THE SHORT VERDICT:
Not the sweet rom-com Show was marketed to be. Instead, this one is a thoughtful and sensitive portrayal of personal journey; the ups and downs of life, the struggle to follow your heart, the mistakes you make and their consequences, as well as the growth that you gain, from those mistakes.
Some minor plotlines didn’t work as well for me, but by and large, I really appreciated the way Show fleshed out its characters. Seo Kang Joon and Esom are excellent as our leads, and made their characters feel like real, living, breathing people.
As a bonus, the music is really quite lovely in this, and makes the watch that much more immersive.
THE LONG VERDICT:
Remember when I said that Oh Hae Young Again was done a disservice when it was marketed as a typical rom-com? At the time, lots of viewers became upset with the show as it became more melancholic and less funny-breezy in its mid-to-late episodes. I seriously loved that show, though, and felt it was beautiful and poignant in the way it demonstrated that everyone involved in the making of the show, from writer to PD to actors, understood profoundly the workings of emotional pain.
Uh. I feel like a similar thing’s kind of happened here with The Third Charm.
First of all, Show’s posters imply a sweet &/or cute romance. Second of all, the teasers capitalize on the cute-awkward appeal of our leads falling in love at age 20. Yes, some of the teasers indicate that not everything is roses and unicorns, but third – and possibly most important – of all, this show’s title makes one think of the phrase “third time’s the charm,” so most viewers, myself included for a while, would expect a typical kdrama happy ending after the angst of the middle stretch.
I personally think that’s where most of Show’s problems lie. Because, as I’ve come to realize, the key to being able to enjoy this show (well, one of the keys, anyway), is managing your expectations. If you’re in it for a cute, sweet romance, I’d advise you to look elsewhere. But, if you feel like you’re in a place where you’d be able to appreciate a personal journey towards growth and maturity, complete with mistakes, consequences and the growing pains that come with it, then this just might work for you.
On that note, I also think that this one would do better with a more mature audience, in that, you’d find these characters much more relatable if you’ve accumulated similar life miles under your belt. Which means that if you’re a drama fan who’s in your teens or just hitting your twenties, this show will likely not feel very relatable to you right now. But it’s actually a pretty good one, so maybe come back later?
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.
STUFF I LIKED
Show’s understanding of life, people and relationships, pain and loss
Very quickly into my watch, I noticed that even amid that early-episode cuteness, there was an undercurrent of poignance to this story, because of the impending separation and heartache that’s built into our premise. I thought then, that whether or not I would end up enjoying this show, even during heartachey seasons, depended on how Show handled it all. In my head, that was the key that would make or break my watch.
Happily, I realized relatively quickly, that Show was handling all of the pain and pathos in a manner that was not only sensitive, but also nuanced. For example, in this show, the little moments communicate so much. [SPOILERS] The small but deep breath that Joon Young (Seo Kang Joon) takes in episode 13, after he and Se Eun (Kim Yoon Hye) say goodbye to Young Jae (Esom), tells us that keeping up appearances took a lot of effort, for him. The little pause that Young Jae takes, while putting away her groceries and thinking back to the scene of Joon Young smiling with Se Eun, is so full of meaning. Her slight smile communicates so much; she feels wistful and sad, but also, glad; wistful for the past, but glad that Joon Young’s happy now, in spite of it all. [END SPOILERS]
There’s something about the way this drama is filmed that makes it feel more like I’m watching real life than a story, despite the sheen of drama polish, and tropes like coincidences still occurring and such. It’s in the quiet moments; in the small details; in the way characters are allowed to just be. I rather like it.
During my watch, it occurred to me that this show’s writers must have spent a lot of time observing life; how life quirks and twists and turns, and how people respond, from the big emotions to the minute reactions. It shows, in how our various characters respond to their life circumstances. [SPOILERS] In the later episodes, we see it in the way Young Jae goes limp from the inside out, and starts to destroy herself, bit by bit; the way Se Eun has a smiling Joon Young in front of her with a promise of marriage, but feels lonely anyway, because of the distance in his eyes; the way Joo Ran’s (Lee Yoon Ji) entire perspective shifts now that she’s seriously ill. It all feels so raw and real, it almost feels like I’m watching a docu-drama with kdrama sensibilities. Ok, with the exception of the relationship between Sang Hyun and Ri Won (Lee Sang Yi and Park Gyu Young), which is the complete opposite of realistic – but we’ll talk about that later. [END SPOILER]
Seo Kang Joon as Joon Young
After being very impressed by Seo Kang Joon in Are You Human Too?, I’d wondered whether (a) I’d find his outing here just as impressive, and (b) whether I would have difficulty seeing him as a character that wasn’t Namshin III.
