The Fangirl Verdict

Completely biased reviews and fangirling

Flash Review: Familiar Wife

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I don’t know about you guys, but I think I have a definite soft spot for do-over stories. I really liked Go Back Spouses, and I really liked this show as well.

To be honest, I think it’s because there are some decisions in my life that I regret making (don’t we all have some of those?), and these decisions have most definitely helped to  shape my life into what it is now. I don’t dwell on it a lot (and for the record, I am happy with my life now, so don’t worry!), but when I pose the question to myself, about what my life might be like now, if I’d made certain different choices back in the day, I get.. intrigued.

What do-over dramas give me, is a chance to vicariously experience a do-over, via our characters. Sure, they’re dealing with different issues and decisions, but it still gives me a taste of what doing things over might be like. Plus, while characters in these stories inevitably come out the other side better and wiser for their experience, these stories also often emphasize that you don’t need a different life or a different spouse to be happy, and you’re exactly where you need to be. I like that.

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS: THE INITIAL ROUGH STRETCH

Before I started on this drama, I’d heard that this was good, but that the first couple of episodes can be hard to get through. So true, y’all. I’m grateful I knew that going in, because that promise, that the watch would become better and more enjoyable, helped make the early difficult stretch easier. Which is why I’m making sure to tell you guys that upfront, if you haven’t yet seen the show.

On the upside, the early episodes aren’t all about the hardship of young-parenting, and not everything is a couple fight waiting to boil over. Show does include flashbacks to a time when life was simpler and happier, and I found that engaging to watch. It’s just that I knew things would have to fall apart before we could get into the meat of our story about putting it all back together again, and the wait for things to fall apart is a little.. excruciating.

Happily, that wait isn’t super long, and by episode 3, I found myself buckled in and fully enjoying the ride.

STUFF I LIKED

General writing and pacing

I am happy to report that I enjoyed the writing in this show. Not only does it feel thoughtful, managing to make so much of our story feel heartfelt, it also manages to pack a few surprise punches in there. Best of all, the writing stays assured from start to finish. We don’t get that so often in dramaland, especially with dramas produced via the live shoot system, which this was, so I’m extra impressed.

[SPOILER ALERT]

Surprise punches

Here are a couple of examples of plot surprises that Show served up, which I enjoyed nicely.

E4. I rather like that Jong Hoo (Jang Seung Jo) hits it off with Woo Jin (Han Ji Min). I mean, thanks to Joo Hyuk (Ji Sung) messing with the past, Jong Hoo missed the opportunity to marry his wife, so Joo Hyuk kinda owes him a wife, in a way?

E11. I was surprised that Joo Hyuk would tell Woo Jin about the other timeline. I’d always assumed that he would keep that timeline a secret, not least because it sounds completely crazy. Also, I’m surprised that Woo Jin would take her recurring dream to Joo Hyuk and ask for an explanation. That also sounds kinda crazy, given that she’s asking him for an explanation for a dream that she’s had all her life, in this timeline. Yet, in the overall scheme of things, this surprising behavior fit into our story nicely.

E12. I was very pleasantly surprised at the turn our story takes in episode 12, with both Joo Hyuk and Woo Jin going back in time. I mean, I thought Joo Hyuk might go back to do things over again, but not only do we get Woo Jin going back in time, they are going back together, at the same time. I didn’t see that coming, and thoroughly enjoyed this surprising turn of story events.

Assured writing

Even more than the plot surprises, I loved how assured the writing is. Writer-nim clearly had everything figured out from the very start, and I loved the thrill of seeing the evidence of that unfold on my screen.

Here are a couple of highlights:

E12. The reveal, that Woo Jin’s mom (Lee Jung Eun) has time traveled before, to try and save her husband, made me so sad, and also, blew my mind a little. Everything suddenly shifted into a different focus, when the entire context of Mom’s story shifted. My heart ached knowing that Mom had likely developed Alzheimer’s because she’d been living with the regret that she was unable to save her husband, even with the chance to go back in time. Aw, Mom. But also, wow, that writer-nim had planted this story seed so early, to give Woo Jin the 500 won coin that Mom had saved, thus enabling Woo Jin to go back in time.

E13. Most shows slump in the last quarter trying to get to the finish line, and I wanted to give Show a shout-out for remaining so engaging even in the final stretch. Instead of feeling disengaged coz Show was slumping, I literally couldn’t get enough of this drama, and watched 3 episodes in a single day. That’s a Big Deal, for me.

