THE SHORT VERDICT:
Betrayal, revenge and dysfunction are the key words that this show seems to be live by; all the characters in this drama world are painted in suspicious shades of gray, as they seek to outwit and outdo one another, for their own purposes.
This is definitely not the show for you, if you’re looking for sweet romance. But, if you find yourself in the mood for hyperbolic animosity, or, if you’re willing to take a walk on the dark side to see the fantastic performances of the actors – especially Kim Hee Ae, who is magnificent in this – then this show is a wild rollercoaster of a ride that should keep you on the edge of your seat.
Definitely not suitable as a drama nightcap, hur.
THE LONG VERDICT:
It occurs to me that my experience of watching this show isn’t all that different from my experience watching SKY Castle – which, incidentally, is the very drama that this show dethroned, as the drama with the highest viewership ratings ever achieved by any drama in Korean cable network history.
As with SKY Castle, I went into this one because of the high ratings and the buzz, and as with SKY Castle, I was sucked in for the bulk of my watch. Also as with SKY Castle, I found the ending a little underwhelming compared to the rest of the drama.
But, when all is said and done, again, as with SKY Castle, I found that this was still a solid watch, nonetheless.
Some management of expectations is key, so I’ll talk about that next.
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
Here’s the OST album, in case you’d like to listen to the soundtrack as you read the review.
On the whole, I found the OST very effective. It was immersive, very astutely applied, and worked consistently to lift the watch to another level. Sometimes, I almost found it a bit much, because of how much tension I was already absorbing from the drama, but never let it be said that this OST was not effective.
I think it’s important to know that the reason people were glued to this show while it was airing, is certainly not for the reasons that drama fans typically like dramas.
There is no pure, fated, enduring love on display here; only deep and widespread dysfunction, violation of body, mind and soul, and people destroying each other and themselves, in their quest to achieve what they think they want. It doesn’t make you feel good, to watch this; it doesn’t give you hope, to watch this; it just makes you feel like pretty much everyone and everything is distasteful, if you dig deep enough.
Love it or hate it, this show leans crazy, dysfunctional and intense, and is immediately compelling.
Right away from episode 1, it reminds me a lot of how VIP started out, with us vicariously exploring the mystery of who’s engaging in the affair with our female lead’s cheating husband. Except, this show seems to throw down the gauntlet and amp up the drama in a way that makes me think that they’re taking the scale on which VIP did pretty solidly, destroying it, and then doubling it, with plans to smash that new limit too.
Meaning to say, if you’re planning to watch this one, be prepared to buckle in for one heck of a ride.
Like I said, there is no pure, everlasting love on offer in this drama world. What Show does give audiences, is what feels like a solid and deftly told story, and I do think that that’s part of Show’s appeal. And there’re also the excellent performances by the actors. Everyone does a great job, even the ones playing the biggest douchebags.
The plotting and pacing of this show is very western, especially with all the deep dysfunction and the constant shock factor. Show definitely feels foreign in flavor, which is not surprising, since its source material is Western in nature. But our story and characters have been infused with Korean societal values, and I think that juxtaposition and contrast – that tension between the dysfunction and the values – is what makes this uniquely compelling.
The experience of watching this show can often feel like that of watching a whodunnit, coz Stuff happens, and often, and most of the time, we are as clueless as our characters, in terms of who’s behind the Stuff, and it becomes a tense mystery that we try to solve, even as the plot rolls right along, and serves up More Stuff, often with More Mystery. It’s not a relaxing watch, but one certainly wouldn’t find it boring, I think.
There’s a consistent sense of morbid fascination for me, as I watch this show, like I’m watching a train-wreck in slow motion. We see our characters engage in all kinds of terrible behavior, and hurting each other in deliberate and cruel ways as if in a twisted pantomime.
I feel like I’m quite a neutral viewer, in that I don’t consider cheating a personal trigger, but even then, I feel like this show leaves a dark, oily aftertaste that I don’t fancy that much. It’s not pretty, and yet, I can’t look away.
For the record, I think this is all fine as a novelty, but if kdramas were to become more like this, in an effort to gain similar high ratings, that would be a sad thing for drama fans who love kdramas for being the opposite of this.
Show’s overall execution and handling is excellent, with high production values and thoughtful, keen directing. The music in particular, like I mentioned earlier, is applied really well, to amplify the watch experience. In this section, I just wanted to highlight the pacing and the immersion.
One of the things that makes this show so riveting, I think, is that it moves faster and farther than I expect it to.
[SPOILER] Sun Woo (Kim Hee Ae) discovers the truth of the affair, and the identity of the girlfriend, within our first episode. And within our second episode, we discover the girlfriend is pregnant. [END SPOILER] That would usually take the average kdrama about half its episodes, but this show blows through those plot points within its first 2 episodes.
Very quickly, I get the sense that Show plans to travel a longer, bigger route than most of its cousins, and is confident of making the journey. And Show lives up to its promise.
Show keeps up an intense pace for much of its run, and plot points are served up thick and fast, so much so that it feels like I’m on a rollercoaster, just hanging on for dear life, as Show forges ahead on its steep climb.
Another thing that stands out to me about my watch, is how immersive this show tends to feel.
Watching each episode feels like being sucked into a vortex of emotions; the same vortex of emotions that Sun Woo goes through; every new revelation as piercing to us, as it is to her, thanks to Kim Hee Ae’s all-in, compelling delivery, combined with the very astutely selected and applied music, that pulses, builds, and then swirls into what feels like every corner of this drama world. It’s awful and shocking to see how bad our characters can be, and yet, I feel like I can’t look away.
[SPOILER] As an example, Sun Woo’s anxiety attack in episode 3, upon leaving the lawyer’s office, is really well done. The swirling of the sounds around her; the pulsing music slowly pushing towards its crescendo; things going in and out of focus; Sun Woo’s bewilderment; it really feels like we’re experiencing that anxiety attack along with her. [END SPOILER]
Very nicely done.
Kim Hee Ae as Sun Woo
It only takes a few minutes, from the time we meet her, to realize that Sun Woo manages to be quite the perfect superwoman. She does a great job, living up to any and all expectations of a perfect wife and mother – she’s successful and beautiful, takes care to keep a lovely house, makes dinner regularly, is caring and loving to both her husband and her son – and yet, her husband cheats on her. (Not a spoiler, since that’s basically the premise of our entire show.)
I feel like that’s a sobering – yet, in a slightly warped manner of speaking, also quite a vindicating – statement to women everywhere: essentially, that it’s not your fault, if your husband cheats on you. You could be the perfect woman who does everything right, and it wouldn’t be enough to keep the attention of a cheating husband.
Kim Hee Ae blew me away with her fantastic performance in Secret Love Affair, which I’d thought was iconic. But, watching her here, I feel like she completely outdoes herself in this role.
Kim Hee Ae’s performance in this, is a real tour de force.
Sun Woo’s in a very complicated situation, and feeling very complicated feelings, and constantly facing complicated, mounting new information, to the point where it feels like she might break down or explode, and yet, she holds it together – even though sometimes it looks like she’s just managing, barely – and all of that effort and tension and fragility and brokenness and strength is expressed in her eyes, her face, and her entire body.
It’s heartbreaking and breathtaking in one, to witness, and even though I found this show a darker and harder watch than I usually gravitate to, it was well worth it, to be able to see Kim Hee Ae be the most amazing I’ve ever seen her, in this.
E2. While a part of me kinda wishes that Sun Woo really had plunged that pair of scissors into Tae Oh’s (Park Hae Joon) chest, I’m realizing that that doesn’t become her. She’s stronger than that, and has a greater ability to think clearly than the average woman, in such world-tilting circumstances.
It’s awful that her husband is cheating on her, and it kills her that he’s been doing it in such a systemic way. But she also realizes that she needs to think about her son, and that she needs time to think and figure things out. Even though I balked at her decision to kiss Tae Oh, when she’d actually wanted to stab him, I see the territorial claim that that kiss was meant to be. That was her statement to Da Kyung (Han So Hee): this man is mine; I can kiss him openly; you can’t.
