THE SHORT VERDICT:
This show isn’t for everyone. It’s more thematic exploration than straightforward story, and for that reason, I feel it is divisive. Some people like this one a lot, while others think it’s terrible.
If you’re open to exploring uglier themes around the human condition, and don’t mind a narrative that asks more questions than it answers, this could work for you.
If, on the other hand, you’re more interested in the telling of a story, and its characters’ journeys, and how those are meaningful, this might not be your thing – because that doesn’t appear to be where Show’s interest lies.
Not bad, overall.
THE LONG VERDICT:
I was absolutely going to give this one a wide berth when it was announced, because well, the premise sounds much too dark and disturbing for my normal drama tastes.
But then, more and more, I heard rumbles around the internet, and also, from Trent and Shahz, who both had this show on their Top Ten Lists for 2021, that this show could be really thought-provoking and interesting.. and well, that got me curious.
So I dived in, in the spirit of stepping outside of my comfort zone, and y’know, it’s really not bad. It’s not my favorite show ever, but it’s definitely better than I’d expected, from seeing the initial previews, and it’s certainly more thought-provoking than I would have originally imagined, too.
MANAGING EXPECTATIONS / THE VIEWING LENS
Here are a couple of things that I think would be helpful to keep in mind, to maximize your enjoyment of your watch:
1. There’s violence in this drama, but it’s not incessant.
So, based on the premise, there is some violence in this show, for sure, particularly around the supernatural executions. However, there are more breathing pockets without violence, than one might expect.
2. Show asks more questions than it answers.
In that sense, it’s not your typical story, where it’s expected, that you get most questions answered, by the time you hit the finish line. However, this is not by accident, but by design. Show sets out to ask those questions, in order to provoke thought. I think that’s a helpful lens to have.
3. Think thematically, rather than in terms of plot points.
I find that this helps, because Show is more interesting in the ideas that it brings up, rather than in the journeys of our characters.
4. Some suspension of disbelief is required.
There are certain plot details that don’t add up so neatly, if you were to break everything down under a microscope.
[EPISODE 1 SPOILER] For example, if the supernatural executors have been doing their thing for at least the last 10 years, why is it only coming to the attention of the general public now, as we start our story?
I mean, the way they kill the hell-bound person is so graphic and violent, surely people would have noticed before now? Especially since there appears to be a great deal of collateral damage that goes with each execution? [END SPOILER]
It’s just better to roll with it, because these details aren’t actually important to Show. Show just.. uses it as a construct, to serve up its themes and ideas.
STUFF I LIKED: A BROAD OVERVIEW
1. Show is well-made,
..in that the production values are high, and the performances by the actors, solid across the board. It feels more like a film broken into parts, than a drama.
Shout-out to Kim Shin Rok, whom I think does a fantastic job delivering her character, Park Jung Ja (above).
[EPISODE 2 SPOILER]
I am in awe of how Kim Shin Rok plays Park Jung Ja.
It makes sense that Park Jung Ja should feel a million different things, with all that’s happening to her. And, Kim Shin Rok delivers that million different things, in how she delivers Park Jung Ja’s facial expressions and body language.
She’s terrified and lonely, but she’s also relieved and grateful, but she’s still more afraid than words can actually articulate, and, shaking like a leaf, she’s forcing herself to function, for the sake of her kids. It’s profoundly poignant, and my heart really goes out to her.
2. Show moves quickly.
It only has 6 episodes to tell its story, and therefore, it doesn’t have any time to waste.
I didn’t feel like Show slowed down or spun its wheels at any point, during my watch. The lulls felt more like breathing spaces, rather than actual slow-downs in plot movement.
3. Show has a good number of surprises up its sleeves.
I was genuinely surprised by some of the plot turns, even into the finale. This one didn’t get boring, that’s for sure.
STUFF THAT I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH
1. The violence, when it’s there, can be hard to watch.
I wouldn’t classify it as being gratuitous; I do think that the violence serves a narrative purpose. But when Show serves it up, it doesn’t hold back, and that might be hard for some viewers.
