Today, we have a very special guest post, brought to us by Elaine.
I love how Elaine has synthesized her reflections on The Crowned Clown, Are You Human Too, and Someday Or One Day, into this wonderfully thoughtful and personal musings piece, about the question of identity.
There are major spoilers in this post, for all 3 shows, and what I’d like to say about that, is, 1, all 3 shows are really good, so if you haven’t seen any of them, I do recommend them! And 2, Elaine’s piece is so lovely, that I’d even suggest completing any of these shows that you haven’t seen yet – so that you can come back to read what Elaine has to say.
Thank you so much, Elaine, for offering to write this piece, and for sharing your reflections in such an honest, raw and thoughtful manner. It is our privilege, to step into your heart, a little bit, via this post. ❤️
I hope you guys enjoy!
~ KFG ❤️
“Doppelgängers and the Question of Identity”
I wrote this post to explore how key characters in three shows – Are You Human Too (AYHT), The Crowned Clown (TCC), and Someday or One Day (SOD) each reacted to the appearance of their doppelgängers, how they responded to the challenge to their core identity, and my own reactions and personal reflections.
Before you read on, please be warned that this post includes MAJOR SPOILERS for key plot points and endings of all three shows.
A common thread in all three shows, is that due to various circumstances, the Original character (Human Shin in AYHT, King Lee Heon in TCC and Chen Yunru in SOD) is temporarily incapacitated or unable to fill their role, and a doppelgänger is found, who steps in to run the Original’s life in their stead, for a temporary period.
Another commonality is that all three Originals are facing the threat of murder, and the doppelgängers (I will term them the Copies for the rest of this post) work with trusted friends of the Original, in trying to foil the murder plot.
The Copy initially flounders, and is stressed about not being uncovered as a fraud. But eventually, as the Copy grows in confidence, they begin to gain more autonomy, and make decisions based on their own values or personality, which are very different from what the Original would have done.
In the case of AYHT and TCC, the Copies make more moral, kind and altruistic decisions, such that even the Original’s trusted consigliere starts to think that the Copy would make a better choice than the Original, for the position of power being vied for (CEO position and throne).
In the case of SOD, there is no position of power being competed for. But, when Huang Yuxuan from 2019 steps into the life of Chen Yunru in 1998, her naturally confident and outgoing personality wins the approval and affection of Yunru’s family, classmates, and most importantly, Yunru’s crush, Lee Ziwei.
Eventually, in all three shows, the Original returns to retake control. They find out what the Copy has done, and how everyone around them seems to prefer the Copy to the Original. This causes emotional pain to the Original, and they react with destructive and tragic consequences.
Perhaps reflecting gender differences, the male Originals in AYHT and TCC react outwards, with violence towards others. They order the death of the Copy, as well as that of the main female love interest, and cause the deaths of other characters.
In contrast, Chen Yunru, the female Original in SOD, reacts inwards, by destroying herself. But in the course of doing so, her act of committing suicide radiates outwards, destroying the life of Mo Junjie, the one person who loves Yunru as she is, as he takes the blame for her death and eventually kills himself.
Yunru’s and Junjie’s pain mars the love story of Chen Yuxuan and Lee Ziwei, and they seek ways to break the time loop that results in the cycle of love and pain.
In other words, the two male Originals, even when confronted with a “better,” more socially accepted version of themselves as embodied by the Copies, rejected the attempted persuasion by their friends and advisors, to also become more virtuous and kind, and doubled down on their violent tendencies.
For Chen Yunru, when she regains control of her life, she does attempt to keep up the sunny and outgoing persona of Huang Yuxuan, and attempts to keep the romantic relationship with Lee Ziwei going.
But it doesn’t work.
Everyone around her complains, and wants her to return to her previous self, the Yuxuan self. Yunru takes this as a devastating rejection of her essential self, and takes the logical step to remove herself from the equation, to relieve her pain.
On first watch, the ostensible protagonist of each show that the audience is meant to be rooting for, is actually the Copy, not the Original.