E14. Writer-nim plants important details early, so that in playing with the timelines, throwaway details become important when they are called upon later. In this episode, it was Joo Hyuk’s knowledge from Timeline 2, of the accident involving the bus that Woo Jin boarded. Yes, it’s a bit unbelievable that he would remember the details of the accident with such clarity, given that it was just a radio announcement that he’d heard in the car while stuck in traffic, but I’m willing to let that pass for the thrill of knowing that writer-nim had planned ahead.

[END SPOILER]

Thank you, writer-nim. You’ve worked hard.

Ji Sung as Joo Hyuk

Joo Hyuk’s one of those protagonists that you sometimes want to shake, for being stupid, or selfish, or both, but who eventually charts enough growth, over the course of our story, that by the time you get to the end, you just want to affectionately pat him on the shoulder, and tell him he’s a good egg.

A lot of Joo Hyuk’s appeal lies in Ji Sung’s delivery and personal charm; I do think that I’d have less patience with Joo Hyuk, particularly in the beginning of our story, if he’d been played by a less talented actor.

[SPOILER ALERT]

Here are some highlights of Joo Hyuk’s dubious beginnings, as well as a quick spotlight on some of his better moments.

The not-so-great moments

E2. Joo Hyuk’s not a bad person, but I get annoyed with him when he does stupid things for self-gratification, like illegally approving the incomplete loan, all because he wanted to get that Playstation. He didn’t even try to negotiate the meeting time, ugh.

E3. Joo Hyuk’s like an overgrown teenager, the way he’s so excited and delighted by the discoveries around his new life. I guess that’s why they say men never grow up? Plus, it sure takes Joo Hyuk a long minute before he even realizes that he’s nixed the existence of both his kids, with his desperate gamble to change his life.

E3. It’s in this new reality with everyone else having different lives, that Joo Hyuk learns from his sister’s perspective what a good husband might do to help his wife with a crying child. It’s disappointing that he’s never thought along those lines before.

E4. Joo Hyuk blowing hot and cold with Woo Jin makes him look like a psycho. One minute he’s dissing her in front of everyone, and the next, he’s remarking out loud that she doesn’t drink coffee and likes strawberry shakes. Also, I can’t believe that when Woo Jin is in trouble, Joo Hyuk actually smirks with pleasure. All because he’s weirded out by seeing her at work. Bleargh. That’s just too much.

Better moments

E9. Joo Hyuk realizing that he’s had a part to play in Hye Won’s worse behavior in this timeline is progress.

E10. I give Joo Hyuk props for trying to stop the divorce with Hye Won. And, in the process of it, as well as after the fact, he doesn’t even look in Woo Jin’s direction. He’s not looking for a chance to move on to Woo Jin now that his marriage to Hye Won is over, and that’s a positive, to me.

E12. Joo Hyuk’s refusal to be with Woo Jin, and his refusal to go back to change things is frustrating to watch, but I can understand why he would feel that way. He’s had a chance to do things twice now, and both times, all he’s had to show for it is messed up lives all around him. He’s not wise or discerning enough to figure out that it’s not all just because of him being the common denominator, and I also feel his paralysis and fear. Like, what if he does it all again, only to mess things up even more? I can see why he would choose not to act. Also, there’s this element of self-punishment. I think he feels that by lying in the bed that he made for himself, that he’s doing penance. While it’s not ideal, I see this as a sign of growth and progress.

[END SPOILER]

Han Ji Min as Woo Jin

Because Han Ji Min is a little hit-or-miss, for me – sometimes I find her warm and charming (like in Rooftop Prince), and then sometimes I find her inexplicably cold and distant (like in Hyde, Jekyll, Me) – I was a little wary going into this show. I was uncertain of whether I would like her in this, and I knew that if I didn’t like her in this, that liking this show would be a problem too.

I am so happy to report that I loved Han Ji Min in this. Aside from the early screechy scenes (which she did really well), Han Ji Min comes across as down-to-earth, warm and wonderfully charming. I found myself warming up to Woo Jin very quickly, and firmly rooting for her, from early on in our story.

[SPOILER ALERT]

To be honest, once we hit the second timeline in episode 3, I felt like Woo Jin was in a better place without Joo Hyuk. She’s confident, independent, and vibrant, and she’s taking care of herself and her well-being, as well as caring for her mom; all good things that weren’t true before. From that point on, I felt like I mostly cared for Woo Jin’s happiness, but that it’d take a lot for me to even want to root for Woo Jin and Joo Hyuk to be together again (which I’ll talk more about, in the next section).

