One thing that I’ve learned from watching dramas, is that love has everything to do with timing. Well, guess what, you guys. I’m learning that this principle about timing applies to drama love too, ie, whether or not I end up loving a drama has a lot to do with timing too.
Sometimes, the timing has to do with my mood. Like, maybe I’ve got a rom-com on my screen, but I might be in the mood for a melo instead, and so the rom-com doesn’t work for me. Other times, the timing has to do with whether I’m late to the party. Which, by the way, can go either way. With Memories Of The Alhambra, being late to the party meant that I could adjust my expectations based on the fragments of information I’d gathered from other viewers, and I ended up enjoying the show more than the average viewer. With Chicago Typewriter, however, being late to the party meant that it ended up more hyped up in my mind, from the large amounts of love I’ve seen poured out for this show by other viewers before me, than Show was able to live up to. I guess I’d gotten to the point where my expectations were just too high?
As much as I hate to admit it, I didn’t manage to love Chicago Typewriter as much as many of you did. On the upside, I did like it quite well overall. Let’s dive in to see how that all worked out, shall we?
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.
MY OVERALL TRAJECTORY WITH THIS SHOW
Overall, I’d say that my experience with Chicago Typewriter was a pretty uneven one. I really liked episode 1 for its efficient set-up and exposition, and for the intriguing characters and circumstances that it sets out. After that initial very promising starting point, though, I felt my interest dipping over the next episodes, which felt less tightly woven.
I found that I was more interested in the overall mystery of how everything was connected, than I was engaged with the characters. Somehow, I just didn’t find the characters very relatable, nor all that likable, sometimes – with the consistent exception of Go Kyung Pyo’s character, whom I really liked and enjoyed.
Essentially, I found myself coasting by with reasonably alright levels of interest and engagement through episodes 1 to 14. I liked Show well enough, but it didn’t exactly capture my heart. Until the last two episodes, that is. That’s when everything turned on its head and changed, and I found myself feeling all of the feels that I’d been missing, and then some.
It kinda felt similar to listening to someone tell a joke with a very long and elaborate set-up, before getting to the punchline. The “punchline” in Show’s case is really good and I feel like my waiting had paid off handsomely. But, it’s true that part of my brain wonders if 14 episodes is a reasonable length of time to wait for payoff.
Was it worth investing time into this watch, though? During my watch, there were times when I wasn’t so sure. But now that I’ve finished the show and can speak with 20/20 hindsight, I can say, absolutely.
PROS & CONS: The kaleidoscopic approach to the storytelling
To me, Show’s kaleidoscopic approach to storytelling was both a pro and a con. Basically, Show serves up bits and pieces of information from the 1930s timeline, and our present-day characters – and we as viewers – try to piece it all together, over the course of Show’s 16 episodes.
On the plus side, I liked the mystery of trying to put the pieces of the 1930s puzzle together. Show is good at dangling the mysterious bits in front of us in intriguing ways, such that I sometimes feel like I’m maybe getting a sense for how everyone and everything is connected, but I’m not actually sure, and then the next time another piece of information is presented to us, my perceived understanding of everything shifts yet again. I did find this interesting and rather thrilling.
On the downside, the 1930s timeline is extremely fragmented in terms of how it’s presented to us, and therefore it gets very confusing over time. I was consistently never quite sure what our 1930s characters knew and didn’t know, because I just wasn’t sure of the chronological order of the 1930s snippets that we’d been shown.
On top of this confusion, lay on the fact that writer-nim chose to have a lot going on in this story world, and it often felt like we were trying to cram too much onto our storyboard. [SPOILER] At the episode 14 mark, I personally felt like there was too much going on, on my screen, from the kidnapping arc, to the present-day threesome trying to write the novel, to the love rivalry between Se Joo and Jin Oh (Yoo Ah In and Go Kyung Pyo) for Seol’s affection (Im Soo Jung), to Bang Jin (Yang Jin Sung) crushing on Jin Oh, and we hadn’t even accounted for everything that’s happening in the 1930s timeline. [END SPOILER]
I feel like some viewers would love that there’s so much going on plot-wise, and some wouldn’t. I personally felt like I could have done without some of Show’s secondary arcs, [SPOILER] like the kidnapping and the stalker girl [END SPOILER]. That would’ve felt cleaner overall, I think, and easier for viewers to digest and follow, as well.
STUFF THAT WORKED FOR ME
Yoo Ah In as Han Se Joo / Seo Hui Yeong
I haven’t seen all of Yoo Ah In’s works, but I’ve seen enough – namely, Sungkyunkwan Scandal, Secret Love Affair and The Throne – to come to the conclusion that he’s a very talented actor with the ability to morph from character to character like a chameleon (for the record, I made it 31 episodes into Six Flying Dragons before I concluded that Show just wasn’t for me).
