THE SHORT VERDICT:
Designed to be light, easy and feel-good, Show tends to lean more simplistic than I would like, particularly in the areas of business and technology and how that all works. The characters took a while to grow on me, but I did eventually grow fond of almost all of them. At the same time, there are definitely some stand-outs that endeared themselves to me early, like Kim Hae Sook as Gran.
Ultimately, Show manages to be uplifting and aspirational (if you can overcome the over-simplification of everything), and ends up being a reasonably pleasant coming-of-age – or rather, coming-into-your-own – kinda story.
PS: Most viewers have strong feelings about this story’s love triangle, but I didn’t.
THE LONG VERDICT:
two three main things that made me curious to check out this show.
The first is, everyone seemed to have such positive feelings towards this show, as it aired. The positive buzz alone was enough to make my drama antennae perk up with interest.
The second thing is, I soon realized that there was a fan war going on, with regards to the love triangle in this show. From what I understood (from a distance, since I never actually dived in for a close-up taste), viewers were fiercely divided on the topic of who deserved to be this story’s male lead. You guys know I become very curious when a show is very divisive; I always wonder where I’ll land, when I get there.
The third thing, which doesn’t really qualify as a thing, really, since this happened after I’d started my watch, is that there was such an audible wail of frustration in the dramaverse around what Show served up in episode 10, that I became very curious about that as well, and I also wanted to know how I’d feel, when I got there. Which ensured that no matter how I felt about this show, I would at least watch up to episode 10, ha. (For the curious, I have a spotlight on episode 10, in the final stretch of this review.)
In the end, I can safely say that I didn’t love this show as much as most of you guys did. I feel rather disappointed about that, actually, since this is written by Park Hye Ryun, who also wrote Dream High, Pinocchio, I Hear Your Voice and Page Turner, all of which I really, really enjoyed.
While this was instant love for many of you, this was more of a slow burn for me. It wasn’t until Show’s final stretch, that I actually found myself enjoying this show more. How odd, eh?
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
In a watch experience where I often found myself floundering a bit, in terms of finding a viewing lens that worked best, I realize that the music in this show did a fair bit of heavy-lifting, in getting me to engage with our story.
There’s Track 1, Future, which is breezy and uplifting, that signals that our underdogs are working hard and making progress, and there’s Track 2, Day and Night, which is poignant and measured, with a slight singsong quality to it that tells me we’re at a bittersweet juncture of our story; these tunes really helped to amplify and elevate my watch experience.
I found that on average, the music affected me more than the characters themselves. Music really is so important in the making of a good drama, and the music in this show, is very decent indeed. Unfortunately, I can’t say that any of the songs actually stood out to me in a special way.
Here’s the OST album, in case you’d like to listen to it while you read the review.
MANAGING EXPECTATIONS & THE VIEWING LENS
You’d probably have gathered by now, that I struggled to find the right lenses to help me maximize my enjoyment of this show. I learned some of this a little late, but here’s all that I’ve gathered, in terms of the best way to manage expectations and your viewing lenses, for this show.
1. Our characters sometimes (oftentimes?) do things that aren’t very nice. Remembering that they’re flawed people helps.
2. Thinking of this as a coming-of-age – or, as I prefer, a coming-into-your-own – kind of story also helps.
3. This show has a very simplistic view of how business and technology works. In essence, it feels like this world and its story were imagined by a group of teenagers who have yet to actually work in the real world. Keeping that in mind, and being able to roll with that, helps as well. For the record, I had limited success, particularly with this area.
I’m guessing that this is because, (a), large chunks of this are basic things that anyone who’s worked in the real world ought to know, vs. something very specialized like medicine or law, which most of us wouldn’t know a lot about, and (b), the business setting isn’t simply a backdrop against which our OTP falls in love; our main story IS about young people coming into their own in a business environment. This makes the overly simplistic business world extra striking and stark, because our characters actually grapple with obstacles in this world, and it almost feels like the obstacles crumble like paper mache props to the touch.
But, if you’re able to do better than I did in rolling with the simplification of how business and technology works in this world, I do think that you’d have a good chance of enjoying this show more than I did.
4. Because this drama world is so simplistic, the payoffs don’t have a lot of oomph to them. The obstacles that our characters encounter aren’t mountains, even if our characters might sometimes think that they are. Rather, they’re more like molehills that we slide over quite easily, like traffic humps on a road. So, while the simplification makes Show a pretty easy watch, it also means that it doesn’t manage to be a very satisfying one, either.
STUFF THAT WORKED OUT TO PRETTY ALRIGHT
I’m starting here, with the stuff that worked out to okay, because this is where our main characters land, for me. There are things that I liked more, which I’ll talk about later in this review.
Suzy as Dal Mi
I have to confess to feeling a little wary while starting this drama, because I had not enjoyed the last thing I’d seen Suzy in, which had happened to be Uncontrollably Fond. That, and the fact that Suzy isn’t exactly famous for being an excellent actress.
Admittedly, there are times in this show when I found Suzy’s delivery cringey; mainly, these are the parts where Dal Mi is written to act a little crazy, drunk, &/or theatrical, like in episode 1, where she laughs like a crazy woman at the bus-stop. Those scenes felt forced and awkward, to my eyes.
Other than that, though, I’m happy to say that Suzy’s delivery of Dal Mi lands pretty well for me, for the most part. In fact, there were a number of more serious and grounded moments, where I thought Suzy did a nicely solid job.
Sometimes I found Dal Mi too impetuous, but I also did see a good number of qualities in her that I liked. Overall, I found Dal Mi pretty solid, as our female lead.
E1. I feel like I don’t know Dal Mi very well so far, but she does strike me as someone who’s led by her heart, who’s mostly upbeat, and who can be quite impulsive. The way she grabs the mic at the forum and poses her question to In Jae (Kang Han Na) feels rather impulsive and kind of rude. But once it becomes clear to me that she and In Jae are sisters, I feel like I can give her a pass on this, since there is a lot of personal history driving her behavior.
E2. I like the idea that Dal Mi is good at her job. The way she takes over the cafe while it’s overrun with impatient customers, is very impressive, and she shows a savviness that I enjoy.
E2. There’s another facet to Dal Mi that we learn, and that is that she’s consistently scared to get her hopes up. There’s the way that she doesn’t dare to hope too much for a permanent position, for fear of being disappointed. And there’s the way she doesn’t open the music box that her dad (Kim Joo Hun) had given her, for fear that the music box won’t work, or that she won’t like the music. This fear of being let down likely stems from how Life has dealt her multiple disappointments in life, so I think one of our story’s big arcs is likely to be around Dal Mi learning – and daring – to hope.
E5. I like how quick Dal Mi is, to understand the potential benefits of Samsan Tech’s machine learning technology. Considering her lack of traditionally sought-after specs, her idea to use machine learning to prevent forgery is very smart and very savvy. She’s also the first one to nudge Do San (Nam Joo Hyuk) in the direction of rebuilding the network, which turns out to be the missing link that the team’s been searching for. Also, she does a fantastic job of the presentation, and it’s really quite gratifying to witness the surge of applause that she receives from the audience.
This does line up with the nugget of information we get this episode, that Dal Mi had qualified for a good college, but had given it up so that she could work odd jobs in order to buy Gran (Kim Hae Sook) a truck. It’s really hard to qualify for a good college in Seoul, so Dal Mi really is highly intelligent. She’s also one to put others before herself; dropping out of college in order to earn money for a truck for Gran, is no small deal.
On the downside, I felt underwhelmed by the reveal at the end of the episode, of how Dal Mi had persuaded Sa Ha (Stephanie Lee) to join the team. Her spiel is all about how hard she’ll work, with nothing really extraordinary or special about it, and that doesn’t seem impressive to me, honestly.
E6. I did enjoy seeing Dal Mi gather her courage to rock her CEO swag and take control. I like that she comes across as firm but reasonable. I don’t know if I agree with Ji Pyeong’s (Kim Sun Ho) belief that you can’t be a good person and a good CEO at the same time. I do get where he’s coming from though, in that there are definite challenges to be faced. I feel like Dal Mi’s going to surprise him, with how (I think) she’s going to find common ground between the two.
E7. So far, I am mildly fond of Dal Mi. I like her passion and her heart, and I can see how it niggles at her, to even attempt to put money first to apply for the Morning Glory project, even though she finds the practical reasons compelling. However, the way she jumps to the conclusion that In Jae’s success is due to Chairman Won’s (Uhm Hyo Sup) connections, shows her prejudice.
In light of that, I actually felt a small measure of satisfaction at Dal Mi’s dismay, when Chairman Won and his son Sang Su (Moon Dong Hyeok) treat her unprofessionally at the meeting, putting their personal connection front and center. I feel like this might be a good lesson for Dal Mi, to see what In Jae’s been dealing with, and to realize that perhaps she might’ve been too quick to judge her sister.
