If you’ve known me for a while, you’d probably know that I don’t generally do well with legal-themed dramas – even if they are very good. Case in point: 2016’s The Good Wife, which I started watching, and which I found very good indeed – but which I also never got around to finishing.
So it definitely says something that I not only enjoyed Suits quite well, but I even – gasp! – finished it! And I’m not even that behind the live airing schedule either. Woah, right?
WHY SUITS WORKED FOR ME
To be fair to the good folks behind The Good Wife, I wouldn’t say that Suits is a better drama than The Good Wife. In fact, what I did see of The Good Wife (which wasn’t much; just 7 episodes of Show’s 16), was arguably more compelling than much of Suits. So why then did Suits work for me, enough for me to enjoy it enough to keep going; enough for me to even get to the end of the drama?
Aside from more frivolous reasons like Park Hyung Sik’s charm and Jang Dong Gun’s charisma (which are, for the record, perfectly valid in their own right, heh), I’d say that the reason this one worked for me, is the fact that this narrative is character-driven. I didn’t find the cases consistently interesting, but Show was pretty good about weaving themes into its various episodes and cases, such that the themes supported our characters’ development. And so, even when it sometimes felt like Show had forgotten to make its cases compelling, it never felt like Show forgot about character development. That was a big plus, in my books.
STUFF I LIKED
I’ll admit upfront that the whole reason I decided to even check out this show, is because I was drawn to the fact that Park Hyung Sik and Jang Dong Gun are in this, and that they’d both be dressed in sharp suits. Ha.
Frivolous fangirl reasons aside, I did find a nice amount of stuff to enjoy in Suits. It’s true that I thought Show could’ve given us more of the good stuff, and that I felt Show stinged in some spots with these goodies. But overall, I still think Show did a reasonably nice job with them. Here’s a quickish spotlight on ’em.
1. Park Hyung Sik as Yeon Woo
I’ve been enjoying Park Hyung Sik more and more in each drama I’ve seen him in (I’m gonna pretend like Hwarang didn’t happen), and I found him particularly swoony and charming in Strong Woman Do Bong Soon. So color me surprised – and impressed – that he feels completely different here than his character in SWDBS.
As Yeon Woo, Park Hyung Sik looks and feels so young, and it’s not just the hair and styling either. He channels it in his gaze, and in the way he holds himself, and looking at him on my screen, I completely believe that he’s a young man just starting his career, still green in the ways of the world, and still idealistic and hopeful.
Writer-nim does a great job of setting up Yeon Woo’s character, so that by the end of episode 1, I was rooting for him already, and hard. I felt very drawn to the heart on Yeon Woo’s side of the story. [SPOILERS] His need for a job; his grandmother’s (Ye Soo Jung) hospital bills; his loss of his parents; his sleazy friend who basically served him up to the wolves for money. I loved how Yeon Woo’s quick thinking, combined with his nervous ballsiness and Kang Seok’s (Jang Dong Gun) open mind, basically snatched him from the claws of the law in just the first episode. [END SPOILERS]
One of the things I found myself enjoying about this show, is that Yeon Woo’s a genius is some ways, with his photographic memory, but he’s also very green in other ways, and Show allows him to fail, just enough, so that it doesn’t get boring. Quite often – at least during Show’s earlier episodes – I felt like I was effectively being kept on the edge of my seat. At the same time, I liked that Show lets him succeed and win, just enough, so that I feel the rush of vicarious satisfaction. I liked this much better than having him be really downtrodden all the time, or just really successful all the time. He makes mistakes, he gets backed into corners, he finds a way out, or learns from his mistake, or Kang Seok saves him – just sometimes.
For the record, I do think that Show did a better job of this in the earlier episodes than in the later ones, but we can talk about that later.
2. Jang Dong Gun as Kang Seok
The fangirl in me just has to come out and say this: wouldja look at that profile on Jang Dong Gun? Isn’t it just glorious?
Thanks to revisiting Hallyu classic All About Eve, I now have Jang Dong Gun-appreciating eyes, and I found it very pleasant indeed, to have him on my screen, wearing sharp suits, a whole lotta charisma, and a boatload of attitude.
I didn’t take to Kang Seok immediately, since he comes across as quite arrogant in episode 1, but I was intrigued by his smarts. It wasn’t long before I found myself suitably and properly impressed by Kang Seok, as he demonstrated just why he was regarded as Kang & Ham’s ace attorney. [SPOILER] In particular, I loved the time in episode 3 where Kang Seok manages to handle the situation such that he not only saves Yeon Woo and Yeon Woo’s bum friend, but also turns the tables so that the drug dealers end up at his mercy. Bad. Ass. [END SPOILER]
Despite Kang Seok’s gruff and businesslike exterior, Show makes sure to peel back the layers just enough, so that we get to see that underneath it all, Kang Seok’s more caring and loyal than one might first think. I liked those glimpses of heart a lot.