Do I think that Yoo Ah In did a sound job of playing his characters from both timelines? Yes. Do I also feel like I’ve seen better and more faceted performances from Yoo Ah In? Yes, absolutely. I enjoyed Yoo Ah In solidly well in this show, but I also couldn’t shake the niggling feeling that he’s capable of even more.
But, did I come away with an upgraded appreciation for each of his characters? Also, yes.
Not gonna lie; I actually found Se Joo very unpleasant and unlikable, especially during Show’s first few episodes. I found his condescending attitude towards Seol particularly hard to swallow, with him being antagonistic towards her even though she helps him on multiple occasions, and then saying patronizing things to her, on top of everything else.
In that sense, Se Joo was a bit of a hard sell for me, as a character. To Show’s credit – and to Yoo Ah In’s as well – I did find myself coming around towards Se Joo eventually, even though I found some of the plot points around his turnaround kind of unnatural and jerky.
Here are a few Se Joo moments which contributed to my changing perception of him as a character.
E5. Se Joo’s decision to hold the press conference and tell everyone about the ghost writer says a lot about his character. He would rather risk losing his entire career, than falsely take credit for work that he hasn’t written. That’s a lot of integrity right there. It’s probably largely in part due to what he experienced having his work stolen from him by Tae Min (Kwak Shi Yang), but it still doesn’t negate that this is who he is, and he refuses to lie and bask in false glory. Gotta give him props for that.
E9. It’s really interesting that Se Joo took the realization of his past self’s involvement in Seol’s gun trauma so personally. I mean, he has no conscious memory of it, and it wasn’t even his present self that was involved. And yet, when he realizes that it was his past self that got Past Seol in shooting, he seems to feel genuinely sorry. I didn’t expect that of him, really.
E11. Se Joo seems to have grown a lot as a character, looking at things with a more neutral and compassionate perspective than when we first met him. Not only does he give Tae Min a second chance, he even tells him that he’s not going to be driven by anger anymore, and then later tells Tae Min’s dad (Chun Ho Jin) to respect whatever choice Tae Min makes. That’s huge.
From the moment that we first see Hui Yeong as a character, I found myself gravitating towards him more than I did Se Joo. In comparison, Hui Yeong appeared so laidback and easygoing compared to Se Joo, who was so high-strung and suspicious.
The more I saw of Hui Yeong, the more interesting and intriguing I found him. Yes, there were times when he appeared almost cruel, but Show always made sure to give me a glimpse of the heart behind the decisions, and I found him an admirable character, all the way through to the end.
Here are just a couple of Hui Yeong moments that stood out for me personally:
E8. The way Hui Yeong masked himself and saved Soo Hyun, and then took no credit for it whatsoever, says a lot about the kind of person he is. He truly is a man of principle, and will risk his life to act on his beliefs.
E13. Hui Yeong’s guilt at putting the members of the Alliance in danger, and that flash of uncertainty, makes him feel so vulnerable and human.
The almost-merging of the 2 characters [VAGUE SPOILERS]
At around the episode 9 mark, I found that my impressions of Se Joo and Hui Yeong were shifting, so much so that in some ways, it felt like they’d flipped personalities. In particular, I felt like their hardness and softness of character had flipped.
[SPOILER] Se Joo, who used to appear completely self-absorbed and selfish, is now the one who refuses to keep publishing the Chicago Typewriter story, for fear that it would cause Seol trauma. And Hui Yeong, who had before appeared to be so laidback and easygoing and soft, turns out to be the head of the resistance organization, who is the one who insists that Soo Hyun will do a great job of being a sniper, and that if she wants to be part of their organization, this is how she will earn their trust. [END SPOILER]
Over time, I felt like my impressions of Se Joo and Hui Yeong continued to mesh, as the different facets of their personalities came to the fore. As Se Joo’s softer underbelly came into focus to balance out his prickly shell, so did Hui Yeong’s tougher, principled core come across, to balance out the initial soft impression I had of him. I found this quite fascinating.
Go Kyung Pyo as Yoo Jin Oh / Shin Yul
As far as I’m concerned, Go Kyung Pyo stole this entire show, you guys. I just luffed him so much, as Jin Oh. Well, as Yul too, but mostly as Jin Oh. <3
Jin Oh basically grabbed my heart, and then made me laugh and made me cry. His presence was the highlight of my watch of this show, hands down.
When I think about it, our entire story is basically Jin Oh’s journey, from his past life as Yul, to his current existence as a ghost trying to make things right, and that’s why it feels right to me, that I cared about his journey the most.
Here are some of my favorite Jin Oh highlights.