I’m happy to report that I enjoyed Seo Kang Joon very, very well in this. I found Joon Young to be a very different character than either of the Namshins, and I found his delivery nicely nuanced. From the giddy-happy nerdy college days, to the tougher, harder persona of a man in his thirties, and the wide range of emotions in-between, Seo Kang Joon portrays Joon Young in a way that feels full, lived-in and believable.
Joon Young is a good example of a flawed male lead. I saw his strengths, but his shortcomings were also clear to see, and while I liked him and wanted the best for him, I understood that there were things that he needed to work through and grow out of, in order to be truly happy and at peace. I thought Show did a very nice job unpacking Joon Young as a character, and taking us on his journey with him, as he lived it.
Here are some Joon Young moments that really stood out to me:
E2. I especially felt Joon Young’s emotions acutely, this episode. What an emotional rollercoaster he goes through; from the cautious anticipation of whether or not Young Jae likes him, to the thrill and wonder of her telling him that they’re going out, to the shock of her truth coming out and her disappearing, to his determination to demonstrate his sincerity, to his heartbrokenness at her resolute rejection – and all in the space of about one day. Oof. Poor dear.
E5. Do I think that Joon Young’s actions are very problematic? Yes. He’s unreasonably intense and, in effect, controlling. Or at least, he wants to be controlling. Plus, he basically stalked Young Jae, to find out whether she was being unfaithful to him. Unless he and Young Jae can work through this, this is going to continue to be a problem.
E6. Joon Young is so intense and so.. inexperienced in loving someone and not allowing his feelings to run away with him. He feels immature, and I feel like proper growth and maturity will only come with time. He can’t change instantly, and even though I wish he were strong enough and mature enough to put his feelings aside when he recognizes that his feelings are illogical and unreasonable, he can’t. Instead, the feelings eat him up and he allows these feelings to direct his actions, and he ends up coming across as super petty and unreasonable. He doesn’t know yet how to pick his battles, and in his intense mind, he just can’t let something go, no matter how small. He and Young Jae were somewhat on the way to reconciliation, after her effort to come to his family home. But because she said one thing in defense of the doctor, Joon Young jumped on it as her taking the doctor’s side. That was not helpful.
E6. I do appreciate that no matter how upset he is in his pettiness, Joon Young often can’t help but be good to Young Jae, in spite of himself. Yes, he agreed to go on a team dinner with his boys on her birthday, but he did also take Soo Jae (Yang Dong Geun) grocery shopping, carry Soo Jae up the stairs, and then cook all of Young Jae’s favorite foods for a birthday meal. That was sweet.
E9. I really feel for Joon Young. That whole fixing the radio metaphor felt so deeply important to him; if he managed to fix the radio, it symbolized that he’d be able to fix his relationship with Young Jae. His earnest efforts, frustration tinged with tears, just reached out of my screen and grabbed me by the heart. I felt so much for him, trying so hard on his own, to fix things and get them to be good as new, while everyone else carried on their own way, elsewhere. Augh. My heart.
E11. The scenes of Joon Young walking until his feet blistered, and traveling so light that he’s hungry and cold, really made my heart go out to him. Even more so, when we see that every once in a while, Joon Young gets teary-eyed. The pain is still so fresh and so raw that it rises unbidden. Aw. Poor baby. And that moment when he teared up eating that hot stew, was just so poignant and bittersweet.
E12. I want to commend Joon Young for staying professional in the moment despite the shock of seeing Young Jae again, and managing to serve his guests with respectful decorum. That shows how much he’s matured since his younger days, when we’d be more likely to see petulant jealousy from him for much less.
E13. I appreciate Joon Young’s approach with Young Jae. He’s being respectful to boundaries, even as he shows her kindness and humanity. He offers to teach her how to cook her favorite dish, so that she’ll eat less instant foods, but the way in which he conducts himself while doing so, communicates to Young Jae that this is as far as it goes; he wants her to take care of herself and be well, but he doesn’t actually intend to be part of her life. I have to respect that about him, coz he’s clearly still very emotionally affected by Young Jae, but he chooses not to cross the line.
E14. I credit Joon Young for consistently choosing distance and decorum when it comes to Young Jae, despite his emotional turmoil when it comes to her. He’d sent her off – presumably for good – with warm food, a reliable recipe, and lots of practical instructions to eat well and dress warm, and had decided that that was good enough. And now, when she calls, her voice weak from crying, he chooses decorum first, stuttering that they shouldn’t be in contact like this. I respect all of this, because in a very practical way, Joon Young is respecting Se Eun, and making choices that protect their relationship. Regardless of his feelings for Young Jae, he’s made a commitment to be with Se Eun, and he’s sticking to it. Even though things eventually end with Se Eun (which I’ll talk more about later), I really do appreciate how Joon Young strives to choose to live in a principled manner instead of being recklessly led by his emotions.
