Zeytin Ağacı Will Take You Back To Your Roots
”Blessings of ancestors are greater than those of living human beings.”
- African Proverb
Netflix’s Turkish series Zeytin Ağacı (Another Self) first aired on 28th of July and by the end of August it has over 100 million views under its belt. That’s quite an achievement for a Turkish series, especially for one that is not packed with action and is led by 3 women’s stories but I’m not surprised at all. I didn’t even know about this when I started writing the draft of this review. I knew the series would be as successful as it is, despite some of its issues, because the story and the characters are very relatable. What I didn’t know is that even a skeptic like me could learn a lot from their stories and maybe you could too.
I was really impressed with the casting and their chemistry with each other. Zeytin Ağacı’s story centers around 3 women who are best friends. Ada (Tuba Büyüküstün) is a surgeon, Sevgi (Boncuk Yılmaz) is a lawyer and Leyla (Seda Bakan) is an influencer/housewife. Due to Sevgi’s health problems, one day they find themselves in Ayvalık, which is a beautiful town in northwestern Aegean coast of Turkey. Here they meet Zaman Bey (Mr. Zaman) who is essentially a family/ancestral constellation therapist.
What Is Family Constellation All About?
Family constellation is a therapeutic tool that allows the invisible influences from the present and past to be made visible and therefore acknowledged. Especially in cases where trauma is not evident, this method can be beneficial to reveal some familial trauma that the person is not aware of. Epigenetic research has shown that trans-generational trauma can affect us in ways that are sometimes mysterious to us. Actually this was one of the things that sold the Zeytin Ağacı series to me when I watched the trailer. For years I have been wondering why certain patterns keep repeating in our lives. The series deals with this question and answers it through the characters’ various storylines.
I have a lot of friends who have tried family constellation therapy over the years who generously shared their experiences with me. They all spoke very positively about it. Even though the results they got from it were not always as dramatic as the ones in Zeytin Ağacı, they all said that it’s something they learned a lot from and not just as the caller of a session but also merely as one of the participants. Trying family constellation therapy at least once is definitely in my bucket list. However it is worth noting that, as it is shown in the series, it’s not a one-session solution at all. As with many other methods of recovery, as you dig deeper you may find different things to uncover and work on.
Who’s Behind the Wheel?
Zeytin Ağacı is written by Nuran Evren Şit and directed by Burcu Alptekin. If you have already watched one of Netflix’s first Turkish series, Atiye (The Gift), you might be familiar with these names. Atiye was adapted from a novel called Dünyanın Uyanışı (The World’s Awakening). Although Zeytin Ağacı is not an adaptation per se, a book heavily inspires it as well. The book in question is called “It Didn’t Start With You” which is written by Mark Wollyn. The book won the “Silver Nautilus Book Award in Psychology” in 2016. Needless to say it’s been one of the bestsellers of the genre ever since.
Honestly I enjoyed the storytelling in Zeytin Ağacı more than I enjoyed it in Atiye. I also related to and liked the characters more. The chemistry between the three women is really wholesome. I think what makes their chemistry work is that they are not only affectionate with each other; they are also brutally honest as good friends are. I commend the cast as well as the writer for this realistic depiction of female friendship.
Gökhan Tiryaki does a great job as the director of photography. You can really feel the heart and soul of each location that you see on the screen. Considering each episode starts with a flashback to one character’s ancestors, there are many scenes that take place in the past and I really appreciated the costumes and sets and the actors in those small scenes as well. They really enabled us to travel to those forgotten memories in the past. Technically Zeytin Ağacı is not flawless, but you’ll never fall off the wagon once you are invested in the story and that’s a huge improvement to some of the previous Turkish dramas we have watched from Netflix.
*The rest of the review might include spoilers.
My Take On The Story
The pacing of the story and the length of the episodes are ideal for a story of this kind. Each episode takes around 55 minutes and there are no filler episodes. I found the Turkish title of the series to be more relevant, as the tree metaphor is very fitting to the concept of inter-generational trauma. Olive tree is known to be indestructible as even when its branches on the ground are destroyed, it is able to regenerate itself from its roots and if that’s not a powerful allegory of how families work then I don’t know what is.
I would love to tackle some of the criticism I have seen online about the series. Some people say that the infidelity between Ada and her husband Selim (Serkan Altunorak) was distasteful. I think that it is important to show how our lives become what they are because of things we are not ready to resolve. I felt like Ada and Selim’s marriage is already just for convenience and not a real marriage based on mutual love. They were together because they didn’t want to be alone. Sadly when we are not willing to tackle our problems or to move on from something/someone, life throws us a curveball to change our direction.
Another discussion is about embracing negativity in our lives. When Zaman Bey asks Sevgi if she can thank the cancer, she obviously says no. I have heard that in a retreat once and I remember thinking it was the dumbest thing I heard. Now after some losses of my own I can understand the point in being grateful for bad things happening to us. We should be thanking the experience because we humans only change the course of our lives in the face of losing our health or losing someone. So when Zaman asks Sevgi if she can thank the cancer, what he means is, “have you been able to notice the gift of perception the cancer has brought your life?”
What Could Have Been Improved?
As noted above, I really think the casting was great, except for one person. I felt like Murat Boz as Toprak was not the perfect casting. Other male actors such as Fiko (Rıza Kocaoğlu), Zaman Bey (Fırat Tanış), Erdem (Umut Kurt) and Selim (Serkan Altunorak) outshined him in every scene they were together. Tuba Büyüküstün can have chemistry with a vase but I felt like if she had been matched with someone else, her scenes with Toprak would have been elevated. Anyway, no offence to Murat Boz fans out there but with such a strong cast I felt that he struggled in the emotional scenes. Also, his wig in the flashback scenes was a real hate crime. I felt like it was a detail that was overlooked and I felt bad because I know a lot of hard work goes into the making of these series.
Another thing I noticed and this was evident in Atiye as well; some scenes feel like the re-enactment scenes in documentaries. Obviously it’s the need to keep the audience in the loop as the story moves back and forth but I just felt like some scenes could have been slightly improved by making these transitions a bit smoother.
Why Should You Watch It?
Even with its minor flaws, Zeytin Ağacı is still compelling and makes for a comforting watch. You will surely see some part of yourself or your family members in the characters and will be left curious to learn more about your own ancestors. Ada, Sevgi and Leyla’s friendship will make you want to go on a road trip with your friends. Ada and Toprak’s relationship will make you think of an ex you always wondered what you would do if you ran into them. Sevgi and Fiko’s love will leave you heart-eyed. Zaman Bey and Fırat Tanış’s acting will leave you wanting more. Hopefully there will be a second season with that cliffhanger ending they left us with!
Zeytin Ağacı will remind you that life doesn’t only happen in the present. We are all products of our familial roots. Maybe we should be all be more curious about where we come from. Maybe we should honor our ancestors more and ask for their blessings. Don’t miss the opportunity to watch this wholesome series. I hope it will bring you peace and acceptance because that’s where we start to build our lives again and again.