He’s fun and carefree
E4. Jin Oh always seems quite cheerful, even when he doesn’t have anywhere to go, or when Se Joo’s freaking out at him. It feels like it’s not because he doesn’t care; it feels more like the cares don’t touch him. He always seems so harmless, honest and benign, even when Se Joo is questioning him about how he got into the house, and why he’s there.
E6. The lighthearted ghostly hijinks are so funny, with Jin Oh walking through walls, possessing the dog, hiding in paintings (lol!) and basically haunting Se Joo, all with a good-natured, hopeful smile on his face. He is the most adorable ghost ever, seriously. He never takes Se Joo’s anger or ranting to heart, and never gives up either. He just keeps trying, each effort just as earnest, good-natured and hopeful as the last. I am so taken by him; he’s super endearing.
E6. Yoo’s crush on Seol is very cute too. He’s so happy to see her at the door this episode, and then just plonks himself down next to her at the table, so that he can just stare adoringly at her. It’s no wonder Se Joo is completely distracted and uneasy, heh.
E8. Jin Oh’s expressions are priceless. He’s especially funny at the beginning of this episode, when Seol asks Se Joo pointblank whether he’s being this way around her because someone asked him to do it. Jin Oh’s shock-horror-mortified-relief-repeat expressions are just gold.
The poignant, heart-grabby stuff
E8. I stinkin’ love the way Jin Oh looks at Se Joo and Seol. There’s so much affection and care built into his gaze. I can feel that this all comes from somewhere; in this case, from the lifetime that they spent together, in the 1930s. It’s so sweet that Jin Oh still feels this way about them even now, when neither of them remembers him or the times they spent together. Seol can’t even see him, and Se Joo just keeps on being brusque to him, and yet, he just keeps sticking around, and caring for them, and being affectionate towards them, and basically loving on them. It’s so bittersweet and moving.
E8. That moment as the camera pans away from the hugging OTP, to reveal that Jin Oh is looking on, with a whole lot of complicated feelings written in his eyes. Sniffle. Poor dear.
E8. I felt my heart pinch for Jin Oh when he and Se Joo strut out onto the street, and he basks in the attention of some gawking ladies nearby. Se Joo bursts his bubble and informs him that ladies are looking at him and not Jin Oh, and Jin Oh answers matter-of-factly that he knows. He just likes feeling a little more human again. Aw. He must feel so invisible so much of the time. For someone as warmhearted and affectionate as Jin Oh, that must be so lonely.
E9. Jin Oh looks so helpless and sad, as he thinks about the past, and about how he just saw Se Joo holding a crying Seol. And then not so much later, he looks so grateful to be able to eat food placed before him. How can one not love this ghost? And then he’s so sadly wistful, as he watches Se Joo watching Seol. This is probably killing him on the inside, and yet, he never says a word about it to Se Joo. He just continues to be affable and affectionate, and that just makes me love him even more, while making me cry on the inside. And then, there’s how Jin Oh asks that Se Joo take a picture of him and Seol together, even though he knows that he won’t be visible in the photo. The look on his face is just so affecting. There’s a sad wistfulness, but there’s also quiet acceptance, even as he works to memorize the moment. Oof. My heart.
E10. Jin Oh’s expression, when he hears Seol say that his was the first face that she remembered clearly from her past life, is just so precious. So much burgeoning emotion is written on his face. The gratitude of being remembered, the wonder of being acknowledged, the almost disbelief, combined with relief, mixed with the sheer gratefulness of being remembered by Seol, is so heart-tugging to witness.
E12. It occurs to me this episode that Se Joo and Seol and the memories that they share, make up Jin Oh’s whole world, while to them, they’ve got whole lives outside of their shared memories. The fact that they literally mean the world to him, just makes it all the more poignant and bittersweet and heart-tugging.
E12. Jin Oh being so moved at seeing Seol in the room, even though she can’t see him, is touching to behold. There’s so much emotion written on his face – wonder, joy, sadness, so much so that he doesn’t quite know what to do with himself – and it is so poignant to watch him react to her. The way he handles the flipped coin, taking his time, making the coin spin in the air, before finally placing it gently in Seol’s hand, feels a bit dramatic, yes, but you can just tell that he’s trying to make his moment of interaction with Seol last as long as possible, because it’s the first direct contact he’s had with her, and he’s been longing to interact with her for literal decades.
E13. Jin Oh’s happiest moment in all of his years of existence is the present moment, where he is with Se Joo and Seol, and able to enjoy the freedom of not constantly worrying about the future of their country. That’s so poignant and so lovely, at the same time.
The burgeoning friendship between Jin Oh and Se Joo
Given the very rocky and antagonistic way that Se Joo and Jin Oh first meet, it was particularly satisfying to witness the burgeoning friendship between them, in spite of Se Joo’s blustering protests.