I saw that there were viewers expressing disgust and disapproval at Woo Jin for kissing Joo Hyuk in episode 10, saying that she was no better than Hye Won.

First of all, I don’t condemn Woo Jin for her actions, because she was drunk – or at the very least, very tipsy – when she told Joo Hyuk that she liked him and grabbed him for a kiss. I also don’t condemn her for her feelings because not only can’t you help how you feel, she’s also got all this alternate reality emotional baggage that’s bearing down on her without her knowledge. Also, just for the record, while I do believe you can’t help how you feel, you can help how you act. It’s just that Woo Jin miscalculated her alcohol tolerance in trying to drown her sorrows, and did something regrettable while drunk. It still sucks for Jong Hoo, but she didn’t intentionally hurt him since she was drunk.

One of my favorite things about Woo Jin, is how she has the courage to follow her heart. We see how hard she works to restore her marriage to Joo Hyuk, even though all she knows about the marriage is what Joo Hyuk’s told her, that they were miserable. Yet, she has the faith to do everything in her power to restore that marriage, because of her unique but beautiful perspective, that he’d saved her from an unhappy life by changing the past, so she wants to save him from an unhappy life by changing the present – and the future. She’s got such a generous and loving heart. ❤

[END SPOILER]

The OTP

Like I said earlier, I was slow to board this OTP ship, because I began this journey genuinely convinced that Woo Jin was better off without Joo Hyuk.

Even when Joo Hyuk experiences regret in the present, I can’t say that I felt sorry for him, coz I felt that he basically got himself into this pickle. So I wanted him to be drawn to Woo Jin all over again, but I didn’t want him to actually succeed in getting her back. Yes, I was definitely bearing a grudge, ha.

To Show’s credit – more specifically, to the credit of writer-nim, and both Han Ji Min and Ji Sung – I eventually came around, and found this reconciliatory loveline worth rooting for.

[SPOILER ALERT]

Here are handful of OTP highlights that I enjoyed:

E8. I gotta say, seeing Joo Hyuk coming to a new resolution – to live a good life, and also, watch over Woo Jin well – after failing to return to his original reality, is touching to see. This is the best version of Joo Hyuk I’ve seen so far, and I like what I see. He’s choosing not to wallow, and he’s choosing to focus not on himself, but on others, and that becomes him.

E8. The goodbye scene, where Joo Hyuk and Woo Jin speak vaguely in riddles while opening their hearts, is so full of pathos. He truly feels regretful about what he did to Woo Jin in the original timeline, but sincerely feels powerless to change anything, even though he wants to, very much. So all he can do is bear the pain, while smilingly wishing her happiness. And Woo Jin, on her part, is hugely drawn to him, but thinks of him as a married man and therefore off limits, and she, too, chooses to bear the pain, while smilingly wishing him happiness. It’s a deep, gut-wrenching, sweet kind of pain – the pain of letting someone go, that they might be happy – and it’s piercing both their hearts. Oof.

E9. There are lots of little moments this episode, where Joo Hyuk and Woo Jin each silently regard the other, with appreciation and wistfulness, and it’s very poignant. Woo Jin realizing that it was Joo Hyuk who put the medicine in the break room; their vague apologies and thank yous to each other at work, after the Behind debacle; their hyperawareness of each other, as they sit a seat apart in the hospital TV area; their mutual decision to studiously ignore the fact that their hands had touched; the way they each lie on their makeshift beds, thinking of the other person. It’s all very poignant.

E15. It’s nice to see Joo Hyuk and Woo Jin dating, and coming out to their colleagues, and meeting the parents. When Joo Hyuk’s mom cried with relief that her son was seeing someone, I found it very touching. Poor mom had lived so many years in this timeline, worried for her son. Seeing Joo Hyuk jealous over the attention Woo Jin was getting from Chef Sunbae (cameo by Jo Jung Suk) was amusing too. Most of all, I did love Joo Hyuk’s very unique passbook proposal, with words clearly from his heart:

“You told me one day that what we’ve been through seemed like a long dream, and that today seemed like a miracle. At that time, I thought my miracle was you. Both in the past and present, you are my miracle and salvation, Woo-jin. If you give me your permission, I’d like to live for you again. The two of us met again after the long, long way around. My choice will be you even if I travel back in time a hundred times.”