2. I feel less connected to characters, as a general rule.
Because of Show’s emphasis on the thematic side of things, I actually found myself feeling rather detached from our characters, most of the time.
THEMES / IDEAS
Because Show’s approach is heavily thematic, it made sense to me, that a thematic breakdown would be a fitting way to tackle this review, instead of my more typical character and relationship analyses.
Here’s a rundown of the various themes that came to my mind, during my watch.
[SPOILERS THROUGH THE END OF THE REVIEW]
What would you do, if the world as you knew it, was coming to an end?
E1. There’s a rather interesting idea, of what would you do, if you knew the world as you knew it, was coming to an end? Those radical students from Arrowhead choose to attack that lecturer, believing that there won’t be time for them to be dealt with by the law.
This brand of rogue justice reminds me a great deal of what The Devil Judge served up, and it begs the question of where these religious fanatics see themselves, in the grand scheme of things. If divine judgment is God’s to serve, then in doing this, aren’t they undermining God’s authority..?
A scathing commentary on religious manipulators
E2. The more I see of this show, the more I feel like Show is a scathing commentary on religious people who claim to know and understand what God is doing, but their actions don’t actually match up to the spirit of what they say God is about.
One of the first things that strikes me, this episode, is how none of the members of the New Truth or the Arrowhead, seem to have any sort of sympathy or compassion for Park Jung Ja, the lady who’s received the death prophecy.
The New Truth people are only interested in using her prophesied execution to further their message, and the Arrowhead dude on livestream, seems to only care that, now, finally, after years of being misunderstood, people will start to listen to them.
Either way, this is all very self-focused. Neither the New Truth people nor the Arrowhead people seem actually interested in being God’s representatives to the people.
The fact that the New Truth people and the Arrowhead people fixate on the idea that Park Jung Ja deserves to go to hell, for presumably getting involved with married men, makes me think of the story in the Bible, where the Pharisees bring a woman caught in adultery before Jesus, and demand that He condemn her to be stoned (John 8).
The first thing that strikes me as similar, between our scenario here, and the story in John, is that in both instances, the focus of the legalistic people, is on the woman’s sin, and how she ought to be punished for that sin.
There is no mention of the man with whom she committed adultery. Whether in Bible times or in the present, you certainly can’t commit adultery alone.
Certainly, it can be argued that perhaps the men involved with Park Jung Ja will also receive death prophecies and be executed for their sin, but what I find interesting is, neither the New Truth people nor the Arrowhead people seem to even think about the two men who had fathered Park Jung Ja’s children. They don’t even stop to wonder whether the men will receive death prophecies too.
In John 8, Jesus’s reaction is not to stone the woman, but instead, He points the Pharisees back to their own sin, saying, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
I understand that the theology in this drama world is not the same as the theology of the Bible, but I do think that the comparison is a worthy one, not only because of how the legalistic religious people only think about attacking the woman, without thought to the man who had sinned with her, or to their own sin, but also because, in both cases, there’s a clear divide between man’s understanding of a situation, and God’s understanding of it.
Do people really understand what God is doing? / Man acting as God
E2. I do think that there’s a divide here, between what the New Truth and the Arrowhead think and believe, versus what is actually going on, in the supernatural.
The Arrowhead might be positioned as the radicals here, but I see both groups as misguided and self-righteously thinking that they are doing God’s work – when it’s not even clear whether they even understand what God is doing.
I’d thought that the New Truth folks might be comparatively more “obedient” to what they think is God’s authority, but from the way that Jung Jin Soo (Yoo Ah In) executes the person who’d killed Hee Jung’s (Lee Re) mother (Park Ji Yeon), and then tries to pass it off as “God’s judgment,” it certainly feels like he’s trying to nudge God’s hand along, doesn’t it?
If he really believed that executing people is under God’s domain and authority, and that the order of things, is the death prophecy, followed by the supernatural executors, then why is he faking an execution, to help his cause?