I was interested in this friendship way more than I was interested in the main loveline, and with good reason, I feel, since the growth of this friendship felt more organic and believable than the main loveline, to my eyes.
Here’s a quick overview of some of the bromantic milestones between Se Joo and Jin Oh.
E7. I love the moment when Jin Oh first reappears, after Se Joo breaks down and agrees to write the novel. He looks glad and relieved, but there’s also amusement mixed in; he also looks like he’s had a good time watching Se Joo come to the end of himself. Hee.
E8. It’s completely reluctant on Se Joo’s part, but he can’t even seem to stop himself from talking to Jin Oh, even in public. It’s like he just fails to remember that Jin Oh is a ghost, which in itself is quite amusing. And there’s all that existing affection on Jin Oh’s part. It’s almost like Jin Oh’s just waiting for Se Joo to come around to their friendship, the same way he waited for Se Joo to come around to writing the novel together. There’s something very poignant about that.
E8. For all of Se Joo’s brusqueness, I did find it very kind of him, when he told Seol that there’s someone who misses her and thinks of her all the time, referring to Jin Oh. He didn’t have to say that, but he did, and in doing so, he’s acknowledging Jin Oh’s existence, and his feelings for Seol. That felt quite lovely.
E9. Even though Se Joo grumps about having Jin Oh around, he’s becoming quite sweet and kind towards him. Se Joo orders that extra breakfast be set out for him, even though it will make his staff think him quite mad, and then agrees to take Jin Oh out to see for himself that the Japanese government building is indeed gone. That’s pretty huge by Se Joo’s standards.
E12. Jin Oh being so moved at Se Joo’s mention of the word “friendship,” even though the context was that their friendship will be ruined, just makes my heart squeeze, so much.
E13. It’s sweet how Se Joo hopes that Jin Oh will continue to hang around and be part of his world, even after they complete the novel. What a long way he’s come, to reciprocating the love that Jin Oh has for him. Aw.
The 1930s timeline
Generally speaking, I found myself feeling more emotionally engaged with our characters in the 1930s timeline, than in the present timeline. Perhaps it’s the higher stakes that our 1930s characters deal with; perhaps the characters themselves are more emotionally charged; I just found myself perking up whenever Show moved to the 1930s timeline.
[SPOILER] Also, there’s something very wistful and poignant about the 1930s timeline, largely because it becomes obvious that our 1930s characters die young. So the scenes, particularly the happy ones like the dancing scene above, all feel like they’re underscored by a strong sense of pathos. And I find that moment in episode 13, when the members of the Alliance share their dreams for when Joseon is liberated, so bittersweet, moving and poignant, because I feel like many of them will not survive to see their dreams come true. [END SPOILER]
From the time we were introduced to the 1930s timeline via memory flashes of our present-day characters, I always found myself wanting more of the 1930s, and less of the present-day.
STUFF THAT DIDN’T WORK FOR ME, SO MUCH
Because Show manages to end on such a strong note for me, I feel almost nitpicky for dwelling on the stuff that I didn’t like. So, let me attempt to talk about it in as concise a manner as possible, so that we don’t spend too much time brooding over the could’ve beens.
Im Soo Jung as Jeon Seol / Ryu Soo Hyun
To be brutally honest, I did not enjoy Im Soo Jung very much, in this show.
Throughout my watch, I struggled to put a finger on just what about Seol / Soo Hyun wasn’t working for me, and I think a big part of it, is my inability to engage with Im Soo Jung as an actress, and her delivery of both characters. I don’t know; I just don’t feel her, on my screen. She doesn’t pop for me like the other actors do. Every other female in this drama world seems more natural and real to me than Seol does. To my eyes, there’s something rather.. insipid running as an undercurrent, to Im Soo Jung’s delivery.
There’s also something ditzy about Seol, where she sometimes – or maybe oftentimes – doesn’t act the way I expect a person to. [SPOILER] Like the way she innocently puts a cone of shame on Se Joo while treating him for his injuries in episode 3. Or her wide-eyed aggressive invasion of Jin Oh’s personal space in episode 12, where she ends up poking him repeatedly. [END SPOILER] These all made her feel more like a caricature than a real person to me.
Also, Seol is often presented as a bit of an adorable ditz, and while some actresses can pull this off well, I feel like this just didn’t work for Im Soo Jung. I couldn’t buy the cutesy that Show was working so hard to serve up, and even though Seol endeared herself to everyone else (more on that in a bit), it just didn’t work for me.
Kwak Shi Yang as Baek Tae Min / Heo Young Min
Since both of Kwak Shi Yang’s characters are of the unsavory sort, I’ll say that Kwak Shi Yang did a good job, in the sense that he made both characters effectively very unlikable. On the downside, I will also say that Kwak Shi Yang’s delivery did fall on the.. limited and wooden end of the scale.