The Copies – Robot Shin in AYHT, Ha Sun in TCC and Huang Yuxuan in SOD, occupy the lion’s share of screentime, backstory and characterisation. They have the hero’s journey and take noble actions to drive the story forward, and the Original’s opposition to the Copy is framed in an antagonistic way.
In fact, all three Originals even cooperate with the Main Villain of each show.
AYHT was the first of the three shows that I watched.
I was appalled at how Human Shin, once he woke from his coma, became so vindictive and almost psychopathically violent, ordering Robot Shin to kill, working with the Main Villain to oppose the good guys, and activating Robot Shin’s kill switch.
Despite all this, Robot Shin makes the ultimate sacrifice to protect Human Shin’s life. Human Shin is moved to change his ways, and eventually uses his money and resources to recover and repair Robot Shin.
But Lee Heon in TCC has no such redemption arc. Morally, physically and mentally, he is perhaps too far gone, more so than Human Shin.
From the first Act of the series, we find out that in order to spite his deceased father and protect his position on the throne, he’d ordered the poisoning of his younger brother. That was a truly dark and horrific act. Lee Heon is haunted by the guilt and begins to go mad, a process accelerated by psychotropic drugs administered by conspirators, to make him pliable to their wishes.
Lee Heon places doppelgänger Ha Sun on the throne temporarily, to protect himself from assassination threats.
When Lee Heon later returns to find out Ha Sun has made merciful decisions and deposed a corrupt official, Lee Heon reverses these decisions, and also orders the death of the Queen, who has fallen in love with Ha Sun, despite the efforts of his right-hand man Royal Secretary Lee Kyu to dissuade him.
Nevertheless, I was emotionally devastated when Royal Secretary Lee Kyu decided to poison Lee Heon.
I recognised that it was for the good of the kingdom, to break the cycle of violence and corruption. But I was surprised at how I took it personally. Why didn’t Lee Heon get a redemption arc? Why did everyone give up on him?
And then I realised, the reason I was so upset, was that I identified with Lee Heon the Original.
Flawed, not doing the best job he is expected to do, emotionally difficult, and lashing out in irateness. And my deepest fear, is that I will lose the patience of those around me, who are supposed to love me and stand by my side; I fear that I will disillusion them and they would prefer someone else in their life instead.
Personal reflections triggered by these doppelgänger storylines
The period last year when I watched TCC, was a really low period for me.
I was demoralised and ridden with feelings of incompetence, tense, depressed and anxious, because I felt I was trying, and failing, to make things work, feeling an impossible bind as a working mother, yet without the drive or energy to improve the way I did either role.
In that state of mind, I felt personally attacked and devastated by TCC’s decision to kill off the Original, Lee Heon. It felt as if show had made judgment on him and found him wanting.
I confided in a friend, that watching TCC made me wish there could be a magic switch that I could flip, to make myself act and feel better. She simply said, “It’s not that simple, is it?”
That short statement got me thinking and reflecting about whether being a better person is simply about making the decision to make right choices.
As I reflected, I realised that indeed, it’s not that simple to act differently.
Although I initially thought AYHT and TCC were both rather tropey in showing the uncaring, rich and powerful jerk, both shows actually took pains to inform us how Human Shin and Lee Heon did not start off bad.
They’d had ideals, were driven and had tremendous innate talent. But they both grew up with gaping emotional wounds, bereft of a mother, and under the charge of a father figure who belittled them and was constantly testing them to see if they were worthy of being heir.
In other words, they did not have someone in their lives who loved them unconditionally, as they were. Not only that, they faced the real threat of violence from would-be usurpers to the throne.
Is it any wonder that Human Shin and Lee Heon spent their energy defending themselves against threats, and were suspicious and vindictive against others, instead of trying to see the good in people and being altruistic?
I’m not saying that they should be excused for their violent actions, but that their emotional scars had predisposed them to a particular view of life, and even the attempted moral suasion of good people in their lives, could not shift them from this.
In fact, the introduction of the Copy in their lives heightens their sense of fear and threat. Far from seeing the Copy as a helpmate and ally, the Original sees that others prefer the Copy and this confirms the deepest fear of the Original, that no one has ever loved them sincerely and taken their side.