Wouldn’t that be counted as faithless? Or, another way of looking at it, is, he thinks that he’s on par with God, and is able to make these decisions that God won’t.
This feels like a scathing dig at the Pharisees of the our modern world; people who claim to be doing God’s work, but don’t actually believe that they can put their entire trust in God, and try to pass off man-made works, as divine ones.
And then there’s how the Arrowhead people storm the police station, screaming, “You cannot investigate God!”
In essence, what they’re saying is that judgment is God’s to serve, and man cannot interfere with that. But.. ironically, in storming the police station like this, aren’t they interfering with God’s judgment too? They are, in effect, trying to take things out of God’s hands, by judging people on God’s behalf.
You just never know, with people
E2. Another thing that I found interesting, is how Detective Hong (Park Jung Pyo) turns out to be an active Arrowhead member. He looks so unassuming, and appears to be so normal and cooperative during the investigation, that it’s quite startling to realize that he’s actively leaking official information, in order to benefit Arrowhead’s cause.
Again, I feel like this is a commentary on how you just never know, with people. So often, we’ve heard of cases where the most unassuming, normal person, turns out to be a suicide bomber.
And now that he’s actively involved in the police protection given to Park Jung Ja. It makes me think that he’s likely going to do something, to prevent that protection from actually materializing as planned.
The ugliness of human nature
E3. The fascinating thing, is to see how people respond, in the wake of the execution. I get that people, scared and awed from witnessing something supernatural, would prostrate themselves in response; that’s fine. The thing that disturbs me, is the sense of judgey self-righteousness that occurs, afterwards.
The way these people attack all the people who had helped Park Jung Ja, is violent and vicious. It literally feels like they stop viewing these people as humans, in the way they attack them.
Hye Jin’s (Kim Hyun Joo) fellow attorney (Lim Hyung Guk) is beaten bloody, their law office is ripped to shreds, and they even track her down, and shockingly, break into her car, so that they can haul out her elderly, frail and ill mother (Won Mi Won), and beat her up.
ACK. Who does that? Ok, I know there are terrible and cruel people out there, but honestly, it blows my mind that these people attack a helpless old lady like this, and in the name of their religion. And they do it all so gleefully, too. 😵💫 GAH. It’s awful.
Worse, I don’t think they’d care, even if they knew that Hye Jin’s mother ends up dying, as a result of the beating that they give her.
I’m supposing that this is a “guilt by association” thing, but it still makes their actions difficult to understand. It’s almost as if the execution being broadcast on TV, and therefore given validity, has also given them the authority to act – at least, in their twisted minds.
People trying to makes sense of the world vs. People actively lying to manipulate others
E3. The big twist this episode, is, 1, the fact that Jung Jin Soo has himself also received a death prophecy, and 2, that he’s perfectly cognizant of the fact that everything he’s been telling the world, about what these executions mean, is a lie. WHUT. I had NOT seen that coming.
I mean, I’d guessed that there’s a discrepancy between Jung Jin Soo’s understanding of what the executions mean, and the actual divine meaning of the executions, but I’d assumed that he had at least himself believed what he was telling people.
I’m morbidly fascinated by Jung Jin Soo’s eventual decision to shape people’s worldview with a lie, when he couldn’t find any consistency or meaning behind the supernatural events like the death prophecies and the executions.
I find that interesting because he doesn’t assume that there is an answer and he just hasn’t found it yet; he believes that he’s exhausted all possible answers and theories, and there IS no truth to be found.
That’s.. presumptuous, isn’t it, for a mere human being who’s witnessed all these supernatural occurrences?
There has to be a certain (rather incredible) amount of gumption, to think that one has investigated God, and found God wanting, and that’s why he comes up with his own reasoning, because he’d found God wanting.
In the light of those Arrowhead people screaming, “You cannot investigate God!” in the last episode, I find this extremely ironic, honestly.
