demanded. Ertan’s character had many layers that sheds over time and he is simply brilliant as the sometimes benevolent, and often misguided, antagonist. You cannot fully hate him nor can you fully love him. His shades of grey are played very well.
Other worthy mentions are Meriç Aral as Hatice and Onur Ünsal as Cem. I don’t wish to give away any more about character and/or the plot, but suffice it to say that both characters had their own unique arcs worthy of paying attention to.
There are many underwater scenes, which is said to have been quite difficult to film during the winter months. Kıvanç talks about his experience with one of the scenes in this recent interview with L’Officiel Turkiye. The director Umut Aral also mentioned to us how Ece and Kıvanç shot for that scene at night, in the open sea, 10m below the surface with nothing but their flashlights.
Another difficult scene was a fight scene shown to be in the depths of an underground mine. The tunnels were narrow for a 15 persons fight and the crew had to take breaks to come up for air before continuing with the action sequence. You can find behind the scenes footage from the scene on director Umut’s Instagram account.
These efforts at creating the authenticity of the scenes are laudable and I hope this gives the crew the confidence to keep building on the technical skills for further growth in cinematic experiments.
All in all, I enjoyed watching the Yakamoz S-245. The series is doing exceptionally well and has already been streamed for more than 35M hours in its first two weeks. It remains at Netflix’s top 5 international shows for two weeks in a row. After following and supporting Turkish drama for the last four years, it feels a proud moment to witness its success and have this series be connected to another known international production.
In addition to the new genres and stories being explored through the Netflix Turkey originals, seeing a local production confidently take on the challenges of this new sci-fi universe is a testament to how far the production facilities have strengthened in the last few years. It also shows the faith Netflix has in the Turkish market and its acting talents. I eagerly look forward to more and wonder if there will be season 2 for the Yakamoz S-245, providing a continuation from the thrilling cliffhanger at the end of this first season.
If you haven’t watched it already, give Yakamoz S-245 a try. Here’s the official trailer:
Article copyright (c) North America TEN & mh musings/ @entrespire , twitter
All video clips and photos belong to their respective owners. No copyright infringement is intended. Please ask for permission before reprints. Please provide proper citations if referencing information in this article. Sources are linked in the article.