E8. I like how Dal Mi’s so passionate about doing something for the visually impaired community, even before she learns that Gran will personally benefit from NoonGil. I really appreciate her compassion and empathy for the people who will benefit from the development of NoonGil.
In moments like this, when Dal Mi’s bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed passion proves to be more “right” than Ji Pyeong’s jaded experience, I have to confess to experiencing a vicarious sort of thrill. It’s idealistic and simplistic, yes, but that’s how this show rolls, and this is one instance where I’m able to roll with it.
E8. While I can appreciate Dal Mi’s desire not to burden the team with money matters, it does strike me as rather shortsighted of her to withhold the money issue from them, even after the team has uploaded the app. To me, that crosses the line from being considerate, to being uncommunicative and unhelpful.
E8. The plot twist, that Dal Mi has incriminating recordings of her meetings with Morning Group is satisfying to watch, but I do have to say that this means that Dal Mi’s earlier tearful statement to In Jae that she’s going to make a fool out of herself in front of Chairman Won, doesn’t ring quite true. I know that this was a purposeful misdirect, but I do feel like the twist could’ve still been pulled off, without that misleading statement by Dal Mi.
Still, I did find it quite satisfying that Dal Mi managed to solve the money issue, by beating Chairman Won at his own dirty game. And it’s also good to know that Samsan Tech’s money troubles are a non-issue now.
E14. I appreciate that Dal Mi is the kind of CEO who doesn’t shift blame. After the ransomware incident, she’s fully cognizant of the things she could have and should have done to prevent the incident, and accepts full responsibility for it, even though no one is actually blaming her. I like that, even though I think she beats herself up for it rather excessively. That.. could be calibrated.
Nam Joo Hyuk as Do San
Despite watching this in my own bubble, far away from the fan wars, I did hear that some viewers thought very poorly of Do San as our male lead, and Nam Joo Hyuk’s portrayal of him.
For the record, I didn’t love all of Do San, and what I did like of him, I didn’t take to that quickly. However, Do San did grow on me as this story’s male lead, and in spite of the fact that I didn’t like some of his more impetuous decisions, I also found positive qualities in him to like.
As for Nam Joo Hyuk’s portrayal of Do San, I do think Nam Joo Hyuk does a very solid job of the role. In defense of Nam Joo Hyuk, I don’t think that it’s Nam Joo Hyuk’s delivery that leans awkward and stilted; it’s the character of Do San that’s written to be awkward and stilted.
Having now seen Nam Joo Hyuk in a variety of roles (like Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo, The Light In Your Eyes and The School Nurse Files), I do think he’s grown quite a bit as an actor since his Surplus Princess and Who Are You: School 2015 days. Where before I’d thought of him as being quite green and stiff, I now sincerely think that Nam Joo Hyuk’s got a nice acting range. And I do think that he applied that acting range in an appropriate manner, in portraying Do San as a character.
E2. Do San strikes me as somewhat the opposite of Dal Mi, in that he’s passionate and idealistic, and he dares to dream. He puts his money where his mouth is, and is doing his best to make good with his image recognition software startup – but he’s failing hard, when we meet him. It’s not that nothing gets him down – that woeful knitting scene on the train is proof of that – but the fact that he dares to dream in the face of obstacles, is something that Dal Mi doesn’t have right now. I can see how Do San might be able to help light Dal Mi’s ability to hope again.
What an odd quirk, though, that Do San knits. Given that he’s a techie who’s all about A.I. and other computer-related geeky things, it’s quite amusing to me that he finds solace in knitting. That’s so.. low-tech? But it is another form of geekiness, so maybe it’s not so out of place after all?
E3. I am trying to find the endearment in Do San’s character, though. I’m telling myself that he’s a geeky dork, and that his bashful wonder at finally being noticed by a girl is a cute thing, and that things like feelings and hormones cloud our judgment and lead us to make stupid decisions. Right now, this is a work-in-progress; I know in my head that this is probably how I should feel about him; the feelings themselves haven’t landed quite yet. But they might, given some time and further plot development.
E4. Do San might not be cut out to be a CEO, but I like how he picks up immediately, on the difference between Dal Mi’s and In Jae’s offers. And I like that he’s able to articulate that difference to Yong San and Chul San (Kim Do Wan and Yoo Su Bin) right away, so that they make an informed decision. He’s right; there’s a key difference to hiring a CEO, and getting hired by a CEO. I hope they’ll have reason to be happy with their decision soon.
E5. It’s interesting to me that in the inter-splicing of scenes in the opening of the episode, where Do San and Dal Mi talk about their ambition, Do San’s ambition and greed has to do with wanting to win Dal Mi’s heart, but Dal Mi’s ambition is everything to do with work and proving herself as an entrepreneur.
For Do San, whom we learn has always learned to hang back and let others go ahead of him, from the time he was a little kid, this is a pretty big statement. He’s finally found something where he’s unwilling to hang back; he’s finally found a burning desire to push himself ahead on, and that’s Dal Mi.
E5. While I’m cognizant of the fact that Do San likes Dal Mi and that is likely coloring his decisions, I also can’t help but appreciate how he defends her to the rest of the team, when her educational background comes into question. He also defends her right to present on the team’s behalf, when the boys request him to do the presentation instead.
And when Chul San says that he can’t look, because Dal Mi appears so nervous that the presentation might crash and burn, Do San doesn’t take his eyes off Dal Mi for a second. Somehow, this little detail really appeals to me. He’s decided to support her, and he doesn’t flinch, even when the going seems shaky. I like that.
E6. While I instinctively think well of Do San for wanting to tell Dal Mi the truth, it occurs to me that he ends up lying in the end, anyway. Dal Mi now knows the truth that Do San isn’t a hotshot CEO, and in order to make that reveal work, Do San ends up lying to Dal Mi that he and Ji Pyeong are as close as brothers. And then at the end of the episode, when Do San makes a deliberate step towards telling Dal Mi the whole truth, including the stuff about the letters, he runs in an unexpected roadblock in Gran, and ends up going along with the lie, all over again. Still, intentions do count for a lot in my books, so I still do think well of Do San for wanting to get the truth out there.
E6. Do San is a little more blunt with Ji Pyeong, which isn’t the most pleasant to see, but given how condescending Ji Pyeong has been with Samsan Tech, in telling them that no one would want to invest in them etc, I can see how this would’ve resulted in an accumulation of some level of resentment on Do San’s part. No one likes being talked down to and dismissed, after all, yes?
E7. Even though I am with Do San on the idea that Samsan Tech shouldn’t work with Morning Glory, it’s such a ridiculously inappropriate thing to do, to smash Chairman Won’s nameplate as a response. It makes him look like an impetuous gangster, really, and I don’t like that at all. There could have been many other saner choices that would’ve demonstrated qualities like presence of mind and self-control, but no, Do San had to become violent. That’s just.. completely unacceptable, particularly in a business setting. What the heck was Do San thinking?
All that said, I do like that Do San’s idea for an app for the visually impaired is a passion-driven project, inspired in part by his conversation with Gran.
E9. Sure, Do San and Dal Mi have a relationship now that feels sweet, but if the truth doesn’t come out, it’s only going to fester in Do San, the way his spontaneous, impulsive cheat during the Math Olympiad 15 years ago, has festered, and eaten away at him for literal years, robbing him of self-confidence, making him feel like an imposter, and gnawing at his conscience, until it killed almost all the joy he had in life.
And I appreciate that Do San learns from his mistakes, and attempts to tell Dal Mi before she found out about it. Even though he ultimately fails, it will be something that he will learn from, no doubt.
E9. I especially appreciated Nam Joo Hyuk’s delivery of Do San’s building dread and discomfort, and his eventual horror, grief and disbelief. I thought that was nicely done.
E12. As for our epilogue, where we see Do San mournfully recreating his own version of Dal Mi’s experience of walking in the rain and sailing off without a map, I do rather like Nam Joo Hyuk’s delivery of Do San’s angst in this scene. I feel quite convinced that Do San is feeling utterly lost and miserable, and is in a lot of emotional pain. Nicely done.
Kim Sun Ho as Ji Pyeong
I feel like I might be risking the wrath of a million fangirls and -boys in saying this, but I did not manage to warm very quickly, to Ji Pyeong, as a character. I did grow somewhat fond of him by the time we wrap up our story, but it wasn’t all that easy a journey for me, to get there.
It’s my personal guess that a lot of Ji Pyeong’s appeal (for the fans who loved him, and loved him early) has to do with Kim Sun Ho’s personal charm. The reason I say that, is because there are actually multiple instances in our story, where I found Ji Pyeong’s behavior objectionable. In my head, if the character is displaying objectionable behavior, and yet, the fans still love him (or her), it must be the actor’s appeal that’s doing the work of drawing the fans.
I will say, though, that by the time I got to the end of the show, Ji Pyeong had managed to endear himself to me, and more than I’d expected too. Not bad, after all.
