THE SHORT VERDICT:
Show starts out pretty strong, with an interesting premise, a big budget and a promising cast. Production values are suitably high, and I found the scenes of a dystopian Seoul particularly impressive. Jo Seung Woo and Park Shin Hye are both solid in this, and they are supported by an excellent secondary cast. When viewed through a comic book, space opera sort of lens, and without too hard of a grip on logic, Show manages to be reasonably enjoyable and entertaining for most of its run.
Unfortunately, the ending was not my favorite thing about Show. Admittedly, your mileage may vary on this point, because what bugs me about the ending might not be an issue for you in the least. If you like the ending more than I did, you’d like Show a lot more overall, as well.
THE LONG VERDICT:
According to Wikipedia, Sisyphus was a king who was “punished for his self-aggrandizing craftiness and deceitfulness by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only for it to roll down every time it neared the top, repeating this action for eternity.”
You know what, guys, my efforts to find a way to understand and appreciate this show, kinda feels like that process, pretty much. 😅
During my watch of this show, I sincerely made efforts to find the right lens through which to best enjoy this show. In the end, however, even though several of these lenses had appeared to be really good fits, ultimately, I have to admit that all my efforts resulted in failure.
Dang. Isn’t this really quite meta..? 😜
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
Generally speaking, I found the OST effective in scoring our story, but I have to admit that it didn’t manage to get under my skin in any significant way, during my watch. The song I associate most with this show, is Track 1, Stay. The opening riff has a pulsing quality to it that, when it’s used to score a scene, makes me feel like the moment is pregnant with possibilities.
Here’s the OST album, in case you’d like to listen to it, while you read the review. And if you’d like to just listen to Stay on repeat, here it is as well. Just right-click on the video and select Loop.
MANAGING EXPECTATIONS / THE VIEWING LENS
Here are a handful of things to keep in mind, which I think ought to help maximize your enjoyment of this show. I will qualify this by saying that I do have one key problem with this show, which these tips don’t manage to address, which I’ll talk about in the next section.
1. The space opera lens
While it isn’t very apparent at first, Sisyphus has a lot of space opera elements to it. We have the big love story, an OTT villain, and lots of action, and everything is treated with a melodramatic flair. Embracing these elements as part of Show’s nature, instead of questioning why the villain is so OTT, for example, will help to make the watch more comfortable.
2. The comic book lens
There’s a lot of suspension of disbelief required in this story world, and I found that a comic book lens came in handy every time I was expected to suspend disbelief. There’s lots of stuff that would work in a comic book world, that wouldn’t work elsewhere, and imagining that this is a comic book inspired world worked nicely almost every time.
The comic book lens also works well, in helping you to process Show’s campy leanings.
[SPOILER] For example, in episode 4, the way Tae Sul (Jo Seung Woo) feels it’s necessary to explain to Seo Hae (Park Shin Hye) exactly what he’s doing with the cola, while he prepares to use them as missiles, is ridiculous – almost as ridiculous as the idea that he’d build a new app from scratch, in order to start an electric car, while Seo Hae’s fighting off the Control Bureau guys who are trying to get to the car. [END SPOILER]
Without the comic book sort of lens, these campy touches would feel frustrating to watch, I imagine. With the comic book lens on, though, this was ridiculous and amusing.
3. Information is given piecemeal
Show tends to serve up information in fragments, and in a piecemeal sort of fashion, so this means that sometimes – or oftentimes – you might feel like a lot happens in an episode, but at the end of it, you might also feel like you don’t know much more at the end of the episode, than you did at the beginning.
Be patient with this; Show does do a pretty nice job of sewing these pieces together, such that the chunks that are knit together add context and texture to each other, to make a more interesting whole.
THE EMOTION PARADOX: MY PERSONAL STRUGGLE WITH THIS SHOW
It took me some time to figure this out, but I realize that this is my biggest struggle with this show.
You see, when Show’s logic didn’t add up for me, I didn’t really mind much at all, because in place of logic, Show seemed to do a nice job of hitting the emotional notes. In fact, I was sucked into the emotion of Seo Hae’s journey right away, from the first scene in episode 1. This made me believe that Show wanted to be a more emotionally driven beast.
The paradox for me, is that in a comic book sort of world, it’s actually pretty tricky, to stay true to the emotional resonance of the story. How can you reconcile treating a character’s trials and tribulations lightly (an almost defining factor in a comic book world), with serving up emotional beats that are stirring?
For most of my watch, I felt that Show does a reasonably solid job of this, and I did become invested in our characters’ quest. I wanted to root for their success, and I wanted them to be spared the obvious emotional pain, that the journey of saving the world entailed.
I will talk more about this in my comments on the ending, but essentially, without getting into specific spoilers, the problem for me with this show, is that in the end, Show prioritizes the comic book treatment of its story, over the emotional journey of our protagonists. What this means is that the emotional pain of our characters goes ignored, and this decision tainted the ending for me in a very significant way.
I mean, if Show wasn’t going to take the emotional pain of our characters seriously, then why delve into it so deeply in the first place? This just didn’t work for me.
A MACRO LOOK AT THINGS
Cinematography & general production values
I don’t consider myself an expert, but I thought that the scenes of dystopian Seoul looked very impressive. Every time we got a flashback of Seo Hae in 2035 Seoul, I found myself quite entranced by how good of a job Show’s done, in fleshing out what a post-apocalyptic Seoul might look like.
I also felt like certain scenes were very cinematically done. I thought the scenes of how the war broke out, that we see in episode 9, were very well done, to the extent that I found it all quite surreal and disturbing to watch, because it made me imagine what could happen in our world, in the event of a nuclear war.
As a slight downside, I will say that at points, the action scenes felt almost gratuitous. [SPOILER] For example, in episode 13, the scenes of Seo Hae’s journey to the uploader in 2035, felt excessive and quite self-indulgent. It reminded me of an action blockbuster, but not in a good way. [END SPOILER] Admittedly, that could be just me.
Discussing Show’s idea of time [SPOILERS]
There’s a pretty popular thing that time-travel shows like to do, where they introduce a chicken-or-egg sort of concept of time. Often, this has something to do with a person from the future arriving in the past, and then saying or doing things that then affect the future.
[VAGUE HIGH LEVEL SPOILERS FOR MR. QUEEN] For example, recently in Mr. Queen, our protagonist Bong Hwan arrives in Joseon and discovers that King Cheoljong isn’t anything like how he’s portrayed in historical records. Later in our story, Bong Hwan happens to say something about Cheoljong, which then turns into a rumor that falsely describes Cheoljong as a flirt and philanderer – which is exactly how he is described in history. This gives Bong Hwan pause for thought; could this be why Cheoljong is portrayed as such, in history? Because of a false rumor that he’d started? [END SPOILER]
For me personally, the way Mr. Queen uses this chicken-or-egg idea works well. And the way that Sisyphus uses this idea is.. less naturally appealing.
The thing is, Show loves – like, really, really LOVES – this chicken-or-egg idea of time, and goes ham with it.
I mostly found Show’s use of this idea problematic because Show assumes that there is no need for a starting point.
For example, one of the things that does not work using this logic, is how Sigma (Kim Byung Chul) could possibly be the one to fund Tae Sul’s research, if he’d had to come from the future to do so. Because, at some point, when the very first cycle of events happened, Tae Sul’s timeline would have happened first, and Sigma would have had to benefit from the uploader invented by Tae Sul, in order to come back from the future, to fund Tae Sul’s research, right?
