Do not burn the coffee beans!

Tuğçe Koca reviews the first season of Turkish drama series ‘Ethos’ (2020) on Netflix UK.

Ethos (Turkish: Bir Başkadır) follows the intertwined lives of several individuals from varying sociocultural backgrounds in Istanbul, Turkey. As a Turkish speaker living in London, I was happy to finally see a show that aims to expose the easily dismissed and diverse nature of Turkey. The main lesson from the series is that although our identities and struggles may be different, emotion is a universal language that connects us. We accompany the characters as they navigate their way through familial conflict, religious and class differences, identity crises, rape, death, and physical and mental health difficulties. 

We start off by seeing Meryem (Öykü Karayel), a hijabi woman, attend an initial session with a secular psychiatrist named Peri (Defne Kayalar) for her fainting. There are clear socioeconomic, religious and cultural differences between the two despite living in the same city and speaking the same language. Therapy is foreign to Meryem; she talks about waiting one minute before pouring boiling water over coffee beans to prevent them from burning. Initially this seems irrelevant, but when we dig deeper, we see that this was a powerful way for Meryem to teach the viewers, and Peri, to think before judging the other to prevent irreparable pain. This analogy foreshadowed the shocking disclosure of Peri’s prejudicial views towards Meryem which consequently impacts their therapeutic relationship. Through this, the audience is shown that no one is exempt from having prejudicial views and that these views will inevitably ‘burn the coffee beans’ by hurting others. The only way to prevent this from happening is to pause, identify, and actively address our prejudices. 

As seen in Meryem’s initial presentation to therapy, we also learn how expressing emotions can be a struggle within Turkish speaking communities. We see another clear example of this in Meryem’s brother Yasin (Fatih Artman) who is a traditional man and the breadwinner of his family. Yasin was my favourite character in the show as he highlights the societal pressure placed on men within Turkish speaking communities to always uphold an identity that is strong, one that rises above adversity and always protects their loved ones. Whilst we see a glimpse of Yasin’s vulnerabilities, his need to stay strong overrides his need to express his emotions. We witness how far Yasin is willing to go to protect his family and when that fails, his hopelessness manifests itself in irritability and hostility towards his family. This storyline forced me to fully consider how the societal pressure placed on men like Yasin which impacts their identity. In the final episode, we see what has burdened him for years and a powerful yet silent expression of his emotions.

I believe that the overall production added to the idea that our prejudices can prevent us from seeing the bigger picture. In early episodes, we see the characters quietly carry out mundane activities such as walking through Istanbul or falling asleep when watching television. We are like a fly on the wall watching these individuals do everything but talk openly about their repressed feelings and internal struggles. We therefore have the time and the space to form assumptions about each character to fill in these gaps. As the story progresses, we see more scenes of the characters revealing unexpected things about their lives and see less of their everyday activities. This was symbolic of the importance of avoiding speculation about people based on the surface level information available to us. Therefore, in every aspect, this show forces viewers to be aware of and address their prejudices towards each character. 

This show is a long-anticipated gem and has sparked some great conversations already. Within psychology, we hear a lot about wanting to increase diversity; this is a great opportunity for us as a community to observe the lives of those from different cultural backgrounds.

Reviewed by Tuğçe Koca BSc MSc, Trainee Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner; Twitter: @Tugcek17.

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