It’s another week of tragicomedy and feeling in 18 Again. Anisa has finally caught up—just in time to join me and Saner in our collective flailing! The show brings a lot of big drama this week, but jumps in and out so fast that you barely get wet. Instead, a few running plot points converge into some satisfying payoff with unexpected depth. But there’s one thing you don’t forget for a moment: that however great it is to see our favourite ajusshi living it up in his youthful body, it comes at a steep price. How much longer can Dae-young endure remaining unknown and cut off from those he loves the most?
Saya: I retract what I said the other week about Dae-young not being a hero. HE IS SUCH A HERO. 😭
Anisa: He’s a total hero! But actually, all four friends were heroes this week. Or to use terminology Deok-jin would appreciate, Avengers.
Saner: He was the Captain America (Korea?) of this episode and I was here for his backlit strut into the school gymnasium. Also, sacrificing his face again for the greater good—so noble!
Saya: Um, references lost on me, lol. BUT that does remind me of the Episode 1 fight scene (with the Captain America shield?), which is really up there in the best fight scenes of K-drama history.
Anisa: LOL our Saya doesn’t Marvel. But we forgive you. I loved how they orchestrated that entire gym takedown of Il-kwon as a team. I was only sad that Da-jung is still out of the loop.
Saner: Captain America is the stickler for the rules…and super pure/traditional compared to the other superheroes. Like a knight. With a shield. And yeah, I loved the three of them (Deok-jin, Dae-young and Ae-rin) plotting in Deok-jin’s office!
Saya: Marvel with a little m, okay! I marvel. Or rather, ALL CAPS. I MARVEL at how this show is so extraordinarily emotionally on-point no matter what the point. I marvel at how much it hurts and heals at the same time. I marvel at how Dae-young’s character has slowly grown its momentum and now he is destroying me.
Anisa: I definitely agree with the slow build to a devastating crescendo. I couldn’t join last week’s review, but Episode 8 really hit me all of a sudden—like all this time we were watching a sweet, melancholy, pretty emotionally even-keeled show, even if there was a throughline of regret and sacrifice. But then all of that character building came to an abrupt climax with the basketball game that continued into Episode 9, and I found myself sobbing and wondering when I got so emotionally invested in these people.
Saya: Today, I am here ALL for Dae-young fanclubbery. But okay, I guess we can talk about Il-kwon first. 😅
Saner: *sigh* Il-kwon. I found him so pitiable this episode. That opening scene where the Hankuk University scouts basically palm off the fact that the promotion they promised him to university basketball coach had been given to another person…I sighed. Why would those coaches allow him to move up when he helps make so much money for them from high school parents? You sit with scammers, you’re going to get scammed, dear Il-kwon.
Anisa: So true. I know he’s been very over-the-top villainous up until now, and that you two haven’t liked that. I agree somewhat, but I also think he embodies a certain type of toxic bro culture that’s especially insidious among athletes, so I actually didn’t find it unrealistic, even if it was played with a bit too much drama. But it was so sad to understand how he, too, was shaped by bad parenting. It’s like seeing how Ja-sung might have turned out if Dae-young hadn’t intervened, and Ja-sung’s dad hadn’t had his own realisation thanks to Deok-jin and Da-jung.
Saya: I’ve actually come to appreciate their willingness to take the story SO BIG, but then draw it down to its finest point. Yes, these are all Very Dramatic plotlines, but they go through them so fast. So they serve their purpose but don’t wear you out as a viewer. With the Ja-sung/Il-kwon parallel trajectories, I particularly was struck by what it tells us about how history will always repeat itself unless you grab it by the fetlock. It doesn’t take effort to fall, it takes effort to climb. And it takes effort to maintain your altitude.
Saner: I liked that the little threads of Il-kwon’s personality that we’d spotted before blossomed into a lot of the events we saw today—his handsy-ness towards Da-jung as a teen and his bullying of Deok-jin meant that I wasn’t surprised when he resorted to violence towards our lovely heroes.