Not only that, the Copy threatens to usurp the Original’s position of power (the throne or CEO-ship). Not having had love, that seat of power is the crucial core of the Original’s sense of identity.
In contrast, the doppelgängers were wired differently (literally so, in the case of Robot Shin).
AYHT’s Robot Shin is idealistic, programmed to do good. He grew up with a loving mother, seeing the good in this world, and was thus inoculated from becoming a disillusioned, vengeful AI.
TCC’s Ha Sun grew up orphaned and poor, but had had a consistent loving bond with his younger sister, and their adopted family of the performing troupe. Ha Sun had a heart for the common people because he knew their struggles, unlike Lee Heon who could not see past his own paranoia.
These character backstories made me realise that we as individuals, though having free will, have firmly ingrained patterns of thinking and behaviour. And if we can’t gain the self-awareness to rise above them, we will keep repeating these patterns.
Chen Yunru’s story in SOD demonstrates the futility of attempting to just change our behaviour without addressing our emotional scars first.
Yunru attempts to repeat Huang Yuxuan’s successes, but she just cannot pass as Yuxuan, because she is simply wired differently, and is a different individual from Yuxuan.
Yunru grew up feeling unappreciated and unwanted by her own parents and brother, and rejected by her peers. She feels her quiet, unassuming self is unsuccessful by her family’s and society’s standards.
Yunru is so caught up in society’s definition of success, she even anticipates society’s judgment and criticism of her after her suicide. She thinks, if she commits suicide, she would be pitied and soon forgotten, but if she can engineer her own murder, then she will be remembered as a tragic figure, not someone who simply gave up on life.
With these reflections in mind, I was somewhat stunned to go back in time and read my comment made in 2020 to kfangurl’s review of AYHT.
I’d said at the time:
…the show made me consider whether I am living my own life in the best way possible. Wouldn’t my family and children love it if I could be more sunny, cheerful like Robot Nam Shin, instead of grumpy and hangry and PMS-y etc etc.
And wouldn’t I do better at work if I were less emotional and stressed out, and instead used good judgment and rational decision-making, just like Robot Nam Shin?!
Kfangurl wrote back in the comments at the time, to say:
how very interesting, that this show even prompted some self-reflection, for you. Dramas do have a way of affecting us in deeper ways than just being entertainment, whether it’s in a healing, liberating, or thought-provoking way.
I do hope that you’ll experience some lasting positive changes in your life, from this time of reflection your watch of this show has given you! But, I also want to say, don’t be too hard on yourself. None of us is perfect, so it’s important to forgive ourselves too, when we don’t do as well as we’d like to.
Looking back at 2020 me, I am struck at how… unrealistic I was, to be inspired by Robot Shin, who is literally superhuman.
He has super strength, never gets tired (unless he runs out of battery), never gets crabby, and has the benefit of an advanced AI system that computes probabilities and assesses the best solution to problems in an instant.
In other words, he has capabilities that us humans simply do not have. In other words, just as kfangurl had hinted in her comment, I was being too hard on myself, and having unrealistically high standards for myself. But I couldn’t see that, at the time.
So the first personal lesson I’ve drawn from these shows is: there is no magic switch. There is no secret technique that we can use, to suddenly wake up one morning, and do the right thing all day, every day. We are wired in certain ways and if we go too far from our basic inclinations, it will be a struggle, and it will be painful.
The second lesson is – maybe the problem is unrealistic expectations.
A key turning point in SOD comes in the last episode. Huang Yuxuan (in the backseat of Yunru’s mind) tries to persuade Yunru not to commit suicide. Yuxuan says to try harder, and that things will get better eventually. Yunru laments that everyone around her keeps telling her to try harder to be happier, but she has already tried her best and is so, so tired. She then leaps to her death.
Through time travel, Yuxuan gets one more chance to prevent Yunru’s suicide. Afterwards, she tells Yunru (now in the backseat of her consciousness), that she knows there is nothing Yuxuan can do to prevent Yunru from attempting suicide once again, after Yuxuan has gone back to 2019. All Yuxuan can do is to believe in Yunru.
