THE SHORT VERDICT:
A sequel that feels similar-yet-different when compared to its elder sibling Age Of Youth.
The departure of several characters and the addition of new ones makes this season feel rather bittersweet, but the drama world feels the same, and it’s great to spend time with familiar beloved characters once again. Show continues with certain hanging threads left over from Season 1, while introducing new adventures and new people to our Belle Epoque girls. All in all, this feels like a solid continuation of Season 1.
Familiar enough to make existing fans of the show happy, but also accessible enough for viewers who haven’t seen Season 1.
THE LONG VERDICT:
If you’ve been around the blog for a while, you’d probably know that I really enjoyed Season 1 of this show. Which, ironically, is the whole reason I was almost reluctant to start on this one; I was afraid that I wouldn’t like it as much as Season 1.
Well. I needn’t have worried. Yes, this one is different from Season 1, but in a good way, I think. It shares enough of the same sensibilities as Season 1, to feel familiar. Watching each episode, I often had the distinct feeling that I was revisiting a world that I once knew and enjoyed. At the same time, Season 2 brings enough fresh stuff to the table, so that it doesn’t just feel like more of the same. Win, and win. 🙂
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.
CAN SEASON 2 STAND ALONE?
I figure one of the big questions one might ask about Age Of Youth 2 is, can it be watched in isolation, ie, dya need to watch Season 1 first, in order to enjoy Season 2?
Personally, I do think it’s possible to enjoy Season 2 without first having watched Season 1, because Show’s got a pretty slice-of-life flavor to it, and it’s not hard to get caught up in terms of understanding the group’s dynamics. The challenges that our characters face are also relatable and easy to engage with, and it isn’t hard to get a feel for each character either, even if you didn’t already know the characters from Season 1.
So, yes, I do think Season 2 can stand alone. But.. Season 1 is pretty lovely, in my opinion, so why would you want to watch Season 2, without watching Season 1? 😉
STUFF TO ADJUST TO
The absence of some Season 1 characters
As with many sequels, not all cast members return, and that is most definitely a downer. In particular, I was sad that Kang Unnie (Ryu Hwa Young) isn’t part of the line-up this season, because Kang Unnie is such a force to be reckoned with, in the overall group dynamic.
To Show’s credit, though, Kang Unnie gets to make several appearances over the course of our story, so even though she’s officially moved out of the Belle Epoque house, it doesn’t truly feel like goodbye.
Another character that I missed seeing regularly was Chef (Yoon Park), who had a sweet and poignant loveline with Jin Myung (Han Ye Ri) in Season 1. Thankfully, Chef gets to visit our drama world as well, and that helped make it all better.
Ji Woo as Eun Jae
Park Hye Soo was unable to return as Eun Jae because of schedule conflicts, and Show cast Ji Woo to take her place. This took some getting used to, especially since Season 1 had largely been seen through Previous Eun Jae’s eyes, at least in the beginning.
To Ji Woo and PD-nim’s credit, even though New Eun Jae felt different from Previous Eun Jae, right away in episode 1, I did feel like she was kinda-sorta the same character, in terms of tone of voice, speech patterns, body language and overall vibe. I could almost believe that Previous Eun Jae went and got some serious plastic surgery, and now looked different, is all.
As we progress deeper into the show, New Eun Jae definitely takes on shades that I wouldn’t have associated with Previous Eun Jae, but by then, I’d gotten used to the actress switch, and this didn’t bother me too much. I didn’t like Eun Jae as a character very much, at times, but we can talk more about that later.
The addition of new characters
Clearly, with the absence of older characters, it only makes sense to introduce some new characters into our drama world. I was fully on board with this idea, but I will admit that the initial awkwardness around new housemate Eun (Choi Ah Ra) did feel a little hard to watch, because of the vicarious discomfort. But that’s all to be expected, given the set-up. And it was pretty apt, that it all feels similar-but-different to when Eun Jae first moved in at the beginning of Season 1.