Another example is, how would Older Future Seo Hae be able to write that diary entry and place it where Present Seo Hae (in dystopian Seoul) would be able to find it and read about her future, if that future hasn’t happened yet? And yet, that is integral to our story, because finding the diary is what galvanizes Seo Hae into making her way to 2020 Seoul, where our story takes pleace.
I feel like Show is using this chicken-or-egg type of logic to be twisty and mindblowing, but it doesn’t really work that well for me. I can buy that time works in a cyclical manner in this drama world, but I can’t quite agree with Show that there is no clear starting point, where something happened before the other.
However, if you’re able to buy the idea that no First Event starting point is really needed, then you’d be able to roll with Show’s handling of time and time concepts more comfortably.
General writing, pacing & handling
Overall, I’d say that the writing is pretty decent, in this show.
In the beginning, even though I largely didn’t know what was going on, I still felt intrigued, and boarding Show’s rollercoaster with each episode, felt like a pretty good time.
At the same time, like I mentioned earlier, Show does a nice job of ultimately tying fragments of information together, to create a fuller picture.
E12. For example, the way we see how Seo Hae gets caught in a sandstorm while trying to make her way to the uploader, and how Dad (Kim Jong Tae) comes to save her. By this time, we already know that Dad had seen adult Seo Hae back in 2020, before the war had ever happened, working to prevent the war, and therefore, the way he looks at her in this moment, feels so pregnant with complicated feelings.
We can understand that he doesn’t want her to go, because he doesn’t want her to be in danger, and of course, he doesn’t want to be parted from her, but at the same time, he’s seen first-hand what an important mission it is, and how it could potentially save the world, and he can’t help but feel that he needs to let her go. We had to wait quite a while for this to come together, but this is such a great moment, made possible only by how Show is juxtaposing the timelines, that I feel it was completely worth the wait.
On the downside, I did feel like there were times when things are dragged out for too long.
[SPOILER] For example, in our early episodes, I do feel like the reveal of the time travel to Tae Sul, is rather too long drawn-out. The repetition of the phrase, “It’s not where they’re from that’s important -” before the speaker is cut off, also feels a touch excessive. I get that this is all pretty realistic from Tae Sul’s point of view, but from the viewer’s point of view, where we already know that this has to do with time travel, it does feel like Show’s dragging out the reveal. [END SPOILER]
Another thing which I thought Show could have done better, on the writing front, is balancing the time we spend in each timeline. Sometimes, we’d spend so much screen time in a flashback to 2035, that I’d feel rather lost with regard to where we were, in the present timeline.
Show’s internal logic
Generally speaking, I felt like Show was pretty lax in its treatment of its internal logic.
For one thing, often, I’d find myself asking a question about what I was seeing on my screen, only to never have it satisfactorily answered.
[MINOR SPOILER] For example, we see that Seo Hae suffers from nosebleeds after arriving in 2020 from 2035. We’re not told why, exactly, and at some point, the nosebleeds just.. stop. We’re not told why they stop, either. [END SPOILER]
I have a whole section later in this review, highlighting stuff that Show doesn’t ever answer.
Another thing is, I feel like sometimes the meaning of certain things is left ambiguous, and mostly, it appears to be at Show’s convenience.
[SPOILERS] For example, early in the show, Seo Hae starts glitching, and we see her tell Sun (Chae Jong Hyeop) that it means she doesn’t have much time left. However, as we see later in the show, the glitching can mean a lot of things. Show doesn’t ever settle on one thing. People glitch when they come into contact with their other selves; they glitch when they’re in mortal danger; they glitch when the course of the future starts to change. In the end, I’m left feeling like the glitching is just Show’s way of expressing that Something is happening. [END SPOILER]
With a space opera lens on, this all matters less, but I thought I’d still point it out, for the record.
KEY CHARACTERS & RELATIONSHIPS
Jo Seung Woo as Tae Sul
This was my introduction to Jo Seung Woo, and while I’m not in love with him like so many other drama fans before me, I thought that he did a very solid job of the role.
As a character, I think Tae Sul often comes across like a comic book hero, like in the way he’s able to solve nerdy conundrums under pressure, in order to save the day. His generally rather flippant attitude adds to that invincible comic book hero vibe as well.
At the same time, I appreciate that Show – and Jo Seung Woo – allow Tae Sul’s vulnerability to peek through. This vulnerability is the thing that endeared him to me and made me want to root for him, not only to survive, but to save the world.
E1. I find Tae Sul intriguing; he seems to be such a bundle of contradictions.
On the one hand, he projects the type of casual, devil-may-care sort of confidence that makes him feel almost unreal, like when he’s struggling to fix the plane while it’s on its way to crashing. Even with very little time on the clock, he starts his conversation on the phone with Manager Kim (Tae In Ho) in such a casual, everyday sort of manner, where most other people would be freaking out and imploring the other person to call for help. On top of that, he actually succeeds in pulling everything together and enabling the co-pilot to safely land the plane, thus saving everyone on board. That’s some superhero level of offhanded badassery.
On the other hand, there’s a deep sense of pathos about him, as we learn that he regularly hallucinates that his dead older brother Tae San (Heo Joon Seok) is around him, talking to him, and he’s deeply torn up and traumatized by the fact that he hadn’t been kind to his older brother, the last time they’d seen each other, before his death. The fact that he’s desperately dependent on medication just to get through each day, really undercuts his surface flippancy, and makes him much more sympathetic than I’d first imagined.
E2. I love that Tae Sul’s such a smart guy that he can basically rig a makeshift bomb to throw off the Control Bureau guys, from random items that he finds in his old shed of a lab. I mean, that’s not something I’d expect most people would be able to do, and he does it in a very stressful situation, with very little time and resources. That’s cool.
It’s a bummer that he gets caught anyway, but that means that we get a glimpse of the Control Bureau, and it’s futuristic and cold. And I have to say, I’m rather impressed at how confidently and casually Tae Sul tells the Control Bureau guys to do whatever they want, when they threaten his reputation in exchange for information. I mean, I’m slightly worried about what they might do to him, but I just like the fact that he’s not easily intimidated.
E7. I’m a little taken by surprise, at Tae Sul’s uncertainty and vulnerability in the moment, when he can’t be sure whether Seo Hae is real. It’s only at this point that it dawns on me how messed up Tae Sul must feel.
He’s been hallucinating Tae San for years, and now, on top of that, he’s been heavily drugged, and Seo Jin (Jung Hye In) & co. have been brainwashing him that everything he’d experienced with Seo Hae was just a fever dream. It’s little wonder that he finds himself doubting whether Seo Hae is real, and I like that he articulates it, complete with little boy tentativeness in his eyes, so that Seo Hae knows to give him her hand as assurance. This feels like a step forward, in them growing closer, which I think is important.
E9. I like Tae Sul’s expression of confidence &/or commitment to changing the future, with the booking of a vacation to Hawaii for Seo Hae and himself, for November 1st, the day after the war’s supposed to break out, and he’s supposed to die.
Ok, technically, if he’s going to die, then it doesn’t matter that he’d booked a vacation, but I do like the romance of him reaching for a chance to change the course of history.
E10. Tae Sul taking the time to seek out Seo Hae’s parents (Kim Jong Tae and Lee Yeon Soo) to convince them that Seo Hae’s traveled to the present from the future, seems like a very humane thing to do.
I mean, he’s in a hurry to meet this Agnes Kim that CEO Park says has the key to saving Seo Hae, and instead of going straight to her, he makes time to talk to Seo Hae’s parents, and bring Dad to AsiaMart, so that he can see Seo Hae. This way, if Seo Hae wakes up, in her most vulnerable moment, her dad would be there for her. That’s kind.