E2. I can feel Show peeling away Ji Pyeong’s Good Boy image, to show us a little more of his cut-and-dry, calculated business side. We’d glimpsed a bit of this, when younger Ji Pyeong (Nam Da Reum) thought Gran had taken his money, and raged at her with many hurtful words. Now, we see how dismissive he is about new ventures that his staff shows him, and how he almost refuses to see Gran without an appointment, until he realizes it’s Gran who’s there to see him.
I don’t dislike Ji Pyeong; certainly, Show’s done a good job of making him appear sympathetic, with his story of orphaned hardship. I can just.. feel Show stripping away some of the glow, and giving that glow to Do San.
E3. Ji Pyeong not wanting to disappoint Dal Mi, to the extent of seriously considering continuing the ruse, is a rationalization-in-progress for me. I get that he wants to help Gran, and I also get that he seems to like Dal Mi and therefore all the decision-clouding mechanisms apply, and I also get that he feels conflicted about it all. It’s just a pretty dumb ruse, from where I’m sitting. I need to muster up more empathy for our characters, I think. 😛
E4. It’s pretty poignant that Ji Pyeong’s wish, had been to play Go Stop with lots of friends and family; it just goes to show how lonely and isolated he’s been all his life. And even though his wish comes true in a very tangential, almost random sort of way, it’s still nice to see him smile and have fun, in spite of himself.
E5. I’m quite amused at how awkward and nervous Ji Pyeong gets around Dal Mi. It’s quite a contrast to how confident and assertive he otherwise presents himself to be, as an influential venture capitalist.
E5. I think I’m supposed to like Ji Pyeong more, but the way he literally takes the shirt off Dong Chun’s (Kim Min Seok) back so that he can appear in a Mentor capacity in front of Dal Mi, while leaving Dong Chun shirtless in a public place, is not cool. I felt uncomfortable and embarrassed for Dong Chun. Maybe Show is playing this for comedy, but I didn’t find it funny. And this made me think less of Ji Pyeong. He’s very nice to people who are important to him, like Gran and Dal Mi, but he’s otherwise brusque and dismissive, and that doesn’t make him look very good.
E6. I’m mildly amused at Ji Pyeong’s hapless reaction to being chosen by Dal Mi as Samsan Tech’s mentor. I realize that – so far, anyway – no matter how grumpy Ji Pyeong is, he comes across as essentially quite harmless. His angst is mostly internal stuff, that sometimes gets manifested externally. But even when it gets manifested externally and he gets all cantankerous, he still comes across as quite benign.
E9. Ji Pyeong wanting to come clean with the truth to Dal Mi is not a bad thing. It’s just that the way he explains it, it sounds self-centered and impatient. Instead of not wanting to deceive Dal Mi, Ji Pyeong’s more concerned with how he likes Dal Mi, and how this is unfair to him because he wants her for himself. That’s honest, but also, not very endearing.
The love triangle
This is THE thing that got a fan war going in earnest; fans were seriously divided over who they thought made the better match for Dal Mi, or rather, who deserved to be this story’s male lead. I was really curious to see where I landed with this one, and now that I’ve watched the entire show and come out the other side, I’ll say two things: 1, I definitely didn’t have strong feelings about this love triangle like everyone else did, and 2, I’m with Show on this one; in the end, it does seem to me that Do San is the better match for Dal Mi.
It did take me some time to arrive at any sort of conclusion, though, because I found myself having very little in the way of feelings towards both our male leads. For good chunks of our story, I found myself feeling nothing much in particular for either character. Weird, yes?
My conclusion is that I found both characters flawed enough that it bothered me. There were many occasions when I found both male lead characters lacking, and I didn’t care enough to actively ship Dal Mi with either of them. I also found it quite annoying (rather than funny, as Show actually intended), when Ji Pyeong and Do San engaged in any kind of petty rivalry for Dal Mi’s affections. It just all seemed very small-minded and childish.
Ultimately, though, I came to see that the person Dal Mi truly is drawn to, is Do San, and I feel that Show does a nice job of exploring that, so much so that I didn’t have any issues with Dal Mi and Do San having a happy ending as our main couple (I’ll talk more about that in my next section).
For now, I’m just going to unpack some of my thoughts around this love triangle, as I had them, over the course of my watch.
E1. First of all, because I’m already aware that writer-nim also wrote Dream High, the similar treatment of the opening really jumps out at me. Dream High was also a story where we don’t meet our male lead until quite a bit later, and we spend the time getting to know our second male lead instead.
The effect of this, is that it sets us up for Second Lead Syndrome – and I’ve heard that the SLS potential is strong in this one. Now that I’ve seen episode 1 for myself, I can certainly see why.
For a start, Ji Pyeong’s backstory is a sympathetic one. He’s effectively ejected out of the orphanage with some money but nowhere to go, when he’s still in high school. That’s enough to tug at my heartstrings on its own, but then there’s Nam Da Reum who plays him with so much youthful bravado mixed with so much poignance and heart. It’s clear that beneath the bluster, Ji Pyeong’s deeply grateful to Gran for taking him in when he had nowhere to go, and basically adopting him as her bonus grandson. Ji Pyeong would’ve been stuck and his potential for growth, completely stunted, if it weren’t for Gran’s spontaneous big heart, and he knows it.
E2. Just like how we followed that flower petal’s long journey to Do San’s head at the end of our last episode, I feel like we’re doing a slow pan of our drama world this episode, to shift our focus from Ji Pyeong to Do San. It’s not instantaneous, but I can feel our focus slowly changing to be more Do San-centric. I currently still feel more connected to Ji Pyeong, because we’ve spent a lot more time understanding his context, but I do expect Show to help me feel more connected to Do San, soonish.
E7. This show makes me feel like a fickle person; I keep vacillating between liking each of our male leads a little more, and then liking them less, and I seem to alternate between which of them I prefer as well. One minute, I find myself softening towards Ji Pyeong, and the next, I’m rolling my eyes at him. Same with Do San. Do I really need to pick between them?
When Ji Pyeong grumbles good-naturedly about being Samsan Tech’s mentor, and then smiles to himself as he answers Dal Mi’s 400 questions anyway, I find him endearing. But when he’s throwing out the plant she gave him, and ignoring her calls, and petulantly trying to stop Do San from telling Dal Mi the truth, I don’t find him endearing anymore. But then he goes and puts special plant food in the plant that he’s now decided to keep, and I find him endearing again.
As for Do San, I like that he desires to be honest with Dal Mi, and I also like how he shows concern and even tearful compassion for Gran, even though they’ve technically just met. But, I didn’t like it so much when he stepped in to try to prevent Ji Pyeong from staying for dinner at Dal Mi’s house. That felt presumptuous and rude. And, for the record, even though Show meant this for comedy, I wasn’t particularly amused when Do San and Ji Pyeong competed in petty ways to show Dal Mi and Gran how helpful they could be around the house. At that point, I just kinda wanted to clunk the two blockheads together, ha.
E12. I was honestly very taken aback when Do San punched Ji Pyeong, and I was also quite shocked that Ji Pyeong – who, being older, should’ve technically known better – actually punched him back, resulting in a bloody brawl between the two.
I’d been growing fonder of Do San these past few episodes, but this is the second time he’s gotten violent when things didn’t go his way. That doesn’t reflect well on him, I feel. I don’t know if Show is trying to demonstrate to us that he’s passionate and full of fire, but I seriously think that he needs to fix this habit of his. This is not how you do business. Unless you’re in the mafia, maybe.
And as a mentor, Ji Pyeong really shouldn’t have hit Do San back. I feel like this warrants expulsion from Sandbox, coz what kind of a mentor would allow himself to get involved in a fist fight with his mentee? Or anyone at Sandbox, for that matter?
E13. Ji Pyeong starts to gather his courage to make some kind of confession to Dal Mi, because, of all things, Yeong Sil tells him that he’s a fainted-hearted pitcher who will essentially lose out if he doesn’t act soon. I mean. If Ji Pyeong only thinks of acting on his feelings for Dal Mi because an A.I. device prompts him to, I think that already bodes poorly for him. And, despite being galvanized enough to want to take action, Ji Pyeong doesn’t actually manage to do anything about that confession this episode. Which, again, does not bode well for him. This is one of Ji Pyeong’s big flaws. Even though he sees himself as superior to Do San in many ways, he, unlike Do San, doesn’t have the gumption to take the risk to act in the moment.
E13. The way Ji Pyeong pushes Do San back into the lift, saying they need to talk, is not cool. Ugh. Why can’t these people behave in more businesslike ways? Do San’s done nothing to offend Ji Pyeong, and yet, Ji Pyeong shoves him back into the lift, by pushing on his chest. What? And, even if Do San had done something to offend Ji Pyeong, that’s just not ok. And it’s especially not ok, given that Ji Pyeong is a senior executive at Sandbox. Ji Pyeong is right; he’s not a good boy.
