Home Theatre: The gift that must be unearthed
A fortnightly column that focuses on notable content available on the streaming platforms around you, and this week it's The Gift, a Netflix Original
Imagine you are an artist who has been obsessed with a particular symbol all your life. All your paintings are of this symbol, though you don't exactly know what it means. You are also haunted by nightmares you can't explain. Then one day, an archaeological team uncovers this same symbol in a tunnel underground at what is thought to be the oldest temple site on earth. You would be shocked, right? Atiye, the protagonist of the Turkish Netflix original series, The Gift, is shocked. But she also finds the discovery strangely calming. She goes to Göbekli Tepe, the site where the symbol was found, to see for herself. Thus begins a journey filled with family secrets, intrigue on a much larger scale, and a lot of mysticism.
The Gift is essentially a supernatural mystery with an archaeological backdrop. There's a tongue-in-cheek reference to Indiana Jones — Erhan, the archaeologist who leads the excavation at Göbekli Tepe, says he's nothing like the character made famous by Harrison Ford and his goal is not to uncover any hidden treasure but rather to seek knowledge. He stays true to that through the series and doesn't turn into some swashbuckling hero.
The focus is squarely on Atiye (which is, incidentally, also the show's original title). And the actor who plays her, Beren Saat, is wonderful. She deftly balances the wilfulness and vulnerability of Atiye, her confusion and her confidence (note her little smile that says 'I know' when someone tells her they love her). Beren Saat is definitely one of the main reasons you should watch this show. But a special shout-out to Melisa Senolsun, who plays Atiye's sister, Cansu. Another interesting, complicated character. The sisters share a lovely relationship and are both strong in their own way. Their mother is too, albeit much more flawed a character. All the other actors too get their chance to shine. Nearly everyone gets a full character arc.
The Gift may not be the most original show in this genre, but it stays absorbing throughout the eight-episode season. The performances are one reason, as mentioned. The high production values are another. This is a very well-made show. Parts of it almost serve as a tourism advert for Turkey, and what a beautiful, intriguing country it seems to be with a rich history. I couldn't help but look up the archaeological sites showcased here — Göbekli Tepe and Nemrut. With the amount of mystery surrounding them, they make for an excellent setting for a supernatural story.
The story itself isn't too complicated nor filled with a hundred twists — something most mysteries/supernatural thrillers seem to think essential to hold the audience's interest. This is no Lost. It isn't trying to build a complex puzzle of a timeline or plot. The ending is a bit open-ended and there are still some unanswered questions, which will probably be dealt with in the subsequent seasons. But, there's nothing major here to unravel and thus, there won't be any big letdown in terms of answers either. It's less about the story itself and more how it is told. And while the story is not overwritten, there are still enough breadcrumbs strewn about that portend subsequent developments and discoveries to reward a rewatch.
Another aspect of The Gift that I found particularly appealing is the soundtrack. The recurring motif of the main theme still rings in my ear. And it's not just the music, the way sound (and silence) is used is noteworthy too — Atiye's visions and revelations are invariably heralded by strange sounds. I also appreciated the lack of jump scares. The Gift doesn't want to scare you so much as captivate you. And that it sure does. Netflix has already green-lit a second season of the show, and I, for one, am eager to see more of Atiye.