Park Shin Hye as Seo Hae
I believe that fan opinion on Park Shin Hye’s outing in this show is divided; some folks think she’s miscast as Seo Hae because her action moves aren’t convincing enough, while others think she’s amazing in this.
Personally, I think that Park Shin Hye is very solid in this, and does well, for what the role demands. Also, kudos to her, for doing many of her own stunts, because Seo Hae does get into quite a few rough and tumble situations on the regular.
Even if her reflexes aren’t as sharp as an actual trained warrior’s, we have to take into account that Seo Hae actually isn’t a proper trained warrior, which we find out later in our story. She’s more of a scrappy fighter who’s learned to survive out of necessity. I think that provides enough leeway for her reflexes to be a little less razor sharp.
I will admit that there were occasions when I felt like Park Shin Hye’s delivery of a scene felt a little affectatious, but that can be quite easily glossed over, with the space opera lens.
E2. For someone whose body might be compromised from a toxic environment, Seo Hae sure can fight! I have to admit I felt quite thrilled at how she singlehandedly trashed those Control Bureau dudes who busted into Sun’s apartment. This reminds me of the initial badassery that Park Shin Hye showed in Doctors, and I love it.
E2. Seo Hae’s been quite demanding of Sun, but she’s not without conscience. When he keeps telling her that he can’t afford to die, and that he needs to support his family, she opts to leave him behind at the train station – after giving him the winning lottery numbers that he’d asked for. That’s compassionate of her. I just wonder what kind of ripple effects might occur, with her changing the winner like that. Or is that an area of concern at all, with this story?
E4. I liked the opening scenes of Seo Hae in a post-apocalyptic Seoul. Not only do the ruins look very believable to my non-expert eyes, I like the glimpse that it gives us, into her character. This is the first time we’re getting a look at her in a situation where she’s not either running away from people, or fighting people, and from the looks of it, there’s a wistfulness about her. She’s curious about the world of the past, and enjoys cute things and kpop and makeup.
There’s also a touch of rebellion about her, with how she’s casual about the putting on or taking off of her gas mask. We’d seen a hint of this in episode 1, where her father had frowned at her for not wearing it, and she’d explained it away by saying she’d taken it off only for a moment. But now, we see that she takes it off as a matter of habit; she wants to at least pretend to breathe.
E4. How curious, and at the same time, bittersweet, that we see that the entry in Seo Hae’s diary, is actually from her future self to her younger self, and that in it, Future Seo Hae tells her younger self, that by the time she reads this, Future Seo Hae would be dead. Eep. That’s sad. Is Seo Hae not going to survive this story? Also, in it, Future Seo Hae tells her younger self to stop the war, because only she can do it. That makes me see Seo Hae in a whole new light. She is working to stop the war, and she’s doing this, knowing that eventually, she’s not going to survive. Ack. That just stole the breath out of my throat. Dang. I hope our team manages to prove that Sisyphus is but a myth, by changing the course of the future.
E5. We haven’t had many opportunities to see the future that Seo Hae comes from, so I always welcome a flashback, so that we can get a better idea of what she’s about. This episode, the flashback to her and her dad scavenging for useful scraps from what looks to be an abandoned department store, was quite illuminating, I thought.
I’d started this show with the impression that Seo Hae was some kind of trained warrior, but the more glimpses we’re given of the dystopian future that she comes from, the more I think that she isn’t actually a trained warrior. Rather, it seems to me that she’s learned to defend herself and she’s learned how to shoot a gun and a bunch of other survival skills, out of necessity. This makes me see her as a little scrappier than I’d imagined her to be at first.
Also, her casual use of the gas mask, along with her fascination for fun and pretty things, gives me the impression that she’s really young, if not in actual age, then in sensibility. Plus, like I said before, her guns are pink, and her grenades are decorated with stickers. That’s very youthful and whimsical, no? Together, this gives me a better feel for who she is, and what she’s about.
In the scene where she orders bulgogi at the jimjilbang in honor of her father, Seo Hae feels very childlike to me. She might be well-versed in fighting off enemies, but she’s completely new to much simpler, more innocent things like the jimjilbang and the amusement park. When she orders the bulgogi, she strikes me as a little girl who really just misses her dad a lot, and I feel bad for her, that she’s all alone in the world.
E7. It’s poignant to see Seo Hae have a taste of family life around a meal set out by Sun’s mom (Shin Young Jin), coz it seems that Seo Hae hasn’t had anything like this for a long time.
E7. Seo Hae’s rescue of Tae Sul is offhandedly badass, and while I know that this is entirely scripted to make her look cool, and she doesn’t look at all believable as a girly sniper, I’m entertained and reasonably thrilled anyway.
E8. We see more of Seo Hae in dystopian Seoul, celebrating her birthday in a decrepit amusement park. The more I see of her picking out cutesy things to add to her collection of baubles, the more I get this young girl vibe from her. She’s not really a warrior; she’s just a girl who likes cute things, who happens to have to hoist around guns and a gas mask, as a matter of survival. And while some viewers might take issue with Seo Hae’s casual switching between using and not using the gas mask, it actually makes character sense to me; it’s her father who insists on it, not her. We see that Seo Hae is consistently quite casual in the way she walks around without her gas mask, and the way she picks stuff off dead bodies for her own use or consumption.
E9. I liked the emotion of the scene, where Seo Hae gets to interact with her mother again, albeit unbeknownst to her mom. It feels like a precious gift for Seo Hae; something that she hasn’t dared to dream of, even after coming to the present from the future.
E9. The mounting anxiety and despair of Seo Hae’s parents, as they try to get their family to safety, is palpable, and I felt invested in their safety, even though I knew that at least Dad and Seo Hae make it. It strikes me as extra tragic, that Mom’s decision to sacrifice her life to save Dad and Seo Hae, is driven in part by the fact that she’d been stabbed, and the reason she’d been stabbed, was because someone else’s dad had become delirious with anxiety, and mistaken Seo Hae as his daughter. The finality of Mom’s goodbye, both to Seo Hae and to Dad, is so heartbreaking. Sob. 😭
And, in the light of how we’ve seen adult Seo Hae have a chance to interact with Mom at the amusement park, Mom’s promise that she will get to see Seo Hae all grown-up one day, is extra bittersweet and poignant. 💔
As all this is going on on my screen, it really puts things into perspective for me, all that Seo Hae’s been through, and how many wounds and scars she must carry on her heart. It boggles my mind that one day, she was a little girl without a care in the world, loved by family and surrounded by friends, and in just one day, she loses all of that; every single last bit of that warm, happy life is gone. Wow. 😳🤯
E10. In that flashback to 2035, when Seo Hae writes that letter to her dad and explains why she wants to try to prevent the war, I feel like she’s doing it because there is so little choice. She and Dad are running low on food and medicine, and now, she gets this message from her future self telling her that she has a chance of preventing this terrible reality from coming to pass. I can see why she’d want to take that chance, if she can make life better for Dad and herself.
Tae Sul and Seo Hae together
I’d honestly thought that there would be no loveline in this story, despite this being a kdrama, because of the nature of the story. I figured we wouldn’t have time for romance, with our leads busy trying to save the world. But I was wrong; Show does serve up a loveline between Tae Sul and Seo Hae.
The question is, did it work for me?
The short answer is, sort of?
I found their initial bickery chemistry quite good, and found it rather amusing to see them at odds, even while being thrown together. However, as a downside, I found that, in the middle section of our story, when they are given time together, to just be, I found that their chemistry didn’t quite do it for me. At this point, it didn’t feel like there’s much of anything between these characters, chemistry-wise, like it’s some kind of vacuum or void. Not great.
