18 Again reaches the halfway mark this week, and this show continues to leave me speechless in so many moments. What a perfect two hours of television, and isn’t this show so darn underrated? Saner joins me again this week to talk out all of our feelings—the love, the sadness, the regret, and the exquisite comedy of it all. And believe me, even if you’re not a crier, I feel pretty sure this show will turn you into one. But not the kind of crying that leaves you stopped up and achy. This is cleansing, healing, and fortifying as a hug from your most favourite person in the world.
Saya: How does this show keep getting better every week? HOW. 😭
Saner: I suspect it’s due to a similar vein of magic responsible for Dae-young’s sudden youth.
Saya: I am not ashamed to admit I blubbed my way through so much of the second episode.
Saner: Don’t. You’ve just reminded me of how it ended before the epilogue and…yikes, I’m an ugly crier. All my emotions kept trying to escape through my face.
Saya: It’s just such an incredibly done scene, how he comes out to his dad about his true identity. I didn’t see it coming for a moment, but it was so, so perfect and heartbreaking but also…whatever is the opposite of heartbreaking. I love that Dae-young didn’t need to explain anything, he didn’t need to say anything at all. Literally. 😭😭
Saner: I am singing Ronan Keating now to stop myself from tearing up. I am continually impressed at how deft the writing is—a lot of things we spoke about last week sort of circle back around in a really tight way. We mentioned how people see Dae-young, and their use of the two actors to portray that to us as the audience…so how perfect was it that his dad saw him as his younger self while he is his younger self? Ajusshi Dae-young didn’t leave his dad behind in a fit of rage. Young Dae-young did.
Saya: We talked last week about the underscoring theme of regret. I think we feel the weight of that regret most keenly this week in the relationship Dae-young and his dad missed out on with each other in the intervening years.
So far, we’ve received Dae-young’s reversion to youth almost like a gag, but with his dad, all of the humour and the comedy drains away until you’re left with the sense of the two of them trapped in a painful moment of their past that they never resolved, never even revisited. So how fitting that this is finally solved while Dae-young is in this form, wearing this face—the one that he was wearing when he left his father in the first place.
Saner: *deep semi-healing sniff that sounds slightly teary but isn’t at all, I swear*
Saya: I’m not crying either.
Saner: It’s fine. I’ve composed myself. Kinda. *coughs to cover her sob*
Saya: I think it’s also such a great reversal of perspective in the story, that happened so gently that I didn’t notice it until we were fully embedded in Dae-young’s head. Although Dae-young has always been the centre of the show, it’s Da-jung and the family’s perspective that has dominated the opening weeks. We were so deeply situated there that we’re really with them in the pain and disappointment they feel over Dae-young and the ways he’s not there for them. Having that perspective also proves to us as viewers that what they feel is objectively valid, and so far, the show has focused on Dae-young’s shortcomings; he’s never been a hero, except in his long-gone days of backlit glory.
But I like how that’s a deliberate set-up: we’ve been confronted with all the ways in which he’s flawed. And now…now we’re allowed to see that he has risen, that he was quietly making sacrifices in his own ways and struggling for them, even if that didn’t take a form that they could see. I think it’s really beautifully put, the way we are made up of our better and worse halves, and how one doesn’t have to negate the other. It’s a level of nuance that is very true to life, that the relationship between the good and bad that we do is not an equation of “either/or”, but one of “both/and”. A person is not either good or bad. Rather, they are a racemic mix of both good and bad at once. It’s with that approach that the show keeps Dae-young from being a villain, while presenting how flawed he is.
Saner: Whereas his relationships with his family feel like regret and hurt and rawness, with his dad it feels like regret and grief—a slow, soft, eroding grief. You really feel it in the silences. Being the middle generation is presented as a strange way of being—you have joy in the things you gain but there is almost always a price or something lost. Dae-young’s memories with his children when they are children are so strong and loving but in his desire to provide for them and take care of them, he lost himself and became the person against whom he had such strong resentment…his father.
That scene where he reflects on Shi-woo walking in on him drinking after work, just like his own father did during his mother’s period of illness and calls himself “selfish” really winded me. He’s not like our Da-jung—bright and talented. Basketball was really all he was good at and even his own dad says so. So what does he do after he loses that? Pours himself into providing for his family through his job and tries to excel there. He just feels so ground down by life.
Saya: It’s so difficult for me right now to find the words that properly express how I feel about the way this was shown—how Dae-young became the person he most hated. Which is not necessarily his actual father, but this worst version of fatherhood he had experienced. Being wrapped up in his own pain and self-disappointment to the extent that he hurt deeply the people who really needed him to be fully present, not just physically, but also spiritually. (Though I was struck hard by how he admitted he even avoided being there physically.)
