It’s strange to be watching this after we watched the spinoff, La Sultana, earlier in the year. I’m not sure how much of this they’re showing or if we’ll see any recognizable characters.
Right up front, they want us to know this is fiction based on history. So, you know, don’t go thinking it all went down like this. It’s not The Real Sultanas of Istanbul.
A group of armed men on horseback are riding through a forest. They stop and ready their weapons when they hear another group approaching.
Riders in red uniforms stop. The chambelan of the armeros offers up a scroll for “the prince” from Grand Vizier Piri Mehmed Pasha.
The Grand Vizier writes that on September 22 Sultan Selim Kahn began his trip to Allah. Prince Suleyman should come to the capital…. The voice fades out.
Suleyman looks back at the falconer and they have one of those Turkish drama conversations where they communicate only with their eyes. The falconer pulls a sword out of the scabbard on Suleyman’s saddle and offers it to him, calling him Sultan Suleyman Khan. The Ottoman dynasty and the Ottoman empire lo aguardan (await him).
All the other guys kneel. I swear, even the horses gave him a little dip of the head.
Black Sea, September 1520
It’s soup time for the kidnapped and enslaved women on board a boat heading for Istanbul. Aleksandra refuses to eat any of that filthy Ottoman soup. Her friend Maria tries to convince her to eat something so she doesn’t get sick. There’s a scuffle between Aleksandra and one of their captors in which she gets pushed in the direction of a bread knife and tries to attack the guy with it.
Yet another captor shows up and orders her tied up. She screams at him to kill her, but he can’t. She’s the property of the Sultan and he’ll decide what to do with her.
Suleyman meets with his mother and sister. Mom’s totes in favor of him ascending to the throne and she hopes Allah will agree with her. She made a caftan for her lobezno (wolf cub, HT Linda).
A woman (Gülfem) comes in with the red robe covered in gold embroidery, with fur at the neck and sleeves.
When Suleyman addresses his sister Hatice, she kneels.
Suleyman gives her a kiss on the forehead and turns back to the servant holding the robe. She looks like she’s mentally shouting “Notice me!” (That would be because she’s Suleyman’s ex, but they don’t tell us until later in the season.)
As Suleyman gets dressed, he voiceovers about who he is and where he came from.
He was born in 1494 to Yavuz Sultan Selim Khan and Hafse Ayşe Sultan. All his brothers died from epidemics. He studied at Trabzon palace until he started taking classes at the school in Istanbul when he was ten. He valued knowledge and looked to mysticism for the answers knowledge couldn’t provide. He liked to combine light with metal and stone. He could tell what had value just by looking and he never forgot anything he learned.
He’d been governing Manisa since he was 16. And now he’s taking over his father’s legacy. He promises to look for justice on every step of his path as the tenth Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.
The guys in the puffy hats are a bunch of gossips and plotters. The one with the dark mustache is being all fake-happy that nothing happened to Suleyman on his way to Istanbul. ‘Cause what would they ever have done!
But the guy with the little mole on his cheek says Selim had another son, Obeiz, who was exiled.
The guy with the round hat tells Kafer Ağa to quit being rude. As Yunus says, some words end wars and some cause decapitations.
Suleyman finally shows up. Mufti Ali offers up a prayer we don’t hear and then all the kissing of Suleyman’s robe starts.
Vizier Mehmet Pasha is the one with the white handlebar mustache. Ferhad is the one with the dark handlebar mustache. Ahmed is the one with the thick beard. And then there’s Kafer Ağa.
Suleyman’s mother and sister are watching from the observation deck.
Meanwhile, at the Vatican, they’re getting the news of Selim’s death and Suleyman’s ascension to the throne.
The pope? says the lion of Islam is dead and now the lamb is in his place.
Suleyman endures more robe-kissing.
In the boat, the other women are cleaning while Aleks is dreaming about the day she was kidnapped. She was in church with her sister and parents–dad was the minister–and her boyfriend was standing behind her flirting. Someone ran in to say the Tartars were coming and suddenly they were there. Aleks got separated from Leo, watched her parents die, and was dragged away.
She starts screaming “Killers!” and gets a bucket of water to the face. One of the slavers asks who she’s calling killers, them? (Oh no, noble slaver, I would never besmirch your honor by calling you a killer.)
Maria tells Aleks to apologize and then assures the kidnappers that she meant the Tartars. She begs Aleks to apologize or this will be the end of them.
Aleks is like “They killed everyone I loved and sold me into slavery in the Crimea…and now they’re going to sell me to the Ottomans. What the hell else can they do to me?” She starts crying and begging them to kill her. She has no one left!
The slavers have no idea what to do with that.
In the harem kitchen, Şeker Ağa is struggling to prepare dinner after he insisted on doing the cooking himself instead of getting help from the main kitchen. Sumbul Ağa is the impatient guy in blue with the turban.
The slavers have decided to untie Aleks so she can wash her face before they take her to the palace. Aleks sees fireworks going off outside the window.