E2. The way Sun Woo gets Hyun Seo (Sim Eun Woo) out of the apartment where her boyfriend (Lee Hak Joo) is abusing her, is so badass. She’s fully in control, doesn’t let him intimidate her, and doesn’t allow his taunts to land with any kind of weight. I love the way she defends Hyun Seo and herself, when the abusive boyfriend tries to get violent; the way she slams the door on his arm, causing him to crumple to the floor, is so coolly, sharply badass. Wow this woman is strong. I want her to show this kind of strength to Tae Oh.
E3. I can feel Sun Woo’s sense that she’s basically losing her mind. The way she drives over to Tae Oh’s office, blinded by thoughts of him getting it on with Da Kyung, driven by the urgency of getting evidence for her divorce suit, is so immersive and consuming. I can feel her world tilting around her, and, complete credit to Kim Hee Ae, I feel like Sun Woo is barely – just barely – holding it together. The shock in her eyes, as she comes to, seeing Tae Oh surrounded by colleagues in the office instead of in Da Kyung’s arms, is palpable.
E4. I have to say, I’m kinda taken aback at how far Sun Woo is willing to go, to get what she’s decided she wants: a divorce, custody of Joon Young (Jeon Jin Seo), and her house. First of all, she’s nauseated by the memory of Tae Oh kissing Da Kyung in the car at his mother’s funeral, and yet, with her lawyer’s advice ringing in her ears, that she mustn’t let Tae Oh catch on that she’s moving towards divorce, she swallows the distaste and the humiliation, and kisses him, with the likely intent of sleeping with him if necessary – except that she’s saved by an incoming call from Hyun Seo.
More than that, I’m very surprised that she took Je Hyuk (Kim Young Min) up on his offer to drink with her, and not only that, goes to the hotel room when he offers it. I kept waiting for her to push him away – and she did push him away, just.. not in the way I’d expected. In pushing Je Hyuk away, Sun Woo establishes that she’s in control of this tryst, and she’s going to call the shots, and it’s all going to go down as she dictates it, and Je Hyuk’s open-mouthed wonder and awe is really quite perfect.
The way Show then does the reveal, that Sun Woo is using this tryst to blackmail Je Hyuk for information on Tae Oh, is wonderfully juxtaposed with the advice that Sun Woo’s troubled patient had given her: “you shouldn’t try to do this alone; you should get the help of a professional.” How ironic, that the professional she chose, is Tae Oh’s accountant. Ha.
I’m.. honestly not sure how I feel about Sun Woo, at the moment. I’d been inclined to see her as the good guy, since Tae Oh was the bad guy who’s cheating on her, but I have to confess that it’s quite startling to realize that she can play as dirty as her adversaries. I get that she wouldn’t do this, if unprovoked, and I also understand that she feels trapped and without a lot of options; it’s just.. a bit of an adjustment, to realize that our protagonist is capable of being as morally grey as the scum that’s threatening to ruin her life.
E4. I appreciate Sun Woo staking her claim on her husband, by inviting Da Kyung’s family to join them at dinner, and then trotting out their family bliss for show. How completely unlikely, though, that a top tier restaurant would be able to squeeze 6 people into a reservation for 3.
E5. It feels like Sun Woo is slowly unraveling, but it also feels like she’s got a surprisingly (relatively) firm hold of the situation, even as it spirals. The way she makes up a lie to plausibly answer for why she was in a hotel room for a night, is smooth as butter, and Tae Oh, disgruntled and suspicious, can’t find any fault with her story.
Sun Woo also doesn’t even flinch, when Ye Rim (Park Sun Young) asks to meet her and tests the waters by asking how things are with Tae Oh. In fact, Sun Woo is the one who brings up the fact that she saw Ye Rim at the carpark, after visiting Je Hyuk’s office – and then she assures Ye Rim that if there’s any goings-on that Ye Rim needs to know about, that she’ll be the first to let her know. AND THEN SHE DOES, by planting Ye Rim right in the hotel room where Je Hyuk’s headed, thinking he’s going to bed Sun Woo again.
E5. And then there’s the way Sun Woo basically takes Tae Oh to Da Kyung’s parents’ house to lay everything out, come hell or high water. She doesn’t even flinch, when Da Kyung hits her in a fit of anger. She keeps her unruffled demeanor throughout, and even thanks Mrs. Chairman (Kim Sun Kyung) for the meal. That’s impressive.
E6. While Show led us to believe that Sun Woo maybe-possibly killed Joon Young by accident, it’s clear that she was baiting Tae Oh with that false information, in order to galvanize him into violence. She basically put her life on the line, to get damning evidence against Tae Oh. It was a huge risk, since she could’ve literally been mortally wounded and lost her life, and I think that’s just how much she wanted Joon Young with her. I guess she wasn’t exaggerating when she said that she’d die, if Joon Young went to live with his father. She would rather die than lose him, and she proved that with her gamble.
It’s shocking to me, though, that she’d gamble on her life like that; her head injuries looked awful and scary, which, I suppose, is what she wanted and needed, because the sight of her lying in her own blood is what causes Joon Young to turn his back on the father he’d tried to go to, and choose her instead. And it’s also what gives her custody of Joon Young, while Tae Oh is given a restraining order.
E7. Sun Woo is in a highly uncomfortable situation. Everyone around her is lying to her in order to go to the party, and they’re gossiping about her pretty much right to her face, too. When she shows up at the party to get Joon Young, everyone just watches her like she’s some kind of bizarre circus act. There’s no compassion or sympathy, only disdain and pity. It’s repulsive.
Kim Hee Ae is killing it, though, with her delivery of Sun Woo’s increasing discomfort and shock. It looks like she’s really just barely holding it together, like she might literally lose her mind if provoked just a little bit more, especially when she questions Joon Young about whether he’s embarrassed of her, and lying to her about the party. Joon Young has been her world for the last 2 years, and now that he’s demonstrating that he’s not as willing to be on her side as she’d thought, I feel like Sun Woo will take it very hard.
E8. Through all of this, I do feel sorry for Sun Woo. She’s trying so hard to put up a brave front, but there is so much to be afraid of, in her world. Not only are her job and her safety in question, she’s terrified of losing Joon Young, who seems to be drifting further and further away from her.
Kim Hee Ae kills it, so consistently, in showing us Sun Woo’s complicated emotional landscape. That scene where Dr. Kim (Lee Moo Saeng) tells her why Joon Young blames himself for the divorce, and she starts to cry, there is so much expressed in her shifting expressions, beyond the words that she says. There’s shock, incredulity, realization, confusion, sorrow, self-blame, and an overarching sense of lostness, written on her face in a mesh of emotions, and it’s brilliantly expressed.
E10. Ye Rim’s statement, that Sun Woo choosing to stay on in Gosan despite everything that Tae Oh is doing is also a kind of obsession, might be true. But I don’t think that it’s an obsession with Tae Oh, because, blech.
If it’s an obsession, I see it as an obsession with not wanting to lose to Tae Oh. That, I can understand. Tae Oh was a lying cheating husband, and when she’d gotten her divorce and he’d left, Sun Woo’s life was finally reaching some form of normalcy; normalcy that was hard-earned too, since Sun Woo had had to bear all the gossip with a smile. And now, Tae Oh shows up toting his new family and supposed new wealth and success, and just demands that she leave everything that she’s worked hard to rebuild? I would be offended too, and I wouldn’t want to back down because of his threats.
It probably would be easier for Sun Woo to uproot herself and make a new life elsewhere, but that would mean bowing to Tae Oh’s demands, and who is he to tell her where she can and can’t live? I can see why Sun Woo would fight for her right to stay.
E14. This episode, we see Sun Woo unraveling to her lowest point; everything’s been weighing on her so much, that it finally comes into focus that she’s been underperforming at work, and she tenders her resignation as penance, and then disappears. She visits Dr. Ma (Park Choong Sun), and as she ponders over how she’s failed at protecting everything she’s worked to protect, she finally arrive at the conclusion that everyone would be better off if she disappeared.
That scene, where Sun Woo makes the decision to end her life, is quite surreal to behold. She looks peaceful and relieved, and as she embraces the crashing waves that soon overcome her, she smiles with tearful release, and relaxes into the water. It’s presented as an almost beautiful moment, but it’s truly tragic that a woman who had been dedicating herself so fully to being the perfect wife, mother and doctor, would now feel hopeless enough, and useless enough, and at the end of her rope enough, to feel that taking her life is the best course of action.