While Jung Jin Soo explains that he’s creating order in people’s worldviews, I feel like he’s convinced himself that he’s doing a good deed by guiding their thinking and therefore preventing them from rioting and panicking, but ultimately, this is just his way of rationalizing his sin, of passing off his own words, as God’s words.
Kinda like how he passed off the murder that he committed, as a divine act of judgment.
What’s interesting to me, is that through Jung Jin Soo’s entire explanation, he is utterly convinced that he’s sinless and blameless. But like, dude, you killed a man, and then tried to make it look like it was a divine execution. That’s murder.
This man is delusional. Now, whether living in fear for 20 years had caused him to become delusional, is questionable. I have no doubt that it was terrifying for him to be in that position, but does that really excuse how he’s made himself into an idol to the people, proclaiming a false truth, while committing murder on the side? I don’t think so?
Personal agenda shapes our actions
E3. Another theme that’s emerging this episode, I feel, is how personal agenda shapes our actions to such a strong degree.
That pastor from Future Church (Lee Dong Hee) comes across as such a genial guy, but he literally destroys evidence, and sets a group of bloodthirsty Arrowhead people on Hye Jin, to kill her, to ensure his position as the new Chairman of the New Truth.
Wow. This dude doesn’t care about spreading a truth to help people; he’d abet murder, if it gives him power and influence as the new head of New Truth.
Even Detective Jin (Yang Ik June) is swayed from his pursuit of the truth, when he realizes that exposing Jung Jin Soo’s lies, would also implicate his daughter.
In what feels like mere moments, Detective Jin’s put aside his morals, which had been burning not so long before, to help keep Jung Jin Soo’s secret, in order to protect Hee Jung from going to prison.
It’s all rather troubling stuff, about the darker corners of the human condition.
How do you know what is true and what is false?
E4. This new future feels surreal and bizarre, with the New Truth becoming a mainstream religion, and the execution places being turned into holy sites where people can visit and gawk in awe, at the details of the holy demonstration – and even the charred remains of the sinners.
This feels extra surreal, given that Show has told us that this entire “new order” is born of Jung Jin Soo’s wholly human and faked interpretation of the supernatural events. He’d died, knowing that he’d created a false narrative of what the prophecies and executions mean, and he’s.. literally changed the world. Wow.
That’s quite a strange and unsettling thought, isn’t it. It makes one wonder what in our world is built on lies, and what is built on truth. What are the things that we accept as true and real, but really.. aren’t?
And now, the New Truth is so powerful and influential, that even the TV station that’s doing a documentary on them, has to seek approval of every little scene and detail in the program, so that the way the New Truth is presented, is exactly what they are looking for.
The element of conscious manipulation definitely catches my attention. The way the deacon (Ruy Kyung Soo) specifies that the way the sinner is portrayed, cannot be too sympathetic, because the sinner still needs to look like a sinner, is as disturbing as it is thought-provoking.
Again, this brings across the idea that these people aren’t interested in sharing a truth; they are interested in pushing a narrative. And that narrative is that sinners are to be abhorred in a dehumanized fashion; they are nothing but numbers and examples, meant to shape the mindsets of non-sinners.
That narrative also includes the idea that because of the New Truth, crime rates have plummeted – when the actual truth is, there is a lot of crime and violence by the Arrowhead people themselves, that goes unreported.
The consequences a narrative can have on people
E4. We see that the New Truth and the Arrowhead have basically taken over the world, with the New Truth in a position of power and influence, and the Arrowhead as some kind of rogue organization that polices the people, according to what they believe is right. In effect, it feels like between them, they’re controlling the world.
Because of how the Arrowhead harass and punish the family members of sinners, which, notably, isn’t actually part of the New Truth’s original narrative, there’s a growing wave of stigma and shame around being connected with a sinner.
People staging their disappearances, so that their supernatural execution is kept a secret; the sprouting of the shadow organizations that help to keep those secrets; it feels like things have gone further than the New Truth had intended.