And Anisa, that’s a brilliant point you make about his parallels to Ja-sung—just as Dae-young looked at his own father and saw a possible future, we as the audience saw what intervention was necessary to make sure Ja-sung didn’t go down that same path and end up as equally rotted as Il-kwon.
Anisa: Exactly. We’ve been seeing seeds of who Il-kwon is all this time, and when he was pushed into a corner he exposed himself fully. I found that phone conversation between Dae-young and Il-kwon very illuminating—here’s Dae-young, furious that a man who got to make a living from the sport that Dae-young would have killed to devote his life to, is throwing all that away on corruption. Whereas Il-kwon has always suspected that he wasn’t good enough to play without greasing his way with money, so it’s never been a passion for him the way it was for Dae-young, but a constant tightrope walk. And that’s also clear when we see how Il-kwon’s father throws all those bribes in his face, repeatedly.
Saner: You’re so right. Il-kwon shows an overwhelming lack of commitment to most things throughout the show, probably borne out of a lack of self-esteem: to people (including and especially women), his job and even his sport. He can’t treasure things because they hold no meaning for him. He demeans Dae-young’s choices in life because he doesn’t understand them—to sacrifice an opportunity for someone you love, or to have any personal integrity because the rot set in when he was young. He mocks Dae-young constantly probably because he’s jealous of the way Dae-young’s dad put his absolute trust and faith in him—they were never on the same level. Ja-sung used to mock Shi-woo because of Shi-woo having spotted his vulnerabilities—like Dae-young seeing through a younger Il-kwon.
Saya: To be honest, I didn’t feel like I needed to spend time thinking deeply about Il-kwon because of the human trash element, so I really appreciate this insight into his character. I think the way they tied off his arc off really elevated him from cartoon villain to real person. I absolutely loved that the closer was his flashback to how Dae-young’s dad straight-up refused to pay the coach off. In many ways, it even “justifies” the path he takes himself as a coach, because then he knew. He knew it was the parents who did it to their kids because they couldn’t believe in them, not because they didn’t have a choice. And in his mind, he did offer them a choice, even if it was a bad one. After all, Shi-woo and Dae-young did both end up playing because of their skill and talent, even though Il-kwon did his damnedest to make sure they didn’t.
While I don’t find the show particularly subtle about the parallels it draws between younger and older characters—like, the parallels are very much THE POINT (emphasis is show’s, not mine)—but because there’s so much emotional reality to it, it doesn’t actually come off heavy-handed. And the Ja-sung parallels were really moving, especially because he gets that healing that Il-kwon never does.
Anisa: Baby Lee Joon-ki! I was so proud of Ja-sung this week. I’m not thrilled that he has a romantic interest in Shi-ah, because in no universe would a girl like her ever date someone who at one point bullied her twin—apology or no apology—but I’m so glad to see the strides he’s making. (Okay I lied, it’s actually adorable and funny that he likes her and sees Dae-young as a threat, but I have a sneaking suspicion he’s endgame and I’m not cool with that.)
Saner: Oh lord, I love that he’s in a completely different drama with Ji-ho than Dae-young but he’s so not endgame! He can’t be!
Saya: Nooo surely neither boy is endgame, haha! I mean, I love them both but I also LOVE that Shi-ah is like, “uhhh…the one I’ve known too long and the other is my brother’s bully, NOPE!”
Anisa: Y’all are making me feel so much better. Now I can unabashedly root for Ja-sung! That scene where he declared “Shi-ah is mine” and Dae-young, understandably, almost literally murdered him had me laughing so hard.
Saner: OMG! Dae-young’s imagined scenario of turning back into his ajusshi self and threatening Ja-sung off his daughter with a gun nearly finished me off! Also, possible childhood Ja-sung appearance during the epilogue cracked me up. Let’s be honest, Ja-sung’s real romance is the one he’s building with himself and I’m here for it 😂
Saya: I feel like Shi-ah’s heading for a Woo-young crush (I mean, obviously), but also, I trust the show not to make it weird or squicky, and ALSO also, I feel like the really natural read of it is how what she really appreciates is that feeling of security she only gets from her father, despite everything. It’s obviously packaged in the form of this beautiful young man, and that’s confusing, but I do believe that she’ll realise it for herself.