3. The simmering bromance between Kang Seok and Yeon Woo
The key word here is, simmering.
From the get-go in episode 1, I found myself feeling more interested in the promise of partnership between Kang Seok and Yeon Woo, way more than any potential lovelines that Show was hinting at.
Kang Seok is all grudging gruffness while Yeon Woo is all eager-puppy wanting all the touchy-feelies, and it was pretty great watching these two around each other. Especially since Show is quick to demonstrate that Kang Seok and Yeon Woo are much more similar than they appear to be (like in episode 2, where we get an intersplicing of Kang Seok’s conversation with CEO Kang (Jin Hee Kyung), and Kang Seok’s conversation with Yeon Woo, with each conversation consistently echoing the other. Quite cool, I thought).
Throughout the show, Kang Seok’s deadpan serious with Yeon Woo even in the face of Yeon Woo’s expressive jubilance, and that restraint, barely managing to hide the smile that he’s stifling, is one of my favorite things in the whole show.
Literally, the best things in this show are the stifled smiles that Kang Seok and Yeon Woo wear around each other, about each other, when things go well. The gentle ribbing’s pretty good too. But those stifled smiles make me feel like I’m watching the initial delight of a courting OTP, and I just could not get enough.
4. The endearing relationship between Yeon Woo and Gran
We don’t get to spend a whole lot of time with Gran (Ye Soo Jung), simply because Yeon Woo doesn’t get to spend a lot of time with her, but I loved the scenes that we did get. I loved how gentle Gran was, with him, and how encouraging she always was, no matter what he said. I always felt like Gran sincerely believed in him, and that was just lovely to behold. The comfortable ease and smiling banter that these two shared, felt so precious. <3
5. Show’s thematic touch
I think how much you enjoy this show depends on how compelling you find the premise, and how invested you are in Yeon Woo’s journey. There are themes that are surfaced in the episodes to provoke thought. [VAGUE SPOILERS] For example, we get a number of episodes where the themes surface through Yeon Woo’s struggle to come to terms with truth versus duty. What is his duty as a lawyer, even in the face of an inconvenient truth, and how does he satisfy his conscience? There is some thematic exploration via Kang Seok’s journey too, like the whole idea of needing to correct something, if it is wrong – even at the risk of your own reputation or career. [END SPOILERS]
I personally found these themes an enjoyable highlight, and a nice way of grounding the cases in character development. And because I liked these characters and wanted to see them grow, their journeys interested me. On the other hand, if you’re in this more for the cases themselves, then this thematic exploration might not feel super interesting to you, I think.
Special shout-out: Jin Hee Kyung as CEO Kang
I’ll admit that I found CEO Kang’s characterization less compelling in Show’s later stretch, but I did appreciate that she’s presented as a strong leader who’s confident, competent and polished.
[SPOILER] In particular, I loved the scene in episode 8, where she basically threatens Deputy Chief Prosecutor Oh (cameo by Jun Noh Min), leaves him no way out, then informs him that he has no further right to even refer to Kang Seok as his kid, and then march-saunters off. Yass. Just, SO. Bad. Ass. <3 [END SPOILER]
STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH
There are a fair number of things that I didn’t love about this show, which I’ll list fairly briefly here.
1. Go Sung Hee as Ji Na
I’m sorry to say that I don’t find Go Sung Hee a good actress. From the get-go, I felt like she made her character Ji Na feel unpleasant and petty. All her outbursts – especially in the earlier stretch of the show, mostly directed at Yeon Woo – felt like she was mostly making mountains out of a molehills. Worse, it’s not even played funny, and doesn’t endear Ji Na to me as a character. I legit wondered if Ji Na was supposed to be unlikable.
2. The loveline between Yeon Woo and Ji Na
Considering how I didn’t take to Ji Na as a character, I was less than thrilled when I realized Show was gunning for a romance between her and Yeon Woo.
I didn’t find much chemistry between Park Hyung Sik and Go Sung Hee, so all the cutesy scenes of Ji Na and Yeon Woo helping each other out, and even the eventual kissy scenes, didn’t do anything to make my watch more pleasant. The writing around this loveline is also not one of Show’s strengths, and I felt my interest wane every time the focus shifted to the loveline.