Aw.

[END SPOILER]

Special shout-outs:

Jang Seung Jo as Jong Hoo

I think I’m really starting to warm to Jang Seung Jo as an actor. I really liked him in this, and more than once, my heart really went out to Jong Hoo as a character.

I loved how Jong Hoo is a man who lives led by his heart, and does so unreservedly.

[SPOILER] He wholeheartedly supports Joo Hyuk and loves him as a friend, and he is also wholeheartedly smitten with Woo Jin. In episode 10, when both of these things work in opposition with each other, with Joo Hyuk and Woo Jin having feelings for each other while Jong Hoo is officially dating Woo Jin, I felt so sorry for him.

In episode 12, I thought Jong Hoo making up with a broken Joo Hyuk, is one of the most selfless, lovely things. He’s still hurting, but because he sees that Joo Hyuk is hurting a lot as well, he can’t stay mad at his best friend, and offers the olive branch first. Aw. I’m just glad that Show gave Jong Hoo a happy ending in our final timeline. [END SPOILER]

Sang Sik and Eun Joo [SPOILER]

Sang Sik and Eun Joo (Oh Ui Shik and Park Hee Bon) as a couple was one of my favorite things about this show. In my head, a happy ending wouldn’t be complete if these two weren’t together in it; that’s how much I loved them together. Yes, we see them bickering a lot, but the care and affection they have for each other is just crystal clear, and I just loved seeing them together.

Additionally, I just loved how big-hearted and emotionally attached Sang Sik is, like the time in episode 10 when he goes into Jong Hoo’s apartment, and starts crying and hugging a freshly single Joo Hyuk, insisting on mothering him. Melt. How cute and loving is this big ol’ boy? ❤

STUFF THAT I LIKED LESS

Kang Han Na as Hye Won

Hye Won is a character that I tried to understand; I tried to rationalize that she was a product of her upbringing, and her entitled princessy ways had been developed by indulgent parents, and subsequently, an indulgent husband.

In the end, though, I have to confess that I did not find enough redeeming qualities in Hye Won to actually feel sympathy for her. In fact, there were times when I felt she was just awful.

To be perfectly honest, I really didn’t care what happened to her, by the time we reached the end of our story.

[SPOILER ALERT]

Here are some Hye Won moments, which I’ll divide into times when I could sort of rationalize her behavior, and times when I just couldn’t quite believe how sickening she was.

Rationalize-able, sorta

E4. Hye Won is incredibly rude to her in-laws when Joo Hyuk brings them home. That’s really cold. To be fair, though, Joo Hyuk should’ve called her to let her know in advance that his parents were coming over, so that she wouldn’t be caught unawares.

E8. Fair point for Hye Won to be mad. Joo Hyuk should not have lied to her about going to a non-existent funeral.

Hye Won is just awful, period

E5. Hye Won flirting with Hyun Soo (Lee Yoo Jin), after swiftly hiding her wedding band. That is very unseemly, especially since she’s not only married, but super demanding of how lovey-dovey her husband is required to be. She doesn’t want him driving other women around, but it’s ok for her to flirt with a student? Hrm.

E8. Hye Won rejoicing at Joo Hyuk being all sunny, and remarking that he’s once again her obedient husband, is one thing. But her going to the gym and looking for her boy toy, and looking sooo disappointed to hear that he’s stopped going, is a whole other thing. So, she needs Joo Hyuk to be completely obedient and faithful to her, but it’s ok for her to have a “some” kind of thing with another guy? Not cool.

E9. Hye Won really is a piece of work. It’s probably here, more than any other instance in the show so far, that the extreme and toxic extent of her self-centered nature is unveiled for us to see. Throwing a fit at Joo Hyuk is understandable, coz he lied to her. And lashing out with her own act of betrayal – spending time with her boy toy – is also understandable, coz she’s angry, and lashing out is what many humans do when angry. Her drunken post on Behind is also not the worst, since she was drunk. But, it was how she behaved afterwards, that just broke any and all sympathy I might’ve still had for her character.

Not only does she not do anything to correct her drunken mistake when she’s sober and realized what she’s done, she vehemently denies having anything to do with it. And instead of dialing down her selfishness to at least make up for her mistake a little bit, she goes full-on into downplaying the importance of Joo Hyuk’s mom’s hospitalization, while insisting that he attend her father’s publishing party, instead of seeing to her discharge.

