I’m thinking that we all have that one friend; you know, that one person that we know, who’s so unpredictable on a regular basis, that after a while, they become almost predictable in their unpredictability?
I mean, in the beginning, it’s all very surprising, and you find yourself rather stunned at said friend’s antics, and you sorta look forward to the kind of stuff said friend will get up to, coz it’s always something so unexpected and fresh. As time goes by, though, you can’t help but start to expect the unexpected from said friend, and it just becomes that much harder to feel surprised anymore. Said friend is still pretty much the same; just, you’ve gotten used to it, is all.
W is that friend, for me.
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
Here’s the OST album in case you’d like to listen to it while you read the review.
THE EVOLUTION OF MY WATCH EXPERIENCE
The cracky first half
It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that it was love at first episode for me, with W.
Right away, I found Show to be fresh, engaging, fast-paced, and really, really interesting. From the get-go, we’re thrown headlong into the manhwa world of W, so it sort of feels like we’re thrust into the thick of the action, and yet at the same time, setup is done really efficiently. I very quickly felt like I knew what I needed to know, in order to feel invested in these characters, and I wanted to know their story.
In a drama climate where I was feeling like I sorta-maybe-could-be in a drama rut with each show I was watching, this was nothing short of Amazing. This show made me want to watch back-to-back episodes, and I didn’t even get distracted by other things and pause in the middle of an episode. Each hour just zoomed right by, leaving me curious about what the next hour would bring.
I loved watching our heroine Yeon Joo (Han Hyo Joo) comically-frantically working to apply story and episodic logic to her situation, like understanding the workings of a time skip, or figuring out a way to end an episode of W. As a drama lover, I got a particular kick out of stuff like that.
More than that though, Show felt daring, which I really really loved. It went places that I didn’t expect it to go, and it made me think in the process, while entertaining and engaging me. I found the bold, decisive writing, and the excellent execution very impressive indeed.
The not-so-cracky second half
Sadly, the irony of being consistent, as it turns out, is that when you apply it to being surprising, it’s actually quite impossible to be consistently surprising. I mean, let’s think about that for a second; it’s against the nature of surprising to be consistent. Right? Right?? (That was a little bit deep, wasn’t it?)
And so it was, that at around episode 8, I realized that Show no longer had me breathlessly by the heart.
I was very aware that episode 8 was a very good, fast-paced episode where a lot of stuff happened. My brain registered that it was all very exciting and emotional, but somehow, I found that I was merely taking it all in, and registering story events as they happened, but no longer feeling torn upside-down and inside-out, with brain implosions on the side.
I.. even found it mildly predictable, in that as stuff happened, I found that everything fit easily and fully into this drama world’s logic system, and I could totally see why Show would go there, because it made sense to me. I guess I had gotten used to Show’s unpredictability, which is the thing that pretty much kills unpredictability.
To Show’s credit, I still felt some measure of pleasant surprise in the final few episodes, at the writing and handling, so Show never actually became boring.
On a tangent, I am beginning to suspect that when a show demands too much brain power from me, I find it harder to engage on a heart level with it. This is how I felt about writer-nim’s earlier work Nine, and a similar thing was going on for me, with this show.
I felt engaged with the characters, yes, but just not as much as I usually am, with my drama characters. I figure that perhaps because my brain was more actively engaged, that my heart-engagement felt less. I don’t know; maybe it’s just with this writer. I hafta say, though.. this has made me wonder if I’m quite possibly not so great at multitasking.
STUFF I LIKED
The execution of the two worlds
Apart from Show’s bold storytelling, my next favorite thing about W is the execution of the two worlds. Serious kudos to PD-nim for managing the relationship and transitions between the two worlds so skillfully.
First of all, I love that the manhwa versions of our characters – when we do see them as manhwa characters – are so much like their live-action counterparts. It’s just so cool to see manhwa Lee Jong Suk and manhwa everybody else, looking so convincingly like their source humans.
It’s even cooler to see the transition between the real world and the manhwa world, when they are juxtaposed like they are in the screenshot above. [SPOILER] The CGI around characters fading between real life to 2D manhwa drawings – like So Hee fading out and intermittently having parts of her body flickering into 2D manhwa drawings in episode 8 – is also very well done. [END SPOILER]
I also really liked the little details, like the W world changing in the moment, even as things got drawn in, in the real world.
