Have you ever had someone take you by the hand, and seem completely confident of leading you to your destination? You feel safe and assured in following said person’s lead, and all your curious questions seem to be met with solid answers, to boot. Everything feels like it’s going Really Great.
…And then you know the feeling, when that all starts to unravel? Like, the answers you get for your questions slowly but surely start showing cracks, and then you realize that maybe said person doesn’t know the way so well after all, especially once you notice that you’ve sorta walked in a circle, several times?
Sigh. That pretty much sums up my experience with Mirror of the Witch, you guys.
IT STARTED SO WELL
For the first 13 episodes, I really – like, really, really – enjoyed this show. It wasn’t perfect, sure, but there was so much good stuff that I considered this show a distinct cut above the rest of the dramas that I was watching at the time.
Here’s a quick list of all the stuff I loved in the first 13 episodes.
1. Show’s really pretty
Show is beautifully filmed, and the drama world it creates, is an interesting and very intriguing rendition of a dark Joseon world where mysticism and magic rule the day and monarchs are at their mercy. Everything is stylish and polished in its dark, brooding way, and the purplish filter used for much of this show gives everything a touch of the unreal. I literally sometimes paused, just to admire the pretty.
Really well done, I thought.
2. Show feels assured in its plotting and direction
It was admittedly a bit of a slow burn for my heart to get on board with this show, but I must admit that the plot moves pretty fast, and you really never know what to expect. I really liked not being able to guess where Show would take us next, and Show didn’t seem to shy away from completing an arc, and therefore push the boundaries of where the story could go.
It made other dramas feel simplistic in comparison, because this story has multiple acts (vs. the basic Opening, Middle and Closing acts of most dramas), and that made the watch experience quite twisty and exhilarating, coz you just really didn’t know where the story was going to go next.
Show raised more questions than it answered, but in the first 13 episodes at least, I felt like we were in good hands. Show would answer at least several of the questions that it raised, and that made me feel like we would get some solid answers to other as-yet-unanswered questions (that.. didn’t really happen, but we’ll talk more about that later).
3. Show’s handling of the OTP
I actually liked the way Show handled the OTP.
On paper, the age gap between Yoon Si Yoon and Kim Sae Ron is pretty big, but in the Joseon setting, it actually wasn’t much of a problem, particularly since things only take a turn for the romantic when Kim Sae Ron’s character Yeon Hee is in her twenties.
I thought Show setting the OTP up as soul mates who understood each other at a very fundamental, existential level was a very good call indeed. Another plus is, Show never rushed this OTP connection, and allowed our OTP the time and space to connect on a human level first and foremost, and I liked that a lot.
Both Kim Sae Ron and Yoon Si Yoon turn in solid performances, but I hafta say, to me, it’s Yoon Si Yoon who truly shines. He plays Joon with a depth and warmth that I felt worked really, really well. In several of the more difficult scenes, he legit gave me chills; his delivery was so arresting.
Together, their OTP chemistry was sweetly innocent and wholesomely earnest, and I consistently enjoyed our OTP’s shared scenes. Plus, who can deny the epic nature of their love, which endured even when pit against a Scary Deathly Curse?
4. Our villain’s powerful & interesting
Yum Jung Ah’s excellent as resident antagonist shaman Hong Joo, and I often found her more compelling and fascinating than our good guys.
I loved that she was so fierce and glowery, and that her personality – and her makeup – was strong, unlike many other female characters. Plus, she demonstrated quite a lot of smarts in her evil scheming, and that made her a proper force to be reckoned with.
Even when Show faltered in its later episodes, I consistently found Hong Joo to be a scene-stealer. Which, really, is No Small Deal, since I don’t often gravitate towards villains.
5. The OST
I will admit that I wasn’t really feeling the lighter moments that Show served up in the midst of all the magicky Drama, so I also didn’t much care for the boppy instrumentals that scored those scenes. On the other hand, I must say that there are some truly lovely tracks on the OST that regularly lifted my watch experience to the next level.
Also, special shout-out to the chanty, cymbal-heavy score that came on every time Hong Joo worked her black magic. That’s some intense, eerie, otherworldly-sounding stuff alright. Kudos to the music PD for creating that sound and applying it so well. It literally made my skin crawl. Eek.
… AND THEN THE CRACKS STARTED SHOWING
So I’m not saying that the first 13 episodes are perfect; there were definitely things that didn’t sit completely well with me. But, the first 13 episodes were cohesive and solid enough, to make it easy to overlook those flaws.
Once we hit episode 14, however, it was a different story. Stuff started going markedly downhill for me, and I even got to a point where I wondered if it was time to drop this show.
Here’s a quick rundown of the key things that I found lacking in Show’s later stretch.
1. Show starts to cycle in place
Considering how much I loved Show’s brand of bold ballsy in its first 13 episodes, in pushing boundaries and finishing and starting new arcs, this slow-down from the episode 14 point onwards was extra disappointing.