Park Hae Joon as Tae Oh
For the record, I think Park Hae Joon does a really good job portraying Tae Oh.
Also for the record, I think Tae Oh is a pretty awful character, and he keeps proving his awfulness – and exceeding previously set bars of his awfulness – over and over again, during our story, so much so that I found it hard to feel any sympathy for him, even when his character was feeling down and desperate.
On hindsight, I think Show does attempt to give Tae Oh a bit of a redemption arc by the end, but to my eyes, it was rather too little, too late. In our story world, so much (literally almost all) of our characters’ suffering boils down to Tae Oh’s cyclical, poor decision-making. I guess this is an example of what can happen, when you allow your baser instincts to take over your decision-making, over and over again.
This also means that I found myself growing more and more disdainful of Park Hae Joon’s very presence on my screen, heh. I guess it’s not his fault that he’s such a good actor?
E1. It’s disturbing that Tae Oh’s not just cheating on his wife, but has set up an entire system to allow him to do so. He has that daily window of time between work and the alleged time he gets home from work, to mess around, and he’s got a spy (or spies?) in place to help ensure he doesn’t get caught. He’s got a secret compartment in the boot of his car, with a bag of supplies, including condoms and spare pairs of underwear. It’s so meticulous, and that’s what makes it extra sickening. He’s put thought into how to hurt his wife.
E3. The way he tells Myung Sook (Chae Gook Hee) that his love for each woman is of a different color, and he is sincere to them both, and that Myung Sook can’t understand unless she’s in his position, is so self-righteous. He’s talking with the assumption that he’s right, and it’s just that – poor him – nobody is able to understand him, because he’s in such a unique and complex situation. It doesn’t sound like he has any awareness that what he’s doing is just not right.
E3. Tae Oh using the same words and moves to woo both Sun Woo and Da Kyung, makes his claim – that both women are so special to him, and that his love for them are of different colors – so ludicrous. If each woman is so special to him, then why couldn’t he be bothered to say and do something original for each of them, instead of rehashing old phrases, old moves, and even old songs? Pfft. I can’t roll my eyes hard enough.
E3. The wave of reveals that Sun Woo gets in this entire debacle, just doesn’t seem to let up. Not only has she learned that her husband is cheating on her, and with the daughter of his potential investor, no less, but that the affair has resulted in a pregnancy, now, she learns that he’s been seeing Da Kyung for two years, and has even promised Da Kyung that he’ll get a divorce in the next 2 months. Seriously. Tae Oh is scum. What does he expect to do, when the 2 months are up, and he’s still in love with both his women?
Plus, there’s the revelation that Tae Oh has taken a mortgage loan on the house, and even a policy loan in Joon Young’s name. After which, Sun Woo discovers that Tae Oh is dead broke, with just a few dollars in his bank accounts, and has basically spent all his money on Da Kyung. Does Tae Oh imagine that his house of cards will stay erect forever? Especially when he’s setting that house of cards on fire?
E3. Just when I think Tae Oh can’t sink any lower, he makes out with Da Kyung in the parking lot, during his own mother’s funeral. Even slimey Je Hyuk doesn’t think he would, but I guess Tae Oh’s one to surpass expectations?
E6. Tae Oh going to Sun Woo’s work place to air their dirty laundry and insinuate that she’s mentally unstable, in order to help with his custody fight, is such an ugly thing. I mean, he’s showing himself to be an awful person, and a particularly awful husband, so I’m not exactly surprised, but the bad taste it leaves in my mouth is not reduced by that knowledge. I’ve heard of custody battles getting really ugly, and it’s true that people show their true colors under pressure, but Tae Oh’s true colors are extra depressing and ugly, and I was glad when Sun Woo slapped him, hard. He was out of line.
E7. At first, I’d thought that Tae Oh was simply plotting to make a Big Statement to Sun Woo, about how successful he is, without her, and how blissful his life is, now that she’s not in it. But really, Tae Oh’s back for revenge for what Sun Woo did to him, and this is starting to feel like an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and an arm for an arm, until we’re all blind, toothless and limbless piles of broken bones.
E7. Tae Oh is as vile as ever. He’s so calculative. When he’s kissing Da Kyung, he’s watching Sun Woo – whom he’s totally baited, to get her to show up – to clock her reaction, and when Sun Woo’s no longer in sight, he seems to lose a significant chunk of interest in playing the perfect romantic husband.
And then later in the episode, he tells Da Kyung that if she’s not comfortable with it, he’ll give up the idea of giving Joon Young a room in their house, which makes Da Kyung really happy. But he only says it because he’s already seen the baseball bat the Joon Young left behind, and understands that it signifies Joon Young’s rejection of his offer, and so he capitalizes on it, by buying brownie points from Da Kyung. And now, he’s going to not only send a mystery man to threaten her at home, but he’s also going to pressure the hospital to fire Sun Woo, because of the promise of a donation? Wow. Seriously, how low can he go?
E8. As expected, Tae Oh isn’t as successful as he appears to be. Sure, his movie has done well, but he has no real power; Da Kyung’s dad (Lee Kyung Young) is the one who makes the real decisions and holds the purse strings. As Chairman Dad puts it, he only gave Tae Oh a title.
E9. I know it’s probably quite childish of me, but I got some satisfaction watching Tae Oh and Je Hyuk brawl it out at the bar. They’re so undignified and so stupidly competitive with their male egos, that I felt they both deserved a good beating. That they both got a beating, without having to sully another pair of hands, is quite satisfying, to me.
We do get a moment of truth from Tae Oh, though, when, post-brawl, he tells Je Hyuk to get it together, because getting divorced isn’t worth it. I guess deep down, he doesn’t think he actually did the right thing.
E9. I have to admit, I hope that Tae Oh’s connection with Psycho Park In Kyu (Lee Hak Joo) will come back to bite him, and hard. I mean, he clearly had no idea what he was dealing with, thinking that Psycho would obediently toe the line and do what was asked of him, for the agreed price. Now that Psycho’s kind of got it out for Tae Oh, I’m kind of glad – except that this also means that Sun Woo and Joon Young are in danger, for which I’m decidedly not glad. Trust Tae Oh to endanger everyone, because of his petty pride.
E10. This episode, I wasn’t able to guess who was behind outing Je Hyuk and his affair to Ye Rim, until Show serves up Tae Oh looking evil and smug, after an “innocent” phone call to Je Hyuk. Dang. Tae Oh’s out for revenge alright. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, since he’s in such a vengeful mode, that it’d be more surprising if he forgot that Je Hyuk slept with Sun Woo and betrayed him by giving Sun Woo confidential information.
I think I’d just gotten so distracted with Tae Oh’s obsessive revenge efforts with Sun Woo, that I forgot to think about who else he’d want to exact revenge on. Also, Tae Oh’s appeared so obsessed with his revenge on Sun Woo, that I really didn’t think that he had any bandwidth left, to think about anyone else. Looks like I don’t think very highly of Tae Oh’s mental capacity, hur.
E10. Tae Oh really seems to be spinning out of control. He’s got Psycho threatening him, and he’s having to cough up more money than he’d bargained for, AND he’s getting angrier and angrier about it, so he really feels like a wild card right now. Plus, he doesn’t seem to be very smart about things, so I can’t even predict what he’d do, since common sense doesn’t seem to be something he possesses in any significant amount.
I hate that he barges into Sun Woo’s home as if he has a right to be there, and even gets physically rough with her, as he threaten-pleads with her to leave Gosan – or he doesn’t know what he’d do. Ugh. What a delusional, entitled jerk.
E14. Tae Oh’s desperation and worry at Sun Woo’s disappearance is natural, but it also functions as a stark contrast to how resolutely he’d been working to push her out of her job and out of Gosan. It’s like he never once stopped to think of what his actions might do to her – like she had no feelings – until she came to the end of her rope and was in actual danger of losing her life.
And then, all the regret and concern comes flooding to the surface, and he’s yelling at people asking where she is, and driving over to where she is, in a panic. Ugh. If he’d only stopped to consider his own actions before he’d embarked on his mission to get rid of her, she would’ve never gotten to this point, where she’s lost everything that’s important to her, and feels like her existence is a burden. I hope this realization haunts him, and haunts him hard.