The seamless, polished execution of the two worlds really made it much easier to buy into the fantastical setup as something real and believable.
Lee Shi Un as Soo Bong
Major, major shout-out to Lee Shi Un, for taking a supporting character and turbo-charging him to becoming arguably the cutest and most endearing thing about this show. That takes serious skillz, since Soo Bong is written primarily as a foil to our main characters, and is mostly more reactive than actually possessing a proper arc of his own.
Yet, Lee Shi Un delivers those reactions with such perfect comic timing, and with the most expressive elastic expressions, that I couldn’t help but love him and look forward to his scenes. Seriously, almost everything about Soo Bong is endearing, in a bumbling, earnest sort of way. [SPOILER] In particular, I loved his regular bouts of disbelief, horror and awe in trying to come to terms with Yeon Joo’s fantastical tales of her adventures in the world of W. And I loved-loved-loved his starry-eyed fanboying, when he finally came face to face with Kang Chul (Lee Jong Suk). Tee hee. [END SPOILER]
A cute OTP
Ordinarily, I feel a lot more engaged with a show’s OTP, and I have to admit that I felt a little, well, distant from this particular OTP.
I think one reason is what I mentioned earlier, about this show demanding so much of my brain’s engagement that my heart sort of checked out, a little bit. The other reason, is that Show was a little abrupt in the way our OTP fell in love, making it hard for me to buy into their romance and the depth of their love. It also doesn’t help that Kang Chul is shown to be mostly a mix of curiously amused and casually flippant when interacting with Yeon Joo.
That said, I did find the OTP cute when they were allowed to be together and in a romantic sort of narrative space. Yeon Joo is a likable, flaily scatterbrain, and I found it a nice contrast, to have our manhwa hero so perfect, while our real-world heroine is so imperfect. This did give us fun opportunities for Show to play off their differences.
Additionally, once I got over the necessary suspension of disbelief over the depth of their love, I found myself enjoying the easy couple chemistry between our OTP. Plus I do have affection for both Lee Jong Suk and Han Hyo Joo, so that helped as well.
Kim Eui Sung as Dad
Big shout-out to Kim Eui Sung, who pretty much stole the show. From Dad’s wide-ranging moods, [SPOILER] to the eventual need to portray two characters [END SPOILER], Kim Eui Sung was always completely and utterly convincing, and when the need arose, thoroughly compelling as well. Mad props, seriously.
STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH
Changing, unexplained rules
In the beginning, I found it thrilling to piece together how the rules in this drama world were supposed to work. We’re never told how the rules work, but in watching our characters’ experiences and observing the consequences that occurred, it was actually a bit of an adventure working to fit the pieces together to figure out how everything was supposed to work.
The problem was, Show would sometimes actually change those rules along the way.
Sometimes the rule-changing made narrative sense, [SPOILER] like when Yeon Joo went from invincible to vulnerable in the world of W, once Kang Chul decided she was the key to his life [END SPOILER], but at other times, the rule-changing felt random, [SPOILER] like when Faceless Killer Guy suddenly became able to walk through random teleporting doorways in the world of W [END SPOILER].
The problem with the inclusion of the random rule changes was that it made me lose interest in figuring out the rules that did make sense. Like, if Show’s gonna play like that and just change things when it feels like it, why should I even bother trying to figure things out, right?
Logic slips & unanswered questions
Writer-nim clearly put a lot of thought into creating the world of W and into plotting many of the narrative milestones of our story, so big kudos to her there.
Occasionally, though, I noticed a logic slip or two, and at other times, stuff seemed to be glossed over in service of forwarding out story. The more this happened, the I more I felt that it took away from Show’s coolness factor.
[SPOILERS THROUGH THE END OF THE REVIEW]
The first logic slip I noticed was in episode 6, when Kang Chul is reported as a missing person in the real world. This didn’t make sense to me. How could they have reported Kang Chul as a missing person to the police, when Kang Chul had no identity in this world? You can’t just go to the police and say, I’m looking for someone, but I can’t tell you who he is?