Putting all of that together, I just didn’t really look forward to nor enjoy any of his scenes, unfortunately.
Also. The moment Tae Min is shown hurting his own cat in a fit of anger, in episode 6, he was dead to me. Dead, I tell ya.
Having almost everyone in love with Seol
For a show that has a premise that feels fresh and original, I was rather disappointed that Show falls back on such a strong cliche, that almost every man in our drama world is in love with Seol. There’s Se Joo, Jin Oh, Tae Min, and even Dae Han the chef (Kang Hong Suk). That’s a lot of love interests, which I felt like we didn’t need. I mean, when do you really need a love pentagon, right?
Additionally, I wasn’t pleased with how Show presents Seol as an object that the boys fight over. [SPOILER] For example, in episode 7, Tae Min tries to strong-arm Seol into taking a ride with him, and then Se Joo steps in and strong-arms her into leaving with him, with a classic wrist-grab. I mean, why couldn’t Show have allowed Seol to shake off both guys and walk off by herself, thankyouverymuch? And, even Jin Oh gets into the act, by asking Se Joo to chase away the guys who are hovering around Seol. I mean. He’s a ghost, so he really has no business interfering with whom she hangs out or chooses to date, no? [END SPOILER]
I found this all very frustrating to watch, and that’s not even yet taking into account the fact that I already didn’t enjoy our female lead very much.
The comedic rivalry between Se Joo and Jin Oh for Seol’s affection [MINOR SPOILERS]
At around the episode 12 mark, Show ramps up the rivalry between Se Joo and Jin Oh for Seol’s approval and affection, and treats everything with an OTT comedic touch. I personally found this quite tonally jarring and unnecessary, to be honest.
I found it exaggerated and out of character, especially for Se Joo, who’s generally not treated as a comedic character.
[SPOILER] For example, in episode 12, the thing with Secretary Kang (Oh Na Ra) and Bang Jin and Dae Han talking to Se Joo and Seol simultaneously about how they’re like Pavlov’s dog, is quite jarring and weird to watch. In particular, Se Joo’s reaction at hearing Seol’s name, when Secretary Kang pretends to call Seol into the room, is completely exaggerated and out of character. [END SPOILER]
The rivalry between Se Joo and Jin Oh to impress Seol is consistently played for laughs, but I honestly didn’t find it funny. I know that Show probably included this lighter stuff to balance out the heavier stuff, but to my eyes, it takes away from the gravitas of the heavier stuff. I guess it’s just not to my taste. *shrugs*
STUFF THAT WAS NEUTRAL: The OTP relationship [SPOILERS]
Like I alluded to earlier in this review, I felt rather indifferent to the main loveline. I would say that I felt more for the mirror loveline in the 1930s, but even then, romance never felt like the Main Event for me, with this show.
The present-day loveline
To be brutally honest, I generally felt like the OTP milestones in this timeline didn’t feel very organic, and I often found myself having to rationalize the OTP milestones in order to make sense of them.
For example, the OTP hug in episode 8 didn’t really feel organic to me. It felt kind of like it was shoehorned in because this is episode 8 and it’s usually at the halfway point that we get some OTP confirmation. Seol being so torn up about not seeing Se Joo around, and crying when she felt so relieved to see him, feels almost like it came out of nowhere. I had to go back and revisit Seol’s last interaction with Se Joo, to be able to rationalize that she basically felt like he’d abandoned her after hearing her story about seeing her past life whenever she holds a gun. The fact that I had to go back and investigate why she’s so sad means that Show didn’t do a very good job of bringing that across. That, and I do feel like Show’s making a mountain out of a molehill, so that she’ll be crying, so that Se Joo will have a reason to hold her.
Additionally, I struggle with Show’s idea of romance. For example, in episode 12, we see Se Joo wresting the phone from Seol while she’s talking to Tae Min, and then taking over the call and threatening Tae Min not to call Seol again. That is really not cool. But what makes it worse, is that we then see Seol smiling to herself in a pleased manner, like she’s happy Se Joo did that. Headdesk. :/
As a silver lining, Se Joo does become much more encouraging towards Seol as we progress deeper into the episodes. In particular, I like Se Joo’s interpretation of their past lives and how it flows into this life, in episode 11; that because she couldn’t protect him before, she will protect him now; that because he couldn’t love her freely before, he is going to love her freely now. That’s a lovely sentiment, and there’s also a touch of poetic justice built into it, which I like.
Another silver lining, is that Yoo Ah In can deliver a very sensuous onscreen kiss, and he proves that a couple of times during the course of our story, heh.
The 1930s loveline
Comparatively speaking, I did feel more interested in the loveline between Hui Yeong and Soo Hyun, even though this loveline has a much more poignant tone.