She tells Yunru, “Maybe it’s not that the world has disappointed you too much, but that you have too many expectations for this world.”
Afterwards, to break the cycle, Yuxuan and Mo Junjie destroy the time travel device.
Everything resets back to the original circumstances in 1998, and it is as if the time loop has never occurred. Yet Yunru retains a memory, of another her telling herself those words – “Maybe it’s not that the world has disappointed you too much, but that you have too many expectations for this world.”
Somehow these words get Yunru to see that there are still good things in her life, and that she can appreciate the people around her, even if they don’t always put her in the centre of their hearts like she wants them to. And this gives her a little more hope, shifting her from her urge to destroy herself.
I have been mulling over these words. After all, they seem very similar – too much disappointment vs. too much expectation.
Then I realised, that the first statement – “the world has disappointed you too much”, presumes that Yunru’s expectations are correct, and that the world should conform to those expectations (popularity, love, acceptance), and if they don’t, the world is a bad place.
Whereas the second statement – “you have too many expectations for this world” – opens up space for Yunru to question her own expectations and whether they are realistic, valid or healthy.
The third lesson I have gathered, is the need to drop the rope.
What do I mean by that?
In various recent articles and videos I’ve come across, psychologists point out the myths of Sisyphus – condemned by the gods to keep pushing a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll down again at the end of the day – and Tantalus – condemned by the gods to an afterlife where he is forever reaching for delicious fruit, but never able to reach them, to thirst for water but never able to reach the water.
Their insight is that if Sisyphus and Tantalus just drop their struggle – let the boulder roll down, leave the grapes and water alone (after all, Tantalus is already dead in Hades), they can at last be at peace.
I see that the struggle of the Originals in AYHT, TCC and SOD, is that they struggle for society’s validation, yet their core traits and emotional wounds cause them to act out in ways that distance others even more.
Human Shin misses his mother, yet rejects her attempts to reconnect with him later in life. Lee Heon wants the approval and love of his queen, yet gets angry when she attempts to counsel him to do good by his citizens.
Chen Yunru is so desperate for Lee Ziwei’s love, that she is willing to lie and cheat to get it. If they’d instead dropped the struggle and gotten in tune with what they really needed, and what they truly valued, perhaps things may have turned out differently.
The final lesson is to soothe your emotional pain before attempting to change your behaviour.
Sometimes, behaviour change needs to take place first, but if you are raw and hurting, you need to soothe the pain, before you can take action. Distraction and running away just prolongs the suffering.
This is a work in progress, but I have found some helpful resources which I will link below.
Resources for soothing emotional pain and anxiety
1. Unwinding Anxiety by Dr. Judson Brewer (book and app)
2. Therapy in a Nutshell – free YouTube course on How to Process Your Emotions
I found this to simply be one of the best resources I’ve ever come across on understanding and calming your emotions – immediate symptomatic relief without medicine. To get some calm and space before you try to investigate your childhood and other issues
3. Raising a Secure Child by Kent Hoffman, Glen Cooper and Bert Powell
A lot of info on the most important part of parenting – “being with” the child, ie, being present through their tough times, and helping them to learn how to cope with and process their emotions. Even if you’re not a parent, I found their explanation of emotional processing very useful to understand.
4. Reinventing Your Life by Jeffrey E. Young and Janet S. Klosko
About the different Life Traps or patterns of unhelpful emotional behavior that many of us get stuck in.
It’s not enough to “know” the lessons above cognitively. I know I will also need to put in the time and spade work, to process my emotions instead of running away from them, and also, to re-design my work and personal life.
To reframe my own definition of success, and find a path which can better leverage my own unique set of strengths, weaknesses and interests, and perhaps find a happier path, than the struggle I’ve been going through lately.
It is a process that will take time; there is no magic bullet. But I think it is cool that these dramas have provided a mirror to my own struggles and provided some lessons. And I hope that my little reflection here can maybe, just maybe, help someone else in a similar situation too.
Thank you to kfangurl for creating such a warm and supportive drama-watching community on this blog. Thank you to all the community members for being so uplifting and encouraging in all your comments. Let’s keep it up! Fighting!