On the upside, I think Show does a better job, than say, The King: Eternal Monarch, in convincing me that our OTP comes to care for each other in a real way. At the same time, I will say that once Show deals with making the connection between Seo Hae and Tae Sul something more epic and palpable (in episode 11), thereafter, all the bickery scenes didn’t work for me. It felt like a regression, and the bickery stuff no longer felt organic to this relationship.
The relationship between Seo Hae and Tae Sul turns out to be pretty key to our story, and therefore, it makes sense that their connection needs to be strong, palpable and believable. Overall, I feel like Show does an ok job of this, but I personally would have liked more and better, from our OTP.
E3. I am suitably amused that Seo Hae and Tae Sul basically fall into a lovers’ quarrel sort of pattern, practically on sight. In particular, the way she’s so annoyed at him for foiling her plan, and his cluelessness at why she’s angry, feels so much like a couple’s squabble, heh.
E4. I do enjoy the half-adversarial, half-teamwork sort of banter that we get between Tae Sul and Seo Hae. And I like that as they spend a bit more time on the run together, they’re both starting to have an appreciation for what the other person brings to the table.
I like that Seo Hae acknowledges Tae Sul’s driving skills, while he acknowledges her fighting. And even though they technically barely know each other, I appreciate that sense of comradeship, where they agree to stick together, even while jumping off that bridge. And, how swoony, really, that Tae Sul swims down to get Seo Hae, when she’s lost her grip on his hand and has fallen even deeper than he’d estimated.
E5. I liked seeing Seo Hae and Tae Sul talking about things more, and coming to an agreement so that she can continue to protect him. And, I concede that it was probably important for them to come to the conclusion individually, that they couldn’t do this without each other, though I did feel like Seo Hae walking into traffic (was that a panic attack? I can’t tell) was a little dramatic.
E9. Even though I like the idea of Tae Sul celebrating Seo Hae’s birthday with her in principle, I found it hard to get into the fun of the moment, because, well, time keeps on rolling, while they’re at the amusement park, and people are still after them, and Tae Sul’s death and the nuclear war are getting closer to them, with every minute that they spend goofing around with cat-ear hairbands. I guess Tae Sul and Seo Hae are better at compartmentalizing than I am, hur.
It’s too bad that this special visit to the amusement park is rudely interrupted by Sigma and the Control Bureau guys. But it does prove my point, that it’s not quite the right time to be letting loose and having fun at an amusement park, eh? 😬 From the way Tae Sul drops everything to try to save Seo Hae from the Control Bureau guys, even though Sigma frames it as a choice between saving Seo Hae and saving the world, it’s clear that Seo Hae’s become very important to Tae Sul; important enough for him to choose her, over the idea of saving the world from a nuclear war.
E10. Although Show’s been working to show us that Tae Sul’s coming to care more about Sae Hae, I did find his sudden depth of feeling for her during the rescue mission, rather surprising. Where before, it had felt like Tae Sul cared for Seo Hae as a partner-in-arms, during the rescue mission, it feels like he cares for her as a lover and soulmate. It feels like a quantum leap forward, to my eyes, and I have to actually stop and rationalize that when people are in a life and death situation, feelings can be greatly amplified.
E11. While I still find it a bit sudden that Tae Sul would be at a point where he would risk his life without hesitation in order to have a chance of saving Seo Hae, I do like the effect of the journey that they take together, to come back.
I mean, finally, they go through something that I feel believably strengthens their connection to the point where I can buy that they are deeply in love and would therefore be desperate to save each other. Although the execution lands a touch cheesy to my eyes, I do like the idea of them revisiting old memories together, and therefore sharing the emotional impact of those moments, as if it’s hitting them for the first time.
Most of these moments are so raw and deeply personal too, like when Tae Sul revisits the memory of his parents’ funeral wake, where Tae San had decided to live his life for Tae Sul, and to be a father, mother and brother to him. The memory hitting Tae Sul afresh means that Seo Hae is there for Tae Sul, to support him through an incredibly difficult time, emotionally. The fact that they walk through several of these difficult memories just amplifies and strengthens the emotional bonding that occurs, I feel. I thought this was a really smart way to accelerate their bonding as our lead couple.
It sucks that one of the vials broke (coz, did they not have the technology to put that super advanced medicine into break-proof vials?), but it does give Tae Sul an opportunity to really figure out what’s important to him, and put Seo Hae before himself, in giving her the only available antidote, thus sentencing himself to wander timelines forever.
I found their goodbye scene nicely poignant and touching. Suddenly, all the thoughts and emotions that they probably thought they had time for “later,” have to be condensed into just a few short moments, and the result is intent and heartbreakingly earnest. The kiss feels organic to the moment, because, as far as they know, if not now, then it will be never. 💔
Seo Hae’s desperation upon waking up, is also very believable, because as far as she knows, Tae Sul’s just given up his life to save her.
When Tae Sul wakes up and embraces Seo Hae, their strong love for each other now feels warranted and believable, and that’s so important, for a story where their love seems to be an important factor.
E12. The conversations that Seo Hae and Tae Sul have about saving the world land with more emotional heft, now that their feelings for each other are better developed. Now, Tae Sul sincerely doesn’t want to lose Seo Hae because he’s come to care for her. She’s no longer a random person from the future who says that she’ll be his bodyguard; she’s now the woman that he loves – though now that they’re done with wandering timelines and forever-goodbyes, Seo Hae’s not so willing to acknowledge their feelings for each other.
E12. I do feel Tae Sul’s wistful pathos at the idea that if he doesn’t make the uploader, that it would mean that Seo Hae would disappear. At the same time, there is an equal amount of weighty pathos around what Seo Hae says, that whether he makes the uploader or not, she is going to die. The finality with which she says that, does land in quite an affecting manner, for me.
Kim Byung Chul as Seo Won Ju [SPOILERS]
Kim Byung Chul makes an excellent OTT villain for our story, and I thought he made Sigma an interesting mix of refined gentleman and off-his-rocker psycho.
It takes quite a while for Show to fill us in on Sigma’s backstory and why he wants to destroy the world, and perhaps that is why some viewers felt underwhelmed by the reveal of his motive.
I talk more about this in the spotlight on the penultimate episode, but for now, I’ll just say that I felt that Sigma’s motive made sense for him, as a character. I find it an interesting thought, that 2020 Sigma had felt so marginalized, that he’d wanted to die. It’s not much of a stretch, that he’d also want to punish everyone else at the same time, by making them die with him. We see that he doesn’t only feel inferior to Tae Sul, he also feels less than, in a society that doesn’t seem to care.
We’ve seen cases in the past, where suicidal people end up taking other people with them in death. Pilots crashing whole planes comes to mind. Show takes that idea and amplifies it to its biggest possible iteration; what happens when a suicidal person hates the world enough for marginalizing him, and has enough power, to destroy the world, even as he seeks to kill himself? It’s extreme for sure, and that’s why this is a space opera, but I have to admit that it’s thought-provoking.
While I have no problems with Sigma’s motive, I am admittedly a little sore at Show, for not being clear on why Sigma is so familiar with events from both the past and the future. I think we’re supposed to believe that Sigma somehow managed to retain his memories from the cyclical movement of time. How did he do that, though? Why is he the only one who remembers? Why don’t other characters, who’ve been through the same cycles of time, remember too? I wish Show would have given us some clear answers on that.