Essentially, our story pretty much grinds to an almost-halt between episodes 14 and 19. The plot cycles in place, and it feels like Show is purposefully manufacturing Stuff to fill time before the finale. Our characters experience victories and setbacks, yes, but – and here’s the thing – none of it is real. The victories aren’t real victories, and setbacks aren’t real setbacks either; nobody really changes or dies or faces consequences – so that our characters are basically almost in the same place, in position for the finale events.
So slow and painful to watch, seriously.
2. Characters seem to be treated rather haphazardly
Pretty much from the get-go, the side characters in this show pop up and fade away in a pretty haphazard fashion. It’s less obvious in the first 13 episodes coz not only is Show moving in a much more satisfying manner, it was also easier to give Show the benefit of the doubt. After all, with so many more episodes to go, there was time for Show to bring characters back to the fore in meaningful ways, right?
…Except, Show didn’t.
Several of the side characters pop in and out of the story in what feels like rather random ways. I always expected Show to flesh out these characters more – towards something – but in the end, they ended up mostly feeling rather arbitrary. Heo Ok (Jo Dal Hwan), Joon’s bad-egg half-brother is one example, and Soon Deok (Min Do Hee) is another, although I do admit Soon Deok fared slightly better as a character.
And then there are the side characters that just completely disappear from the story, and never come back. The case of Joon’s bestie Dong Rae (Choi Sung Won) fading away from the plot is understandable, since Choi Sung Won had to bow out of the production after being diagnosed with acute leukemia (feel better soon, Choi Sung Won! Fighting!). However, there is no explanation for the disappearance of Heo Ok’s mother (Jun Mi Sun), or worse, Hyun Seo’s wife (Lee Sung Jae and Yoon Bok In respectively).
[SPOILER] In fact, the last we see of Hyun Seo’s wife, she’s waiting for him to return after his extended disappearance. Next thing we know, she’s gone (poof!) from the story, and Show seems to aggressively push the idea of Hyun Seo being deeply connected to Hong Joo instead. Seriously, his missing wife niggled at me every. single. time. Show put Hyun Seo and Hong Joo in close proximity and hinted at some kind of soul mate connection. It just felt so wrong. [END SPOILER]
3. There are no answers to some of the earlier questions
Because Show does provide some answers to several of the questions that it raised, I’d kept filing away unanswered questions in a mental “to be answered” folder. For the record, Show didn’t answer those filed away questions, and that unfortunately eroded my perception of Show’s level of thoughtfulness and smarts by quite a bit.
Here’s a quick list of some of the questions that I would’ve liked answers to, but never got answers to.
E3. How does Poong Yeon (Kwak Shi Yang) know to go to the palace to look for Yeon Hee (Kim Sae Ron) after she disappeared?
E5. Who’s the Mystery Man who saved Yo Gwang (Lee Yi Kyung)? What’s all that with the blue talisman?
E5. Why does Joon’s arrow wound heal up as a talisman scar? And if that’s supposed to be Hyun Seo’s doing, how did he do it, and why did he choose Joon to be Yeon Hee’s talisman?
E6. Why does Yeon Hee have powers? She’s cursed; she’s not a witch.
E8. How does Yo Gwang know to find Joon in prison? Magic?
E14. Why does Poong Yeon need to see a ghost and panic from it, to induce his inherited power to create holy fire?
E15. How do the magics work against each other in order to cure the king (Lee Ji Hoon) of his thorny disease?
E20. Who’s the Mystery Man who gives Yo Gwang the Sacrifice Potion? Is he the same Mystery Man who saved Yo Gwang? Why does he have a copy of the Grimoire of Curses? How does he know all about Yeon Hee and Joon?
4. Logic gets weak and is sometimes absent
Given that Show doesn’t answer a good number of the questions it raises, it’s probably not a surprise that logic eventually takes a beating. Some of the logic breakdowns are bigger than others, but altogether, this also eroded my perception of Show’s smarts, and by quite a bit.
Here’s a collection of logic breakdowns and other inconsistencies that I noticed in the show.
E11. The rules of the potions are not clear. Some of the elixirs have a limited time span of efficacy, and yet others seem to have more permanent effects.
E13. The logic behind Hyun Seo vacillating between being himself and being Hong Joo’s zombie isn’t clear. Hong Joo says that he should be unable to have any thought or action of his own volition, and yet, he has stretches of lucidity. Why?
E13. Since when did Joon become such a good fighter? We didn’t see this from him in earlier episodes, but lately he’s been prevailing against the Shaman Warriors and also against Red Cloak. That feels like an oversight.
E14. Hong Joo made it clear in earlier episodes that only Yeon Hee’s twin brother could kill her, and yet, she’d been trying to get Poong Yeon to kill Yeon Hee, long before Poong Yeon demonstrated that he had inherited the ability to create holy fire. That doesn’t make sense.
E16. Why isn’t Yeon Hee using her powers? She never lost them, and when agitated, she doesn’t even need to lift her hand in order to make people fly. Why doesn’t she use her powers to protect herself when she’s kidnapped to the shed? Even if she isn’t successful because the forces she’s up against are too strong or something, it would make sense for her to at least try. She was definitely agitated enough.