Esom as Young Jae
While Young Jae didn’t always feel accessible as a character, I want to commend Esom for an excellent portrayal of Young Jae’s journey. From Young Jae’s happy carefree younger days, to the seasons of struggle and frustration, to the chasm of raging loss, as well as the nuances in-between, Esom makes Young Jae completely come alive as a real, living, breathing person.
If there’s anything that worked against Young Jae as a character, I feel that it was more a fault of the writing than of Esom’s delivery of the character. I feel the writing unfortunately alienated Young Jae from us, to a degree. I’ll talk about that in a later section in this review.
What I will say right now, is, Esom did an excellent job with what she was given. Because Young Jae is presented as a woman of relatively few words, more prone to silent isolation when in distress than to seeking out help, Esom often had little dialogue to work with. Yet, she managed to effectively convey Young Jae’s emotional landscape really well, particularly when Young Jae was in distress. Really well done, I say.
Here’s a spotlight on some Young Jae moments that I found striking:
E3. Young Jae’s cheerful greeting to Joon Young when she sees him at the police station, isn’t because he and their past meant nothing to her. Her cheerfulness is a shield that she uses to protect herself. Young Jae is a lot more vulnerable than she lets on.
E6. Even though Joon Young isn’t blameless, Young Jae does make some poor decisions while unhappy as well. Even if she’d promised her brother that she wouldn’t eat alone, it would have been wiser to decline Ho Chul’s (Min Wook Hyuk) dinner invitation on her birthday. If she’d taken Joon Young’s hurt feelings seriously, she would have declined the dinner invitation, if only to keep things simple and less complicated. Still, I do give her props for stepping out of her comfort zone and doing something for Joon Young, after Joo Ran helps her realize that she’s never quite done anything for Joon Young.
E7. The accidental outing with Ho Chul felt a bit cozy and therefore inappropriate. I appreciate that Young Jae turned him down in very clear terms when he’d called to ask for a date, but then going on a stroll with him, and eating ice-cream while enjoying music on the street, feels a little too date-like for comfort. I know Joon Young wouldn’t like it, and I believe Young Jae would know it too, and that’s why I don’t think she chose wisely, in this situation.
E12. Esom is a very good actress. This episode, she has very few lines, but she communicates Young Jae’s pain, despair and disconnected dysfunction really well. Even when we don’t have the full information on what happened to Young Jae in the time that we’ve spent with Joon Young, we can just tell, that it’s been really rough, and it’s destroyed whatever joy she’d had in life. She looks and feels like a hollow of a human, and that is credit to Esom’s delivery.
E13. Young Jae’s loss of her daughter. That is really awful, and I’m sure that she’s guilt-ridden as well, thinking that if she’d just watched So Ri a little closer, everything would’ve been ok. It’s no wonder that she wants to feel the pain. It’s not only a way to punish herself, it’s also a way of acknowledging that what she lost was precious, and worth mourning.
E14. Young Jae agreeing to go on the blind date, to put Se Eun at ease, is generous of her. She’s obviously not ready to think about dating someone, but she goes anyway, to give Se Eun peace of mind. It’s completely unsurprising that she can’t make it all the way through the date and takes off early, given how much emotional pain she’s still dealing with.
E15. This episode, we finally get to see the full story of what happened to Young Jae. Esom really brings Young Jae’s pain and grief to life, it’s just so raw, pulsating and palpable. It reaches through my screen and tears at my heart, with each silent tear that escapes her eyes, and each pinch of her expression. Tears. And chills.
Joon Young and Young Jae together
Joon Young and Young Jae are a classic example of opposite personalities being drawn to each other. Sometimes, it was really cute, and at other times, I genuinely felt like these two would be better off apart than together, despite the sincerity of their feelings for each other. Regardless of where we were with these two and the state of their relationship, I found that I honestly felt engaged and invested in their journeys. Together or apart, there was always learning and growth to be had, and I consistently found myself coming back for more, even in the most painful seasons.
Additionally, even though it sometimes felt like we were speeding through relationship milestones, Show manages to keep their story real and relatable. That counted as a big plus, for me.
Because this relationship sprawls over several acts and time skips, and undergoes various stages of evolution, it made sense to me to break it down here in a similar fashion. So here, in its various forms and seasons, is a collection of thoughts and observations that I had about Joon Young and Young Jae.
The rollercoaster of the first connection
E1. Aw, cute. The flashback to their first meeting and first kiss is very nostalgic and amusing and sweet. Seo Kang Joon makes a great dork, and Esom plays sweet, innocent yet gutsy very well. There’s an undercurrent of poignancy running through, though, because I already know that this early romance isn’t going to last. Twinge.
E2. Given the situation, I’m curious to see how they reconnect in the second timeline. They didn’t dislike each other, after all. And they didn’t have time to actually annoy each other like a real boyfriend and girlfriend would. I’m ready for a reunion.