Besides Eun, I also found Jang Hoon (Kim Min Suk) a nice addition to the house, especially since Kim Min Suk always has a relatable, engaging sort of energy. [MINOR SPOILER] The whole naked introduction thing felt odd, because I found it weird that anyone would walk into a house and take a shower, without noticing that there was already girl stuff around the house, and especially in the bathroom.. but, I guess it’s one way to make an entrance? [END SPOILER]
Overall, I found it quite pleasant to watch our familiar characters making friends and forming fresh connections with new characters.
STUFF I LIKED
Revisiting familiar characters
One of the biggest things I looked forward to in Season 2, was spending more time with characters that I had come to know and love in Season 1, and following them on their journeys, particularly on narrative threads that had been left open at the end of Season 1.
[SPOILER] In particular, I was curious to see Ye Eun’s recovery from the trauma of being kidnapped and being held against her will, by her abusive ex-boyfriend. At the end of Season 1, Ye Eun had been safe, but she had also clearly been in denial about the whole thing, and I absolutely hoped to see her work through her post-traumatic issues in a meaningful way. [END SPOILER]
Spotlights on the individual journeys
Show’s pretty excellent at managing a roving spotlight, and we get regular insights into each of our housemates’ journeys in turn, balanced with time that we spend together with them as an intact group.
Like I mentioned in my previous section, Ye Eun’s recovery was one of the things that I really wanted Show to spend time on, and generally speaking, I was satisfied with how Show handled this.
[SPOILERS] I mean, there were a couple of times when I felt like Ye Eun’s improvements felt conveniently easy, but most of the time, Show doesn’t rush it. Ye Eun’s recovery is slow, with many steps forwards and backwards, and that helps it to feel real. One day she feels like she’s fine all by herself, and the next, she doesn’t feel so fine after all.
I thought this season’s new threat in the form of threatening letters was not completely necessary, since that just made everything more complicated than it needed to be, but I do think the overall narrative arc made sense.
Additionally, I thought the budding friendship and romance between Ho Chang (Lee Yoo Jin) and Ye Eun was rather sweet. Personally, I would have preferred if the two had remained just friends, but I didn’t mind the loveline too much. In essence, I saw them as people who both found themselves in an awkward place, and I felt there was a solidarity between them that drew them together. In particular, I thought it was very kind of him to build her a taser out of worry for her, when they were mere acquaintances. [END SPOILER]
I really enjoyed watching the budding loveline between Eun and Jang Hoon; the two of them are just the cutest odd couple.
[SPOILERS] I love that he’s small in stature, but big on confidence; he says and does what he wants, and generally speaking, that’s way more than Eun is able to do. I loved the moment in episode 5, when he asserted that he liked her, then grabbed her bag and took off grinning. So cute!
Another narrative arc around Eun that I found interesting and rather unusual for kdramas in general, is the romantic attachment that Ye Ji (Shin Se Hwi) has for Eun. I was pretty impressed with this side arc because not only does it feel rather daring because kdramas generally don’t deal with same-sex attraction, but also, Show handles this with a touch that feels realistic yet sensitive. [END SPOILERS]
I really enjoyed watching Jin Myung’s journey as she returns from her extended stint in China and secures her first job in Seoul. I was kinda bummed that Yoon Park couldn’t reprise his role as a regular cast member this season, but there are two silver linings to this, I figure. 1, I’m happy that at least Jin Myung and Chef are together, even though they are carrying on a long-distance relationship. 2, this allows the spotlight to focus on the other parts of Jin Myung’s life, and I appreciated that. Love is great and all, but it’s just nice to actually witness that there’s more to life than whether or not one has a boyfriend.
I was pleasantly surprised by Jin Myung’s arc with Heimdal (Ahn Woo Yeon). What started out feeling like a very random connection turned out to be a very meaningful lesson in dignity and empathy, and I liked that a lot.