E19. Why is Yeon Hee able to walk right into the palace after the attempted burning, when there’s been no official “royal pardon”? There was no order from the king to stop the execution. He’d simply allowed Joon to rescue her. She’d had to flee. Which implies that the order to execute her is still in force. And yet, she can walk right back into the palace. What?
E19. Hyun Seo suddenly being good is really illogical. I get that he sucked the black magic from Poong Yeon and that’s why he’s now strengthened and alive and no longer Hong Joo’s zombie. But if Poong Yeon had been affected by the black magic and had been vacillating between good and evil, surely Hyun Seo, fully running on black magic, should be fully evil, even independent of Hong Joo?
5. Other weaknesses get magnified
Thanks to the unanswered questions and Show’s lapses in logic, its other weaknesses also got magnified at the same time, unfortunately.
Partly because I was getting impatient with the story, all the boppily-scored comic-relief scenes landed even less well for me than in the earlier episodes. I just didn’t find the lighter, supposedly funny scenes very organic to the main story, which was so serious and plodding in comparison.
Sometimes I also got confused about the timelines, coz some scenes are repeated in what appeared to be a random manner. [SPOILER] Like, Hong Joo asking for the last page of the Grimoire of Curses from Hyun Seo. That was shown at the end of E17, and then again, somewhere in the middle of E18. What’s that supposed to mean? That the whole first half of E18 was skipped over in order to give us that closing scene in E17? [END SPOILER]
I hate to say it, but I also found Poong Yeon increasingly annoying to watch. I acknowledge that Kwak Shi Yang approaches the role without vanity, but there’s something about his just-a-touch-slow delivery of his lines, the thickness of his voice, and the way he emotes, that comes together to make me feel like Poong Yeon is just a bit.. uh, mentally slow (sorry, Kwak Shi Yang!).
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
After six whole episodes of feeling bemused, confused and frustrated with Show, I have to admit that in spite of it all, Show managed to leave me with a sense of bittersweet poignance, with its ending.
That’s no small feat, considering how bored I was during the first half hour of the finale.
In the first half hour, I found everything pretty slow-moving, and the cutesy bits felt out of place to me. I mean, this was the finale, and there was the big question hanging over the story, of how Show would resolve the whole curse thing, and instead of diving into resolving it, Show was serving up everyday type scenes, of Joon and Yeon Hee making elixirs, and cutesy stuff like Soon Deok confessing her affection for Yo Gwang. It just felt really odd, to me. Also, I was rather distracted by Joon putting the flower crown on Yeon Hee’s head during their wedding ceremony. Uh. Isn’t that a modern, totally-not-Joseon sort of thing?
Yet, I did feel Joon’s inner sadness as he prepared for goodbye.
And, I actually liked the twist that Show chose, in having Yeon Hee be the one to make true love’s sacrifice. Yes, it does feel rather Disney-esque, in a way (Frozen, anybody?), but I’d much rather this, and have Yeon Hee take ownership of her curse, than have Joon sacrifice himself like we were set up to believe all series long.
Granted, I had issues with Hyun Seo’s decision to die with Hong Joo, since I’d always found it odd that Show set up their connection to be so deep, to the extent that they often felt like almost-lovers. Additionally, Hong Joo had consistently said that her life was tied to Yeon Hee’s, ie, with every candle successfully lit, Hong Joo died a little. In this case, it should stand to reason that when the final candle was lit, not only would the curse return to Hong Joo, she would die. The sudden need for holy fire didn’t make sense to me, and therefore seemed inserted purely to create a Dramatic Exit for Hyun Seo and Hong Joo.
On the other hand, I did like that Joon got to accomplish a life’s work that honored Yeon Hee, and that when that was finally done, he and Yeon Hee were reunited in a manner that beautifully echoed their first meeting, all those years ago.
That we got to see young Joon and Yeon Hee, finally face to face again, with so much unspoken emotion between them, made the finale, for me.
Of course, I grumble at Show a little, for not even giving us a reunion hug, or even showing our OTP in the same frame, but Show’s decision to let us see them reunite in what appears to be the afterlife, is (juust) enough for me, to smooth over this finale’s shortcomings.
In the end, I can’t say that I’m not disappointed at the thought of the could’ve beens, since Show started out pretty great in my books. I badly wanted it to remain smart, bold and assured all the way through.
At the same time, given how disappointed I’d felt at Show’s final third, this finale – or at least, the last few minutes of the finale – made up for a lot. In my head, this could’ve been much worse; Show could’ve whimpered to a completely unsatisfying end instead. Eep.
Put in perspective, meandering for 6.5 episodes is not such a terrible thing after all, since Show managed to end on a touchingly satisfying note. At least I feel like hanging in there was worth it, y’know?
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Show starts strong, but seems to lose its way somewhat in the final stretch. Uneven overall, but still manages to end on a poignant note.
FINAL GRADE: B-