Saner: So true. It’s a most delicious and devastating dramatic irony for Dae-young to see so much of his dad in himself and that really affects the way he looks at his dad now—with understanding and sorrow and love. His eyes when he spots his dad sitting on the priority seat are so mournful.
Saya: Dad represents the endpoint of Dae-young’s trajectory. And again, I want to emphasise, nobody is a villain, but every choice adds up and takes us somewhere. Dad is what happens when you’re old and alone, your kids have left you and you have no connection with them. It’s the result of a profusion of mistakes and misunderstanding, and just not being able to find a way back from there.
Saner: I find Dad so pitiable and yet so easy to understand. His wife, Dae-young’s mother, looked to be so full of love and care and he had to deal with his ongoing grief during her illness, the overwhelming grief when she died and then dealing with Dae-young’s howling despair at this new, yawning void in their lives.
Saya: Dad needed grief counselling and support of his own. And I think if the times had been different, if they could have understood that they both needed help, it could have changed their outcomes. Dae-young, even on the brink of becoming a father himself, couldn’t fully grasp that his dad was as broken as he was.
Saner: Becoming a parent is like a debt you pay for having had parents 😅
Saya: That…is frighteningly deep, Saner.
Saner: I liked that this played back around with Da-jung’s mum too and how she still “mothers” her fully-grown daughter against her nearly fully-grown granddaughter.
Saya: Kim Mi-kyung is always so perfect 😭😭😭 I loved also how she reframed that thing our elders always tell us, about how we—no matter how old we are—will always just be their children to them. For her to say to Da-jung, you’re always my daughter first…that soothed something in my soul.
Saner: I fist-pumped when we saw her in the flashback. She’s always the ultimately awesome Korean mum.
Note to readers: Saya’s mum is Kim Mi-kyung levels of awesome. But actually real.
Saya: Thanks, Saner ❤️😭 You know, I think that’s a big part of why parent-stories always get me so hard. I remember someone once saying to me, after seeing me with my mum, “You’re a real mummy’s girl, aren’t you?” But her tone was really…baffled? And don’t get me wrong, I’m not a great daughter, but my mum is a diamond among mothers 😅 I can’t imagine a life of having to be distant from her in a way that would make me see people who are close to their parents as something really strange.
Saner: I was also going to mention that I’m an awful daughter to my mum (at least, that’s what she thinks, haha!) and so-so with my dad so I liked the way they presented that difference in relationship children have with their different parents, and even how that can change over time. Dae-young clearly adored his mother and his relationship with his dad wasn’t bad per se (at first). The deterioration was slow and steady then sped up after he lost his mum. He mentioned to Ja-sung that his dad hit him a few times after his mum died and I really feel that that absolutely would NOT have been possible had his mum been alive.
Saya: Absolutely. But now you’ve invoked his name so we have to talk about him IMMEDIATELY: Ja-sung!!!! That time where he wakes up in Deok-jin’s place and sees the supposed father and son together…and he’s trying to make that story make sense. Died laughing. 😂
Saner: *squeal* *incoherent blabbering* You mentioned two of my absolute favourite storylines from episode 8! Haha, Ja-sung trying to reconcile Dae-young’s statements about “my dad hit me” with poor old bruised Deok-jin in his jim-jams and fluffy slippers! A nice bit of levity after how dark it got with the teacher-tampering, and Dae-young witnessing Ja-sung’s dad hitting him. When Ja-sung picked up that baseball bat, I held my breath. BUT. BUT. It led to something I’ve wished for for sooooooo long which was that fatherly chat between Ja-sung and Dae-young!! 😭😭
Saya: Dae-young is such a natural nurturer, and I love how it’s shown in just about all his interactions with the young people of the show. And don’t forget how Ajusshi Dae-young also gave Ji-ho a little of the stand-in fathering he never otherwise had. ALSO I hate that this drama has sweet, lovely Ji-ho in the same space as Ja-sung, competing for the attention of the same girl. I want—I NEED—both of these little puppies to be happy forever, but clearly one of them WON’T and that HURTS ME.
Saner: Can he not date Shi-woo or something? I need them all to be one big family. Or adoption? Please save Ja-sung from his mean old dad!
Saya: Shi-woo is my other favourite, I love him so much 😭😭😭 AND I DIED, DIED SO MUCH, when he and Ja-sung—his one-time torturer—clasp hands after scoring in the game. They are brothers now. 😭
Saner: Yessss! “Block him!” and then they were working as a team and *sniff* his basketball transformation was AMAZING and then he hugged Dae-young at the end when they won and I nearly fell off my bed. Forever brethren. I liked that Ja-sung got to see his own worth and value in the team in that moment too, and how supporting and helping someone else helped the whole team make it.