Another logic slip – or at least, I felt it was a logic slip – was in episode 9, after the reset where Kang Chul wakes up from his coma and everything that had occurred prior was relegated to a coma dream. The fact that Kang Chul’s previously strong will to seek the truth seems to be gone post-coma didn’t make sense to me. His burning desire to find answers to all the suspicions and analysis that he’d had prior to his stabbing wouldn’t be simply eradicated by a dream. He had been a in coma, yes, but he doesn’t suffer amnesia post-coma, so this didn’t make sense to me either.
In terms of unanswered questions, I was most curious about the logic behind Faceless Killer Guy stealing Dad’s face. First of all, how the heck did Faceless Killer Guy even steal Dad’s face? Having him explain that he “ate him up” doesn’t count as an answer.
I was also really curious about why Dad then had to operate as Killer Guy’s zombie. Why didn’t Dad have free will anymore? And, how on earth did Faceless Dad manage to survive, not being able to eat or, y’know, breathe?
Another thing I was curious about was, why Killer Guy seemed unaffected by the reset, since he demonstrates that he knows what happened during that “dream” timeline.
There are lots more unanswered questions where those came from, but suffice to say, these unanswered questions started to bemuse me in increasing measure, the more they stacked up.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING
I.. honestly don’t know how to feel about the ending.
On the one hand, yay that it’s a happy ending for Kang Chul and Yeon Joo.
But, on the other hand, Dad had to disappear from existence – and die, basically – in order for this happy ending to be possible. I get that it’s supposed to be a loving fatherly sort of sacrifice, and that Dad felt too sinful to continue to live, and that it was his way of paying for his sins, but.. really? We – and Yeon Joo – are supposed to feel ok about his death? Talk about a high price to pay for your art.
Also, while the twist on the ending was rather interesting and quite useful for getting us the happy ending that this show needed, I felt like this dramaworld’s rules were blatantly ignored or changed in order for that to happen. What happened to the story of W following the main character’s arc? Shouldn’t the story have followed Kang Chul’s journey from the brink of death back to life, and not only the fact that the villains had died? That was weird.
On top of that, what happened to W ceasing to exist once the story is over? Earlier in the show, once Kang Chul gained awareness of the two worlds, everything had stopped in W. Shouldn’t that hold true as well, now that the story of W has ended?
What about rules like characters fading out of existence once they aren’t useful to the story? That just suddenly stopped being a Thing. Why? And of course, the biggest question of all, how the heck did Kang Chul cross over to the real world after it was all over, since his most recent efforts to summon himself to the real world hadn’t worked? Are we supposed to believe that now, after W has ended, he’s just able to summon himself again?
And then there’s that thing where all the W-originated items had disappeared from the real world after the final episode. So what’s this about Yeon Joo’s ring reappearing, now that Kang Chul’s in the real world? How does that work? Is it the same ring? Or had the ring disappeared to some kind of holding zone, only to be summoned again by Kang Chul?
Sigh. So many questions, and no real answers.
Because W is a show whose appeal (for me, anyway) was largely in its smarts and its ability to work around its dramaworld’s rules in twisty bendy ways while still staying true to those rules (or so I trusted – or at least hoped), this lack of answers in the finale was pretty disappointing, for me.
The lack of answers also undermines all the earlier philosophical questions Show seems to raise; questions like, “What does it mean to be human? Are we really the masters of our own fate?” The thing is, in glossing over the how of the happy ending, Show seems to only serve up a half-answer; something along the lines of, “Yes, we can be masters of our own fate. Just don’t ask us to explain how.” Which doesn’t really cut it in my books, honestly.
The OTP’s happy ending does mollify me somewhat, but, does it mollify me to the extent that all the unanswered questions don’t matter anymore? I wish I could say yes, but y’know, they kind of do matter. I can’t deny that I’m glad our OTP got their happy ending, but I also can’t deny that I’m disappointed at the lack of answers.
Still, props to Show for being daring and different. At your best, Show, you had me by the heart. And I won’t forget that.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
A solid, logic-bendy watch, in spite of its flaws.
FINAL GRADE: B