Suleyman’s hanging out on his balcony with Ibrahim, the falconer, watching the same fireworks. Ibrahim calls him the Alexander the Great of their generation.
In the harem, the favorites are looking down from their balcony at the “new girls” and insisting they’re not good for more than being servants.
The harem treasurer tells Sumbul Ağa to shut them up as she walks down the line of women. Maria whispers to Aleks that this doesn’t seem so bad.
The harem treasurer gives orders to have the women she’s picking out of the line sent to the baths. The rest can go downstairs and they’ll deal with them in the morning.
Outside the harem, Sultana Madre Hafse and Hatice are walking on a balcony that gives a view into the harem even when the doors are shut. Aleks is screaming and struggling and Hafse wants Aleks brought to her.
Piri Mehmed Pasha comes to Suleyman’s balcony to offer him the official seal, since he’s assuming Suleyman wants to pick a new Grand Vizier.
Nah, Piri Pasha can keep his job. And BTW, Ibrahim here is going to be in charge of Suleyman’s private quarters. Spread the word.
Ibrahim rushes over to kiss Suleyman’s robe while Piri Mehmed Pasha just looks super uncomfortable.
Sumbul Ağa comes into the harem looking for Firial Kalfa (in the Latin American version–in the first few episodes, you’ll hear her called Nigar Kalfa). She needs to take one of the concubines, Ayşe, to the Sultan’s chambers and make sure everything’s ready. Which is code for Ayşe gets a chance to sleep with the Sultan. (Yeah, there’s not much consent going on when they don’t have the option of refusing.)
Aleks gets dragged into the Sultana Madre’s rooms. Hafse tells her to chill.
Um, ok…so…Aleks can see she’s a powerful woman…let her go or she’ll kill herself!
That decision’s up to the Sultan…and the Sultana Madre.
Aleks gets dragged back out, screaming that she’s no one’s property. The harem treasurer, Daye says she’ll teach Aleks a lesson.
Sumbul Ağa’s also helping get Suleyman’s room ready. He and Firial Kalfa are dismissed, but Suleyman eventually tells Ayşe to stay.
In the baths, Aleks sits by herself, numbly pouring water over her head.
Now that Ayşe and Suleyman have had obligatory sex, he tells her she can leave.
Ibrahim’s still out on the balcony, remembering the Sultan’s men coming to drag him away from his family when he was ten. He talks about his freedom being in forgetting–his name, the land where he learned to walk.
Suleyman comes out for a breath of Bosporus air. He sees Ibrahim and asks what’s up with him. Ibrahim says it’s nothing. What could it be after the honor Suleyman did him tonight?
OK, then. Suleyman has been thinking that it’s about time Ibrahim started a family.
Suleyman told him once that Ibrahim was his brother. Is he not anymore?
Suleyman assures him if he could choose a brother, he would choose Ibrahim.
The women who were in the bath are marched back to the harem in their Dr. Scholl’s chanclas. Firial tells them to leave the sandals outside, hurry up, and change into their nightclothes. Tomorrow they’ll get new clothes.
Aleks just stands there, watching the others, and then picks up her nightgown and tosses it on the floor.
The harem treasurer tells her to pick it up. Firial finally comes over and shoves Aleks to the ground. This is Topkapi palace and they’re all property of Sultan Suleyman. She tells Aleks the woman she talked to was the mother of the Sultan.
The treasurer adds that the Sultana Madre was the daughter of a Sultan. She was never a slave like they are.
She leaves and Firial pulls Aleksandra aside. They all came here as slaves, but she doesn’t have to stay a slave if she behaves and learns. All these girls want to serve the Sultan. If Aleks is chosen, if she satisfies the Sultan and gives him a son she’ll be his favorite and she’ll rule the world.
Aleks dreams that her family comes to visit her. She wants to go with them, but her mother says she has to stay and avenge them by becoming powerful. If she’s powerful, they can rest.
Maria wakes her up. Aleks is holding her cross pendant and it cut into her hand.
Daye announces that lessons begin today. They’ll learn to be good concubines. Sumbul Ağa says if they learn everything, this palace can be a paradise for them. If not it’ll be hell. Just saying.
Aleks doesn’t lower her head like the other women. But when the treasurer asks, she says she understood. Firial looks over and smirks like “Get it, girl!”
Suleyman stops by for his mom’s blessing before starting his first day as Sultan. She says she’ll be praying for him and asks when Mahidevran and her grand-wolf-cub are arriving.
In their coach, Mahidevran is remembering distracting Suleyman from his pet project–an emerald ring. “Who’s prettier? Me or the ring?”
Mustafá asks how much longer until they get there.
Mahidevran says they need to get to their boat and then they’ll sail the rest of the way.
Mustafá misses his dad and Ibrahim. Is Topkapi bigger than their castle?
Mahidevran says it’s the biggest. And it’s full of gold and diamonds.