When I think about why people do this, it comes back to the idea that people desire to be in control, as far as possible, and this is the extent to which they can control their fates. They can’t help receiving the prophecies, and they can’t stop the executions from happening, but they do what they can, to control their reputation, and the reputations of their families.
E5. This episode, I’m really rather struck by how callous the New Truth people are, towards the sinners. That man who’s executed in the New Truth demonstration room, is treated so poorly, and with so much condemnation and disgust, almost as if he’s not a human being.
It’s horrible really, that his family is dragged into the room, to witness his execution, while the Chairman and every other New Truth member treats his execution with a sense of.. glee, almost.
Is Show trying to remind us of how, very often, people are reduced to statistics? That, often, in pushing the broader narrative, we forget that people are more than a number on a page? I personally feel really sorry for the guy, because he looks so terrified, and no one seems to care. 😭
Action vs. Intent
E5. The New Truth folks are fiercely guarding their narrative, by setting the Arrowhead guys on the Sodo folks, like hunting dogs sent to bring back prey.
The fact that the Chairman is so clear on the fact that his “empowering blessing” on the deacon is nothing but a show – and a show that needs a flashy upgrade, no less – is again, so dysfunctional.
Because intention counts for a lot in my books, it would land differently, if he at least believed that what he was giving was a true empowering blessing. The fact that he is cognizant that it’s for show, makes him a manipulating liar, rather than someone who put meaning to something he didn’t understand, and is simply misguided.
Given that the New Truth doctrine doesn’t provide for the possibility of original sin, or redemption, there’s something that doesn’t add up, for sure, when it comes to PD Bae’s (Park Jung Min) baby receiving the death prophecy.
In this case, Sodo’s take, that these executions are supernatural occurrences that have nothing to do with whether a person has sinned, makes more sense. Of course, we don’t actually know if Sodo is actually right; all we know is that Sodo’s take lines up more accurately, with the pattern of supernatural occurrences that we see.
It’s an intriguing situation, with Sodo asking for permission to broadcast the execution of PD Bae’s baby. I get that they want to disprove the doctrines of the New Truth, and therefore defuse their power over the world, but it’s a request that vibes eerily like Jung Jin Soo’s original request of Park Jung Ja.
I don’t know what to make of it, honestly. Are they “just like the New Truth,” like PD Bae blurts out, or is this ok, because they need to fight fire with fire?
Intent counts for a great deal with me, so I’m leaning towards it being “ok,” but I have to confess that I still feel weirded out by the idea of a baby’s execution being broadcast for the greater good.
Ohhh. Wait. Is this some kind of reference to Jesus, who was born as a baby – but destined to die, for the redemption of mankind..?
Guilt torments and destroys; People seek peace
E5. We see more deeply, the consequences that the New Truth narrative has on people, and how the fear of judgment and stigma, and the related harassment, drives people to their wits’ end.
In particular, I feel sorry for PD Bae’s wife (Won Jin Ah), who looks genuinely tormented, as she wonders what she did wrong, and as she can’t help but feel repulsed by her baby, whom she now sees as a sinner. That’s really sad.
I can see why PD Bae has second thoughts about maybe allowing Sodo to broadcast the execution. After all, that would mean embracing a different meaning to his baby’s death prophecy, and believing that their baby is innocent, is surely better than believing that their baby is a sinner.
I think that also brings up the idea that people tend to believe the thing that gives them more peace?
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
Well. That was an interesting finale. I’m not sure I understood it, but.. I’m intrigued by it?
I do have several takeaway thoughts, even though I’m not exactly sure what Show means with its chosen ending.
The first one is, what a difference it makes, when you’re the one who is the subject of judgment.
I honestly couldn’t recognize the guy at the apartment (Kim Do Yoon) as the Arrowhead live-streamer, until it was revealed to us (he looks completely different without his costume and makeup – which makes me think of public persona versus the real person, but that’s another kettle of fish altogether).