Han So Hee as Da Kyung
As The Other Woman in an otherwise picture-perfect marriage, Da Kyung is the kind of character that you love to hate. And, I have to say, Han So Hee does an excellent job of making Da Kyung hateful, when the situation calls for it. Her smug smirk and her disdainful sneer are perfect triggers for those of use who have a weakness for throwing stuff at our screens, ha.
At the same time, credit to Ha So Hee, for making Da Kyung’s more vulnerable moments feel real and raw as well, so much so that I actually felt sorry for her at times, even though I might’ve felt aggravated by her not long before. That takes quite a bit of skill, and Ha So Hee toggles both ends of the spectrum with apparent ease.
I appreciate that Show takes pains to paint Da Kyung as a character with more layers to her, than simply being the third wheel in a marriage. However, I have to admit that there were occasions when I kind of wished that Show would utilize her more, or make her more interesting than it did. I feel like Da Kyung would have been way more interesting as a stronger character than she was allowed to be.
E4. I actually feel slightly sorry for Da Kyung, because the vulnerability and hopelessness she shows when Hyun Seo visits her, feels real. She didn’t bargain on being in this position, and her bravado is proving quite worthless, and the man who’s promised to marry her, is totally dragging his feet about telling his wife, let alone divorcing her.
E9. I rather enjoy the fact that Da Kyung is unsettled enough by Sun Woo’s words, that she actually opens her eyes to see Tae Oh more clearly, and be more suspicious of his movements. That moment in the restaurant, when she clocks how Tae Oh can’t stop looking at Sun Woo, and the disappointment and dawning realization registers in her eyes, is nicely done. I even felt a little sorry for her, in that moment, because that’s when her illusion of having married the almost perfect husband starts to fall apart.
E11. Da Kyung’s piecing things together, and coming to the conclusion that Tae Oh was way more involved with Psycho than he’d admitted. I’d hoped that she would show up as a stronger player in this dysfunctional game of survival, but she’s basically only bursting into tears at Tae Oh. I’m rather disappointed, coz this makes her uninteresting.
E13. This episode is mostly dedicated to Joon Young acting out, culminating in his fight with Hae Kang. Sun Woo is humiliated, snubbed even though she kneels in apology, and Da Kyung comes out looking like the heroine who saves the day. However, Da Kyung’s the one who planted the idea in Joon Young’s head in the first place, that Sun Woo would probably be happier moving away. I’d hoped that that would come to light at some point, because Joon Young’s doing all sorts of hurtful stupid things, in his efforts to push Sun Woo away, but it seems that Da Kyung gets away with this little piece of sly maneuvering. Boo.
E13. I’d expected Da Kyung to be more suspicious of Tae Oh, since she has someone spying on him, and since we’d seen her entertaining troubling thoughts and emotions earlier in the show. But that all seems to have been put aside, so that she can rise up as the Evil Stepmother. I can’t decide whether this feels believable. My gut instinct is not pleased with the treatment of her character development.
Jeon Jin Seo as Joon Young
As the child caught between his estranged parents, Joon Young becomes bait, fodder, and trophy, depending on the circumstances, and what each of his parents is thinking, in the moment. It’s an unenviable position to be in, and it’s little wonder that Joon Young turns out to be a troubled kid with issues.
To be honest, I think I could – should – have cut Joon Young some slack, as I was watching. He’s just a kid, and he’s too immature to be dealing with big issues like parental separation and the machination and politics that arise from all of that.
In the heat of the moment, though, with plot points quickly reaching boiling point, I often chafed at Joon Young for making things even harder for Sun Woo, because things were already hard enough. I’m leaving my episodic thoughts intact, so that – full disclosure – you can see exactly how I felt about him, during my watch.
I can only say that it’s easier to feel more sympathy for him, with some distance and hindsight.
I do think that Jeon Jin Seo delivers a solid performance as Joon Young, and injects more nuance into Joon Young, than I originally gave him credit for.
E3. Joon Young is just a kid, and yet, he has the thoughtless audacity, to tell his mom that he wouldn’t like it, if she and Dad got a divorce. This, despite knowing that things are not going well between his parents, and that Mom seems deeply disturbed about it all. The fact that he says it so casually, as if he’s just musing aloud, when he’s been thinking about this and how it’s going to affect him, is just not cool. I guess I can put it down to the ignorance of youth, but it does not endear him to me. Especially when he can see that his mom is struggling.
E4. I legit hate that Joon Young was the one who took the footage of Tae Oh kissing Da Kyung at his birthday party. This means that he knew everything – down to who his father was cheating with – and YET, he still exerted pressure on his mother not to get a divorce. The selfish little brat.
E8. I don’t know how much I trust Joon Young. He is a young kid, sure, but he’s been wily enough, that I question whether he’s faking it at his therapy sessions.
E9. I know Joon Young is young and troubled, but I am not feeling much sympathy for him, the way he’s behaving. Not only is he stealing and playing truant, he lashes out at his mom, who has every right to be concerned. I get that this is how many teens behave, and I also get that he has no idea that Sun Woo’s received a threatening package regarding him, but.. I just really wish he wouldn’t add on to Sun Woo’s troubles right now.
E14. Joon Young also unravels to his lowest point; he tries to cooperate with Tae Oh and Da Kyung and go along with all their persuasive arguments that this is all for the best, but it all comes crumbling down, the moment Da Kyung reflexively looks to Joon Young as the culprit, when Jenny hurts herself while playing.
It says so much, that he breaks down on the over phone and asks Sun Woo to come and get him, and when she does, he basically runs out of the house as fast as he can, without any of his things, and not even wearing his shoes. That’s how desperate he is, to get away from Da Kyung and the rest of the suffocating house.
Lee Moo Saeng as Dr. Kim [SPOILERS]
From the moment he’s introduced, Dr. Kim appears to be the most neutral, blameless person in this drama world, but I remained cautious of him for almost the entirety of my watch.
Mostly, this was because of Show’s character; it just seemed naive to trust any character too much.
When we see in episode 9 that Dr. Kim is not only in contact with Chairman Yeo, but is giving his opinion on whether things are really over between Sun Woo and Tae Oh, I’d thought that Chairman Yeo had planted Dr. Kim as a mole, specifically to test this hypothesis, but it turns out that Dr. Kim really had just met Chairman Yeo serendipitously, in the golf club parking lot. HOWEVER. It still strikes me as highly unprofessional for Dr. Kim to be giving his opinion to Chairman Yeo like this, and I remained wary of him for most of the show.
Every time Dr. Kim gave Sun Woo an explanation for his odd behavior, I wasn’t sure how much to believe him. Like in episode 10, when Dr. Kim claims that he’s accepting the Associate Director position just to convince Chairman Yeo, and find out what he’s really thinking, so that he can protect Sun Woo. He tells Sun Woo that he cares; he tells Chairman Yeo that he doesn’t care. Both the writing and Lee Moo Saeng’s delivery make each option equally plausible.
I wanted to believe that Dr. Kim wasn’t faking his concern for Sun Woo, but in this drama world, with the way things are managed, I didn’t know what to believe anymore. Perhaps the writers never intended to make Dr. Kim an understandable character, and kept him ambiguous on purpose, but I think that writing decision made Dr. Kim an opaque character that was hard to get a handle on.
Great performance by Lee Moo Saeng, though. Despite the ambiguous characterization, I liked him better here than in One Spring Night.
Chae Gook Hee as Myung Sook [SPOILERS]
I really found Myung Sook perplexing, as a character. Her duplicity really bothered me, from beginning to end.
One minute she’d be swearing allegiance to Sun Woo, and the next, she would be demonstrating loyalty to Tae Oh, and on and on she goes, in this cycle of toggling between the two. At first, I wondered if she was loyal to Tae Oh because he had something over her, but ultimately, I concluded that Myung Sook’s just a terrible person after all.
In episode 7, Sun Woo calls out Myung Sook for her disloyalty, and yet, the morning after the party debacle, Myung Sook has the gall to approach Sun Woo and wheedle about whether Sun Woo is still mad at her. It blows my mind that someone would have the audacity to do this, and without even blinking, too.
It boggles my mind that she seems to think that Sun Woo should still treat her as a friend, after the multiple occasions when Myung Sook’s proven herself to be disloyal and two-faced. Her shocked I-can’t-believe-it sputtering reaction, when Sun Woo snubs her attempt to be friendly in the pantry / break room in episode 8, says it all.