3. The cases aren’t consistently interesting
I found the earlier cases reasonably interesting and engaging, but by the mid to late stretch of the show, it did kind of feel like Show was so busy focusing on character development, that it forgot this show was about a law firm, and that maybe it ought to pay a little more attention to the cases that its characters were supposed to be working on. By the later episodes, the cases were mostly reduced to incidental mentions, when said cases were relevant to – you guessed it – character development.
I mean, I count Show’s focus on character development a strength, but it would’ve been nice to have had more balance in this area.
4. Occasionally things feel too simplistic
Sometimes, I felt like there’s a touch of sugar to this show, which is very classic kdrama-esque. This simplistic, sugary touch felt rather convenient and saccharine to me, and wasn’t something that I enjoyed. In that sense, I felt like by leaning so kdrama-esque, Show was serving up fantasy as reality, and that didn’t just didn’t feel right to me, for this drama world.
[SPOILER] Like in episode 11, when the publisher guy who’d been unrepentant all the time prior, about the way he stole the rookie writer’s idea, suddenly turned around and started apologizing earnestly and almost tearfully, when Yeon Woo and Ji Na confronted him with evidence that he’d also raped the girl. That turnaround didn’t ring true for me, but it felt like Show was serving it up as genuine, and that felt weird.
And then there’s the time in episode 14, when CEO Kang’s defense of Kang Seok in front of the senior partners, basically consisted of telling everyone what a good heart he has. I mean, it’s nice that he’s got a good heart, but is that seriously her idea of their best defense? [END SPOILER]
5. Show slumps a little bit, in the later stretch
Even though I finished this show, and even though I enjoyed the finale (more on that in a bit), I must say that I felt distinctly less engaged in the final few episodes leading up to the finale.
Specifically, I didn’t enjoy episodes 13 and 14 very much. [VAGUE SPOILERS] In episode 13, I felt there wasn’t enough gratification on the character and relationship development fronts, and that the cases weren’t gripping in and of themselves. In episode 14, I couldn’t decide whether I felt bored by the episode. Everything in episode 14 is stirred up for mounting drama, but to be brutally honest, I didn’t feel much of that tension. [END SPOILERS]
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
To Show’s credit, this is one of the most satisfying kdrama finales that I’ve seen, in a while. To me, one of the big reasons for how satisfying this finale feels, is the way the writing comes back full circle. It becomes clearer than ever, as I enter the finale, that writer-nim had this ending in mind from the very beginning. So that thing where many kdrama writers find themselves written into a corner at the end, with no satisfying way out – that doesn’t happen here.
The other thing that makes this finale feel worthwhile and satisfying to me, is the confirmation that writer-nim was always clear that this story was more character-driven than case-driven. With this finale focusing so much on the development of our various key characters – Yeon Woo, in particular – this felt like the destination that I’d been heading for, all along. And so, to feel like I finally got what I came – and stayed – for, felt satisfying to me.
Overall, I felt satisfied by the way Show handled the fall-out of the big reveal of Yeon Woo’s secret. I found the scene between Yeon Woo and Ji Na pretty meh, but that scene between Yeon Woo and Gran just got me right in the heart. So much pent-up emotion, finally laid out bare; so many tears, finally finding release; so much acceptance and empathy, expressed so eloquently without the need for grandiose words.
I found it heartbreaking that Gran passed away while Yeon Woo was in custody. But it was a great comfort to see Kang Seok taking on the role of chief mourner in Yeon Woo’s absence, completely living up to the promise that Yeon Woo had asked of him, to take care of his gran while he was away. And the scene, of Kang Seok gently pinning the mourning band on Yeon Woo’s sleeve, feels so raw. In that moment, I didn’t feel any pretense or bravado between the two men, only empathy and sincerity, and that just made my heart swell.
I thought it was a nice touch, to have Attorney Chae (Choi Gwi Hwa) return the “deciding vote” favor, by voting for Kang Seok’s right to defend Yeon Woo. More than that, I thought it was apt that Yeon Woo would choose to serve his sentence without seeking to reduce his term. That feels like a perfect way to turn things around in his life; instead of trying to live a lie, he’s choosing to face reality squarely in the face without flinching, and pay the price for his wrongdoing, without excuse. I love that through it all, he’s taking Gran’s last words to him, very much to heart; giving himself time to sort it all out, and starting over.
When Yeon Woo finishes serving his sentence and walks back out into the world through those prison doors, it feels like he’s finally free of the burden that he’s been carrying on his shoulders all this time. The icing on the cake, is that Kang Seok’s right there waiting for him (bromance endures!), and that fist bump or no, these two are set to embark on many more adventures together.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Character- rather than case-driven, and therefore solid, even if not always exciting.
FINAL GRADE: B