E14. While I appreciate the additional context we get this episode, that Ji Pyeong’s actions towards Do San are driven more by his desire to give Dal Mi space to cry undisturbed, and less by his jealousy towards Do San, I maintain that pushing someone on the chest, particularly unprovoked, is not cool. It’s also not cool that he lies to Do San about his relationship with Dal Mi, and I’m only mildly mollified that he calls Dal Mi right after, and ‘fesses up, because essentially it doesn’t fix anything, since Dal Mi is under the mistaken impression that Do San is leaving Korea anyway and therefore it doesn’t matter.
Even though I understand that Show is painting Ji Pyeong as a flawed character who struggles with his decisions and doesn’t always like what he says or does, I find myself struggling to warm up to him. I mean, I don’t hate him; I just don’t love him the way so many other viewers seem to. I just find him.. ok. Maybe this might change in Show’s final two episodes, so I suppose it ain’t over til it’s over.
In this episode’s big misunderstanding, I feel sorry for Do San. He’s been given a wrong piece of key information, and as a result, he endures so much angst, under the mistaken impression that Dal Mi’s moved on and is dating Ji Pyeong.
Dal Mi & Do San together
I wouldn’t say that this OTP rocked my world, but I did come around to their appeal as a couple, and I thought Dal Mi and Do San were well matched. And at no point did I think that Dal Mi would be better off on her own or with Ji Pyeong, which I think says something.
It did take me a while to feel completely comfortable about this budding relationship, though, and that’s because of Show’s premise, that Do San is brought into Dal Mi’s life on the basis of a lie. The longer this lie went on, the more it niggled at me, and the more I found it difficult to just throw myself into rooting for this pair of lovebirds. This means that when it came time for the lies to fall apart – and for our characters to go through the tears and gnashing of teeth that went with that – I was actually glad for it, because it meant that finally, this relationship wouldn’t be built on a foundation of lies.
What this also means, though, is that by the time I was fully behind this couple, Show was already past its halfway point. Which.. really, is a little late, by kdrama standards. But still, better late than never, yes?
E2. It’s quite a stretch that Do San and his friends would be able to own one decent suit among them, but Do San’s glow-up is pretty cool, and his Cinderalla-esque entrance to the ball – er, networking event – gives us the desired fairytale effect. And of course, Nam Joo Hyuk cleans up nice; that was never a surprise, heh.
E4. I am kind of relieved, really, that the ruse falls apart this episode, for the most part. That is, Dal Mi now knows that Do San isn’t a hotshot CEO; she just doesn’t know that he wasn’t the one who’d exchanged letters with her while she was growing up. It’s not the whole truth – yet? – but it does bring us closer to the whole truth, and I’m glad about that.
I’m also glad that Dal Mi doesn’t hold it against Do San. Without asking him about it, she concludes that he must have created the false image because he’d wanted to impress her, and she cites to In Jae how she herself had often wanted to impress other people – mostly In Jae – as well. I think that’s a very empathetic conclusion, and I like Dal Mi a little more than before, because of this.
I can appreciate Do San’s growing discontent with the hotshot CEO ruse. As he grows to like Dal Mi more, it troubles him that the version of him that she likes, is a facade that’s been created to facilitate a lie. I like that he asks Dal Mi why she likes him; it means that he’s trying to find a grain of truth in her feelings for him. He wants to know that she likes him for him, and not the him that’s part of the fabricated lie. Unfortunately, the only thing he has to hold onto, is the fact that Dal Mi likes his big hands, ha.
What I think is happening, though, is that Dal Mi is attracted to him – maybe partly because of the knight-in-shining-armor way in which he’d swooped in to save her in her moment of need – and is doing a reverse-engineering thing, when he asks why she likes him. I think that a lot of the time, this is how attraction works; you may not have a strong reason to be attracted to someone. You just are, and then when you’re asked why you like that someone, you then look for reasons to justify your feelings. I think that’s what’s happening here, and I think that’s why Dal Mi will continue to like Do San instead of Ji Pyeong, when she finds out that it’s Ji Pyeong who had written to her, and not Do San.
E4. Dal Mi’s quite a confident girl, I must say. She’s the one who uses a line on Do San about his big hands, and creates the opportunity for their hands to touch. And then when Do San is too shy and awkward to actually hold her hand, she goes for it, and holds his hand instead. She may be afraid of getting her hopes up, like we see in the previous episode, but she’s also quite bold, when it comes to going after what she wants or likes.
E5. Do San’s despondent because the only thing that Dal Mi seems to genuinely like about him, that has nothing to do with his fake history as her pen pal, is his hands. But we see that Dal Mi is sincerely taken with his hands, because of what they represent, to her. She may not have had this context when she first made the remark about his hands, but the memory of how he’d extended his hand to her instead of In Jae, when he’d asked her to be Samsan Tech’s CEO, genuinely thrills her. It’s caused her to love his hands even more, even as he sinks into a bit of a funk because he can’t seem to shake the idea that all she likes about him, are his hands.
I actually like the idea that Do San is building new and valid shared experiences with Dal Mi, during this hackathon. All the pen pal history might be fake, but this experience, of surviving the hackathon together, and getting selected for Sandbox, is real and true, and has nothing to do with his fake history with her. The excitement that Dal Mi expresses in response to him telling her that they made it, is real and true too, and so is the hug that she gives him. This feels like the budding of a valid connection, and I feel a sense of satisfaction for Do San, because this is affirmation that he wants and needs.
E6. I like the fact that titles don’t seem to mean all that much to both Do San and Dal Mi. Ever since Do San gave up his position of CEO, he’s seemed t fully embrace that idea that the CEO position isn’t for him. And now, Dal Mi’s happy to give up the CEO position – as well as the shares that Ji Pyeong feels she should own – for the greater good of the company. I like that.
E7. I have to admit that my heart swooned a little, at the emotional and passionate way Do San grabs Dal Mi’s face and kisses her back. At the same time, it still niggles at me that Dal Mi still thinks that Do San is her pen pal and first love from years ago. I appreciate that we get that voiceover from Dal Mi at the end of the episode, where she concedes that she’s a little sad that the Do San she knows now, sometimes feels like a different person, but that sometimes – and this is important – he makes her heart flutter.
I think that tells us all we need to know about who Dal Mi really is drawn to. She might have fond memories of the Do San from the letters, but it’s this Do San in the flesh that’s causing her heart to race, and inspiring her to reach out and kiss him.
Still, I do think it’s important that we get this lie out in the open and deal with the fallout, because even though I’m convinced that Dal Mi is drawn to Do San rather than Ji Pyeong, a relationship that includes a lie in its foundation is bound to end up in trouble, yes?
E11. I rather like how Show demonstrates how Dal Mi knows that she likes Do San, by priming us with Sa Ha’s pronouncement that after observing both guys for a while, Dal Mi will have an aha moment.
We then witness that aha moment, as Dal Mi wakes up in the old Samsan Tech office, to see Do San sleeping in front of her, which is when she plants an indirect kiss on his cheek. I found this moment quite sweet. I also appreciate the clarity that this represents to us as viewers.
E12. I don’t think Dal Mi did a very nice thing, by breaking up with Do San on his birthday. She might think that it’s for his own good, but the way she goes about it, pretending that this is a birthday celebration, and ignoring his attempts to talk about the situation with Samsan Tech, then breaking things off with Do San, telling him that he’s making her miserable, is just not cool.
E14. I am not hot on the bike trip idea (I kept worrying that Do San would be run over by a Truck of Doom, especially when he got more and more exhausted from cycling), but I appreciate the idea that it’s not the destination that Do San is cycling for, but the experience.
I can buy that Dal Mi is determined enough to talk to him, to seek him out, but I’m admittedly underwhelmed by the fact that she doesn’t actually say what she’d gone there to say, and just.. falls asleep, sitting upright, so that Do San can put her head on his shoulder. Hrm. I rationalize that she’s that tired out from the journey, but surely we could’ve had her say her piece at some point, after she’d gone to all that trouble of seeking out Do San?
Dal Mi & In Jae’s relationship
I’ve put the relationship between Dal Mi and In Jae here, because in principle, I liked the idea of this pair of sisters being placed side by side at Sandbox, and given a chance to work through their years of misunderstandings and differences. In principle, I also did like the glimpses we see, that underneath the rivalry and barbed remarks, they really do care about each other.
I think I would have enjoyed this more, if Show had spent a bit more time exploring the grudging sisterhood and the growing mutual respect and understanding between them. I felt that there was a lot more potential to this, than what Show chose to explore.
STUFF I LIKED
Kim Hae Sook as Gran
Gran is, hands-down, my favorite character in this drama world. She’s just so wholesome, loving and kind. It’s like she sees all of our key characters as her babies. I just loved Gran for her big heart, and her all-encompassing gruff love for not only her own grandchildren, but basically any kid that had the good fortune of crossing paths with her.