Also in episode 8, I find Myung Sook’s overt efforts to angle her way to the Associate Director position, using the information about Sun Woo’s displacement to her advantage, really disgusting. To think that she can turn on a dime and still call herself Sun Woo’s friend – to Sun Woo’s face. Can you tell that I reallyreally dislike this woman?
Kim Young Min as Je Hyuk [SPOILERS]
Essentially, Je Hyuk, to my eyes, feels like a reprisal of Kim Young Min’s snooty, successful, cheating character in My Mister, but sprinkled with lashings of the dorkiness and naïveté of his character in Crash Landing On You.
Even though he’s slimey for regularly flirting with other women and cheating on his wife, he doesn’t come across as malicious. He’s selfish, twisted and self-serving, and insensitive and quite the bonehead, but he’s more incorrigible dumbass, than intentionally hurtful, I think. But perhaps it might be my leftover affection for Kim Young Min from CLOY talking.
At his worst, he’s creepy and aggressive, like when he was pursuing his crush on Sun Woo, in episode 3. I mean, not just getting out of bed to watch her sit in her car, in the middle of the night, but making an appointment to see her as a patient, so that he can 1, tell her she looks pale and thin and ask if she’s ok, and 2, offer himself as a drinking buddy? And what was that thing about telling Sun Woo that he feels uncomfortable getting a checkup at the hospital because he’d be naked under the gown, in front of her? That was definitely slimey and gross.
The fact that he is able to cheat on his wife, and also put on a big show of being a concerned husband, when he wants to, is also pretty awful, and puts him in a similar league as Tae Oh, who does the same thing.
However, Show does give Je Hyuk a redemption arc in its late stretch, and the reason I think this works better for me than Tae Oh’s turnaround, is that Show starts teasing this out earlier, so that we can actually see Je Hyuk work at things. To Kim Young Min’s credit, I actually believed Je Hyuk’s sincerity in wanting to change.
Park Sun Young as Ye Rim [SPOILERS]
With the benefit of hindsight, I think of Ye Rim as someone who’s repressed a lot of herself. She’s repressed her conscience, her unhappiness, and her own wants and desires, all in service of protecting the image that she believes she needs to project to the world: that of a contented married woman with a good marriage.
The reality, though, is that she’s far from contented, and her marriage is far from loving. And it feels like she continues to repress herself and force herself to adhere to a certain mold, until she reaches breaking point.
In episode 4, I was shocked to realize that Ye Rim’s been aware that Tae Oh’s been cheating on Sun Woo with Da Kyung. I’d thought that the cheating stuff was roundly kept from the wives, with the men using different cell phones and all. The fact that Ye Rim’s known all this time, and wasn’t saying anything to Sun Woo, was quite distasteful, I thought.
On hindsight, though, I feel like Ye Rim was probably keeping quiet about things and withholding that information from Sun Woo, in an attempt to preserve her own facade of a happy marriage, than to betray Sun Woo, since Je Hyuk was involved too.
Overall, I think that we do see Ye Rim wrestle with herself enough, and show up as a friend enough, to help me see her as a person who is more decent than not. Also, in the end, I’m satisfied with Ye Rim’s concluding arc, where she chooses liberty of heart and mind over everything else.
Sun Woo + Tae Oh
The relationship between Tae Oh and Sun Woo is one of the key focuses of our story, and.. it’s messy and complicated, to put it mildly.
What I’m impressed with, is how effortlessly Park Hae Joon and Kim Hee Ae channel their chemistry into the very different states of relationship that their characters go through. Whether they are portraying blissful happy days past, or antagonism, frustration or quasi-murderous intent, they make it work so believably. The sparks sizzle between them, morphing to match the context, and the air between Tae Oh and Sun Woo feels consistently loaded with underlying meaning.
E1. That recurring motif, of Tae Oh repeatedly dripping his mess – rainwater or food scraps and gravy – all over the beautifully neat and perfect home that his wife takes care to keep clean without seeming to take notice at all, of the mess he’s leaving behind, is so symbolic. He’s literally leaking his dirty second life all over this perfect life, without a thought about what this is doing to his wife.
E1. The fact that Tae Oh’s not doing well in his career is quite possibly a contributing factor, though there’s no excuse for the systematic cheating – or any kind of cheating – that he’s engaging in. He looks embarrassed telling Sun Woo that they can’t afford to make any mistakes in front of Chairman Yeo, and then he is humiliated when his efforts to engage Chairman Yeo are ignored. To make it worse, it’s only when Sun Woo steps in, that he gets some attention, as a spillover. I do think it’s very emasculating, so the cheating might be his way of feeling powerful, under the circumstances.
E2. I really hate that Tae Oh basically gaslights Sun Woo, when she finally confronts him about having another woman. Argh. That’s such an unfair, awful thing to do, to turn around and accuse her of being crazy and wasting a busy man’s time, when she’s literally spot-on right about him having an affair. It’s no wonder Sun Woo half lays on the counter and sob-laughs in disbelief.
I am mollified, though, that she doesn’t actually let it go, and only pretends to let it go. It seems like she’s decided she will torment him, since he’s decided to torment her. I have no idea how this is going to go, but the way she calls Myung Sook and instructs her to call Tae Oh with the news of Da Kyung’s pregnancy, and then positions herself so that she can watch him take the call and clock his reaction, is cold and calculated, and also, quite mesmerizing to watch.
E5. Tae Oh’s hypocrisy really comes to the forefront this episode. He’s ok with cheating on his wife, but the thought that she might cheat on him basically drives him crazy. That’s a big fat double standard right there. When he’s questioned by Myung Sook about his relationship with Da Kyung, he answers that they’ve broken up – BUT, he constantly texts Da Kyung to ask if they’re really broken up, and to please pick up her phone. He totally doesn’t want to be broken up from Da Kyung; he just used it as a convenient excuse, when his decency was questioned.
E5. Tae Oh taking Sun Woo to task for not paying enough attention to Joon Young, when he himself has been a lousy father, is just so hypocritical. Ugh.
E5. When he sees Sun Woo crumpled up on the floor, her whole body heaving with sobs, what does the husband who claims to love her do? He backs away, retreating back up the stairs, to leave her to her tears. How.. could he rationalize that to himself? I suppose it was his guilty conscience; he’s backing away because he suspects it’s about him, and he’d rather not stir what he sees as a hornet’s nest. Scum.
E5. Trust Tae Oh to come at Sun Woo asking why she’d made such a scene and ruined everything. No “I’m sorry” or “I am the scum of the earth;” only “you shouldn’t have done that” and “you ruined everything.” It’s no wonder Sun Woo informs him that she slept with Je Hyuk; it seems to be the only thing that pierces through his self-centered fog.
E6. Tae Oh is incredible, in terms of how self-righteous he is. After Sun Woo tells him everything he’s done wrong, he’s able to turn it all back on her, without blinking an eye, blaming her for being inconsiderate to their son, knowing how hard it is to grow up without a father. Um. If you’d felt that way, then why cheat on your family?
And then, without having ever apologized, he even rants at Sun Woo later, that he’s apologized “so many times,” what more does she expect from him? I’m so glad that Sun Woo informs him in no uncertain terms, that he has not apologized even once.
It’s quite mind-blowing to me though, that Tae Oh actually looks kind of shocked at that realization. Meaning, he genuinely thought he’d apologized. How blind and delusional.
E8. The way Tae Oh reacts when Sun Woo confronts him, at the end of the episode, is so bizarrely self-righteous.
“Haven’t you thought that you’re the one making [Joon Young] anxious? I hear you can’t sleep without drinking. What did you do… that a child worries about his mom? And now, you drag strange men into the house. And you didn’t even know Joon Young was getting therapy. Do you think… you’re qualified to be a mom?”
When he says, “Leave. And then it’ll all be over,” he’s pretty much admitting that he’s done all those terrible things, to force her hand.
E8. I know Sun Woo isn’t blameless either, considering how she manipulated things in order to gain custody of Joon Young and get a restraining order against Tae Oh, but, I do think that my sympathies are more with her. She might have framed Tae Oh, but she didn’t put Tae Oh in physical danger. In fact, she’d herself been seriously hurt, when she took that gamble.
