Let me be the first to say that I’m not sure I “get” this show, so this review will only be my best attempt at understanding this show. I just.. was too curious about this one, after seeing the quirky trailers and posters, to pass it up.
To help us gain more insight and understanding into this show, Dame Holly, metaphor whisperer extraordinaire, who recently brought us a guest review of Greasy Melo, will be back to give us her take on this very different snowflake of a drama, probably in the next week or two. Stay tuned for that! (Update: Dame Holly’s guest post is here!)
In the meantime, allow me to share my (probably mostly) half-baked thoughts on this show with you guys. 😅
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. The OST is as quirky and offbeat as the show itself, so I’d say it’s on point and well-matched.
I didn’t love nor hate this show, and I feel the same way about its OST. I didn’t love nor hate it; it worked well for what it was supposed to do. Still, I do have more affection for the first track in this playlist – 도망가자 – because it’s got a fun, lightheartedly quirky sort of vibe. I also rather like that slightly badass feel of the 3rd track on this list, 보건교사 안은영.
MANAGING EXPECTATIONS AND THE VIEWING LENS
I feel like there are two main things that would be helpful to know, going into this show, and two potential lenses you could choose from, for your watch.
1. Logic need not apply
This show does not employ a straightforward storytelling sort of approach, and as a result, there’s no clear cause and effect between plot points. Sometimes, the different plot points just seem to exist side-by-side as almost unrelated vignettes that just happen to sit in the same drama world.
I learned that it’s best not to try too hard, to apply a logical lens to this drama world. It’s not built for that logical lens, and so trying to use one, honestly mostly feels like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole: effortful and sweaty work, but ultimately fruitless.
2. This leans dark
From the quirky promos, and from Jung Yu Mi’s colorful toy sword, I’d expected this show to lean tongue-in-cheek, light and nonsensical, but surprisingly, it actually leans dark and rather serious. I was a little thrown to realize – right away in episode 1 – that Show touches on darker, somber themes like suicide, death and rejection. There is no tongue-in-cheek in this – that I could pick up on, anyway.
I think it’s helpful to know that right off the bat.
3. Your choice of lens
I conclude that there are two main choices when it comes to the viewing lens that best works for this show.
The first one, which I think is the easier one, is to just let go of all need for logic, along with any desire to actually understand what Show is trying to say, and just sit back and enjoy the ride.
The second one, which I attempted to use, is a metaphorical lens. I went into this watch putting aside my usual modus operandi for understanding a drama, and tried to keep a much more open, fluid sort of mindset instead, while attempting to think in terms of symbols, metaphors and themes. This yielded some.. interesting results, which I’ll share with you in a bit.
A somewhat related tangent
On a tangent, with my brain on metaphorical / thematic mode, it occurred to me that this show appearing lighthearted and fun in its trailers, but having darker themes once you get to know it, is kinda-sorta similar to those instances of people who appear to be happy and lighthearted on the surface, but struggle with depression and thoughts of suicide, on the inside. This thought makes me take back any flippant regrets about this show not being as light as I’d hoped for.
STUFF I LIKED [MINOR FOUNDATIONAL SPOILERS]
For the record, I won’t be listing the things I didn’t like about this show, because most of those things are odd narrative decisions and unanswered questions, and those don’t quite apply in this very different drama world, because it just doesn’t play by the same rules.
Show’s general look and feel
If you’re tired of kdrama worlds where everything and everyone looks airbrushed and perfect, then this show’s aesthetic could really work for you.
There is no airbrushing in this drama world. Everyone looks like normal people, and possesses things like skin imperfections and frizzy hair. Some of the jellies that our school nurse fights are extra cute, which is tonally dissonant because the jellies are supposed to represent negative emotions and human desires.
I found this contrast interesting and a rather refreshing change.
Jung Yu Mi as Eun Young
I generally feel pretty neutral towards Jung Yu Mi, mostly because I struggled to like her character in I Need Romance 2012, but I have to admit that she is pitch perfect as our reluctant jelly fighter superhero Eun Young.