I love how Gran always had love to give, and never seemed in danger of running out of it, even when her own circumstances evolved and life became more challenging for her. I loved her relationship with Dal Mi, but if I had to pick one relationship of Gran’s that really got me in the heart, it’d have to be her bond with Ji Pyeong, which I’ll talk about in the next section.
Kim Hae Sook is amazing, and she brings Gran to life in just the most effortless, elegant way. I always felt like I could see the various layers of Gran’s feelings and thoughts, in any given moment, and that made me feel so connected to her; more so than our main characters, even.
Suffice to say, I loved Gran, and I’d watch an entire drama with her as the main character.
E4. My heart goes out to Gran, because Dal Mi’s excitement over new business venture ideas reminds her so much of her late son. How hard it must be for Gran, to see Dal Mi walk in her father’s footsteps, knowing how hard and risky the journey is, and how that journey had ended for her own son. There must be a great deal of worry and fear in Gran, as she sees Dal Mi embark on a similar journey, and yet, she does her best to muster up a smile for Dal Mi, who’s so excited to do this.
I have to admire Gran for not putting her foot down and asking Dal Mi to give up the idea completely. A lesser person would do that, but Gran clearly doesn’t want to clip her granddaughter’s wings. She’s such a good person.
E6. What is this about Gran losing her sight, though?? Noooo. I don’t want anything bad to happen to Gran! I comfort myself that at least it’s not a terminal illness, but STILL.
E7. While I’m in-principle not in favor of lying, the way Gran explains herself and her desire to see Dal Mi smile brightly for as long as possible, I can’t help but feel like I understand Gran’s rationale. If she were to tell Dal Mi the truth, Dal Mi wouldn’t be able to smile as freely, and that ultimately would make Gran’s last memory of seeing Dal Mi, a sad one. To this end, I can understand Do San agreeing to Gran’s request; I don’t know if I could’ve said no, in his place.
E8. Kim Hae Sook does such a great job, showing us Gran’s struggle with nuance and poignance. That little snippet of Gran struggling to punch in her passcode at her own front door, broke my heart. And Gran’s cautiousness as she tiptoes around the topic of NoonGil as Dal Mi describes it to her, says so much about how scared she is that Dal Mi might find out her secret.
I did enjoy the scene where Dal Mi comes home to find Gran struggling to clip her fingernails, and then breaks down in tears, while helping Gran. I think Suzy did a nice job of this scene; I felt Dal Mi’s sadness and her compassion for Gran. Additionally, Gran’s small attempts to smile, amid her own tears, even as she pulls Dal Mi into her arms, really tug at my heartstrings.
E9. Gran steals the show with her restrained expression of Gran’s fears. There’s something elegant about it, and yet, she manages to drain Gran’s face of color, and inject a haunted look in her eyes, that says, without so many words, just how nervous and anxious Gran is feeling about everything. Really wonderfully done, and so affecting.
Gran & Ji Pyeong together
Even though the relationship between Gran and Ji Pyeong isn’t the main focus of our story, as far as I was concerned, they were our other OTP, aside from the main loveline.
It’s true that Ji Pyeong is presented as a flawed character with a lot of emotional baggage and a very prickly shell. But, Gran is so wonderful and so loving, that she basically has enough love for the both of them.
I was consistently moved by Gran’s compassion and grace towards Ji Pyeong; even at his most unlovable and his most undeserving, she never loved him any less. She never blamed him when he was mean to her, and she never wavered in her care for him, regardless of what he’d said or done. How amazing and wonderful is that? Gran basically loved Ji Pyeong to wholeness, over the years, and against his will, and I love that. ❤️
E1. The part of our story where Ji Pyeong lashes out at Gran, thinking that she’d taken the money that he’d earned by trading under her name, and then Gran giving him a pair of shoes at the bus terminal, telling him to come back if he ever finds himself with nowhere else to go, is the stuff of heartaches, but it does drive home the fact that he and Gran are basically like real family. He might have gotten the complete wrong idea about her and said some terrible things, but that doesn’t change the fact that she’s his Gran, and she’ll always be there for him, if he needs her. Blubber. This relationship really gets to me, and I really want more for Gran and Ji Pyeong, now that they’ve reunited in the present.
I know that our main focus is probably supposed to be the relationship that will form between Dal Mi and Do San, but to be honest, I really only care about whether Ji Pyeong and Gran make up properly, and get to be together again. Coz this is the relationship that’s got my heart, right now.
E2. I love the way Gran’s welcomed Ji Pyeong into her heart, with few questions asked and no hesitation whatsoever, plus she forgives him so readily, even after he spits out such hurtful words to her. I can just imagine her taking Do San under her wing as well; she’s just that motherly and warm.
It’s little wonder that Ji Pyeong’s smiles around Gran are the sweetest, most guileless things (so much little boy about it, truly – in the very best way), and it’s also little wonder that he’d go out of his way to grant Gran the favor that she asks.
E5. It’s so heart-tugging, the way Gran says that she wishes she could’ve met Ji Pyeong earlier, so that she could’ve been there for him. Augh. That’s so wistful and poignant. I wish Gran could’ve met Ji Pyeong earlier too.
E9. I do appreciate that Ji Pyeong’s consideration for Gran overcomes his own feelings, and he decides to defer to Gran instead, and even texts Gran to tell her that he will go to Seonju to retrieve Dal Mi’s letter, and give it to Do San. Gran is right about Ji Pyeong; he’s nicer and more decent than he thinks.
E12. One of the scenes that really stands out for me this episode, is when Ji Pyeong goes to see Gran and she hugs him as he cries. It’s clear that he’s very disappointed in himself, and blames himself for the fact that Gran won’t be able to depend on NoonGil. I love that Gran just holds him and rubs his back. Also, here in this moment, I feel the most compassion and empathy for Ji Pyeong than I’ve felt all series long.
The Samsan Tech boys
I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the Samsan Tech boys’ goofy antics when they’re together, just being all-around dorks. They are such a bunch of dorky, lovable goofs, that I often couldn’t help but laugh out loud at their antics on my screen.
[SPOILER] Like in episode 6, when their eyes looked like they were about to explode out of their heads with joy at the hi-tech desks in their new office (that was some great PPL, by the way). And then when they went berserk at Chul San’s mishap with the rancid milk, and then made up loudly with tears and sighs of relief like the big emotional goofballs that they are. And then there’s the way Yong San and Chul San run in the rain together, in episode 9, like the dorks that they are. Tee hee. [END SPOILER]
I’m glad that Show allowed our Samsan Tech boys to stay goofy, silly and adorkable all the way through to the end, even after they’d left their humble beginnings behind. Once a dork, always a dork, eh? I luffed these boys. ❤️
The Samsan Tech Team
Aside from the original Samsan Tech boys themselves, I also enjoyed the Samsan Tech team, with the addition of Dal Mi and Sa Ha. Even though there are some initial teething issues, I liked watching them become comfortable and happy working together. The eventual team spirit that they develop, where they sincerely like working together and just want to be together as one team, is one of my personal highlights of the show.
Kang Ha Na as In Jae
Given that our story sets up In Jae to be our second female lead and Dal Mi’s rival for success and approval, I’m surprised to find that among our younger characters, I found myself liking In Jae in the most organic, consistent manner. What I mean to say is, unlike our main characters, I didn’t find myself having to find ways to rationalize her behavior in order to make her more likable to my eyes; I just.. liked her, quite well. And quite consistently too.
In Jae isn’t perfect by any means, and there are times when I found her choices a little bemusing as well (which I’ll mention in the spoiler section), but by and large, I found myself appreciating her strengths, like her general sense of calm control, her work ethic, her presence of mind, her forward thinking, and her ability to operate effectively as a CEO.
Also, I think, in a drama world where I often found it difficult to accept the way work and business is portrayed, In Jae’s groundedness felt familiar and appealing to me.
E1. With the way Show is presenting In Jae, I think I’m supposed to dislike her, what with her distancing herself from Dal Mi and acting rather snooty, now that they’ve met again in the present. But there’s something about the way In Jae expresses that she’d experienced doubt about her decision, that makes me feel like she’s got insecurities too, that will likely become clearer later in our story.
E3. It’s rather poignant to me that In Jae’s life is far from as comfortable or successful as she makes it out to be. Beyond the high-flying, globetrotting image that she projects, she’s actually insecure about her position in the family as well as the company. Stepdad taking the opportunity of her leaving the country, to oust her from her position as CEO in the company, so that he can give the position to his son, is really low.
In this moment, I feel sorry for In Jae. She’s worked really hard for a very long time, in order to earn her position, both in the company, and in the family, and in one fell swoop, Stepdad has demonstrated to her that it all means nothing. I can see why this might drive her over the edge to just give it all up, and start over on her own. I’m surprised to say that I feel most organically interested in In Jae’s arc at the moment.