And now, in Tae Oh’s scheme to get revenge on her, again, it’s Sun Woo who’s being put in actual danger of being seriously hurt, or worse, killed. That, plus how almost everyone seems to be turning their backs on Sun Woo, now that Tae Oh is back, makes her the sympathetic party in my eyes. Even if she were to be punished for the wrong that she did, this is way more sinister and cruel than is warranted, I think.
E12. I’d assumed that Sun Woo choosing to be Tae Oh’s made-up alibi, was to protect Joon Young from being labeled a murderer’s son, and even then it’d given me a bad taste in my mouth, to see her use the wedding ring – the very item that Hyun Seo had given her in confidence, saying that Sun Woo is the only person she can still trust in the world – to protect the very person that Hyun Seo was accusing. That was a doozy.
But, Show actually is serving up the idea that Sun Woo still does have feelings for Tae Oh, and therefore she protected him not just because of Joon Young.
E12. The idea of it being much more difficult than anticipated, to really extricate yourself from another person’s life, is touched on more than a few times this episode, and then culminates in Tae Oh aggressively seducing Sun Woo – thus sealing the idea that they are – and never were – severed from each other. I mean, I get it, but I don’t like it.
E12. I really hate the way Tae Oh frames everything as Sun Woo’s fault; that they wouldn’t be in the mess that they’re in, if she’d just forgiven him of the affair. Wow. What? How about saying instead, that they wouldn’t be in the mess they’re in, if he’d just not had an affair? UGH.
And when he yells that in this moment, Sun Woo really wants to be in his arms, and she does fall into a heated embrace with him, it just disappoints me greatly. I kinda get that they had a whole life together before it all fell apart, but seriously, I just want Sun Woo to move on. Sigh.
E13. Sun Woo’s voiceover at the beginning of the episode sums up just how convoluted and complex things are, between a divorced couple, especially when there’s a child involved.
“Was it just.. a familiar habit? Or was it an act of reconciliation.. that was aroused by pity? Was it an apology for condemning and hurting each other? Was it an act of regret for past decisions? Or.. was it a submission to impulsive desire.. due to loneliness?”
There are so many emotions and planes on which they’ve hurt each other, that it feels like every statement is at least a little bit true.
E13. Tae Oh seems to be feeling quite conflicted about the thought of Sun Woo leaving Gosan. Although he’d been working so hard to get her out of Gosan, now that they’ve had this reconnection via the unexpected tryst, and now that the prospect of her departure is becoming more concrete, he’s hedging. His question to her, about whether she’d reconsider if Joon Young isn’t for the idea, sounds less like he actually cares about what Joon Young thinks, and more like he hopes she won’t leave.
Tae Oh + Da Kyung [SPOILERS]
From the moment that we learn that Da Kyung is in an adulterous relationship with Tae Oh, I found their relationship sickeningly audacious.
In episode 2, I’m shocked that Tae Oh and Da Kyung actually hold hands – albeit surreptitiously – at the party. The gall. And right after Tae Oh had told Sun Woo in front of everyone, that he loves her. The gall of him, and the smug look on Da Kyung’s face, makes me want to smash their heads together. Grr. I’m even more appalled at how bold they are, to kiss at the party, while the rest of the group is within line of sight. It seems like anyone could have looked up and over, and seen them smooching.
I found it even more outrageous that in Show’s second act, they come back lauded and victorious, after leaving Gosan in humiliation.
But, the truism that a man who’s cheated once is likely to cheat again, comes back to haunt Da Kyung, and I took a good amount of satisfaction in watching Da Kyung’s trust of Tae Oh get eroded over time. Although I was frustrated with 1, Da Kyung’s repeated retreat into denial, in an effort to protect her picture-perfect life, and 2, Da Kyung’s manipulation of Tae Oh, Sun Woo and Joon Young, I’m satisfied that in the end, this marriage doesn’t last, and Tae Oh ends up losing everything.
Additionally, I actually liked the fact that Da Kyung upped and left, chose to pursue her lifelong dream of managing an art gallery, and didn’t look back. Where Sun Woo was unable to fully cut ties with Tae Oh because of their shared history and because of Joon Young, Da Kyung seems to take the vicarious lesson to heart, and appears focused and level-headed, and determined to move on. I rather liked that.
Sun Woo + Da Kyung [SPOILERS]
While Sun Woo and Da Kyung are positioned as adversaries “fighting” over the same man, I found it quite intriguing to see that they actually have more common ground than they’d like to think.
In episode, when Da Kyung goes to Sun Woo for a consultation, I find it interesting that each woman feels self-conscious in front of the other. In the bathroom, Da Kyung flashes back to how successful and confident Sun Woo is, while in the consultation room, Sun Woo flashes back to how young and pretty Da Kyung is.
How ironic, that both women seem to feel equally insecure while comparing themselves to each other. And what a telling statement that is, on how hard it is, to be a woman. When you’re successful at work, you feel inadequate for not having baby skin and thick, long beautiful hair. And when you’re young and beautiful, you feel inadequate for not being successful and poised in your career.
I also find it ironic that Sun Woo and Da Kyung want the exact same thing from Tae Oh; they want him to make a choice. Even though they are so different in temperament and character, they are identical on where they stand, on this point. And yet, this is the very point that Tae Oh is unable to move forward on.
Because of this, I’d had hopes that Sun Woo and Da Kyung might become allies at some point, joining forces against the poor excuse of a man that is Tae Oh. I thought that would’ve been a potentially interesting direction for our story, but Show doesn’t go there.
Like I mentioned earlier, I found Da Kyung’s denial frustrating to watch. However, I appreciate the significance of the fact that it is Sun Woo’s words that finally galvanize Da Kyung into seeing Tae Oh for who he really is. Without Sun Woo’s (admittedly selfish) intervention, Da Kyung might well have clung onto Tae Oh and their marriage for years, while their relationship deteriorated. Instead, because of Sun Woo, Da Kyung manages to cut away the rot in her life, and start afresh. There’s quite some ironic empowerment there, which I found interesting.
Ye Rim + Je Hyuk [SPOILERS]
I feel like with the inclusion of this couple, Show’s really trying to drive home the message that “men who want to cheat, will cheat.”
Unlike Tae Oh, who’s failing at his career and thus has to depend on Sun Woo to pay the bills and therefore feels emasculated (nothing excuses Tae Oh’s cheating, but I acknowledge this was a contributing factor), Je Hyuk’s the breadwinner in this relationship.
Maybe that gives Je Hyuk a power trip that makes him feel like he can get away with anything, when it comes to his wife. From being nonchalantly insulting to Ye Rim while complimenting Sun Woo, to his habit of sleeping around outside their marriage, Je Hyuk is a habitual liar and cheat whom Ye Rim puts up with, for the sake of maintaining appearances.
When Ye Rim catches him cheating yet again, after making promises to quit his cheating ways for good, she finally files for divorce, which is probably the best thing she’s done for herself in a long time.
Je Hyuk then doing everything in his power to grovel and woo her back, gives me mixed feelings. On the one hand, I find it rather satisfying to see the tables turned, with Ye Rim wielding emotional power in the relationship, finally. On the other hand, I feel like I can’t trust him to maintain his good behavior. He’s addicted to the rush that cheating gives him, and I strongly suspect that once the thrill of the chase is over, and he has Ye Rim back properly, that it’ll only be a matter of time before old problems surface again.
As it turns out, Ye Rim feels the exact same way, because she finds that she can’t trust Je Hyuk, even when their relationship is going well.
I think Ye Rim makes the right decision in divorcing Je Hyuk (again), after all. She’s clear that she does love him, but she’s also clear that her peace of mind and liberty of spirit is more important. I’m glad she recognizes that staying in the marriage with Je Hyuk will only destroy her spirit over time, because even if Je Hyuk, in his earnestness, manages to break his cycle of cheating (which is quite dubious, given his track record), the torture of living with constant suspicion, will eventually kill her.
Sun Woo + Myung Sook [SPOILERS]
I just wanted to state for the record, that I just cannot wrap my brain around how these two women can continue to be friends.
Myung Sook repeatedly betrays Sun Woo’s trust, not only in regularly defaulting to being Tae Oh’s spy, but she also outright schemes to oust Sun Woo from her Associate Director position, because she’s keen to take that position for herself.