How can she even think, let alone say, that Joo Hyuk taking care of her dad’s ego and reputation is more important than Joo Hyuk taking care of his mom? Plus, she threatens him with divorce if he doesn’t go to the party? Wow. And to then expect Joo Hyuk to drive her to her beauty appointment after she so rudely excuses herself from the hospital visit, and then expect Joo Hyuk to grovel and apologize for driving off, after she told him to let her out of the car, is just mental.

Hye Won is toxic, and would drive any man insane, I think.

[END SPOILER]

Some logic stretches [MINOR-ISH SPOILERS]

There were a couple of times when I felt like Show’s logic wasn’t at its strongest. Here are two examples:

E3. If Hye Won is so rich, why is she using Joo Hyuk’s supplementary credit card, where her purchases show up on his phone? It would make more sense for her to have her own card? In fact, it would make more sense if Joo Hyuk was the one holding the supplementary card, given the dynamic of their relationship.

E11. This episode, I wondered how everyone managed to turn everything around on Joo Hyuk, blaming him for stealing his best friend’s girl, when it was Woo Jin who confessed to having feelings for him, and actually made a move on him. That’s.. strange?

THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]

This finale answers the big question of whether Joo Hyuk has truly learned from his past mistakes, and whether he and Woo Jin will be able to do any better, once they get to the same stage of life, marriage and parenthood that we first found them in, in episode 1.

Honestly, I wouldn’t say that this finale was very exciting, in that it felt like we were just watching Joo Hyuk and Woo Jin live their lives. But, it was a very pleasant hour indeed, and I enjoyed seeing how the two of them are managing parenthood with a lot more co-dependence, cooperation and communication that they had when we first met them.

It was great to see that even with two young children, Woo Jin is managing to excel at her job at the bank, and even gets promoted. I really liked seeing how open and good-natured they are with each other, not only in front of their colleagues, but also, when it’s just the two of them, and no one else is looking. I loved seeing how supportive they are of each other’s careers; Joo Hyuk sucking it up and refusing to rain on Woo Jin’s parade when she’s promoted before him, and then Woo Jin crying tears of joy when Joo Hyuk is promoted later on. Aw. It was also really heartwarming to see how well Joo Hyuk and his mother-in-law get along as well.

We also see that Sang Sik and Joo Eun are doing well, and are no longer operating their business from a food cart, but from the restaurant that we see in the other timelines. There’s something homey and comforting about seeing how Joo Hyuk still pops in almost daily, to see Sang Sik, Joo Eun and Jong Hoo, and that Woo Jin’s not opposed to joining them as well.

We even get a quick scene of Hye Won re-meeting Hyun Soo, who’s now an actual college student, rather than a fake wannabe.

Everyone’s in a good place when we leave them, and everything feels right; people who are supposed to be married to each other are married, and kids that are supposed to be born to their parents are right there too. It just feels like things have come to a better, improved full circle since we started our story, which feels nice. And while we don’t have the option to time travel to our past to attempt to fix things like Joo Hyuk did, I feel content with Show’s main message: you’re right where you need to be; don’t dwell on the past; you have an as-yet-unpainted future that you can make beautiful.

THE FINAL VERDICT:

Warm and satisfying, once you get past the initial hostility and unhappiness.

FINAL GRADE: B++

TEASER:

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Author: kfangurl

Proud to be a k-fangirl since 2007. Main diet of kdramas with movies and kpop on the side.

2 thoughts on “Flash Review: Familiar Wife

  1. Loved this review. Whilst I found the show a little slow in the middle, when Woojin actively went back I was all hyped up again. Mostly tho I loved how assured the writing was and how the writer knew what to do with the pacing and plot. I also liked the office dynamics- Hwan and the lot. Overall, it was a great drama that knew what it was doing from beginning to end with its character development and realistically flawed potrayals.

    Like

    • Thanks for enjoying this review, Andy! 😀 Oh yes, I did enjoy the office gang as well, even though I didn’t mention it in the review. The maybe-lovelines between the team leaders, as well as Hwan and Hyang Sook, were entertaining, and I liked the overall group dynamic as well. I totally agree with you that the assured writing was this show’s greatest strength. It just felt so good, to know that Show knew exactly where it was going, and how to get there. 🙂

      Like

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