The ups and downs of the second connection
E3. Joon Young finally finds out what really happened back when Young Jae first broke up with him. The entire scene is so full of raw emotion that I just can’t look away. Joon Young, so overwhelmed with remorse that he doesn’t know what else to do but to literally run all the way to Young Jae and apologize; his eyes kind of wild, but definitely searching her face; Young Jae is clearly overwhelmed by his emotion spilling out, and the surfacing of hidden wounds; she tries to force a smile, tries to change the subject, but the tears in her eyes threatening to spill out say so much, about all the pain that she’s endured. Young Jae can’t help but reach for her and kiss her, his tears making their way down his cheeks, as his hands cradle her face. Augh. The feelsss.
E5. While I fully recognize Joon Young’s jealousy over Ho Chul as being petty and unreasonable, I do take into account the fact that Joon Young is completely inexperienced in love and romance, and he’s got many years of emotional baggage from being treated as a bit of a loser nerd that nobody wants to date. Plus, his so-called bestie has also informed him that because the other guy is so much better than he is, that Young Jae will cheat on him in the future with Ho Chul, even if she’s not cheating now. Add on Joon Young’s naturally rather neurotic personality, and it’s a recipe for disaster. He just can’t help himself when it comes to feeling unreasonably jealous, and his insecurities kick in at the most inopportune times.
He walks away not because he wants to be a jealous petty diva; he walks away because his insecurity is paralyzing him and swallowing him up; he feels completely emasculated by his imagined opponent, and he just can’t hold it together anymore. Which is why I do feel sorry for him, even though I also recognize that a lot of this trouble is of his own making.
At the same time, I feel sorry for Young Jae. She’s being extremely patient with Joon Young, while continuing to live her life and be herself around other people. With Joon Young, she kept reaching out despite his cold war tactics, and when she realized that it was because he was jealous, she smiled and kissed him and cajoled him into feeling better instead of getting angry with him – which, for the record, I do think she had a right to be. And with Ho Chul, she didn’t give him any reason to misunderstand. She wasn’t overly friendly; in fact, she was even a little bit curt with him. She was just being herself, and I feel she has every right to be herself and not have to change her personality, never mind about her boyfriend’s jealous tendencies.
E5. The thing about Joon Young is, despite being in a jealous fit, he can’t help but take care of Young Jae. The way he runs back to the train station to search for her portfolio, and then have it sent anonymously to the salon, is just classic Joon Young. He’s so earnest and caring, despite his petty jealousy. We see it too, in how he goes to Soo Jae’s aid and is courteous and pleasant – until Young Jae appears on the scene, which is when he reverts to being sullen and sulky. The dating part of him needs to grow up, but he’s got a good heart.
E5. I love how he takes Young Jae all the way to the beach, just because she remarks that she wishes she could see the beach before the fashion show. That scene is just so lovely. It’s quiet, and all we hear is the crashing of waves, as he stands over her, leaning on the car window (guns poppin’ I might add, squee), and talks to her in gentle tones, after handing her a coffee.
Her quiet tears say so much about how much this beach gesture touches her. It’s no wonder she can’t help but reach out to kiss him. And the kiss. Augh. So tender, so heartfelt, so.. hungry. Flail.
E7. My favorite moment this hour, is drunken Joon Young approaching Young Jae and being all clingy and earnest and apologetic, and asking for hugs and declaring his love for her. It’s super endearing, especially when Joon Young continues to drunkenly mutter apologies to Young Jae while she puts gently him to bed on her couch, apologizing as well. Aw.
E7. It was also really sweet that Joon Young took time out of his work day to make sure that Young Jae wouldn’t be late for her big interview with Cosmo. The way they kissed goodbye after the ride was so cute, you could tell they were happy together and that he was excited for her big moment.
E8. They do love each other, and I enjoy their everyday moments together. I thought it was sweet that Joon Young wanted to try spicy chicken feet even though he doesn’t eat spicy food, just because it’s one of Young Jae’s favorite foods. And I thought it was sweet that she’d wash off the spicy sauce for Joon Young, before serving it to him. And I also thought it was sweet of Young Jae to go to the police station at lunch time with pizza for Joon Young and his boys, because she wanted to see him – and also, make him look good. This episode, I really liked the phone call that Joon Young makes to Young Jae, just before the attempted takedown of Snakehead. I love that he admits that he’s nervous, and I love that she understands, and gives him a bit of a pep talk. Plus, there’s the way she runs to him, when she realizes that he’s been hospitalized.
But everything else seems to be working against them. Ho Chul’s amping up his advances, even calling Young Jae out late at night and singing to her in front of a crowd. To Young Jae’s credit, she plans to make things clear to him and nip it all in the bud right then and there. But then she goes to the hospital, and finds Joon Young in a cozy situation with Officer Min. That’s.. not great.