Eun Young is unabashedly weird, and is too busy fighting off jellies and protecting students to care that she comes off as very, very strange to the world at large. I really like that unapologetic quality about her.
Nam Joo Hyuk as In Pyo
I was admittedly rather taken aback to realize that Nam Joo Hyuk’s character has a bit of a disability. I’ve seen him play sporty jocks several times now, like in Who Are You: School 2015 and Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo, so in my head, he’s this fit, strong, sporty guy, and to see him walk with a labored limp was a little startling. I think it’s great that he’s trying out a different type of character, though, and I also think it’s a good thing for diversity. Not only do we have a character with a disability, he’s a main character, and young and handsome too. That’s something you don’t often see in kdrama.
I really enjoyed Nam Joo Hyuk as In Pyo. In Pyo can’t see the jelly monsters that Eun Young can, but it isn’t long before he’s on board as her wingman-assistant. I rather like how unfazed he tends to be, by the jelly world that he can’t see, as well as Eun Young’s bizarre behavior and outlandish explanations. In fact, he even gets to a point where he embraces Eun Young’s weirdness as a positive thing – better than being average, he says – and I kinda love that open-mindedness about him.
The burgeoning connection between Eun Young and In Pyo
I really enjoy the growing connection between Eun Young and In Pyo, as they try to make sense of the battle that they need to fight. They feel like reluctant partners-in-crime, who can’t help but be drawn together by the fact that In Pyo’s possesses a special aura that is able to supercharge Eun Young’s jelly-fighting powers.
Show doesn’t try to turn their relationship romantic, even though there are shades of interest and hyper-awareness from time to time, and I’m perfectly happy with that. Who has time to fall in love when you’re grappling with the responsibility of saving the world from jelly invasion, right?
I just like that these two learn to work together, in spite of their reservations, and ultimately choose to stand by each other, even when the going gets tough.
MY ATTEMPT AT MAKING SENSE OF THIS SHOW
For the record, I watched this show with my friend Michele, and after each episode, we mostly felt rather confused and stumped, unsure of what had just transpired on our screens, ha. And then we’d start rehashing the episode, and bouncing ideas off each other. A good chunk of these ideas that I’m sharing here, would’ve probably never taken shape, if Michele hadn’t said something that triggered me to think a new thought. Thank you, dear Michele! ❤️
Here’s an episode-by-episode rundown of my (still half-baked) thoughts on Show’s metaphors.
[SPOILERS THROUGH THE END OF THE REVIEW]
It all started with the pond where all the young people with unrequited love and feelings of rejected jumped in and committed suicide. Left over time to fester, those negative feelings have turned into a monster, and that monster is huge and powerful, and it’s easy for the weak to be sucked into the monster’s roar.
But, when you’re able to destroy the monster instead of allowing the monster to destroy you, that’s when the negative feelings give way to positive ones – and that’s why the monster explodes into colorful jelly hearts (something that I was not expecting, at all).
Also, when you’re facing the monster alone, it’s easy to lose your strength, which will then put you in danger of being consumed by the monster. But when you have someone on your side, who’s able to lend you their strength, like In Pyo lends Eun Young his strength, you will be able to stand firm in the face of the monster (of negative feelings), and destroy it, and come out victorious.
The jelly connection
The two students are connected by a jelly of negative emotions, and they feed off each other. She eggs him on to do criminal things like steal test papers and cheat on exams, thus feeding him negative emotions and motivations, and as he gives in to her goading, he indirectly feeds her too, because it just encourages her to do badder and bolder things. Kinda like how two people with the same bad habit who live together, would feed each other’s bad habit, whether it’s drugs, or theft, or something like poor self esteem.
This is why the jelly between them gets fatter and fatter, the more bad things they get into, together. I don’t think the growing jelly has anything to do with the boy’s haircut.
