The gentleman serial killer on Turkish screens

“Sahsiyet” is a detective drama that consists of 11 episodes. It’s directed by Onur Saylak and stars some of the most beloved actors in Turkish drama. It is about the murders by Agah Beyoglu (an unlikely serial killer), who leaves notes on victims’ foreheads for Nevra, a newly-appointed detective, calling her “to remember”.

Turkish TV dramas and films from Turkey are still some of the country’s most popular exports. Producers tend to follow the same paths that have been successful in historical drama and family intrigue, so it is refreshing to see some filmmakers try something new. “Sahsiyet”, (Personality), is one example of a drama that attempts to explore the Turkish serial killer genre.

This “trying something new” is both the show’s weakness as well as its strength. Production has not been cheap: It has some of the most talented actors in Turkish cinema, as well as a film that is saturated with color. Many, including me, will see the magisterial Haluk Bulginer in any film: A section of the target audience is covered. As in all film industries, Turkish actors can also be typecast. Bilginer’s perfect diction signifies a certain type of Beyoglu/Nisantasi gentleman, which is rare these days. This character, true to form, reminisces about the glory days when Pera was very fashionable and European. Bilginer’s character Agah Beyoglu, which is synonymous with his district and means “son/lord” in Turkish, is a serial killer with good causes. How could the cause be ill when Bilginer is the killer? Agah rants about how his cultural heritage has been destroyed by Istiklal Street’s newcomers. This is the same tired, tiresome discourse that we all know from Istanbulites. But here Agah uses this discourse to cover up the murder he just committed. The scriptwriter is not only putting his tongue in his mouth, but he also gives Agah’s interlocutors what they want to hear. It’s all distraction. It is moments like these that “Sahsiyet,” which presents us with genre conventions only to debunk them later on, makes the series most entertaining.


Agah is a retired clerk and lives in an Art Nouveau apartment. This series depicts the building as fetishized in terms that we are used to from Elif Shafak novels and Orhan Pamuk.

There are many other conventions in the genre, such as Agah’s pinned photos of his targets on a wall, a map from Istanbul, and red strings that run this and that. My initial reaction was that Agah must have seen too many American procedurals as a child and promised to continue shooting such scenes when he grew older. It was distasteful, however, that a Turkish police procedural should imitate the Anglo-Saxon in every detail. Then, Agah begins to play with the wall and the rope becomes all tangled. It was first a police procedural. Then it became a farce.

Agah is a retired clerk and lives in an Art Nouveau apartment. This series fetishizes this building in terms that we are used to from Elif Shafak novels and Orhan Pamuk. One floor is occupied by a traditional bar while another floor is occupied by a “Turku” (Turkish folk songs) bar. One episode of Renewed TV Shows Agah preparing for his next crime with Carmen blasting on his retro Walkman (a memento from his younger days). However, the Turku bar becomes too loud with the drums. Agah is seen reaching for the cleaver and then, in the next scene, he’s chopping up the drum. I don’t know what metaphor this is for Turkey’s Europeanization Project if a Beyoglu man, fresh from listening to classical European musical music, decides to destroy a Turkish folk song instrument. This series has the grace of knowing that this is a caricature and that, as with all caricatures it contains more than a grain of truth.

NOTES TO REMEMBER

You will have noticed that I watched “Sahsiyet” more for its cultural and filmic references rather than the plot. I’ll let you find out. Never, a female detective who just quit her executive job to become a cop, “to do something tangible”, is the heroine of the film. She mopes around the set, signaling an emotional blockage. Agah leaves notes on the foreheads and calls Nevra “to recall” from the beginning. Agah is now suffering from Alzheimer’s and wants Nevra to remember. This is the punchline. He has been contemplating murdering all of his men for years.

Notes to Nevra are written on black plastic strips. They were punched with an old gadget, which I don’t even know the name but will be familiar to anyone who has dealt with Turkish bureaucracy. This suggests that the murders may be closely connected to a court case in which Agah was involved as a clerk. This court case is connected to Nevra. The impossibly named Kambura, where Agah and Nevra lived for a time, is another clue.

It feels like a ruse to set the scenes in Istanbul and Kambura. These scenes are almost like political propaganda, highlighting the great state of roads. The jeep’s brand is the series sponsor. They must have also paid handsomely because Nevra’s car almost becomes a character in this series.

Like all leads, Nevra has to have a love interest. Hers is a journalist cum-DJ who gives her information and some mansplaining on freedom of the press. We watch him think – and this is the most shocking part of the script – about all the idealists who have gone before him. Because he keeps photographs of journalists killed in Turkey on his attic walls, we can see that he is a true disciple of truth. It is a grave crime that the memory of real heroes should be used to promote the virtues and omissions of fictional characters.

The series’ 11 episodes are full of dialogues, plot twists, and acting. Although Agah’s grandson is a poor side story, Agah’s daughter Zuhal, played by Sebnem Bozoklu is the best in the series. She represents the class of privileged Turkish women with expensive educations who somehow end up being “homemakers,” in Zuhal’s words, or abroad. She says that all men have treated her poorly, but she still oozes a sense of privilege that is beautiful to see.

I’ve avoided the main conceit of this series. Agah wants to kill all these men. He has had a few “friendly” conversations before he gets rid of them. Many of them seem normal and decent men. This sets up the viewer for the shocking revelation at the end of the series that it was these “normal” men who committed this horrible crime.

“Sahsiyet”, despite its many irritant failures, is still a highly watchable drama. It does so many things right. You will be able to walk the streets of Beyoglu and cruise along the highways, as well as learn many new ideas, some of which were handled more carefully. You will have fun, cry, and laugh until the very end.