Sun Woo calls her out on this behavior more than once, AND YET, these two women continue to be friends.
I just.. don’t understand.
I rationalize that this is peculiar to our dysfunctional, surreal drama world, and I also rationalize that Show didn’t want to introduce new characters to be our characters’ friends and so allows our characters to continue to be friends, even though there are multiple threads of betrayal between them.
On a related tangent, this is also true of Sun Woo’s friendship with Ye Rim. I can’t fathom how Ye Rim is still able to be friends with Sun Woo, and address her as “Unnie” and everything, after Sun Woo’s slept with her husband, and was a factor in the disintegration of their marriage. There’s a scene where Sun Woo sits with Je Hyuk and Ye Rim, and they all talk about the death at Gosan Station, and my brain is just going, “Is this for real? Can these people actually get along like this?”
Sun Woo + Hyun Seo [SPOILERS]
I liked the unexpected rogue partnership between Sun Woo and Hyun Seo. They live in such different worlds, but the commonality that they share – of both having rubbish men in their lives – gives them a sense of kinship that I had hopes would go deep.
Even in the midst of their business arrangement, where Sun Woo helps Hyun Seo with her prescription and expenses, in exchange for Hyun Seo’s help in tracking down information on Tae Oh’s affair, there’s a strong sense of personal concern, each for the other.
Hyun Seo never has to be coerced into the deal with Sun Woo; she’s the one who takes the initiative to offer herself as a resource, just in case. And Sun Woo, in turn, is genuinely concerned for Hyun Seo’s well-being, especially with Hyun Seo’s violent ex-boyfriend in the picture.
Even though Hyun Seo and Sun Woo aren’t exactly friends, they do seem to share a kinship, born of empathy around what it’s like to deal with an awful man. Hyun Seo trying to prevent Sun Woo from being seen by Psycho, and Sun Woo worrying about Hyun Seo, and doing everything she can to help Hyun Seo escape, say a lot about how they are genuinely concerned for each other.
The way Sun Woo and Hyun Seo say goodbye in episode 10, with wistfulness and finality, speaks of a deep connection between them. Sun Woo is almost motherly with Hyun Seo, buying her food to take on the train, and wrapping her own scarf around Hyun Seo’s neck as they part ways.
I’m rather disappointed at how Sun Woo eventually chooses to break Hyun Seo’s trust by vouching falsely for Tae Oh, and how Sun Woo and Hyun Seo essentially part ways for good. I’d hoped that theirs would become a meaningful and enduring kinship.
Sun Woo + Dr. Kim [SPOILERS]
Show introduces a bit of tension via Dr. Kim, who immediately seems uncommonly interested in Sun Woo. However, I felt like Dr. Kim’s interest in and connection with Sun Woo is tenuous, through the entirety of our story.
One reason for this, is because, as I mentioned earlier, Dr. Kim is painted in very ambiguous colors, and his intentions are called into question a lot of the time, so it’s hard to really trust him – or expect Sun Woo to trust him.
The other reason, I think, is because Show’s emphasis on the rollercoaster experience means that sometimes Dr. Kim is brought to the forefront of the our story when it benefits the story to do so, and at other times, he’s relegated to the shadows when he’s not important to our central narrative.
It’s only in episode 14, when we see the desperation with which Dr. Kim works to revive an unresponsive Sun Woo, that I become convinced that he’s more sincere towards her than I might’ve thought. This is the moment when I started to believe that Dr. Kim is sincere towards Sun Woo, after all.
However, Show keeps Dr. Kim firmly on the sidelines in its later stretch, which, overall, feels like pretty unusual treatment for a potential love interest of one of our key character, particularly since Dr. Kim isn’t actually sidelined all the way through. To my eyes, this resulted in an overall effect that was quite uneven and even a touch whiplashy.
Sun Woo + Joon Young vs. Tae Oh + Joon Young [SPOILERS]
They say that you only know what a person is made of, when they’re put under pressure.
I just wanted to say, it’s so clear how different Tae Oh and Sun Woo are, as parents.
We see Sun Woo swallow her own pain and stress so many times, in order to offer Joon Young welcoming words and warm hugs, like she does in episode 2, when she postpones confronting Tae Oh, and chooses to smile and laugh, for Joon Young’s sake, despite how much it’s killing her on the inside.
In contrast, in episode 14, when under pressure, with Da Kyung and Joon Young screaming at each other, Tae Oh hits Joon Young, and then follows it with a rant as well, never once asking for Joon Young’s side of the story.
I think that says a lot.
STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH
It can feel like too much of a rollercoaster
There’s such a thing as too much of a good thing, and I feel like with Show’s intense, unrelenting focus on the rollercoaster experience, there’s a tradeoff on meaningful character and relationship development.
After a while, to my eyes, nothing felt organic anymore, in terms of relationship development, in that the writers seem to be shifting puzzle pieces around, just to keep things interesting – never mind if the puzzle pieces actually fit right.
I found that as things got more convoluted, I became more emotionally disengaged with these characters, mostly because they seemed so twisted and dysfunctional. On average, compared to other kdramas that I’ve loved, I felt less invested in these characters. At points, I even felt a sense of defeat and bewilderment, as if there was no point rooting for anyone in this drama world anymore, because it just felt like they’d destroy each other and themselves anyway.
As much as I have to agree that Show achieves what it set out to do, to create a whirlwind of a story that keeps the audience on the edge of its seat, I feel like some of the side characters are treated a little cheaply as a result; they’re either treated as dispensable and pushed into the background, or they’re suddenly pushed into the spotlight, as long as it serves the main story.
Generally speaking, a typical kdrama feels like it has one main trajectory, to get from Point A to Point B, and for a good stretch, it feels like Show purposefully doesn’t have that main trajectory. Instead, for a good chunk of its run, Show’s entire mission seems to be to create a rollercoaster. It kept me on the edge of my seat well enough, but I can’t deny that there were occasions when I felt tired of the feeling that we weren’t actually getting anywhere.
THEMES / IDEAS [SPOILERS]
The baseness & ugliness of people
E3. The thing with Tae Oh’s mom really brings out the baseness of human beings. First of all, she knows that her son is cheating on Sun Woo, and has the cheek to ask Sun Woo to take care of Tae Oh anyway. And then, when Sun Woo reveals the extent of Tae Oh’s debauchery and lies, Mom writhes in shock, and seems to be appalled at the revelation – right until she gasps that it’s basically Sun Woo’s fault, because she’s so perfect, and poor Tae Oh’s had SUCH a hard time living in her shadow, all this time. Blech.
And then, Sun Woo – the very character towards whom I’ve had nothing but sympathy in this debacle – turns on her evil witch persona for a moment, and, caressing Mom’s hair, tells her that she can’t die, and must watch, from her hospital bed, how Tae Oh will be turned away, penniless, after the divorce. Oof. I know Sun Woo’s been through a great deal, and most of it has been very, very trying, but it’s still very confronting to see her embrace the dark side, even for a few minutes like this.
E7. It says a lot about Da Kyung’s mom, how she’s managed to twist the entire situation around in her head, making Da Kyung an innocent in the whole break up of Tae Oh’s marriage to Sun Woo, saying that the two divorced because their relationship was bad. People admittedly do do that, rationalizing things in sometimes very twisted ways, in order to make things more acceptable and appealing to their conscience, but it’s distasteful to watch.
E7. This is a very ugly social circle of people. The hosts of the party, Tae Oh and company, don’t want to invite Ye Rim but do it anyway, and Ye Rim doesn’t want to attend, but attends anyway to maintain appearances, and the result is just an ugly farce. The hosts are pleasant – but only on the surface. They basically ignore her right after saying hello, and later, Da Kyung even makes barbed remarks designed to put her haters from before, in their place. Ugh.
The harshness & ugliness of society
E3. It’s very confronting, the way the lawyer that Sun Woo consults, is so matter-of-fact and unsympathetic during their conversation. He speaks so flippantly and easily about her husband’s affair, and what she can and can’t do, in gathering evidence against him, and how she needs to be secretive, but also sure, because once she sees her husband in bed with another woman, there’s no going back; it’s all so.. pleasantly, casually harsh.