Although we are given to believe that Hui Yeong is secretly in love with Soo Hyun, and is masking his feelings with a facade persona that is cool and almost cold in his calculatedness, it still disturbed me to hear him say things like Soo Hyun will get caught at some point and tortured, and that is why she must never know that he is the head of the organization. He’s also generally rather cruel to her, when she approaches him and tries to get close, or questions whether he’s the one who saved her, and I feel like that cruelty is quite disturbing. At the same time, sometimes Hui Yeong appears tender, when he’s not with her, but thinking about her. This all added up to make me feel rather conflicted.
However, Show makes up for this, when we eventually see the depth of Hui Yeong’s care for Soo Hyun, when he eventually stays back to save her in episode 15, in spite of his strong principles.
I found the scene in episode 13, of Soo Hyun talking about what she hopes for Hui Yeong and herself in the next life, so full of pathos. They’ve put their personal feelings aside for good, and can only articulate a different hope for a next life that they don’t know for sure will come. The brushing of the backs of their hands feels so final, as Hui Yeong walks away, like it’s a final farewell, and this just got me right in the heart.
Even though Show has a fantasy premise that requires suspension of disbelief, there are still a bunch of instances where I felt like logic was stretched beyond what was reasonable. Here they are, for the record:
E2. It’s kind of weird that Se Joo drafts in longhand instead of typing everything directly into his laptop. I suppose it’s to make the scene possible, of Seol doing the typing for him, and him reveling in the immediate feedback of her reactions, but it’s still odd, and we don’t see him drafting in longhand for the rest of the show.
E3. The whole thing with Seol using the cone of shame on Se Joo is just bizarre. I get that she used to be a vet, but any amount of common sense would tell you that you don’t actually need to put a cone around a human’s head to prevent them from licking their wounds?
E8. There’s a logic error in the bit where Se Joo takes Gyun Woo to the vet, and then leaves. From Se Joo’s disgruntled expression, we’re able to deduce that Jin Oh is in Gyun Woo and just lapping up all the attention from everyone at the clinic. But, when they leave the clinic, Jin Oh appears by Se Joo’s side, but Gyun Woo is nowhere to be seen. Now, Jin Oh is supposed to be able to possess Gyun Woo, not take Gyun Woo’s form at will. This was a mistake.
E9. It’s quite a stretch that Soo Hyun would recognize Hui Yeong so easily, after covering the bottom half of his face with her hand. I mean, it’s been at least 6 years since the night he saved her, and she only saw him in the dimness of the moonlight, and for only a hasty quick moment at that. She must have a photographic memory, if she’s able to remember him so clearly after all this time.
E12. It’s a huge stretch, that Soo Hyun would be able to decipher the code on the newspaper, just because she saw the date, and that triggered her memory of the day’s events. Without knowing the code and how it’s deciphered, no one would be able to piece it together, because it’s made up of characters strewn throughout the article.
E12. I felt that I needed to suspend disbelief with the whole communicating by tapping on the champagne flute thing. I mean, yes, it works, but just minutes ago, Seol could see that Jin Oh could type on the typewriter, and that he can hold things, like the champagne flute. They could have communicated by him typing on the typewriter, or by writing down his responses with a pen.
But I get that Show wanted something simple, so that they’d eventually run out of things to talk about via this limited form of communication, so that when Se Joo tells Seol that he’s running late and can’t come back early, she would feel that it’s time to leave – which would then finally trigger Jin Oh to call her name, because he didn’t want her to leave, which would then cause her to be able to see him. So I get the mechanics of it, but I do think that the writing wasn’t especially smart in this instance, in terms of how to get us there.
E12. I get that it’s a great visual, but I don’t actually understand how this typing at three different machines at the same time thing works. How do they go from there, to one cohesive script?
A SPRINKLING OF HIGHLIGHTS [SPOILERS]
There are two particular things that I thought Show did very well, and I wanted to shine the spotlight on them, for a little bit.
E5. This ghost reveal is very well done. I like how Show builds up to it. We get little clues that make us question what we see, like Jin Oh’s consistent surprise that he’s been caught, and as that question of whether he’s a ghost builds in my mind, I start to pick up on little things, like how Jin Oh is not shown opening his own car door or unbuckling a seat belt. And then, the reporters looking befuddled when Se Joo indicates that the person next to him is his ghost writer, and then following Se Joo out of the room, leaving Jin Oh behind on stage, all alone. And then, finally, the reveal, as Se Joo looks back on the footage and realizes that there’s no one in the frame with him. Very nicely done.
E9. What an amazing scene, where Jin Oh stands and looks upon Gwanghwamun, the main gate of Gyeongbuk Palace, marveling that the Japanese General Government Building is gone, and then muses that it was worth giving their youth, that they’d won in the end. It’s a rare thing, to have a scene where it’s possible for a freedom fighter from way back when, have the opportunity to stand and actually witness the fruit of their labor. And then, to have Se Joo, representing the people of the present, having enjoyed the freedom that has been wrought with great price, thank him for fighting, just gives me chills. Wow.