E5. I find it odd that In Jae would agree to use the handwriting sample data for her team’s project, on the flimsy reasoning that it’s the same data set that Samsan Tech is using, and it’d be nice to crush them for turning her down. I hadn’t pegged In Jae for being that kind of petty person, whether it’s about proving her worth to Samsan Tech or to Dal Mi in particular, so this feels out of character. I would expect her to choose something that she objectively thinks is beneficial to her team. This handwriting data set feels random, in comparison.
E7. The way Chairman Won cuts off his wife’s credit card in an attempt to control her is not cool. That anecdote that In Jae references, where he’d starved their family dog in an experiment, is ABSOLUTELY heinous. And the way he clearly is out to make use of Samsan Tech’s solution, without actually engaging them to do the work, is disgusting.
In the light of all this, I actually find myself rooting for In Jae, because she’s overtly rejecting Chairman Won and all the so-called benefits that come with being associated with him. I love that she doesn’t mince words either, in turning him down. Plus, In Jae admittedly is doing very well as a CEO, with her thinking about the big picture even in the post-presentation commotion, to network with a judge and ultimately land an important deal for her company.
E8. I like that In Jae’s happy to have moved out on her own, even though it’s to a small apartment. And I like how calm she stays, through everything. Even when she’s telling her stepfather in no uncertain terms that she will not work with him, like in our last episode, she doesn’t lose her cool, and I like that.
E14. I get that In Jae marching over to Morning Glory to confront her stepfather and stepbrother is to to make her displeasure about the poaching of the Developer Twins (Kang You Seok and Joo Bo Young) known, but I did feel like this scene ended up making her look pretty powerless, like there was nothing she could do to change what they’d done. I don’t know if going over there to confront them was the wisest thing to do. Maybe it would have been better to just ignore them, as if their antics weren’t worth her attention?
Kim Joo Hun as Dal Mi and In Jae’s dad
Even though we barely see Kim Joo Hun as Dal Mi and In Jae’s dad, he really made a deep impression on me, with the little screen time that he was given. I’d say that this was credit both to the heart-tugging narrative arc he was given, as well as Kim Joo Hun’s kind, earthy, earnest delivery of the role.
E1. The story of Dal Mi’s dad was basically heartbreak on wheels; I sensed that his story wasn’t going to end well, and with him careening about, trying to make good with his business venture, it felt like I was just waiting for an accident to happen. It’s almost par for the course, that he’d die while doing his best for his family, given the way he’s so desperate for a breakthrough that he’d run to a business presentation instead of the hospital, after getting hit by a car.
It also blows my mind somewhat, that it wouldn’t occur to him to see a doctor, with the head wound and the nosebleeds, followed by the lost of control of his right hand. I rationalize that he probably is just that used to putting himself last, and I also rationalize that it’s for the sake of out story, because if his business had gone well, Dal Mi would be in a better place in the present.
I will admit that it definitely tugged at my heartstrings, to see Dad collapsed and presumably dead in the empty bus, clutching the bag of fried chicken that he’d bought for Dal Mi because she’d asked for chicken. Even though my brain recognizes this as a melodramatic trope, this does get me by the heart; I am sorry for Dad, who’s worked so hard that he’s lost himself, literally, and I’m sorry for Dal Mi, who’s now presumably lost both parents. 💔
Chul San’s loveline with Sa Ha
This loveline is introduced relatively late in our story, but I just wanted to give it a shout-out because I’m so happy that Chul San gets a loveline, the endearing goof that he is.
[SPOILER] I thought Show did a good job teasing out Sa Ha’s growing interest in and affection for Chul San, despite her aloof ice queen facade, and I was particularly pleased to see that, post-2STO, Sa Ha’s interest in Chul San, and her recognition of his appeal, was definitely growing, in spite of her efforts to deny it. [END SPOILER]
Yeo Jin Goo voicing Yeong Sil
I just wanted to say, Yeo Jin Goo’s voicing of Yeong Sil is hilariously on-point.
Yeo Jin Goo is the perfect choice for sounding perfectly polite, while providing aggravatingly useless answers most of the time, ha. Also, in this drama world where so many of our characters start out lying to each other, I found straitlaced Yeong Sil, with his growing bouts of droll sass, refreshingly honest – and quite amusing.
Various spots of funny
Not all of the Funny in this show worked for me, but I wanted to mention my favorite spot of funny, which occurs in episode 3.
[SPOILER] I loved the silly genius of Do San and Ji Pyeong pretending to have a hotshot important conversation at the networking event, while actually exchanging lyrics from the national anthem. It’s ludicrous, but I can totally see it working with Do San, because it gives him something known to hold onto. Also, it’s so darn funny. 😆 [END SPOILER]
STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH
The sudden revenge arc feels out of place [SPOILERS]
Let me be blunt: I really, really did not like the revenge arc.
While it’s around, the revenge arc sits very weirdly in our story, with Yong San being all dark and vengeful one minute, and cheering his Samsan Tech chums on, the next. The entire way this arc is written into our story is far from organic and demands a whole lotta suspension of disbelief (more on that, in the spotlight on episode 10).
The overall treatment of the revenge arc is just very strange. I mean, entire dramas come out of a desire for revenge, but in this case, Show whips it out of nowhere in episode 10, then gives it token amounts of screen time from time to time, and then it gets resolved in episode 14, with Yong San concluding that he’d just needed someone to blame. And so, we get a truce between him and Ji Pyeong, with Ji Pyeong conceding that he’d probably been harsher than strictly necessary, with Yong San’s brother.
This entire thing lands rather lamely, in my books, but given this arc came out of left field, I suppose I am grateful that it didn’t end up taking over our main narrative. Silver linings..?
Logic stretches [SPOILERS]
E3. I’m all for Dal Mi quitting her job since that company wasn’t treating her right, but I’m not sure I get how she can apply to Sandbox, since she doesn’t yet have a company? If she can apply, then Samsan Tech should have had no problems applying either?
E4. I’m curious as to how Dal Mi knew that Stephanie Lee’s character Sa Ha is a lawyer, since the run-in at the bookstore is apparently their first meeting?
E5. I don’t really understand how the voting of the judges at the hackathon works. In a room full of judges, Alex (Cho Tae Kwan) says that he hasn’t cast his vote. And he picks Samsan Tech. How does his single vote carry more weight than all the other votes in the room combined? Or are we supposed to believe that his little spiel about Samsan Tech convinced most of the other judges present, to vote for Samsan Tech?
E8. Are the rules around guide dogs different in Korea? Because, from what I understand, you’re not supposed to attempt to pet a guide dog, because it distracts the dog from its job and therefore puts its owner at risk. I was therefore quite distracted by the fact that not one, but three people, are shown petting the blind lady’s guide dog, at the beginning of the episode.
E12. It’s a slightly odd direction, I feel, to have Dal Mi apply to work in In Jae’s company, and I also find the execution rather weird. Show presents Dal Mi as being bold and spirited, but I personally find it presumptuous of her to show up at the interview, without having first applied for the job. She doesn’t have an appointment, and assumes that In Jae and her team will give her an interview right away, without prior notice. That’s.. not very professional, and quite rude, honestly. I am rationalizing that Show is doing this for dramatic effect, but it’s hard to shake the niggling feeling in my head, that if I were the hiring manager, I would absolutely count this behavior against Dal Mi.
Clearly, I need to let go of some of my real-life expectations of business and how things work, while watching this show.
E14. The main arc for Dal Mi this episode, that she either get the Samsan Tech boys on board, or lose her job, feels very specific, and rather extreme, even though I take In Jae’s point that as Cheongmyeong Company’s CEO, Dal Mi should be the one who has a good opinion of the company. After all, if she can’t have a good opinion of the company, how does she expect to lead others to have a good opinion of it?
I get that. I just feel like this all or nothing, hire-the-boys-or-lose-your-job conflict jumps over a lot of other worthwhile considerations, that would absolutely be taken into account, in a real business context. For example, surely there are other worthy developers in Korea besides our Samsan Tech boys? And also, surely there is room for behavior correction for Dal Mi, without having to risk losing her job?
Some of the funny lands cringey
The instance of cringey Intended Funny that sticks out most in my memory, is that clip of Do San dressed like Steve Jobs. Ack. It never gets less cringey, no matter how many times Show shows it to us. 😝
THEMES / IDEAS
E5. The idea that the same thing can mean very different things to different people.
E5. The idea that is voiced by Dal Mi, that if you want to bear good fruit, you can’t have sunshine every day; that rain and snow is important too. That’s a good metaphor for personal growth, and it’s also a very positive and healthy mindset to have.