As an Arrowhead commentator, live-streamer dude had been very loud, very critical and very quick to judge people who had received the death prophecy. Because of this, as a viewer, I have to admit that I felt a flash of gratification, when I realized that he had fallen so hard and so unceremoniously, from his high horse.
At the same time, this made me think about what a difference context makes. It’s easy to cast the first stone, when you’re not the sinner in question, to borrow the biblical analogy I used earlier in this review.
Things look mighty different to him, now that he’s the one who’s on the receiving end of the death prophecy.
At the same time, this brings out another theme that I feel Show has been exploring; that humans are fundamentally desperate to find meaning in their existence.
The moment Arrowhead live-streamer dude is fed that story by Chairman Kim, that the reason he’d received the death prophecy, to be carried out 5 minutes after the baby’s execution, is that he’s the Messiah, and he’s destined to help cover up God’s mistakes, he immediately drops the sympathetic persona, and hatches a plan to kill everyone, in order to successfully cover up God’s mistake of giving a death prophecy to a baby.
He became not only willing to die, but gleeful to receive the demonstration, all because he now had a new way to process the idea, that worked with his pre-existing ideology. He now felt that his death would not only be meaningful, but glorious, and it didn’t require him to abandon everything he’d done as an Arrowhead member, as a mistake.
That brings me to another idea this episode, which is that, humans will do a lot, to cover up their mistakes. The more sunk cost is involved, the harder humans work, to create an alternative narrative, that will help them make it work, so to speak.
Not only does it apply to Arrowhead live-streamer dude, it applies to the New Truth core group as well. What makes them a little different, I think, is how they seem perfectly cognizant of the fact that they are dealing in lies. They actively think of way to make sense of the fact that a baby received the death prophecy, so that they won’t lose their influence and power over people.
To me, they are worse than the Arrowhead live-streamer dude, because he at least sincerely believes that he’s the Messiah, and therefore, in a twisted sort of way, he’s being true to what he believes. In contrast, the New Truth core group is actively throwing suggestions at one another, to figure out a way to “make it work.”
The third idea that I find swimming in my head, from this finale, is that love is greater than fear.
The baby’s parents are terrified, and for good reason. But in that moment when the death angels come after their baby, there is zero hesitation in either of them, as they fight to protect their child.
I’m sure that mentally, they knew that it was a losing battle. After all, they are up against very strong, very powerful supernatural beings. But that didn’t stop their instincts from kicking in, and both of them giving it everything they had, in order to protect their baby.
And in the end, their baby lived, at the cost of their lives. I’m sure they didn’t know for sure, whether shielding the baby with their bodies, would actually save his life. But they were willing to do it anyway, hoping that it would be enough.
I’m not sure what to make of the fact that the death angels allowed the baby to live. I’m assuming that they knew that the baby survived, since they are powerful supernatural beings. It’d feel rather lame, if it turns out that they didn’t know the baby survived.
Assuming that they knew the baby survived, does it then mean that Show is also saying that love is also greater than death? That, because the parents loved their baby enough to die for him, their baby could receive life?
All rather thought-provoking ideas, to be sure.
While I feel that Show is more interested in asking questions than providing answers, I can’t help but wonder what Show means, by resurrecting Park Jung Ja.
In the Bible, it was Jesus the Messiah, who had been judged, and who had then died, and been raised to life.
So.. since the New Truth people raised the idea of a Messiah in this finale, is Show suggesting that perhaps Park Jung Ja is the Messiah..? After all, she had been judged, and now she is being raised to life..?
Whether we get a Season 2 or not, I think that one final idea that Show emphasizes, with this chosen ending, is that, as humans, we don’t really know what God is thinking. All we have are our efforts to make sense of it all, and ultimately, we might be interpreting our world all wrong.
Perhaps that might be Show’s message, after all? That we shouldn’t assume that we know what we know?
I’m curious to see what Season 2 has to say, about all of this.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Floats more questions than it provides answers, but is reasonably thought-provoking, with the right lens.
FINAL GRADE: B