A QUICK SPOTLIGHT ON THE PENULTIMATE EPISODE [SPOILERS]
Finally, we get an episode that’s almost solely focusing on the 1930s timeline, and it feels solid, cohesive and cogent. As hard to witness as some of the events are, I feel like everyone is acting in character.
I can believe that Madam Sophia would put her own son before her comrades, because blood is thicker than water. I can also believe that Soo Hyun would refuse to reveal that she knows the name of the leader, and would rather suffer torture or even death, than betray Hui Yeong. Hui Yeong refusing to allow personal emotions to get in the way, and leading by principle, makes a lot of sense too. I would believe that he would do that. In the same way, I totally understand why Yul would put himself in danger in order to save Soo Hyun; he’s just that kind of emotional guy with enough naiveté to believe that all he has to do is confess he’s the leader, and that will solve everything. And I can believe that he would sooner betray Hui Yeong’s name, than watch Soo Hyun get shot. And finally, I can totally believe that Hui Yeong would sooner kill himself, than allow himself to be captured.
The scene where Hui Yeong finally lets his emotions come through, and he thinks about Soo Hyun and cries a few tears, is really nicely done. It shows us, quickly but clearly, that Hui Yeong does feel deeply about her capture, despite his strong facade.
And finally, the goodbye scene, where a vision of Hui Yeong visits Soo Hyun to tell her that he loves her and is sorry for being mean to her, and that he promises to be the first to recognize her in their next life, is quite lovely. I would have preferred if he’d visited her as a ghost, ie, after the scene where he shot himself, and then vanished before her. That would’ve made more sense. But still, the scene was poignant for its honesty, long-awaited by Soo Hyun.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
What a finale, you guys. Given that my emotional engagement with these characters has been patchy over most of Show’s run, I am so pleasantly surprised at the heft of the emotional punch that this finale packs. Yes, it requires me to suspend disbelief at times, but for the sake of the feels that this finale gives me, I’m willing to close both eyes for a little bit.
We finally get the full picture of what happened around each of our protagonists’ deaths in the 1930s timeline, and there are two scenes that hit me most in the heart. The first one is of Yul reading Hui Yeong’s letter, where Hui Yeong thanks him for everything, and leaves him his most prized possessions, asking Yul to complete his novel for him, and requesting that they meet again, even if it’s in death.
It’s beautiful and poetic and so very bittersweet, that I can’t stop the lump in my throat, as Hui Yeong’s voiceover meshes with Yul’s tears.
“Please write our story in my place now. The story of us living on this land at that time. We lived diligently in the dark reality. How we hurt fiercely and hoped in desperation. How we found happiness within the danger. How we loved and fought with all our might.” … “If a god asks me if I was happy in this life, I’ll answer, I was happy because I met you guys. If a god tells me “Good job living a hard life.” “You lived it well.” and pat my shoulder, then I’ll ask for a favor. If I am to born again… I’ll ask to be with you guys again.”
Just, so much heart and poetry and pathos. Sob.
The other scene that gave me chills, is when Soo Hyun goes to kill Yul as an act of justice on behalf of the Alliance, and falters. It’s Yul who tells her to take Hui Yeong’s pocket watch, and it’s Yul who literally reaches out to steady her hand while she points the gun to his head, as he tells her again, not to be afraid of the rebound, and to keep her eye on her target.
When Soo Hyun asks if he has any last words, he softly asks that she execute him with her own hands, because he thinks that will give him peace. Augh. How heartbreaking, that Yul is so broken by his actions, that his conscience is so seared, by how he ended up betraying Hui Yeong. Soo Hyun steels herself to pull the trigger, and as Yul bleeds out over the typewriter, she collapses onto her knees as she weeps.
How completely heartbreaking. My heart.
At the same time, the thing that I love the most in terms of how this is all handled in the present, is that it’s all about forgiveness and release. Se Joo assures Jin Oh that even in Hui Yeong’s final moments, even though he knew that Yul had given away his identity and location, he didn’t blame him and only continued to fully trust him. And Jin Oh assures a sorry Seol that Soo Hyun only did what she had to do, and that it’s not her fault, while Seol assures a regretful Jin Oh that Soo Hyun knew that Yul’s betrayal was his way of saving her. It’s wave after wave of healing and release for our characters, and I love that they are literally setting one another free, of the guilt and condemnation that they’ve lived with all this time. It’s beautiful and freeing, and I love it.