And Eun Young learning to tie different knots from In Pyo, is perhaps because once she cuts the jelly that joins them, she’ll need to tie the ends and cut off their food source, thereby killing the jelly.
In Pyo and Jellyfish suddenly becoming Eun Young’s allies
I do find it weird that In Pyo and Jellyfish become Eun Young’s allies so suddenly, especially since In Pyo had just recently been asking Eun Young to leave him alone, but maybe it’s Show’s way of saying that it’s good for us to be open about the things that we think makes us weird and different; that the people around us might be weirder than we think, and be able to accept us more easily than we think, too. It’s when we’re open about our weirdness, that we can then find the support group that we need.
You can get better at facing your monsters
The giant jelly girl ghost felt like a weird pitstop, because in form, it looked pretty epic, because we get another jelly monster, and Eun Young saves the kids from being sucked into the jelly monster by destroying it with her toy sword, and jelly hearts float everywhere, in the aftermath. This is so reminiscent of the big monster from episode 2, and yet, Show’s treatment of it is anything but epic. Instead, this time, it barely blips on our screen. Does this mean that as Eun Young learns to fight the monsters, the things that used to be monumental challenges for her become like a walk in the park?
Your desires can destroy you
The girl jelly ghost’s desire to get into Seoul National University likely killed her, and then continued to haunt her even in death, where the desires in her turn her into a monster (as it feeds on the desires of the other kids?), and it ultimately destroys her.
And once that root is destroyed, the jelly hearts are released, and the other kids are set free from the agony of their desires to get into SNU?
Be careful what you wish for
I’m not clear on Mackenzie (Yoo Teo) and what he’s supposed to represent, but it does seem that he uses the desires of the 4 bullies against them. It seems to me that the jellies in the pods supercharge whatever desires are present in the human, and that’s how the bullies’ negative desires result in their injuries – which then prevent them from playing on the team.
If this true, then could the jellies be neutral rather than negative entities?
Ji Hyeong’s desire to play basketball isn’t a negative thing, but admittedly, the jelly is used to give him an unfair advantage that he wouldn’t otherwise have. So I guess it’s not good either way.
The question of whether you can rebel against your destiny
Eun Young saying that she hates the word destiny, and saying that she won’t live as she’s destined to.
I think this is echoed by the experience of Mite-eating Girl Hye Min (Song Hee Jun), who says that she’s a being that just keeps getting created to eat mites and die, each time there’s a mite infestation, and who has a jurisdiction that’s a 5.38km radius around the school. By the end of the episode, she seems wistful about wanting to live beyond her set age of 20, and about wanting to see a bigger world outside of the small area that she’s known for multiple lifetimes. Can she escape her destiny?
SPOTLIGHT ON THE PENULTIMATE EPISODE [SPOILERS]
This was a surprisingly affecting episode. I was not prepared for how much I would care for Eun Young’s ghost friend Kang Sun (Choi Joon Young). Because of the emotional hook of this arc, this episode feels the most accessible and relatable.
I love the origin story of their friendship, mostly because they were both outcasts in their own way, and yet, when they were thrown together by their classmates’ desire to avoid them, they accepted each other without judging each other, and became friends. Kang Sun couldn’t see the jellies that Eun Young could, but he never doubted her, when she told him that she could see them.
It is so poignant to me that he would seek her out in death; it shows how much their friendship had meant to him. And it’s also meaningful to me, that he’d been the one who had suggested weapons to Eun Young. He’s been the one to draw her using a sword and gun, in her fight against the jellies. It’s so poignant that the first thing Kang Sun does, when he realizes that he can interact with the iPad, is to draw Eun Young.
In that moment when Kang Sun is in a lot of pain, and Eun Young is preparing to possibly put him out of his misery, it’s so painfully ironic that the weapon she wields, that could put an end to his existence, is the weapon he had drawn into her hands to begin with.