[SPOILER] I especially liked the scene in episode 7, where we see Jin Myung conduct the final interview with each member of Asgard, which is being disbanded. The way Jin Myung handles each final interview feels sensitive and respectful. She isn’t shown to say much to them at all; each person is given the space to say what they want to say, without judgment. She maintains a respectful demeanor throughout, and I liked that a lot. [END SPOILER]
We get a lot more screen time with Ji Won this season, which is great, because she enjoyed the least screen time among the girls, in Season 1. It felt like Show was making up for it this season, in its own way.
On the one hand, I liked being able to see more of Ji Won and her not-quite-boyfriend, not-quite-just-a-friend Sung Min (Son Seung Won) together. [SPOILER] I also appreciated that Show picked back up on the issue of Ji Won being a habitual liar. At the same time, I wasn’t quite so satisfied with how all of this was handled, which we’ll talk more about, in a bit. [END SPOILER]
Eun Jae’s main arc in Season 1 was with Sunbae Jong Yeol (Shin Hyun Soo), and they were one of my favorite things in Season 1 coz they were so cute together. This season, with New Eun Jae playing opposite Sunbae, it felt kind of weird, to be honest. Additionally, there were also stretches in the show where I found Eun Jae rather unlikable (which we’ll talk about a little later). Still, to Show’s credit, it all turns out for good, with lessons learned and growth achieved along the way.
The growing bonds among our characters
Over and above the girls’ individual journeys, my favorite thing in this show, has to be the growing connections among our Belle Epoque girls. It was just so heartening to watch the girls make room for Eun in their fold, and learn to care for and love one another as a new whole. Sometimes it was in the big things, but oftentimes, it was in the small things, that we see the girls show love and care for one another. Basically, any time Show turned the spotlight to the girls and the evolution of their group dynamic, my heart squeed.
Here are a handful of highlights, of when these girls warmed my heart.
E4. It’s so nice to see Eun getting more comfortable with the other girls in the house that she rambles happily about them when she’s Ye Rim.
E7. It’s very sweet that Eun makes it a point to look out for Ye Eun. Without being asked, she keeps going to the bus-stop, just in case Ye Eun is alone and is too scared to come home by herself.
E9. It’s nice to see the girls banding around Ye Eun to find out who sent the letter, and it’s great that no one expects Eun to move out, despite the fact that she moved in because of the letter. Eun’s happy grin when she tells Jang Hoon that she’s not moving, says it all.
E10. It’s sweet that every girl in the house does what she can to help Ye Eun feel better, even though they genuinely don’t know what to do. And I love that it’s Kang Unnie’s protective tough love tirade that does the trick. That is so cool. ❤️
E12. It’s so heartwarming to see Jin Myung being the Mother Hen Big Sister to the max, mothering all the younger ones, one by one, in as understated and inconspicuous a way as possible. It’s so sweet that she cares so much, and takes it upon herself to watch over everyone. These girls really feel like a family, and I love that.
STUFF I LIKED LESS
Too much time spent on some arcs
I would’ve never imagined myself saying this in Season 1, but this season, I felt like too much time was spent on Eun Jae and Sunbae. Their arc was definitely not a fun one this season, and I felt the drag.
First of all, I was rather bummed that Eun Jae and Sunbae broke up this season, since I found their loveline so heart-fluttery in Season 1. *sadface*
Second of all, I found that I didn’t like Eun Jae much, with her entitled, jealous, needy ex-girlfriend behavior. As it turns out, Eun Jae wasn’t an understanding girlfriend, and unfortunately, Sunbae really seems to be better off without her. Which means that I found it hard to get behind all of Eun Jae’s efforts to get Sunbae back.
In particular, I found her behavior in episode 8 especially off-putting. I found her weird grins as she fantasizes about a dramatic love declaration between her and Sunbae while one of them is on the verge of death, really creepy. On top of her strange behavior directly related to Sunbae, Eun Jae’s treatment of her friends also suffers.