E9. That moment when both Joon Young and Young Jae rush towards each other, and being in exactly the wrong place at the same time. I don’t know if that’s supposed to be symbolic, but I did love the moment when they finally found each other, and fall into a tender embrace. So raw and emotionally honest. Lovely.
The second break-up
E10. This episode, I felt the inevitability of the break-up. Both Joon Young and Young Jae, hyperaware of the growing distance between them, trying to keep things going normally, but failing, acutely aware that things aren’t normal, not at all, and it hurts, but they just can’t make things normal, no matter how hard they try.
I have to say, my heart is with Joon Young, because he tries so hard, with all of his heart and soul. He’s always willing to compromise, if it’s for Young Jae’s sake, and he will give it his all, to try to make things work, to try to make her happy, to try to protect their relationship. He never wavers, even when things aren’t going well; he never thinks about splitting up with her, or dating someone else. He just decides that he loves her, and he throws himself into trying. I know that trying can’t solve everything, and that relationships take two; I just can’t help my heart going out to this man, who just refuses to quit on the woman that he loves – not until she quits on him first. Augh. My heart. It’s just such a moving thing, to witness his heartfelt, dig-deep commitment, and I wish he didn’t have to have his heart broken.
At the same time, I understand why Young Jae is breaking up with Joon Young; I understand that her heart just grew in a different direction and she knows that she wants different things from him, and she doesn’t want to keep hurting him and taking from him, and feeling sorry towards him, by continuing to be with him, knowing full well that she can’t give him what he wants. She can’t help it that she prioritizes her career over her relationship. But it’s still sad, and I can see that she’s in pain too. But this is the path that she’s chosen, so I feel less for her, because of that.
It’s Joon Young who’s got my heart, because he’s in so much pain that he can’t even bear to continue his job – the job that he chose in order to prove Young Jae wrong. I can practically see Joon Young’s wounded, battered heart in his eyes, and he gulps back the pain and allows the tears to fall, while he drives away from Young Jae. Blubber. And the way that Joon Young bids goodbye to everything in his heart – every memory and emotion associated with Young Jae – is just so painful yet so beautiful. There is no hate; only a wounded, bleeding heart that has a long road to healing ahead. Oof.
The third connection
E15. Young Jae finally sharing the details of her story with Joon Young, feels like such a raw and personal moment. The story is shared in all of its gritty, harsh detail, and as the tears come to her eyes, the tears rise to his, as well. When Joon Young goes after her and grabs her by the wrist, all they do is stand there together. Her tears flow freely now, and so do his. It just feels so raw and tender, that he feels her pain so acutely that he would cry with her.
Yang Dong Geun as Soo Jae [SPOILERS]
Even though Soo Jae is considered a secondary character, I found myself growing a distinct soft spot for him as I progressed through the episodes.
First of all, I love that Soo Jae is a sweet brother. From the beginning, he’s been such a caring father figure, despite his young age. And even though his life is much tougher because he has to raise his younger sister, we never see him complain one bit. He just does it like it’s the most natural thing in the world. And he never complained either, that he had to have Young Jae around on just about all his dates with his girlfriend.
Most of all, the very fact that he got hurt and became paralyzed, can be said to be because of how hard he was pushing himself to work, while studying for his civil service exam. Yet, he makes the most of his life and sells coffee and writes crime scenarios, with good nature and a bit of cheek. It’s hard not to love him.
At the same time, I feel so sorry for Soo Jae, who’s working hard on getting his scenarios noticed so as not to be a burden to Young Jae, and yet, nothing seems to be going his way. After he sells his van, everything about his storyline just feels that little bit more desperate, because now he’s banking everything on his writing.
I felt so bad for Soo Jae in episode 8, when we see that the little things in life are so hard for him. Just watching him struggle with that bag of rice was hard enough, but worse, in his frustration, just splashing water on his face – something that is so easy for the rest of us – takes such herculean effort. My heart really broke for him, and so I was really happy for him when his script won first prize and things started turning around for him.
The relationship between Soo Jae and Young Jae
Even though we don’t get a lot of screen time dedicated to this relationship, I genuinely appreciated the supportive sibling relationship between Soo Jae and Young Jae. It’s the stuff typical of Asian siblings; a lot is left unspoken, what’s said is often a little gruff, but there is a lot of practical help and a boatload of heart to be had. These two take turns taking care of each other in the most fundamental of ways, and neither of them ever makes a squeak of complaint.
With Soo Jae and Young Jae, it seemed to me that some of their most meaningful shared times, are when the two of them sit side by side on the balcony, sharing the night view with a smattering of conversation. It’s in these moments that I feel the deep care and the sibling bond between them the most.
The growing brotherhood between Soo Jae and Joon Young
This was also a very secondary sort of relationship, but I really liked the growing bond between Soo Jae and Joon Young. I loved that their friendship slowly but surely extends beyond Joon Young’s relationship with Young Jae. At some point, these two started to care about each other as brothers, and I really liked that.