In the harem, Firial Kalfa sees Aleks looking up at the balcony. She explains that it’s where the favorites hang out. To get there, the Sultan has to favor you. And that only happens to the smart, well-behaved ones.
Aleks gives a little wave to Ayşe.
The treasurer and Sumbul Ağa lead the concubines-in-training out of the harem, but someone announces the arrival of Suleyman and it’s like clearing the way for emergency vehicles. Everyone back up to the wall and lower your heads!
Aleks, of course, waits until he’s just passed her and then looks up and calls out to him. But she says “Suliman.” AWKWARD!
Nobody in that hallway is breathing. Suleyman turns around and Aleks is looking him in the eyes. He blatantly looks her up and down and she…swoons into his arms, calls him “Suliman” again, and faints.
It takes Suleyman a minute to notice he’s holding onto some woman he’s never met and he tells Daye and Sumbul to take over.
And then he walks off like nothing just happened in completely the WRONG direction and Ibrahim has to get him turned around.
Sumbul rouses Aleks with something that makes her sneeze. He and Daye smirk at each other. Did she not tell her not to lift her head? Sumbul adds that she said Suleyman’s name wrong. They leave to attend to today’s lessons.
Aleks tells Maria she’ll teach her how to faint later.
The puffy hat crew, minus their puffy hats, watch Suleyman approaching. Ahmed Pasha complains about Ibrahim being in charge of Suleyman’s rooms. He thinks Piri Pasha should have objected, as Grand Vizier.
Piri Pasha tells Ahmed Pasha he’s welcome to do it himself, if he ever gets promoted to Grand Vizier. Ahmed and Ferhad are just a couple of kids!
Suleyman gets to the door of his council chamber and asks to speak to his dad’s BFF alone first.
Ahmed approaches Ibrahim and says he’s flying higher than his falcon.
Ibrahim’s like “I was in the army. We know how to follow orders.” Subtext: Unlike SOME people. Piri Pasha gives just the slightest satisfied smile and lift of the eyebrow.
Ahmed goes on complaining that conversos and army officers are getting positions of power.
Suleyman asks if his father was in a lot of pain before he died. BFF says he was, but he kept praying he’d go to paradise. He never wavered–he was ranting about Suleyman to the end. And he left some money for Kafer Ağa.
Suleyman’s furious. Even in Manisa he knew Kafer Ağa was abusing his power, tormenting the Egyptian merchants, and the people of Rumeli. Is this Ottoman justice? To ignore as if they can’t hear? You can’t have sovereignty or justice without conscience.
Kafer Ağa is counting up his money. The guy helping him says the Egyptians paid 30K less this month and insisted they didn’t have anything else to sell and Kafer Ağa might as well kill them.
Kafer Ağa tells the guy to go back to Egypt, shake them down for the rest, and if they don’t have it, burn everything down and go tell the judge they did it.
Now the council meeting starts. Suleyman has a soldier put a map down on the floor and asks the treasurer how the treasury’s doing.
They’ve got 6 million plus ducats of gold and their annual income is 11 million.
Cool. Then they’re in good shape to do some conquering. He tells the treasurer to give the Janissaries 3 thousand of the 5 he promised them as a bonus for coming to the throne. The other 2 thousand he wants added to their salaries.
Now, as for this map, Suleyman wants it all, basically. Starting with Rhodes.
In the harem, Maria points out Ayşe to Aleks and says she was with the Sultan the other night.
Aleks approaches Ayşe to ask what it was like.
Ayşe says it was like a dream. Hopefully she’s pregnant. She keeps praying he’ll ask for her again.
Yeah, his wife is very beautiful. Sultana Mahidevran. She should be arriving soon.
Suleyman’s at his desk, working on that emerald ring and thinking about Aleks. He tells Ibrahim he’s free to go–Suleyman’s just going to work for a while.
But Ibrahim mentions the council meeting tomorrow. Suleyman jokingly asks him if the world is ready for his decisions. Are the Ottomans ready?
Kafer Ağa catches sight of Suleyman heading for the council chamber and says he has the same look as his father, Allah protect him. The other guys are looking at him like “Dude, we all know you’re in trouble and ass kissing won’t save you.”
Suleyman calls the meeting to order. The kingdom isn’t above the laws of Allah. The Koran demands justice and equality. And Suleyman’s justice is going to be carried out according to the law.
The 600 kidnapped Egyptian families who have endured all manner of problems for years may return home. They’re citizens just like the rest of them.
And he’s opening up the gold thread market to include the Persians and Tabrizlis.
And they’re getting indemnification for their losses. And everyone who tortured them will be judged and punished if they’re found guilty.
So he wants Kafer Ağa sent to trial and punished for what he’s done to the families from Anatolia and the harm he caused to life and property while Kafer Ağa himself got richer.
Kafer Ağa throws himself at Suleyman’s feet, screaming that it’s not true, but a couple of soldiers drag him out.
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