E11. I like the emphasis on a clean slate, where honesty is valued and prioritized. The fact that Dal Mi and Do San’s relationship had been built on a lie had always niggled at me, so the fact that they agree to forget everything and start over from scratch, feels fresh and liberating to me. And I like that all the events that have gone before, are clearly serving as lessons for them. I like how Do San resists the pressure from his team to falsely inflate Samsan Tech’s accuracy rate in order to compete with In Jae Company, and chooses to be honest instead.
E11. I enjoy the underdog-making-good sort of theme, and this episode, it was gratifying to see Samsan Tech win the grand prize at Demo Day, against the odds. It does feel like Show is serving up a very simplified version of how business and technology works, but the idea that underdogs can succeed even while going against the flow, is too feel-good to pass up.
E11. This episode, I like the emphasis on moderation, since I’m a big proponent of moderation myself. I like the idea that even as technology pushes forward, there needs to be a balance with pacing itself, so that it’s manageable for all levels of users.
E11. I also like the idea of the team wanting to stick together and create something new together, even after their stint at 2STO. Found family wanting to stick together, and therefore making a new reason to be together? That’s definitely something I can get behind.
SPOTLIGHT ON EPISODE 10 [SPOILERS]
So I have to admit I approached episode 10 with a bit of morbid curiosity, because I’d heard how upset this episode had made people. Given the fact that I’m not deeply emotionally invested in this drama despite my best efforts, I can safely say that this episode didn’t rile me up the way it did others. I also think that this unexpected emotional distance affords me the ability to be reasonably objective about how well – or how terribly – Show did, with this episode.
Generally speaking, I feel that our narrative proceeded in what I felt was a reasonable manner, except for the reveal at the end, that Yong San is at Sandbox for revenge. This felt like Show’s attempt at a Big Twist, intended to blow our minds and shock our jaws to the floor. My problem with this, is that it doesn’t really make narrative sense.
The fact of the matter is, the boys started Samsan Tech without actually making Sandbox a goal of theirs. Sure, it would have been nice if they could get in, but the boys accepted that the way Samsan Tech was going, it just wasn’t the profile of start-up company that Sandbox was looking for. If Show is trying to tell me that Yong San got into Samsan Tech with a view to taking revenge for his brother, when realistically, Samsan Tech wasn’t even going to be considered for Sandbox, then that’s the most half-baked, lamest revenge plan I’ve ever heard.
The alternative is that Yong San wasn’t intending to take revenge, but when Samsan Tech made it into Sandbox, he decided that this was his opportunity to take revenge for his brother. That’s also really lame. I mean, who takes revenge as an afterthought?? 😆 All in all, Show’s direction with the revenge thing is a fail in my books, unless Show is able to surprise me with a much more solid explanation.
Also, if this revenge thing is going to rob me of the dorky goodness that is the Samsan Tech boys being adorable goofs together, I’m going to be quite peeved.
Aside from this one plot point fail, I find the rest of the plot developments reasonable, given how our story’s been developing, up to this point.
It makes sense to me that Dal Mi’s hugely upset at the boys lying to her, and I can’t fault her for not wanting to spend more time with either of them than absolutely necessary. In fact, I respect her for hanging in there and doing everything she can to be a good CEO, despite the pressure from the upcoming Demo Day, and the frustration of not understanding all the technical terms that the rest of the team tends to throw about. I also wanted to say, I find Suzy’s delivery of Dal Mi’s downheartedness quite nicely done.
I actually really like Nam Joo Hyuk’s portrayal of Do San’s angst, in the wake of the truth being outed. His guilt, mortification, chagrin and general distress is well-played; I feel like I can see all of these emotions oozing out from Do San, just from the way he gets so awkward around Dal Mi, all shifty-eyed and awkward body language cues. Nicely done. And, I appreciate that Do San feels all those things, because I think it shows that beneath the deception, he is a decent person. He’d agreed to an ill thought-out ruse, and gotten emotionally invested, and then had found himself entangled in a web of lies that he’d desperately wanted to cut himself off from in increasing measure, the deeper he’d sunk into the quicksand of a romance built on a lie.
Even though most drama fans don’t enjoy the angsty stretch of the drama where the OTP gets torn apart, it makes sense to me that Do San and Dal Mi spend time apart right now. Things are too messed right now for them to reconcile quickly or easily. And, it also makes sense to me that Do San would want so desperately to not have to rely on Ji Pyeong’s Plan B, that he would agree to a stint in Silicon Valley, for the independence that it offers.
As for Ji Pyeong, I think it’s fair that he gets to tell Dal Mi his side of the story, and tell her how he feels about her. I actually like that he is upfront and tells her everything – even things that paint Do San in a better light, like how Do San had asked Dal Mi to be Samsan Tech’s CEO of his own accord. Given that Ji Pyeong sees Do San as a romantic rival, this is pretty upstanding of him. He could’ve easily let Dal Mi assume the worst of Do San, but he chooses to tell Dal Mi that there was sincerity in a number of Do San’s actions.
I also appreciate that Ji Pyeong confesses his feelings to Dal Mi without expecting an answer from her. How Ji Pyeong continues to manage this situation remains to be seen, but for now, I feel like he’s acting in a reasonable way.
I felt really bad for Chul San when Sa Ha pretended to like him. I know it was to drive home the point that Dal Mi has every right to be angry with Do San for lying, and it was very effective, but poor ol’ Chul San must’ve suffered, having his hopes stoked so high, only to be dashed so hard. Poor puppy. I’m glad that he later asks Sa Ha not to play with his feelings again. This request feels somber and serious, and I’m glad that Sa Ha looks rather uncomfortable in response, because it’s true that she hadn’t been considerate of his feelings, when she’d tricked him.
Even though Do San doesn’t show up for Dal Mi in the suit that he’d worn to the networking party, he does show up for her in the way that he’d done then, when she needs it most. When Dal Mi’s arguing with In Jae about the fact that In Jae stole her sandbox memory, and finds herself at a loss for words, it’s Do San who steps in like that knight in shining armor, to tell it like it is. He effectively calls In Jae out on her lack of confidence, and effectively puts an end to the argument, which Dal Mi had been floundering to hold her own in. I’d say that this showing by Do San is even better than the time when he’d showed up at the networking party; I hope Dal Mi realizes that.
I also appreciate how Do San later tells Dal Mi that if it makes her feel better, they can pretend that nothing ever happened between them. This is a big deal for him, since we know how much he likes Dal Mi. The fact that he offers this to her, shows that he cares more about how she feels, than about his own feelings. The best part about this scene, is how Do San ends by telling Dal Mi that Samsan Tech would’ve never made it this far without her. In a situation where he might literally lose the relationship that he’s been so desperate to hold onto, he chooses to affirm the value and validity of her work and her efforts. I really like that.
Lee Bo Young’s cameo is written in in quite the random fashion, but I like how Show ties it together at the end, by having Ji Pyeong sit down for a drunken rambling session with her, only to have her recommend the same thing she’d recommended to Dal Mi – that he get the help of his ancestors. Ha, this made it quite funny. So, well-played, Show.
SPOTLIGHT ON THE PENULTIMATE EPISODE [SPOILERS]
Well, whaddya know. For a show that’s been firing up my emotions in such a.. minimal way, I’m kinda shocked, really, by how much I enjoyed this penultimate episode.
It’s very gratifying to see our crew do so well in the temporary permit test, to the consternation of their Morning A.I. competitors. The flustered horror of the Morning A.I. people, particularly that of the Developer Twins, was pretty delicious to witness, especially once they realized that the Cheongmyeong team didn’t actually simply run with the solution that the Developer Twins had left behind. I felt like I could practically hear the twins quaking in their boots with anxiety and anger, at the thought that the Cheongmyeong team actually had a better solution than theirs. Muahaha.
Given how well the permit test goes, and how Cheongmyeong clearly has a better system than Morning A. I., I can understand why In Jae thinks it’s worth putting in a bid for the smart city’s self-driving platform. Also, from what we’ve come to understand of our characters, I’d kind of expected both Ji Pyeong’s conservative response, and Do San’s go-for-it mentality. I do think it’s notable that while Ji Pyeong gains satisfaction from convincing Dal Mi into accepting his point of view, Do San tells Dal Mi that ultimately the decision is hers to make, and that he’ll support that decision, whatever it might be.
On another note, I liked the fact that Sa Ha’s looking at Chul San with newly appreciative eyes, fueled by the gushing heart-eyes comments from his vlogging fanbase. Tee hee. I just love the idea that while Chul San’s all focused on work now, Sa Ha finally has an awareness of his appeal as a man. Muahaha. I love that the tables have turned.
I liked less, that Sa Ha asks Chul San to stop vlogging, since that’s something that he enjoys, but the dazed discombobulation that we see from Chul San, when he realizes that Sa Ha isn’t pranking him about liking him like she did before, is so precious. Chul San is adorable. 😍
On the downside, I didn’t like so much, the silly-jealous behavior that we see from Chul San right after. I know it’s meant to be funny, but I really preferred it when Chul San had no idea that he’d become cool in Sa Ha’s eyes.