In the same episode, I found her argument with Ye Eun petty and self-centered. Plus, the way she gives Ye Eun the cold shoulder treatment doesn’t help my impression of her. Even though Ye Eun fights back and is, frankly, also petty, Ye Eun is still a trauma victim who’s trying hard to recover. So to have Eun Jae complain about Ye Eun while she’s still recovering, feels really wrong.
To Eun Jae’s credit, she subsequently stands up for Ye Eun in the face of Ye Eun’s scary mom, and that does a lot to vindicate her, in my eyes. Beneath the petty squabbles, she does care, and a lot. It’s just that her sad-sack pity party of one happened a lot of the time, and I found that that wore down my goodwill towards her somewhat.
Last but not least, Eun Jae pursuing Sunbae again, and failing to re-ignite the relationship, is pretty painful to watch. I feel like I winced through her efforts in episode 11.
On the upside, this is all stuff that’s true to life. You don’t always get a second chance at a relationship, because it takes two, and the other person might not want to. And, as painful as it is to see her desperately trying to get through to him, I feel that in the end, it’s an important thing that she does so, if she feels strongly about him. If she’s given it her best effort, and failed, then at least she will feel like she’s done all she can, given the circumstances.
Long story short, I absolutely do think that Eun Jae learned an important life lesson, and that that lesson was worth learning. But, I also think that Show could’ve spent a little less time on this arc in favor of other arcs, to give us some balance – and some relief from the angst of this one.
Show is stingy with other arcs [SPOILERS]
..and by this, I mean Ji Won’s potential loveline with Sung Min. The upside is, Show gives these two a lot more screen time this season. The downside is, the loveline between these two still stands as a potential loveline, even after all that extra screen time.
For the record, I do get why writer-nim chose not to bring this loveline to fruition; there were other, more important issues to tackle. Ji Won’s lost memories needed to be addressed, and she needed the time and space to process the pieces of her past, and find her way to her own healing.. And, it is important that Sung Min is right there with her, as she works through everything, since he’s the one who gets her the most, after all.
It was pretty great, to watch Sung Min basically allow Ji Won to drag along on every adventure this season, no matter how much he protests that he is unwilling. Plus, there’s often that hopeful look in his eyes. Like in episode 8, when he’s about to go in and fight Jang Hoon, and she tells him to be careful, or else.. He looks so hopeful, that she would say something that would indicate her feelings for him.
Also, there’s the smile on Sung Min’s face that we glimpse, just before Ji Won goes off to talk with Ye Eun’s friend. He’s amused by her, despite her crazy antics. Which, melt.
And then in episode 13, Sung Min is right there for Ji Won as she investigates her ex-teacher, and nothing says loyalty as much as the way he throws himself in the way of Hyo Jin’s gangster ex-boyfriend, even though his life is literally at stake – all because Ji Won had asked for his help to stop the ex-boyfriend. Just, wow.
It admittedly feels disappointing that Show teases us with so much substance between these two, and so much unspoken hope, but gives us so little, in terms of actually allowing that hope to take some sort of tangible shape.
In my head, I feel like these two will end up bickering along the delicate line between friendship and romance, for many years to come. And maybe, just maybe, when they’re firmly settled into middle-age, or close to retirement, they might finally get together (I do kinda love that idea because it’s kooky enough to suit these two.. except, writer-nim has very different ideas. Which we’ll talk about next).
Writer-nim’s ruthless touch [SPOILERS]
Show gives us regular epilogues at the end of most of this season’s episodes. Some of the epilogues are cute. Like the epilogue for episode 6, where we see flashbacks to the girls’ childhoods. The mismatch between some of the girls now, and their childhood selves, is illuminating and also very cute.