Violent Crimes Team 3
We spend but a single season with the boys of Violent Crimes Team 3, but I liked them, and found them good-natured and quite amusing. When the team no longer was a part of our main storyline, I felt distinctly wistful at the absence of these boys on my screen.
STUFF I FELT NEUTRAL ABOUT
Show’s way of playing with context
I mentioned it earlier in this review, that the writers choose to show us Joon Young’s point of view more often, and consistently earlier, than Young Jae’s. I get that in doing this, the writers are playing with the idea of context.
[SPOILER] A great early example is the writers’ treatment of Young Jae and Joon Young’s first break-up. When we don’t know why Young Jae is cold to Joon Young at the first break-up, it’s easy to think of her as cruel; that she acted that way purely because of how she’d felt embarrassed about being called out on not actually being a college student. But when we find out later, that tragedy had befallen Young Jae’s little family that fateful night; that she’d been in shock at how her strong brother had become paralyzed overnight, and struggling to process it all; how she suddenly became his caregiver and the breadwinner of the family, from previously being taken care of as the baby of the family, everything changes. Suddenly, Young Jae’s perspective becomes a lot clearer, and things look completely different. [END SPOILER]
It creates an interesting effect, as well as an element of surprise as our view of Young Jae tilts with each reveal.
On the flipside, though, in choosing to allow us to see most things through Joon Young’s eyes first, Show creates this unfortunate effect of somewhat alienating Young Jae from us, to some extent. Because we walk the journey with Joon Young in such detail, his journey becomes our vicarious journey as well. We invest our emotions in the moment with him, as we walk with him and watch him take each painful step. Because of this dynamic, it feels like we get to know Joon Young so much more intimately as a character. We feel what he feels, as he feels it. But with Young Jae, we only really find out her full story in episode 15. By that time, even though our hearts go out to her, that sudden rush of sympathy and compassion just can’t compare with the depth and breadth of understanding that we’ve built up with Joon Young in all the episodes prior. In this sense, I feel that Young Jae as a character got the short end of the narrative stick, which is a pity.
The thing with Se Eun [SPOILERS]
In the long wake of Joon Young and Young Jae’s second break-up, Se Eun shows up in Portugal and ends up confessing her feelings for Joon Young. We see that Joon Young and Se Eun eventually start dating, and over time, we even see Joon Young proposing to Se Eun. In the end, they break up; Joon Young, because he realizes he has strong unresolved feelings for Young Jae, and Se Eun because she can no longer ignore the growing distance between them.
So here’s my thing with this relationship arc. On the one hand, I acknowledge that Joon Young’s reason for breaking up with Se Eun is a valid one. He doesn’t necessarily hope for a reconciliation with Young Jae, but he recognizes that the unresolved feelings that he has for Young Jae are not fair to Se Eun.
On the other hand, I actually kind of feel that Joon Young’s commitment to Se Eun prior to Young Jae re-appearing in his orbit, is under-acknowledged.
It’s true that Se Eun doesn’t fire up Joon Young’s heart the way Young Jae did in the past. But that’s an age-old dilemma, isn’t it? Just because someone fires up your heart, doesn’t mean that they’re actually good for you, y’know. I tend to think that if Young Jae had just stayed out of the picture, that Joon Young might have possibly learned to love Se Eun more and more.
I came across some comments that Joon Young might be turning into the Young Jae of the relationship.. I don’t know. I do think he feels less intensely towards Se Eun, and I also think he might be feeling guilty for keeping her waiting, and having her give him so much while waiting, and I do agree that this guilt is informed by his own experience being on the giving and waiting end. But where the similarity ends, is that he doesn’t break away from Se Eun because of his mounting guilt, powered by his career ambition. Instead, he chooses to commit to her more. Yes, he had to kind of brace himself before proposing, but that’s only human, in the face of a life-changing decision. And his proposal felt sincere and heartfelt. In the face of similar pressures of guilt, he chooses commitment, and I can’t fault him for that. His commitment to Se Eun – complete with detailed schedule entries of things to do with her and for her – wasn’t ever the problem.
The scene in episode 14, where Joon Young gets upset with Se Eun in the car sums up the issue with their relationship. In four years, neither of them has truly bared their hearts to the other person; Joon Young’s never spoken about Young Jae, nor has he even gotten angry with Se Eun, and Se Eun’s never articulated her insecurity either. It’s Joon Young and Se Eun’s inability to talk honestly in their relationship, that ultimately causes their relationship to break down.
It really wasn’t ever that she was the wrong person for him; it was that they failed to really open up and truly get to know one another, and honestly work at their relationship in the places that mattered the most.
STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH
Min Wook Hyuk as Ho Chul
I’ll be brutally honest; I didn’t much like Ho Chul as a character.