In terms of what I wanted done differently in the 1930s timeline, I was a little underwhelmed by how Soo Hyun’s death is handled. We see her walk to the top of a hill, pale and exhausted, where she sees a second vision of Hui Yeong. She expresses that she wants to leave with him, but he tells her that she should stay alive, so that she can see the liberated Joseon they’ve been fighting for. She tells him that she wants to, but is too tired, and then she leans on the tree, closes her eyes and we see Hui Yeong’s pocket watch fall from her hand. I felt that was rather anticlimactic, to be honest.
I thought it would’ve been more powerful narratively, if Soo Hyun had killed herself, to be honest. I sound really bloodthirsty in saying that, but in my mind, Soo Hyun never wanted to kill Yul, and taking his life, killed her on the inside, even though it was something that he felt that she should do. Plus, she was also so torn up about being the indirect cause of Hui Yeong’s death, that I feel that she would have decided to kill herself, to join her comrades in the afterlife. I would rather have had her stand on that hilltop, looking over Joseon, and telling Joseon, “I want to be able to see you liberated, and I have fought for your freedom with my life, but now, I will continue to watch over you in death,” before pulling the trigger on herself. And then as she bleeds out, it would’ve been a great time for her to have her final conversation with Hui Yeong’s ghost, while Yul’s ghost watches from afar, too guilty to go near.
I mean. Wouldn’t that have been a pretty appropriate, narratively sound yet powerful way to wrap up the story of our 1930s trio?
Back in the present, it squeezed my heart so, to see Jin Oh literally pour himself out to practically the very last drop, in order to fulfill the promises he’s made to Hui Yeong, and to pay the penance which he feels he ought to pay. He literally gives no thought to his own wellbeing, as he presses on to complete the novel, despite his own worsening condition, as the lesions on his body increase and threaten to shatter him forever. That complete dedication of himself moved me so much.
And I love that when Jin Oh has finished writing Hui Yeong’s novel, Se Joo asks him to make a new promise, that he will stay with Se Joo until their story – Han Se Joo and Oh Jin Oh’s novel – is complete. I love that Se Joo has grown to love Jin Oh this much, that he would search for any way to save his friend, even write a novel in which he hopes Jin Oh will trap himself, until they are able to meet again.
My heart squeezed again at the scene where the trio go fishing, and Se Joo starts to thank Jin Oh for all that he’s done – and Jin Oh disappears before Se Joo has finished speaking. Ack. I literally thought that was the end, for Jin Oh; that he’d finally succumbed to the lesions and dissolved forever.
But, Show comes back with a one-two punch that feels so surprising and gratifying and satisfying, that I feel ready to forgive Show all of its faults prior.
We see Se Joo successfully launch his new novel amid praise and adulation from fans and media, and we see him give a heartfelt tribute to Jin Oh, whom he calls his muse, a ghost, and his friend. Afterwards, we see Se Joo and Seol wonder how Jin Oh is doing, which is when we cut to a scene at Carpe Diem, where Hui Yeong finishes his novel and refuses to let Soo Hyun read the ending as she asks. And that’s when we see Jin Oh walk in, saying that independence would surely come, and that he’d dreamed a dream of them living happily in a liberated Joseon.
Then, as Jin Oh muses with a quiet smile and his hands in his pockets, he discovers the photograph that he’d taken before with Se Joo and Seol, in front of the main gate of Gyeongbuk Palace. And this time, in this space, he’s visible in the picture. He continues his musing in voiceover: “The dream of me being there with you guys for a short while. And the hope… of being with you guys again someday.”
Augh. AUGH. I loves it.
To be honest, it took me more than a long minute to realize that Jin Oh made it safely into Se Joo’s novel. Because every time we’d seen Carpe Diem in the past, it’d been in the context of what really happened in the 1930s, I immediately assumed that somehow Jin Oh had time-traveled back to the 1930s, and had somehow brought the photograph with him. But that was so off the mark, ha. I should’ve clued in much earlier to the fact that this wasn’t the real 1930s timeline, because in the real 1930s timeline, Hui Yeong never finished the novel and that’s why he’d asked Yul to finish it for him, whereas here, in this world, Hui Yeong finishes the novel. Way to ignore the biggest clue of all, Past Me. D’oh!
First of all, YAY that Jin Oh doesn’t shatter into smithereens. And YAY that I was wrong, and he didn’t actually time-travel to the 1930s, coz that would’ve been so illogical. And most of all, YAY that Jin Oh’s safe place, where he’ll stay and hide away, is a world that feels like home to him, where he will be with Hui Yeong and Soo Hyun, for as long as it takes, until there’s a chance for him to see Se Joo and Seol again.
That just leaves my heart so full. <3 Nicely done, writer-nim. Nicely done.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
A somewhat uneven ride, but the fresh concept and the eventual emotional payoff makes it more than worthwhile.
FINAL GRADE: B++