I guess that’s just a small reflection of just how casually harsh the world is going to be for Sun Woo later on, as a divorced woman, like what Myung Sook points out later.
The impermanence of everything
E12. Sun Woo said it to Da Kyung, and now Hyun Seo says it to Sun Woo: “There’s no guarantee that you won’t end up like me.”
There’s such an impermanence to people’s standings and their stations in life. Da Kyung, once the temptress who stole a husband, is now in a position to have her husband stolen from her, and Sun Woo, once the protector rescuing Hyun Seo from a dysfunctional and destructive relationship without a future, is now getting sucked into a dysfunctional and destructive relationship with Tae Oh, because she can’t extricate herself from him; just like how Hyun Seo couldn’t extricate herself from Psycho.
Oh, what a tangled, roundabout web we weave.
THOUGHTS ON THE PENULTIMATE EPISODE [SPOILERS]
Usually, in a drama – or any kind of story, really – key characters experience some kind of growth, but as I’m thinking about our characters, it actually doesn’t feel like anyone’s learned anything really useful, so far.
Tae Oh sticks out like the biggest sore thumb, still blind to the fact that he’s the source of his own troubles. After Da Kyung leaves him, he’s adamantly blaming Sun Woo for all his misfortunes, and threatening her with revenge. The only shred of self-awareness we glimpse, is before it all goes down, when he’s drinking alone at a pochangmacha, and mutters to himself that so many people are suffering because of him, and calls himself a piece of trash. Unfortunately, that self-realization appears short-lived. He takes the first opportunity to rail on Sun Woo, holding her responsible for all the terrible things that have happened in his life, and cursing the day that he ever met her.
And then there’s Sun Woo. I thought that she would’ve learned her lesson by now, to stay as far away from Tae Oh as possible, but it seems that she just can’t help herself from being in his orbit. When his life is abruptly torn apart by Da Kyung’s departure, instead of staying away, she drives to his neighborhood, as if to check on him. And after he rails on her from outside the car, and she drives off, instead of driving as far away from him as possible, she goes back to him, and gives him money to help him get by, and even offers to rent a studio for him. One month time-skip later, instead of finding a new place for herself and Joon Young to start anew, she comes back to Gosan.
I get that there are many threads tying Sun Woo and Tae Oh together because they have so much history together, and they both care about Joon Young, but given Tae Oh’s track record for playing dirty and getting violent, I would’ve thought a smart and shrewd woman like Sun Woo would’ve known to stay far away from where he might find her, especially since he specifically blames her for what happened with Da Kyung.
So far, it seems like Da Kyung’s the only one who’s learned anything. She’s taken Jenny and left, along with her parents, and hasn’t come back. That honestly seems like the smartest thing to do, and it’s ironic to me, that Da Kyung’s the only one who seems to have benefited from this lesson.
Honestly, this all really boils down to Tae Oh being a terrible human being. If he’d left Sun Woo alone, all of this wouldn’t have happened. In this latest development, Sun Woo wouldn’t have retaliated out of desperation, if he’d just let her have custody of Joon Young. But instead, he’d been aggressive and violent in demanding custody of Joon Young, which had led to Sun Woo’s wild and desperate threat, that she wouldn’t stay still and would destroy his life, if he wouldn’t stop fighting for Joon Young.
I can imagine that if Sun Woo hadn’t done what she did, to prod Chairman Yeo and Da Kyung, and help them see Tae Oh’s true colors, Tae Oh would’ve continued to harass Sun Woo in no small way. Could Sun Woo have dealt with this differently? Called the police, maybe? In this crazy drama world, I’m not even sure if that would’ve gotten her anywhere, as long as Chairman Yeo was on Tae Oh’s side.
Now it seems that Joon Young’s disappearance, allegedly from being taken by Tae Oh, will be the focus of the finale. I don’t even know where Show is likely to leave us, in the end, because like I said, it really doesn’t seem like these characters have learned anything. Is everyone going to die or something? Coz I can’t imagine this fight ever ending, otherwise.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
To be honest, I have mixed feelings about this finale. After mulling over it for a couple of days, I realize that my gut reaction to this finale is possibly not the reaction that Show was going for. And, with rationalization, I feel like I kinda-sorta get into the approximate vicinity of where Show likely wanted me – BUT, it’s not an organic reaction that I feel in my gut. And that’s not great, because I wish it was.
Let me back up a bit.
Like I mentioned earlier in this review, from the get-go, the experience of watching this show was very similar to that of being on a rollercoaster. As Show barreled forward, taking us faster and farther than most dramas would attempt to do, 1, I started to see this as Show’s default, natural setting, ie, anything less is out of character to my eyes; 2, I started to see these characters as caricatures of real people; they look like real people and share similar thoughts and feelings, but everything about them is exaggerated and therefore kind of unreal; and 3, I started to lose any kind of real emotional connection that I might have had for these characters.
So when the tone of this finale leans more measured and attempts to be more introspective, my gut judged that as kind of deflating. I’d kind of expected something wild and explosive at the end of the rollercoaster. Instead, the rollercoaster kind of petered to a stop, and I didn’t expect that.
Our characters, who had heretofore been out for one another’s blood, pretty much, suddenly lose the fire in their eyes, as well as the will to keep fighting. Tae Oh’s tailing of Sun Woo turns out to be more an exercise in regret, than in actual plans to harm her or Joon Young. Sun Woo, in demonstrating compassion for Tae Oh, who attempts suicide by jumping in front of oncoming traffic, causes Joon Young to snap, and run away. Sun Woo is devastated at the loss of Joon Young, and spends the next year healing and trying to get into a regular routine of sorts. Tae Oh seems to come to his senses, and starts over, trying to make it once again, as a film-maker. And eventually, we see Joon Young come home to Sun Woo. Which is where Show ends.
Because I’d been expecting fireworks and – quite possibly – bloodshed, this was much more understated than I was prepared for, and my gut was rather underwhelmed, to be bluntly honest.
Taking a step back, I rationalize that these characters weren’t themselves, all the way until episode 16. They went insane for a while, because of the crazy things they were engaged in. Tae Oh lost his mind over his affair and divorce, and Sun Woo lost her mind trying to fight for custody of Joon Young, and for her right to remain in Gosan. They were both possessed by feelings of anger and betrayal, and each was driven by a blind need to outwit the other. It’s only when key pieces of context are removed – Tae Oh’s loss of power and position via Da Kyung’s departure, and Sun Woo’s loss of meaning via Joon Young’s sudden escape – that both Tae Oh and Sun Woo wake up from their stupor and start to come to their senses.
This is the only way I can make sense of the sudden shift in direction in our characters, and viewed this way, Tae Oh and Sun Woo suddenly look more like humans and less like caricatures.
It’s a more compassionate ending than I expected, because essentially all our characters get a chance to start over. Tae Oh, Sun Woo, and Da Kyung all start over; even Ye Rim and Je Hyuk start over, after splitting up for real. Given how much awfulness and dysfunction has gone down among our characters, it’s a gracious message indeed, that even so, it’s not too late to start afresh and be a decent person.
I guess I’d pegged Show as wanting to be more sensationalist than humanistic, and I wasn’t prepared for the turn that Show takes, in this final episode. I might well be in the minority in this; other viewers are quite possibly much more organically satisfied with this finale than I managed to be.
I think one of the reasons for this, is that when we meet our characters in episode 1, Tae Oh’s already a blatant cheater and liar, and Sun Woo is portrayed as lovely and normal, only for a short while, before things get crazy. I wouldn’t call that a very solid anchoring point. In my head, this anchoring point barely existed; I felt like I only really knew these characters as caricatures living extreme and hyperbolic dysfunctional lives, and so, without a perceived anchoring point, it felt rather alien to me, when Show then presents a decidedly humanistic perspective of our characters, in its finale.
If you’re one of the viewers who managed to appreciate this finale in a more organic fashion, kudos to you, for being so flexible and nimble with your lens. I wish I could’ve managed the same.
I do appreciate Show, though, for the platform it offers our actors to showcase the depth and breadth of their impressive acting chops. Truly excellent performances all-around, particularly from Kim Hee Ae. Brava, indeed.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Deeply dysfunctional, but darkly compelling. A legit rollercoaster, for the most part.
FINAL GRADE: A-