Sung Dong Il as CEO Park
I found Sung Dong Il quite the treat to watch, as slimy, can’t-be-trusted CEO Park. And, I appreciated the way Show peeled back his layers, to show us more of his vulnerabilities underneath his big-talking, devil-may-care surface.
Although CEO Park can’t be described as a good guy, we do learn that he’s a loyal person, with his own cares and regrets, and that definitely helped to make his character pop, for me.
E9. As questionable as CEO Park might be, in terms of his intentions, he really does care about his boys. The way he puts everything on the line in order to get Seon Ho (Jung Ha Joon) his kidney medicine, really stands out to me. That’s deep loyalty, and it makes me think that he treats those boys like his own family.
E12. What an interesting reveal, that the person whom CEO Park has been sending money to every month, is actually his wife (Baek Sang Hee). I did not see that coming. And what an irony, that Past Him is so suspicious of where the money is coming from, that he’s beating up his wife for it. Ack. That’s sad. It’s a sad irony that CEO Park is so disgusted with his past self, that he’d throw a rock at his past self.
E14. I am quite intrigued by CEO Park’s confrontation with his 2020 self. In that scene where his 2020 self keeps bashing on the car windscreen, it appears like CEO Park is physically deteriorating, especially with the sudden nosebleed. I am guessing that in that moment, he is seriously considering shooting his 2020 self, which would then cause his future self to stop existing?
Kim Jong Tae as Seo Hae’s dad
Among our supporting cast, Dad is arguably my favorite character.
He turns out to be such a pillar of strength and support for Seo Hae, and is such a badass in his own right as well. On top of all that, his arc, which I talk more about in the spoiler section, works out to be so full of pathos.
I think Dad had the biggest piece of my heart, during my watch. ❤️
E10. Seo Hae’s father is our MVP, as he presses in to find out more about the Control Bureau, and why his family’s names are on that Wanted poster. That fight scene in the elevator is quite nerve-racking, I have to admit. Stuff’s moving so fast, plus Dad’s assailant has a loaded gun; I was afraid that Dad would get shot. Credit to Dad for having such sharp instincts and quick reflexes; it turns out that Dad is quite the badass, and I can see how he’d have been able to train Seo Hae to become the skillful fighter that she is.
E10. How significant, that Seo Hae’s dad saves Tae Sul and co. from Hyun Ki (Go Yoon), AND gets to see his daughter, all grown up and trying to save the world. It really adds a layer to Dad’s characterization, particularly in the future timeline. He already knows what Seo Hae is likely to do, and he does everything he can, to prevent her from putting herself at risk.
E12. I’m glad that in 2020, Seo Hae gets to spend a bit of time with Dad and talk to him. It feels like her last chance to talk to any version of him, because she’d left him behind in the future. And again, we have that circular nature of time coming to the fore, with Seo Hae giving Dad a map with the bunker marked out, so that he’d know to look for it. There’s so much pathos in the realization that we now have, that when their family had found the bunker, Dad had already known that Mom wouldn’t make it. Sob. That must’ve been so sad, for him. 💔
Tae Sul and Tae San
Although we don’t get a lot of time with Tae San, it really moved me, to see what a self-sacrificial, loving older brother he is to Tae Sul. And, even though Tae Sul is the one who is mainly on the receiving end in this relationship, it was also touching to me, to realize how important Tae San is, to his brother.
I enjoyed the closeness of this brotherly bond, and wish that we could have seen more of it.
E2. In all the flashbacks, it’s clear that the bond between Tae Sul and Tae San was very strong, before things went wrong. I find it very bittersweet to look at their interactions through Tae Sul’s flashbacks, seeing how warm and supportive their relationship was, and knowing how things ended.
E3. My heart lurched for Tae Sul, when he caught sight of Hyung in the audience, and just.. crumples. I feel really bad for Tae Sul, because he’s so tormented by this whole thing with Hyung, and the loss of Hyung. And now, Hyung is so near, and yet so far, and the very sight of him – not even confirmed, but just the promise of a glimpse – is enough to destroy him. I really want Tae Sul to be set free from that, particularly since it appears that Hyung never died. The idea that Tae Sul’s suffered so deeply for so long, over something that wasn’t even true, hurts me.
E6. While it’s inferred, since Tae San had spent years talking about conspiracies and time travel before his supposed death, it was still rather startling to see that he’d come across a time traveler with his suitcase, as early as 2001. And, that time traveler had had details of the various attempts on Tae Sul’s life listed on the back of a photograph, even. I can totally see why this would drive Tae San to investigate regardless of the cost, because it involved the safety of his baby brother. That makes a lot of sense to me.
E7. I appreciate that note of pathos that we get, from our glimpse of what life has been like for Tae San, since he’d put that note in the safe. Even though he keeps assuring Tae Sul that he’s doing fine, we see that Tae San’s reality is full of furtiveness and loneliness. Tae San really loves Tae Sul in a very self-sacrificial way, and the way he’s determined to save Tae Sul, even though it means being separated from Tae Sul for a long time, and being on the run, is quite touching.
E11. Credit to Show, Tae San showing up as a fellow timeline wanderer was something that I did not see coming, at all. And yet, when he shows up, it made complete sense to me. Of course that’s where he’s been hiding, since he’d said that he’d be hiding where no one would be able to find him.
I have to confess that I was completely moved by Tae San’s sacrifice. It’s like he’s been waiting in the wings for an indefinite period of time, just wandering the timelines, until the time would come that he’d be able save his little brother again. Augh. He’s such a loving self-sacrificial hyung. 😭
What a great twist, because it not only gives Tae San and Tae Sul a much needed healing moment together, where Tae Sul can sob his apologies, and Tae San can brush away his tears and tell him everything’s ok, it also makes it possible for Tae Sul to go back, where before it had seemed impossible. Nicely played, Show. *slow clap*
Chae Jong Hyeop as Sun
I enjoyed Chae Jong Hyeop’s warm onscreen presence as the irrepressible Sun.
Even though Sun flits in and out of our story as a matter of convenience, I liked his loyalty and his straightforward way of looking at things.
E2. I admit that I giggled at Chae Jong Hyeop’s shirtless scene, when Sun gets the clothes taken off his back. I mean, Sun looks unnaturally ripped for someone who works at a Chinese restaurant, struggling to make ends meet? Where would he find the time to work out to get that ripped? 😆 This feels like a stretch to me. But of course, I can understand Chae Jong Hyeop and his management wanting him to make a lasting impression, heh.
E6. What an unexpected reappearance from Sun, now the apparent owner of a snazzy sports car. I’m glad those lottery numbers worked out for him. And, what a ride it was for him, to buy that lottery ticket!
E7. I’m slightly taken aback by Sun’s romantic feelings towards Seo Hae because it does feel a little sudden, but I rationalize that Sun feels deeply indebted to her for saving him with the winning lottery numbers and thus saving his family too. Plus, Seo Hae’s a very pretty girl, and there’s a definite sense of pathos and fragility about her when she has a moment of vulnerability, and I can see those things adding up to an attraction, for Sun.
Tae In Ho as Eddy Kim
I had mixed feelings about Eddy Kim.
Even though he technically betrays Tae Sul, there are moments when I feel like he hates the position he’s gotten himself into. There are also times when I feel like he might want to take it all back, if he could.
In episode 14, he seems so earnest and plaintive, even as he tries to digest everything that’s happening around him. He seems genuinely worried about Tae Sul, and regretful that he’d ever disbelieved him, and he also appears to be hopelessly devoted to Seo Jin, who really doesn’t care about what happens to him. This is when I thought, Eddy Kim might be misguided, but he isn’t evil.