[SPOILER] Mostly, I felt that I couldn’t respect him because he thought it was ok to basically intrude on a relationship and declare to Joon Young, that he liked Young Jae and was going to pursue her. Dude. That’s just not cool, ok? On a tangent, I also didn’t like that Show just plonked Ho Chul down as Young Jae’s husband after a time skip, without actually explaining why and how she came to change her mind about him. [END SPOILER]
On a shallow note, I felt like there was a Ken Doll quality about Ho Chul. So.. something plastic about the plastic surgeon, if you will. Snerk. Sorry, couldn’t resist.
Joo Ran’s personal arc
Pretty much from the moment we meet her, Joo Ran seems to be defined by her quest to find a husband. Worse, her quest to find a husband is treated as comedic fodder, and Joo Ran is made the butt of more than a few tasteless jokes. This got very old for me, very fast. I hate that even though she is a beautiful, successful woman, she is consistently treated like expired goods. And worse, I feel like she treats herself that way too. I hated seeing her angle so hard to act cute in front of a date, when she has every reason to hold her head high and be confident in herself. It was completely cringey to watch Joo Ran not act like herself to seduce a man, and the whole thing just robs her of all her dignity. Ugh.
And then, to get her off this never-ending cycle of acting cute for a date and then getting dumped, Show makes her sick. I was so upset. First, all the bad dates and being the brunt of bad jokes. And then, finally finding a friend in Soo Jae, but never managing to win his heart. And now, she’s sick, and Soo Jae’s being insensitive and self-centered and doesn’t even ask after her, when she’s acting out of sorts? That’s just so sad. Why can’t writer-nim let Joo Ran catch a break?
On the upside, I thought that Joo Ran’s illness gave us some beautiful moments. Here’s my top two:
In episode 14, the scene when Joo Ran finally tells Young Jae that she’s ill, is so quietly gut-wrenching. The wistfulness, loneliness and fear is palpable in Joo Ran. She might literally not survive this, and she feels so shortchanged, I feel, for all the things she desperately wanted to experience, but might never get to experience. I do love how she looks after her hair is cut off. It feels like all the excess and superficial beauty is stripped away, and we finally get to see Joo Ran’s inner beauty shining through. Like this, wearing her vulnerability on her sleeve, and being brave anyway, she looks so beautiful, to my eyes.
Later, in episode 15, Joo Ran’s reaction to Soo Jae showing up at the hospital, is quite perfect. Her nervous fidget betrays her embarrassment and awkwardness, but the tears in her eyes show how desperately she’d wanted to see him; wanted him to come seek her out. Soo Jae’s reaction to seeing her is quintessentially him as well; his awkward jokes and nervous smile shows that he’s uncomfortable, and also, sincerely sorry, and that he genuinely want to be there for her.
Now that’s what I call a silver lining.
The treatment of Ri Won’s relationship with Sang Hyun [SPOILERS]
When Sang Hyun falls for Ri Won in episode 9, I thought it was quite perfect, in the sense that I honestly believed she’d be the only woman who’d be able to keep him in line. Although I have to admit, I kind of wouldn’t wish Sang Hyun on anyone, with him being such an immature and self-centered player. I didn’t think he was ready to actually love anyone.
And perhaps Show’s writers didn’t want to wish him on anyone too, because they proceed to pretty much punish Sang Hyun with a relationship where Ri On treats him indifferently almost all of the time.
I get what the writers were likely going for with Ri On and Sang Hyun, with the gender role reversal, and while it’s marginally amusing, it doesn’t ring true for me. Especially the scene where a nonchalant Ri On says – right after giving birth – that it wasn’t that big of a deal. Um. I don’t think any woman who’s ever given birth would believe that one..?
With Show’s treatment of our main relationships mostly ringing raw and true, the treatment of this relationship felt like a weird choice, to me.
General Missteps [SPOILERS]
Like I mentioned earlier in this review, the relationship between Joon Young and Young Jae sucked me in, in all of its seasons and forms. I liked how Show treated most of this relationship’s facets with sensitivity, but there was one thing that really niggled at me.
I honestly didn’t like the comedic treatment of Joon Young as the petty jealous boyfriend in episode 5. It felt OTT and kind of.. disrespectful, almost, to the emotional sensitivity the show demonstrates to this relationship otherwise. I wanted to see this relationship treated with sensitivity all the way through, and I think that’s why I felt rubbed the wrong way, with the OTT treatment of Joon Young’s jealous fits.
Show is generally thoughtful, and serves up some thought-provoking themes, ideas and motifs. Here’s the quick spotlight on the ones that stood out to me the most:
E3. The idea that you can be dumped through entirely no fault of your own. I mean, duh, of course it’s true, but Joon Young’s heartbroken question, of what did he do so wrong, made it feel fresh again for me. He’s so earnest, and so genuine, and she genuinely liked him, and yet she felt like she had no other choice but to break up with him.