Saya: Yes!! And I actually am appreciating the corrupt coach storyline now (even though Il-kwon is still cartoonishly evil, haha!), because I’m beginning to see a place for Dae-young when all this ends…as it must. The time for Dae-young’s youthful pro-basketball dreams may have passed, but the court is where his heart soul is, and has always been. So where better for him to finish?
I feel like seeing an ending where both he and Da-jung are happy and successful doing their dream jobs would genuinely be enough for me, even if they never get back together (though of course they will).
Saner: OMG! Yes! Coach Dae-young…fathering all the Lost Little Boys please! Such a great idea Saya, I didn’t even think of that. K-drama, we know we can rely on you to make this happen! Plus, he genuinely has everyone’s best interests at heart. Do you think they’ll make a sequel where he leads the team to national glory or will they just squeeze that into an epilogue?
Saya: Oh I hope they give some prime episode-time to it! 😭 Part of what is so filling about this show is that it gives you a little bit of everything: it’s a youth/high school drama, it’s a sports drama, it’s a family drama, it’s a workplace drama, it’s a three- or four-way bromance of epic proportions, it’s a noona romance (or at least, Ji-hoon wants it to be), it’s a redemption drama, it’s eventually going to be a romance-of-second-chances drama. It’s everything.
Saner: A K-drama genre smorgasbord. If only they could tie in past lives so we can see them in sageuk garb somehow…(now I’m starting to realise how some writers’ brains actually work, haha)! Speaking of everything, can we talk about Deok-jin (played by actor Kim Kang-hyun) and his pure and noble heart for teacher Hye-in?
Saya: Yes! (Deok-jin is SO pure!)
Saner: Romance-wise, I wasn’t sure where they were heading, because they’ve been some hints towards Ae-rin, including both of them wearing the same blush-pink colour in the lift…
Saya: I do kind of ship him with Ae-rin. (But also with Hye-in? This show keeps cutting me with triangular knives…!!!)
Saner: I KNOW! Another triangle! And there’s that brilliant moment when Deok-jin strides out in a beautiful pink floral suit to be Ae-rin’s white knight (whose help she begrudgingly accepts in a hilarious moment where he totally misreads her facial expression).
Saya: YES YOU NOTICED THAT, TOO? They TOTALLY MATCH.
Saner: Yessssssss!! I was like “Is this a visual couple clue? We know these writers don’t do these things ACCIDENTALLY!)
Saya: But this show is also subtle enough that even if there is deliberate matching, it doesn’t necessarily mean what we think it means.
Saner: Yeah. Neither of them have shown any interest towards each other whatsoever, though they have had a lot of, “Wow, those two are arguing so much, they must be a married couple,” comments from strangers.
Saya: They are excellent as mirrors to each other though—each is the best friend of one half of the central couple. I’m not sure that makes them foils, but it does have an interesting and pleasing symmetry, especially in how they are simultaneously exactly the same while also being opposites.
Saner: Including how their besties both despair of their “childish” ways! But Ae-rin is childish in her dating and Deok-jin is “childish” in his hobbies.
Saya: Ae-rin’s ex laughing himself to death, though 😂 I like how that also tells us something about how stories, especially in the K-dramaverse, work—acting like a hero isn’t enough to make you a hero, you also have to have the face, otherwise you’re just a random weirdo 😂
Saner: Oh lord. The ex is like, “Haha, if you’re really dating this guy, you’re not as classy as I thought you were, buh-bye.” And then Deok-jin storms in to smack Il-Kwon in the face! I LOVE that he is so himself now and doesn’t care how it might look from the outside. He does what he feels is right and proper, which on anyone else is patronising and irritating but on Deok-jin comes off as rather sweet.
Saya: Oh his fisticuffs with Il-kwon 😂 I never get over how radiant the comedy of this show is. It’s just pure, top-shelf lols.
Saner: Fisticuffs is definitely the right word. There was more an element of, “I do challenge thee, you rascal!” Il-kwon sitting there looking nonplussed and poor, dishevelled Deok-jin confusing the police officer!
Saya: He’d have used a lightsaber if he had one on hand 😂
Saner: Episode 1 taught us that Il-Kwon would have been toast if he were in Deok-jin’s house (still not over the fact he has a trapdoor!).
Saya: I just remembered that! It was SO extra but SO rollickingly gleeful! 😂 (I’m still hung up on the polar bear in the hammock.)
Saner: And actually ties in really well to Deok-jin’s gamer personality and why he can see himself as the hero in a scenario—he always is in games, so real life is no different. Shoot the intruder! Pursue the lady! Punch the baddie in the face! Twice.
Saya: He’s simpleminded in the best way!