The Netflix Series Ethos (Turkish: Bir Başkadır, literally: “Is Something Else”) is an eight-episode series that takes place in Istanbul, Turkey. Released in November 2020, the show follows a set of characters from various socio-economic backgrounds in present-day Turkey, whose lives become intertwined throughout the series.
The show starts by following Meryem (Öykü Karayel), a part-time cleaner from a conservative family. She sees a psychiatrist, Peri (Defne Kayalar), because she suffers from fainting spells. Peri is a liberal woman from an upper-class family, who herself sees a therapist, Gülbin (Tülin Özen), to whom she complains about the growing conservatism in Turkey. Gülbin is seeing a man named Sinan (Alican Yücesoy), to whom she relays the conversations she has with Peri. Sinan is also, coincidentally, the man Meryem works for and whose apartment she cleans regularly, usually after his encounters with many different women the night before.
The first few episodes follow a cycle where each person discusses their issues with the subsequent character until the loop is closed, but more characters are gradually introduced, such as a Hodja¹ and his daughter, Meryem’s brother, as well as a local actress and Gülbin’s family.
According to some sources, it has caused a heated debate in the Turkish media, where it has both received praise and criticism for its portrayal of religious and secular societies in Turkey. Some critics state that the cliche of the conservative poor and secular rich, along with the “victimization of headscarved women” no longer exists.² Nevertheless, the series has received an overwhelmingly positive response. According to the historian and author Soner Cagaptay, “the series lets you see how everyone in Turkey is othering everyone else… and this [creates] anger in everyone.”³
Ethos embraces female empowerment and displays educated, single women with professional occupations in a society where such things are not always taken for granted.
That being said, it does not diminish the importance and presence of the conservative community; certainly, its intention is to bring awareness to the incredible diversity of the Turkish people.
Personally, I don’t really know what I was expecting from Ethos. Perhaps I wanted Meryem to escape the clutches of her conservative community, but actually, that’s not what this show is about – and that’s not a bad thing. Instead, it shows both conservative and liberal lifestyles having equal potential to precipitate a happy (or less happy) life.
The further I got into the series, the more I noticed it is really a show about varying degrees of depression and repressed feelings. Despite the differences between all the characters’ backgrounds – conservative and liberal, religious and secular alike – they all felt some kind of dissatisfaction in their lives and suppressed their emotions a great deal.
Meryem’s sister-in-law’s many suicide attempts show this to the most acute degree, while Meryem’s fainting spells turn out to be the result of her suppressed feelings for her boss, Sinan. Peri’s resentment towards Turkey’s religious community stems from a repressed childhood memory, and Gülbin has to reconcile her liberal lifestyle with that of her conservative family all the while trying to help her sick brother. Sinan distracts himself with partying and fleeting encounters with women, which only leave him feeling lonely and hollow.
What I really enjoyed is how each character’s plot carefully unfolds and how they are all linked together. Every scene and character in the show has a purpose, a role to play, or some symbolic element that might not be understood at first glance, but which, in time, gradually reveals itself. The show is thoughtful, and the characters in it are believable and relatable.
This story – or rather, series of stories – is slow but deliberate, rather than explosive and exciting. However, there are some moments in Ethos which I found to be a little slow and dull. I personally found some storylines and minor characters to be uninteresting, while others didn’t receive as much attention as I would have liked.
The series concludes in a pretty open-ended way, leaving room for a second season, which has yet to be confirmed. There are many unanswered questions and room for development for several of the characters. For example, we know that Sinan is disappointed with his life, but we have yet to really find out why or what his story is beyond his Casanova-lifestyle. Other points could be expanded as well, and I found eight episodes to be rather short for all that could have been said and done.
Regardless of whether you are familiar with Turkish film, culture, or language, I would recommend watching this series if you’re looking for something contemplative. If you’re more into intense action or drama, then this series probably isn’t for you.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed this series and give it a rating of: Worth Watching.