E9. The idea of fixing versus replacing, extended beyond a broken radio, to apply to relationships. You can choose to work to fix a broken relationship – but that’s only possible if both parties embrace that fixing mindset. So true.
E15. The thing with shoes, and forcing a fit, and how that can result in discomfort, pain and wounds. If the shoe – or the relationship – doesn’t quite fit in the first place, it’s better not to force it.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
Given how I came across quite a few angry comments about Show’s ending, I was a little uncertain about how I would respond when I actually watched it myself. Now that I’ve emerged from the other side, I can safely say that I belong to that small percentage of viewers who actually liked how Show managed its finale.
Joon Young initiates the “I can’t do this” conversation with Se Eun, but Se Eun concludes, with at least a measure of truth, that she can’t do it either. Personally, while I know that a decision like this, this late in a relationship, gives rise to a lot of fallout, I feel that this is the braver, healthier choice than going ahead with a marriage to the wrong person.
I appreciate that we see Joon Young dealing with the aftermath of the breakup with a good measure of soul searching, during – and after – which we see Joon Young making peace with first his mom, and then his dad. I loved this detail, because it brings home the point that a marriage isn’t just about two people; that it involves family, and in the wake of a marriage being called off like this, everyone needs time and space to deal.
We also see Young Jae revisiting the various places that hold key memories for her, and we see her react to those memories with warmth amid the wistfulness. I really enjoyed this section, and thought this was such a thoughtful way to insert the highlight reel of flashbacks to the past that is so common in dramaland, by having Young Jae personally go to each of the places, and think back on her memories made in those places, and have her react to them in the now. I really liked being able to witness that. Just, so meaningful and reflective.
Soo Jae stays with Joo Ran through her treatment and becomes her guardian in a really practical way, taking care of her in the hospital and out of it too. Eventually, we see that these two finally get their happy ending, with a cozy, cheerful wedding, surrounded by friends, smiles, and much happiness. While I do wish Soo Jae had been more courageous to accept Joo Ran before she found out she was sick, I understand, too, that it’s only with all of her glamor stripped away, that he feels brave enough to approach her and see her on equal ground. It took a lot for these two to get to their happy ending, but I’m truly glad that they found it – and each other.
Also on the note of happy endings, we see Ri On finally agree to marry Sang Hyun, after announcing that she’s expecting a second child. This loveline has always felt quite unbelievable to me, but I appreciate that Ri Won’s wearing a softer gaze around Sang Hyun, and it’s a very meaningful milestone that she would agree to marry him, because she knows how much it means to him, even if she’s indifferent to marriage herself.
We also see Joon Young and Young Jae come to terms with each other, particularly after their serendipitous meeting at the old grandpa’s house. They aren’t romantically involved, nor are they actively looking to be. Instead, they talk to each other as comrades, almost; people who appreciate each other and care about each other, but who, for the most part, plan to live independently of each other.
Towards the end of the hour, we see them walking together after Soo Jae and Joo Ran’s wedding, and hear that Joon Young will be leaving for a job in New York, while Young Jae’s taken over the old hair salon where she used to work, so many moons ago.
As they walk side by side, we hear their individual voiceovers:
Young Jae: “After time and seasons passed, we became adults. But we’re still clumsy and make mistakes. That’s why we comfort each other, worry about each other, and embrace each other.”
Joon Young: “The pain and distress we endured helped us grow, along with all the joy we shared together. Perhaps that is why we continue walking. To be our fulfilled selves.”
To my ears, the “we” that both of them use, feels more like a generic “we”, rather than a “we” that refers to the two of them specifically. I feel like they’ve both learned the value and the richness of walking with others in this journey that we call life. As the camera pans away from the two of them walking side by side, I am left feeling that each of them will continue to do their best living their lives, now a little wiser about how to be true to themselves and the people around them.
As I watch this finale, section by section, moment by moment, this show’s message finally clicks into focus for me. This isn’t a show about whether a particular love is meant to be; it’s about living life, and trying your best to follow your heart, and making mistakes – sometimes huge ones – along the way, and learning from those mistakes, and growing strong enough to pick yourself up from each mistake, and dust yourself off, and make the most of things, from where you’re standing. And in moving forward in living your life, now stronger and wiser than the person you were yesterday, having the fortitude and grace to look back on your memories – all of them, the good, the bad and the painful – without the taint of remorse or the indifference of a heart that tries to forget. And in looking towards the future, having an open heart to embrace all of life’s unexpected twists and turns, while remembering with gratitude, that all of the memories that you store in your heart of hearts, are ones that have helped to shape you into the person that you are now.
A message that is meaningful and quite lovely, I must say.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
A poignant and realistic journey of life and growth, with spotlights on the highs, the lows and the bittersweet in between.
FINAL GRADE: B++