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.