However, I do hold it against him, for showing up at the end of episode 16, and ruining everything. 😑
Jung Hye In as Seo Jin [SPOILERS]
I did not like Seo Jin at all, as a character.
What a reveal in episode 6, that Chairman Kim (Jeon Kuk Hwan) is Seo Jin’s father, and they are both fully aware of the whole time travel thing.
They are in on the conspiracy, which is to remove Tae Sul, and drug him so bad that he won’t be able to recover and will have to be hospitalized long-term, in order to sell his technology to the mysterious Sigma. Ugh, that’s evil, and all because the future people are apparently supplying medicine to Seo Jin’s mother (Kim Hee Ryeong), and Mom would die without that future medicine.
Seo Jin comes across as such a snake; she just keeps betraying Tae Sul over and over. I can understand why she’d do that, if this is the only way that she can get the medicine for her mother. But that doesn’t make it any more right, for her to treat Tae Sul like he’s less than human.
Tae Won Seock as Bong Seon
I just wanted to give a quick shout-out to Bong Seon, because I found myself growing quite fond of him. He’s all big and burly and fiercely loyal to Tae Sul, and he’s seems just a little dim, at the same time. I find him endearing; he’s obviously fond of Tae Sul, and I like that he doesn’t judge Tae Sul in spite of all the apparently erratic and strange behavior that Tae Sul’s displaying.
E13. I love that it’s Bong Seon that arrives from the future to save Tae Sul and Seo Hae. He’d always been Tae Sul’s bodyguard, after all. I appreciate that this gives Bong Seon and Tae Sul a chance to talk, and to achieve some closure, but I am really bummed that Bong Seon dies. Well.. I am assuming he dies, since he dissipates into thin air, after showing signs of physical deterioration. 😭
I’d hoped that Bong Seon would be able to join Tae Sul and Seo Hae as they work to save the world, but it looks like this is the end of the road for him, and I’m really disappointed and saddened by his death. I feel like he wouldn’t have died if he hadn’t traveled to 2020 to save Tae Sul. And if that’s the case, he’d died in order that Tae Sul might live, and that hurts to think about. 💔
STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH
Unanswered questions [SPOILERS]
Like I mentioned earlier, here’s a collection of questions that I felt Show didn’t provide satisfactory answers to, if it provided any answers at all.
E1. How is it possible that the person who appears on the blackbox recording, smashing into the plane mid-flight, could possibly be Tae Sul’s dead older brother? I mean, how could anyone survive crashing into a plane, mid-flight?
E6. It seems that our time travelers have some kind of ability to leap through time, or speed up their time, since that time traveler basically leaps forward quite a few paces, from a lying down position on the train tracks, which, to Tae San, feels like a glitchy half second. How does that work?
E6. I’m wondering how Seo Hae had managed to appear in Tae Sul’s drug-fueled hallucinations and mixed-up memories, to point him towards the moon, thus triggering his math-nerdy calculations, which prove that he’s way into September instead of August, like everyone else claims.
E8. How would Seo Hae have stumbled on her own grave, if she hasn’t died yet? I get that time works in a loop in this drama world, but in Seo Hae’s loop, she’s still alive, so how could it be possible that she’d be able to see her own grave? Did she get lost and wander into a different timeline without realizing it?
E11. I am curious to know the significance of Tae Sul coughing when he first starts wandering through time to find Seo Hae. It seems to go away later on, and I don’t know if there’s a reason that the coughing stopped, or if Show just forgot about it.
E11. I also hope Show gives us some kind of explanation about why Tae Sul having a meltdown at the memory of the dinner on the day of Tae San’s “death” would result in all the flickering lights at the dinner, and Tae Sul disappearing from there, only to reappear in what appears to be some kind of wilderness. I know we’re unlikely to get answers to this, and Show could argue that this is the wild west of unexplored memories where nobody really knows how things work, but I can’t help but wonder anyway.
Logic stretches [SPOILERS]
Here’s a collection of logic stretches that I noticed during my watch. I know that the comic book lens takes care of all of this, but just wanted to put them here, for the record.
E4. If everything’s in such a post-apocalyptic state in the future, where would Hyun Ki have managed to find so many perfect packets of ramyun to put in his suitcase to bring to 2020?
E7. I don’t get this thing when Sun asks Seo Hae if the reason she knew the winning lottery numbers was because she’s from the future and Seo Hae says yes.
If Seo Hae had memorized the numbers before traveling to the past, why would she have taken the trouble to do that? Also, it didn’t seem like that information was readily available in dystopian Seoul? Or, is she able to somehow see into the immediate future while in the past, because she comes from the future?
E9. Why did Hyun Ki’s gun not work? Was it something to do with the water? If so, that can’t be a very good gun that the Control Bureau gave him, if it’s so easily affected by water sprinklers?
E10. I find Seo Hae’s badassery in turning the tables on Hyun Ki pretty great, but I also found her subsequent wilted state a bit of a stretch. Also, I found Seo Hae’s ability to walk with Tae Sul while assisted, a little too good, for someone who appears as out of it as her limp head and woozy expression might suggest. There was just some kind of disconnect there, for me.
E14. It’s hard to ignore the fact that Seo Hae disappears on Tae Sul right after she runs after 2020 Sigma, and yet, when we see her wandering around Seoul, she’s got that big burlap sack covering the gun. Logically, this couldn’t happen, because she definitely didn’t put that burlap sack in her jacket pocket, before training the gun on 2020 Sigma. And, she couldn’t have gone back for it while Tae Sul was out looking for her, because CEO Park and Bingbing had been in the apartment, waiting to see what happened.
E14. I’m completely thrown by the revelation that Tae Sul is the one who had built the bunker. I.. had not seen that coming, at all. So.. he’d met Future Seo Hae, and secretly built the bunker for 2020 Seo Hae, all while dealing with Future Seo Hae’s claims that war was imminent? Wasn’t Tae Sul ousted from Quantum & Time pretty soon after meeting Future Seo Hae, though? Exactly how fast was this bunker built?
Plus, this time around, Tae Sul makes it extra fancy, and stocks it with food, medicine and even hydroponic vegetables. I really don’t think it’s believable, that he’d done this in the short period of time that he’d still been CEO of Quantum & Time, after meeting Seo Hae. Plus, it had taken him quite a while to start to even believe Seo Hae, after he’d met her. I call logic fail, though I’ll admit it’s a neat plot twist, if Show’s internal logic could have supported it.
THEMES / IDEAS
The power of regret
E3. There is the idea of regret; that even though people know that the past and the future cannot be changed, the regret is so strong, that they try anyway. Which is why the sniper tries to assassinate Tae Sul, even though he already knows that it’s theoretically impossible to change the past? I guess that’s why both Seo Hae and Tae Sul are shown saying, “Today is not the day I die”?
E4. We get a little more information this episode, about the time travel arrivals. I’m quite shocked that there’s only a 10% chance of a successful download, because so much can go wrong in the process. Yikes. This means that Seo Hae was one of only 10%, since she arrived in one piece, and without any weird missing limbs or amphibious mangling. I get what Show is saying, though, that even though the chances are so slim, the regret that people struggle with is so strong, that they take those odds, in the hope that they’ll be able to assuage those regrets.
That’s a poignant thought, and it’s brought out so poignantly, in the arc of Hyun Ki, the man who comes back because he regrets how he treated his mother before she died. I found it all very bittersweet and sad, because on the one hand, he does manage to make a last meal for his mother, of all her favorite foods, and he does get to tell her how much he loves her and how he’s sorry, but on the other hand, that’s so sad, that she dies, and that he dies too, soon after, thanks to the Control Bureau. And yet, it does seem to me, that for him, this is worth it. It echoes what Tae Sul says, when CEO Park asks him what he’d give if he could go back to fix a regret: “Everything.” Hyun Ki literally gives up everything in order to have that last moment with his mother, and I suspect that for him, this was enough.