Which makes me question whether Kang Sun had done more than simply draw Eun Young with weapons. Had he imparted those weapons to her, by drawing them? Did his drawings have magic in them? Did the things he drew come to life after he’d drawn them? Because it’s only after he shatters into pieces and leaves, that her ability to see jellies disappears. And, his drawings do look like the uncanny likeness of the jellies that Eun Young sees. The monster from episode 1 is in his drawing.
There’s also the idea of trying to fight your destiny.
Eun Young has said more than once that she hates her destiny and wishes she could quit everything. And there’s also Hye Min, who wishes she could be a human and live beyond 20 years old.
The thing about Hye Min needing a stomach removal in order to change her fate is decidedly bizarre. Is this some kind of metaphor for removing one’s desires? I know that in Korean, being jealous can be expressed as having stomach pains. If you remove your stomach, you won’t have stomach pains?
The scene where Eun Young grabs onto In Pyo’s hand in the car, is a pretty interesting depiction of how humans and their desires work. At first, he is all casual and noncommittal when Eun Young asks if she can still hold his hand (for charging purposes) and he says it’s perfectly ok. Then, when she grabs onto his hand, her expression soon becomes one of satisfied bliss, as she revels in the charge that she’s getting from his hand.
That observation, that he’s having some kind of sublime effect on Eun Young, makes In Pyo bashful, and he starts giving me shy boyfriend vibes. He’d had no charged reaction to Eun Young before, but it was his perception of her reaction to him, that stirred up what appears to be new feelings and desires in him.
I feel like there’s some kind of thematic significance to the little girl ghost (Lee Hae On). She’s casually steady and noncommittal, but I think that has a lot to do with how she’s losing track of time and meaning. Over time, she can’t remember well how much time has passed, or if she’s seen her mother recently. And as she loses track of time and meaning, she seems so at peace – in contrast to Kang Sun, who remembered everything before he shattered, and seemed to be in pain. It makes me wonder if he’d have still experienced pain, if he’d managed to leave his cares and memories behind.
There’s also how Eun Young dreams of her own death, and how she then tells Hwa Su that it was freeing, because nothing seemed to matter, when she was dead.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
I think the main question that Show addresses this episode, is whether or not you can move on from your destiny, and I think the answer is, you can only move on from your destiny, if your mission is complete.
Hye Min’s stomach removal is successful and she is shown moving on from her heretofore destined life cycles of eating mites. I think this is only possible because she’s eaten all of the mites there were to eat. Eun Young had picked all the mites for her, and Hye Min had eaten them before her surgery. And afterwards, we don’t see any more mites lingering around the school.
In contrast, even though Eun Young momentarily loses her ability to see the jellies, she is unable to leave her destiny behind. Even though Eun Young and In Pyo join forces to destroy the entire school and the jellies with it, there are hints that jellies are still threatening to terrorize the school. And since jellies represent human desires, it doesn’t seem like they will ever cease to exist. Therefore, it appears that Eun Young’s job will never be fully done.
On that note, I kinda think that the school being rebuilt on the same exact site, and life going on as before, is possibly a statement about how human desires will always exist and threaten to get in the way, but we shouldn’t let that stop us from living life..?
Importantly, by the end of our story, Eun Young’s come to terms with her destiny. She’s not crazy about it, just like she never was before, but now, she’s come to accept it, and therefore even embrace it, to a moderate extent, in that she finally finds meaning in what she does.
Even though we don’t see In Pyo in Show’s final minutes, I assume that he continues to teach as well, and continues to be Eun Young’s supercharger sidekick, using his super special aura.
In the end, I may not have been able to fully understand Show, but I do like that I feel I can comprehend and digest this idea, that we all have things in life that only we can do, and choosing to rise to the occasion to accomplish those things, is part of what gives our lives meaning.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Dark, wacky and weird. Your mileage is likely to vary, depending on your appetite for weirdness &/or metaphors.
FINAL GRADE: B