BUT. Writer-nim also serves up some darker epilogues. In particular, the epilogue for episode 7 leans disturbing, with the girls’ various tombstones getting the spotlight. We see that one of the girls dies pretty young, at just 41 years of age. And THEN, in episode 13, we see an epilogue featuring a daughter and a husband. The context isn’t made explicit, but the implication is that this is the left-behind daughter and husband of the one who dies young. To make matters worse, the voice of the left-behind husband sounds suspiciously like Sung Min’s voice. Just, whyyyy? Wahhh.
After finishing the show, I read an article that writer-nim had explained that Ji Won was the most likely to die young because of her propensity to offend people in the course of her work. I sort of get writer-nim’s angle, which is likely along the lines of: this is life; take the happy with the sad, the good with the bad.
Honestly, though. Did we really have to go there? That felt rather ruthless, to me. I love these characters, and can’t bear to consider the possibility of even one of them dying young. Boo. :/
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
It’s a bittersweet final hour for the gang, with us leaving our characters in various degrees of closure.
Eun sends off new boyfriend Jang Hoon with a smile, only to dissolve into tears the next day. Aw. It’s sad, but it’s also cute, that she’s missing him so much already. Also, although it’s still work in progress, it’s nice to see Eun making an effort to rebuild her relationship with her dad, going to visit him in the hospital and all. It’s sad that Eun and Ye Ji continue to keep a distance from each other, but Ye Ji’s voiceover rings true; they both want different things, and forcing the friendship would only hurt them both. It’s a sad turn of events, but it feels like a necessary separation for these childhood friends, at least for now.
Jin Myung is reunited with Chef, which gets an in-principle woot! from me, despite the slightly awkward way the quick kiss they share is delivered. More than that, I love how invested Jin Myung becomes, in giving Heimdal his final stage. I love what an emotional moment it is, for the boys, and I love that Jin Myung got to be a part of orchestrating that – even if it was by accident.
Ye Eun goes to meet new boyfriend Ho Chang’s family, and it’s blushing awkward smiles all around, and it’s nice to see Ye Eun smiling again. I still have concerns about her eating issues, but it really does feel like Ye Eun is on the road to a wholistic recovery, and that’s a good thing.
Eun Jae is finally no longer in a clingy space, and is better able to be comfortable in her own skin, so much so that her previous blind date takes a fresh new interest in her. Yay for her, and double yay that she doesn’t say yes to another set-up because she’s aware that she’s not quite over Jong Yeol yet. It’s a rather bittersweet moment, because there is still a bit of wistfulness in her eyes when she sees him, but it’s good to see her starting to move forward in her life, and actually be more likable again.
Ji Won is vindicated when her memories are substantiated by the experience of a witness that steps forward, and we are assured that she will likely win her case. I have to admire her for standing her ground even though she was so scared on the inside. She put justice for Hyo Jin above her own safety and well-being, and that’s just so brave and upstanding of her. I love that everyone rallied around to help her in her time of need, and I very much love that Sung Min was always there for her as her slightly grumpy, disapproving, but very caring rock. And I can’t help but notice also, that she is able to be so honest in front of Sung Min as she cries, stating so matter-of-factly that she’d been terrified.
Even though Sung Min says that he’s happy with things as they are, I also can’t help but notice how riled up he got, when Blind Date Hoobae asked him why he wasn’t asking Ji Won out. I can’t help thinking that this just might be one of the catalysts that is going to nudge Sung Min towards Ji Won, just a little more.
Plus, it’s great to see Kang Unnie back in the house, even if it’s just for a bit.
All in all, I feel a sense of deep bittersweet, bidding goodbye to these characters all over again. It’s been quite a pleasure seeing them again for a second season, flaws and all. And while I feel assured that these characters will carry on to bicker and rally round one another as they continue to share their lives, I also feel a sense of wistfulness knowing that I won’t be able to be a fly on their walls to share in the experience with them. Sniffle.
Goodbye, Belle Epoque friends – hopefully just for now.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
A good mix of warm and relatable, with poignant and bittersweet – and a touch of dark on the side.
FINAL GRADE: B++