Would you choose not to do something, if you knew you were going to fail?
E6. Hyun Ki’s faced with that question twice, once when Manager Hwang reveals that the mission was expected to fail, and then when he asks if he will be able to catch Seo Hae. Both times, Hyun Ki’s answer, which is certainly fueled by his vendetta against her, is an emphatic yes. Which, I think, brings us back to the idea of Sisyphus, who continues to roll the boulder up the hill for all eternity, even though he keeps failing. There’s such a sense of tragic futility in that, when I think about it.
Would you do something bad, if it allowed you to save someone you love?
E7. It seems that Chairman Kim receives an order from Sigma to kill himself, which is pretty sad, really. He did a lot of bad things, but I can appreciate that he felt like he had no other choice, if he didn’t want his wife to die. I can imagine how people might go to great lengths, and even go against their conscience, if it meant that they could extend the life of a loved one. I think that’s where Chairman Kim is, so I do feel a little sorry for him that this is how it all ends, for him. With a lonely bullet to the mouth.
Would you give up the people closest to you, if it meant that you could save the world?
E13. It’s quite a thought-provoking thing to consider: what would you do in Tae Sul’s shoes? It’s not so cut and dry, once we put ourselves in his shoes.
It’s a poignant point, that people are guided by their concern for the people closest to them. Tae Sul is reluctant to shoot 2020 Sigma because Future Sigma promises that he’d have a chance to save Tae San. Plus, there’s the thing where Tae Sul will lose Seo Hae if he changes the future. At the same time, CEO Park doesn’t want 2020 Sigma to die, because that would make it impossible for him to see his wife and daughter again.
The idea that there are two sides to every coin
E14. I’m rather intrigued by the way Sigma talks about the uploader saving many people, instead of the narrative that we’ve been chewing on, that the creation of the uploader is essentially what destroys the world as we know it. I suppose it’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it? It all depends on where you’re standing, because there are two sides to every coin?
The idea of making sacrifices for small steps towards success
E14. The idea, that even if they fail this time, they’d be a little closer to winning, and therefore, over multiple cycles of time, the future versions of their selves would eventually win, is quite poignant. It’s such a large and selfless idea, that even if Present Me can’t accomplish the goal, what I do contributes something, so that someday, a Future Me will succeed at saving the world.
SPOTLIGHT ON THE PENULTIMATE EPISODE [SPOILERS]
Hrm. I’m gonna hafta admit that the experience of watching this penultimate episode was a rather head-scratching one, at times. I also struggled a bit, in trying to keep the balance between keeping a loose handle on logic, while keeping a tight enough grip on it, to assist me with the sense-making that could be had. Let’s just say that it’s turning out to be trickier than I’d expected. 😅
For a start, let me say that the first time I watched this episode, the whole transition between Tae Sul facing off with Sigma in that dark basement of Quantum & Time’s basement, to Tae Sul waking up in the church, really threw me. I was all, Wait, was that whole thing supposed to be a dream, and that’s why he’s waking up? 😳
But no, it wasn’t a dream. Tae Sul had basically been knocked unconscious by Sigma’s hooded bodyguards, who had stepped in at the end of the scene, when Tae Sul had used up his ammunition shooting wildly into the dark. And then they’d taken him to the church, where he’d woken up. I will say, though, that this was vague enough in its presentation, and the hooded bodyguards a hazy enough memory for me, that I was legitimately confused, while watching. I actually felt like I was in some kind of fever dream; this transition was making so little sense to me. 😅
It was good to get a deeper look at what had happened to 2020 Sigma, after he’d run away from Seo Hae. And, it was pretty clever of Show, to weave that in via Sigma’s phone conversation with Tae Sul, while Tae Sul is trying to track him down within the building.
In terms of Sigma’s vendetta against the world, I can see how his rationale might not make sense to some viewers, because, arguably, lots of people who’ve been bullied don’t set out to destroy the world. However, I actually think that Sigma’s decision makes sense for him.
We’ve seen that he’s always had some lashings of crazy about him, even as a kid, so I wouldn’t classify him as a normal person who’s capable of being rational. Also, he’s been bullied &/or ignored for years, by the people around him, which, for him, translates into the world at large. Since he’s already feeling suicidal because of how miserable he is in life, it’s not a stretch to think that he’d decide he wants to take the world down with him.
In terms of execution of that idea, though, I feel like Show’s logic is rather flimsy. Show’s trying to tell me that Sigma’s hasty taping up of his apartment is sufficient protection from a nuclear war, that he’d manage to survive without being annihilated like everyone else? That’s a stretch.
And then how about the shot of him in his apartment, followed directly by the shot of him venturing outside? We’re shown that outside the apartment, everything’s basically razed to the ground. And yet, Show wants me to believe that Sigma’s apartment building is left intact? That’s another stretch. I’d find it more believable if Sigma had lived in a fancy building that might’ve plausibly been constructed with extra fortification. But he definitely lived in a cheap, rundown shack of a place, which should have been destroyed as a whole, by the nuclear explosion.
I feel really bad for Sun, because he dies so senselessly. Poor guy. He’d been so earnest in wanting to save Seo Hae, and in the end, he’s gunned down by a revenge-crazed Hyun Ki, who’s been misled into believing that Seo Hae had killed his mother. It says a lot about his heart, that his first instinct in the face of danger, was to shield Seo Hae with his own body. I certainly don’t think he expected to die, so I don’t think that he necessarily made a conscious choice to protect Seo Hae with his life. It’s just that, in a moment of peril, his reflex wasn’t to seek his own safety, but to protect Seo Hae. That alone is heroic, I feel. Rest in peace, Sun. 💔
Seo Hae’s decision not to kill Hyun Ki in retaliation is partly her general aversion to killing others, as we’ve seen earlier in the show, but I also think it’s to do with the fact that she understands he’s being manipulated. Perhaps part of her is also cognizant of the fact that if he dies, there will be no Future Hyun Ki to help her and Tae Sul, in 2020.
That decision not to kill him, is enough of a trigger for Hyun Ki, for him to seek out Manager Hwang at the Control Bureau, and demand the truth. And the truth is, true to Show’s nature, pretty messed up. The idea, that cycle after cycle, the people at the Control Bureau have just blindly followed the steps laid out in various reports handed down by the generations before them, in order to replicate a set of events every time, is kind of crazy. I mean, Manager Hwang’s last to-do item, is to get shot and killed by Hyun Ki. And he seeks to follow that order, blindly, even though he knows that his work with the Control Bureau has ruined his family?
It blows my mind that Manager Hwang hadn’t once thought to rebel against the orders set out by the reports. I mean, it’s not like he’s some kind of hamster who’s conditioned to just run endlessly and mindlessly on a hamster wheel? I suppose that’s the extent to which he’s been brainwashed by Sigma, to believe that as humans, we can’t disobey our fate.
I’m glad that at least Hyun Ki chooses not to kill Manager Hwang, because like Seo Hae’s pointed out, that one small change, might be enough to result in bigger changes in how things pan out.
We get another extended flashback, to when 2035 Seo Hae fights her way to the uploader, alongside Dad.