One of our key scenes this episode, is of Ji Pyeong and Do San have a tipsy heart-to-heart talk in Do San’s house, when Ji Pyeong shows up there with the money plant, intent on exchanging it for Dal Mi’s letters.
I thought it was very poignant, the way they admitted to each other that they actually envied the other. Ji Pyeong blurts out that he’d seen Do San on TV with his parents after winning the Math Olympiad, and had envied his life, while Do San confesses that he’s envied Ji Pyeong for being Dal Mi’s first love, and for being the one who’d sent her the letters; both of which are Dal Mi’s given reasons for liking Do San, but neither of which actually apply to Do San. Do San angsts that the only thing that is true about him, that Dal Mi’s said that she likes, is his hands.
This is such a great example of how we envy other people without really ever knowing what they’re thinking. The grass may look greener on the other side, but it’s all a matter of perspective.
I love that the next morning, Ji Pyeong is won over by Do San’s request to pack some kongjaban for Ji Pyeong, because Ji Pyeong had pointedly told Dal Mi in the elevator, that he likes kongjaban. Ji Pyeong had clearly meant that as a jibe to make Do San jealous, and he never expected that Do San would actually take that information, and use it kindly. Aw.
It’s very bittersweet, to see Ji Pyeong then bite the bullet and point Do San in the right direction, with regards to Dal Mi’s feelings.
While it might seem like a stretch to some, that Do San is so clueless about people and relationships sometimes, I actually can believe it – because my mom is the same way. She’s the same as Do San, in that she’ll take what people say at face value, often missing the subtext. As it turns out, Do San really had had no idea that Dal Mi might actually still like him.
That moment, when Ji Pyeong sits in his car with the letters and the money tree, and tells himself that this, after all, is enough, is very poignant. It’s painful for him, definitely, but I also see this as needful. Dal Mi clearly doesn’t reciprocate his feelings, and it’s time for him to come to terms with that. This feels like a growing up moment for Ji Pyeong, and the pain that accompanies it, a growing pain of sorts. It hurts now, but it will definitely add to his substance as a person, going forward.
As for Do San and Dal Mi, we finally get confirmation of what I’d known in my gut from the beginning; it had never been about the hands. Dal Mi just likes Do San and is drawn to him, and there doesn’t need to be a reason for it. I’m glad that now Do San is finally cognizant of it, because it seems like a weight is literally lifted off his shoulders, as he moves in to kiss Dal Mi. Dal Mi tells Do San that she wants to bid for the self-driving platform, and the crew moves full force into prepping for it.
Over at Morning A. I., our quasi-villainous father and son pair scheme to bring Cheongmyeong down by leaking news of the ransomware attack to a news portal. Honestly, though, I’m not too concerned about this, because I’m convinced that the Developer Twins were behind the attack, and therefore I’m sure this sabotage attempt is going to come back and bite them cleanly in the butt. Chomp.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
Show serves up a finale that’s mostly sunny and feel-good, and I found it quite pleasant and enjoyable, overall. Given my somewhat mixed feelings during my watch, I’d count this a win.
I’d fully expected that Morning A.I.’s attempt to bring down Cheongmyeong Company via that dirty reporter would fail, but I’d thought that this would actually take up most of our finale screen time. Show had different ideas, as it turns out. Instead of spending lots of time dealing with this arc, Show concludes the takedown attempt within the first few minutes of our finale, and then spends the rest of the time giving each of our characters a feel-good wrap-up.
I can’t say I dislike the idea, since I would rather have this, than spend most of our time watching our crew fighting against Morning A. I.
One of the wrap-up arcs that I found most important this finale, is the scene between Gran and Ji Pyeong, when Gran goes to visit Ji Pyeong at his apartment. I love that Gran basically breaks through Ji Pyeong’s defenses and tells him to stay in close touch whether he’s doing well or otherwise. Most importantly, I love that she hugs him and tells him that it’s ok because she’ll be there for him, as they both cry. Aw.. This is truly what Ji Pyeong needs most: the comforting assurance that he is not alone.
I also like the idea that Ji Pyeong takes Gran’s words to heart – to do something nice for someone worse off than her – and channels that towards helping orphans coming out into society, via a start-up headed by Yeo Jin Goo, no less. I chuckled at the reference to Yeo Jin Goo’s voicing of Yeong Sil, when Ji Pyeong says that he’s investing because he likes the young man’s voice.
On a more serious note, though, I think that this is exactly the kind of thing that would help Ji Pyeong overcome any lingering demons he might have, around his tough childhood and his just-as-tough coming-of-age. He’s going to do for others, exactly what Gran did for him, and that’s pretty darn perfect.
We also finally have some closure between Ji Pyeong and Dal Mi, where he tells her that there’s no need to apologize or to thank him. He acknowledges that he’d benefited from the letters too, and he also acknowledges that Do San’s the better man, for going to Dal Mi the very day he’d read the letters, vs. himself, who didn’t go to Dal Mi even after 15 years. That’s the most gracious we’ve seen Ji Pyeong, and I like the grounded peacefulness in his expression, as he expresses this.
I also like the little arc of Sa Ha proudly introducing Chul San to her sister, as her boyfriend. Aw. After Chul San’s felt so sheepish about being inadequate as a boyfriend, this is just what he needs, to boost his confidence about how Sa Ha feels about him.
Our Samsan Tech boys receive notice that their old office is being taken over by new tenants, and go to have a last look at their old space. I really like the poignance of them seeing their old selves in the fresh faces of the new team, and I also like the sense of achievement, of seeing how far they’ve come, when juxtaposed with quasi-visions of their old selves. Our boys look so successful and accomplished next to the new team, and they also look wiser for the journey.
I thought it was bittersweet for them to bid the old place goodbye, while they hugged and cried. I’m glad that when Do San apologizes for being a lousy CEO and therefore wasting their time, both Chul San and Yong San basically tell him he’s a fool for thinking that way, and they all cry and hug it out, with blubbered words of affirmation and promises to treat each other better. Aw. This bunch of goofs are my favorite thing in this show. ❤️
In Jae gets notice that her application to have her family name legally changed back to Seo has been approved, and she finally goes to see Gran, to share the good news. The way Gran tearfully hugs her, is so moving. There isn’t a single word of blame uttered, for In Jae taking so long; only glad tears and watery smiles. I thought this was nicely touching.
As Cheongmyeong Company prepares to scale up their business, Director Yoon expresses interest that SH Venture Capital invest in Cheongmyeong, and appoints Ji Pyeong to represent SH Venture Capital in this matter. Ji Pyeong tries to get out of it, but to no avail.
I can understand Ji Pyeong’s reluctance to get involved, since he’d once told Do San unequivocally that his company wasn’t worth investing in, and now, he’ll have to eat his words by offering to invest in (essentially) the same company.
I really do like where Show goes with this, though. Finally, we’re no longer hampered (too much) by Ji Pyeong’s and Do San’s egos clashing. Instead, we finally get some honesty between them, that Ji Pyeong sincerely thinks that the company is worth investing in. I also like that Do San is able to express so clearly, that he’s happy to receive the investment, because now, it’s no longer an act of charity. I love the eventual handshake and hug that we get between Ji Pyeong and Do San, to the extent that I feel like this might actually be the second most important loveline in our story, aside from Ji Pyeong’s loveline with Gran, heh.
We end with a flashforward to the present day, and we see that Do San and Dal Mi are still heading Cheongmyeong Company, and they appear to be doing well.
Via the selection of photographs displayed on their workstations – which, by the way, are situated side by side – we revisit many of their old memories, and also see that they’ve made some new ones. One of the more notable ones is of Chul San wearing a beanie, with Sa Ha’s arm around him, implying that Cheongmyeong did win the bid for the self-driving platform after all, and they’d kept their respective promises – of Chul San shaving his head, and Sa Ha coming clean about who her boyfriend was. Aw. And, go team!
The other notable photographs show Do San and Dal Mi on their wedding day, looking happy and content. Aw, that’s sweet too. I’m only a little surprised that Show chooses to relegate an event like a wedding between our OTP to a simple set of photographs, rather than, say, a whole narrative arc, but I do like the implication of this – that this really never was about the romance, after all.
Rather, this story was always more about daring to dream big, and having the courage to overcome your limitations in order to become the best self that you can be. And, I must say that it is quite a satisfying note on which to leave our characters, as we see them doing well, even as they continue to strive to live their best lives.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Rather too simplistic and therefore lacking in true emotional heft, but still works out to be an easy and feel-good watch.
FINAL GRADE: B
The next drama I’ll be covering on Patreon, in place of Start-Up, is She Would Never Know (Sunbae, Don’t Put On That Lipstick). I guess I’m in the mood for a bit of noona romance, heh. I’ve taken an initial peek, and so far, I find that I’m liking this one very well! 😄
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