There is a lot of circular logic at work again, with Future Sigma recognizing Seo Hae and therefore allowing her through to the uploader. Not only that, we see that Future Sigma is the one who starts the nuclear war, by sending the nuclear missile to 2020, from the future. Listen. It’s clear that Show loves this circular logic, because it’s used it a ton by now. Honestly, I feel like Show’s gone too heavy-handed with this idea, because even though it’s sometimes fun to entertain these chicken-or-egg ideas, sometimes it just doesn’t make any sense.
Future Sigma starting the war by sending the missile, is as hard to reconcile as the idea of Future Sigma time traveling to the past, to invest in Tae Sul so that Tae Sul would be able to start Quantum & Time. I think if you’re able to roll with Show’s particular use of the circular idea of time, you’d have an easier time accepting Show’s logic.
Clearly, I have some struggles around this. I mean, 2020 Sigma would have died in his suicide attempt, if not for the missile interrupting him. But that missile would have never been sent, if Sigma hadn’t survived. Something’s not working with this logic, right? I believe Show intends for this to blow my mind, but.. it’s not working so well for me. 😅
Seo Hae makes a suitably badass effort to take down all of Sigma’s bodyguards at the church, but is all too soon stopped in her tracks by Sigma holding a gun to Tae Sul’s head. Part of my brain wonders why she wouldn’t shoot Sigma, because there are times when a sharpshooter like her would get a clear shot, but I rationalize that she doesn’t want to put Tae Sul’s life at risk. Which is Sigma’s whole point, that she hesitates because she loves him.
And then we get the reveal, that the love story between Tae Sul and Seo Hae has been Sigma’s personal project all along, where he’s been working to get them to fall in love, like some kind of scriptwriter working with self-aware characters.
As it turns out, everything that Tae Sul and Seo Hae have been through, was staged from the beginning. No wonder that sniper at the auditorium had hesitated for so long; he was under orders to do so, from Sigma.
This whole idea, that Tae Sul and Seo Hae have been helplessly nudged from set up stage to set up stage through their entire relationship, while thinking that they’ve been making their own choices, feels so much like 1998 film The Truman Show. It’s quite sickening to think that Sigma’s been carefully manipulating them by directing their choices and their paths, while watching them and following them, every step of the way. Talk about playing god. 😑
At this point, Tae Sul and Seo Hae seem stuck and out of options, but with one last episode to go, will they somehow still be able to save the world?
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
So.. I’ve been allowing the finale to settle for a bit, in my brain, and I’m coming to the conclusion that I don’t really like it, very much.
We spend a good chunk of time in this finale episode (about 65% – yes, I calculated), following a very convoluted narrative line, where Show basically takes its idea of circular time, and puts it on steroids.
It was interesting while it lasted, in that it almost felt like some kind of video game challenge, to keep up with Show’s increasingly tangled logic. Like, how long can you honestly say that this makes sense to you? How long can you follow Show, as it loops back on itself – and then does it again, and then maybe again?
I didn’t mind this much, and it did feel like Show was stretching its own limits, just like it was stretching my brain’s limits. And I did feel a genuine sense of curiosity, to see exactly how far Show was going to go, with this.
Rolling with Show’s beloved chicken-or-egg treatment of time travel, I even rather liked a couple of the twists that we get in the first 48 minutes of the episode, like how the mysterious person(s) who shoot Sigma and save Tae Sul and Seo Hae – are actually Future Tae Sul and Seo Hae, back in a time loop, to fill in the missing pieces in our 2020 timeline, in order to create the situation that we first see unfold. I also rather liked the idea that Bingbing is CEO Park’s daughter, and that she manages to save him from killing his 2020 self.
Another idea that I liked, is that Sigma is saved from himself, by kindness. That idea of perceived neglect causing people to become vengeful and destructive, is echoed later in the episode, with Eddy Kim as well, and I appreciated that instead of just blindly arresting 2020 Sigma and inflicting more pain on him, Dad chooses to show compassion for him instead, and this eventually changes the course of his life.
Were there things I didn’t like about these first 48 minutes? I admit that I didn’t care so much for the idea that Tae Sul kept Seo Hae, the original time traveler in our story – in the dark about his time-looping plans, because it undermines the trust relationship that Show’s been working so hard to build between them, over the course of our story.
Plus, if you think about things too hard, there’s definitely some gappy logic at work in our story, like the way Future People disappear in a very staggered manner, for dramatic purposes. Strictly speaking, they should’ve all disappeared at the same time, at the exact moment the future is changed. While we’re talking about this, shouldn’t Tae San have disappeared along with everyone else, instead of waking up in that dentist chair? Now I’m confused, because I’d been under the impression that the Tae San who went into hiding was from the future too?
Also, I personally found the comic, more lighthearted handling of the loopback scenes, where Tae Sul’s got Seo Hae with him, and he’s working to set everything in place, so that Past Him and Past Seo Hae can defeat Sigma, rather unnatural. But, I wasn’t overly fussed about this, because I did like the overall idea of Tae Sul and Seo Hae overcoming the cycle, to defeat Sigma and save the world.
..That is, until Eddy Kim enters Stage Left, to take over the empty space that Sigma’s death has left behind.
This is the point at which I start to roll my eyes, because it’s starting to become clear to me that Show isn’t about to give our characters a break, after all.
Tae Sul ends up tearfully shooting himself in the head, in order to save both Seo Hae and the world, and the next time we see him, he’s waking up on that plane with the unreasonable ramyun passenger in First Class, and this time, Seo Hae’s next to him. This scene gave me strong Inception vibes, y’all.
Show is very, very vague about what this is supposed to mean, and in this scene, we don’t even know whether these versions of Tae Sul and Seo Hae are actually alive, or if this is just a manifestation of them in the afterlife.
I do find it poignant that this version of Tae Sul, who clearly has memories of Seo Hae, is happy enough to see her, that he discards his hallucination medication. I take this to mean that he is quite aware that she is likely not real, but she’s important enough to him, that he’d rather live in a hallucination, if it means that he can see her.
I honestly would have been quite happy for Show to have ended right here, on this vague note, because it’s pregnant with a lot of pathos, and we do have the comfort of knowing that Tae Sul and Seo Hae had succeeded in saving the world, even if it was at great cost to themselves.
But no. Show just had to take it even further, showing us that 2020 Sigma, even though living quite happily now, and interacting with people while selling his drawings, is still harboring dark intentions towards Han Tae Sul (whom we can therefore infer is still alive, after all).
Taken as a comic book sort of ending, well, this is fine, I guess. It implies that our hero and our big bad will simply live to fight another day, perhaps in another installment of the show. Kinda like all the classic comic book / cartoon pairings, like Tom & Jerry, or Roadrunner & Coyote. Except in this case, it’s our hero who keeps losing or who keeps getting hurt. Like, he dies, to save the world, and even then, it’s not enough to stop the cycle. But I guess in a comic book sort of world, his pain, suffering and death is less consequential..? 🤔
On the other hand, if we think of our characters’ emotions as things that we are meant to take seriously, then, this is really quite depressing. Because what Show appears to be saying, essentially, is that you can try as hard as you want, for as long as you want, through as many time cycles and lifetimes as you want; in the end, your pain doesn’t matter; you are but Sisyphus, doomed to repeat the same actions for eternity, and always failing on the cusp of success. Dang, Show. You said in your title that Sisyphus is a myth. You lied. 😭
THE FINAL VERDICT:
A reasonably enjoyable comic book type of space opera story. Disappointing if viewed otherwise.
FINAL GRADE: B-
The next drama I’ll be covering on Patreon, in place of Sisyphus, is Youth Of May. I just couldn’t say no to more Lee Do Hyun on my screen, heh. 🤩 So far, after episode 1, this feels pretty promising. 😄
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