Anisa: Euuuh I’m getting that feeling too and I don’t want it to go there. Unless it’s in a similar vein to how Da-jung’s “first love” was her father, the way a lot of little girls say they’ll marry their dad when they grow up.
Saner: Is it just me that’s getting the feeling that’s where they’re heading? When she saw him play the guitar, she imagined her dad—I felt that they’re leaning towards that “Your first love is your dad,” line that Da-jung gave her a few episodes ago. I like that they’ve flipped the scenario and everyone assumed Dae-young/Woo-young likes her (like when he called her grandma ‘Mother-in-law’) and everyone was like “Er, you’re getting ahead of yourself mate, Da-jung would be your mother-in-law,” and you can see him trying hard not to gag and die of mortification all at the same time. I will never get sick of everyone being like “Oh, you like Shi-ah,” and him being like “NOPENOPENOPENOPE!” 😂
Saya: I GASPED when he made that slip! I was SO SURE he was about to be rumbled! Because…!!!!!! I was even kind of disappointed at the minor backpedal. But I’ve realised that this show is just going to keep teasing the possibility of either people finding him out, or him returning to his original ajusshi self.
Anisa: I have to admit, I am getting tired of the OH NO IS DA-JUNG ABOUT TO FIND OUT?!! NOPE fake-outs. This is starting to reach 30 but 17 levels.
Saya: Look, it’s obviously going to be Episode 12 before either or both of those things happen 😂
Saner: Yeah, I need her to know now and for us to deal with the fallout of her ex-husband now being so young-looking. Though I have enjoyed watching him try to care for her as a teen without outing himself. Which he did try to do at the end of Episode 10.
Anisa: And yet, once again he’s probably just going to walk away without saying anything. That one I actually minded less, since it was paired with his realisation that Ji-hoon has totally fallen for Da-jung, and for the same reasons as Dae-young, so he can’t even fall back on the comforting thought that Ji-hoon doesn’t know or appreciate her the way Dae-young does. Another very well-done parallel.
Saner: I like that Ji-hoon is kinda making first lead moves and Dae-young is now playing second lead to his (ex?-) wife. Adds to the tension. Except…Da-jung has shown no reciprocity to Ji-hoon’s romantic feelings whatsoever. So….🤷🏿♀️
Saya: I really feel like she just doesn’t see him romantically. I don’t think she can. Despite her divorce, she really hasn’t finished that relationship, plus she’s rethinking so many things with every new titbit she learns about The Secret Life of Dae-young. Like, she’s just learned about him being fired and attacking his boss in her name (and we got a replay of that excellent headbutt moment, thanks for reminding me, Show!).
Anisa: Yeah. But she’s also finding this out without Dae-young knowing, so all he thinks about when he sees Da-jung with Ji-hoon is how much he’s hurt her and his kids in the past, and how happy she seems in Ji-hoon’s company.
It’s like he told Ae-rin after their divorce was finalised—he’s not planning to try to get back together with her. He just wants her to move on and be happy. (Although he totally lied about not still being in love with her, of course.) So Ji-hoon represents the life Dae-young can’t give her, because not only does Ji-hoon appreciate Da-jung’s good qualities despite all of society’s stupid value judgements, he also has a successful career and a solid character. He’s objectively the better choice, if you don’t consider what Da-jung wants—and she keeps her feelings very close to her chest.
Saya: P.S. Dear HR, please fire Yumi RIGHT NOW.
Saner: I SCREAMED (and not in joy). What kinda reporter asks SUCH a sensitive question off the script and without prior warning?! What if he had decided to cancel their exclusive contract?!!?
Saya: A bad one. She’s so lucky that Ji-hoon isn’t a jerk.
Anisa: I REALLY hope that the “dramatic” question that she thought would help her will be the catalyst for her going down to fourth place. It’s about time for her trash tactics to be exposed to the world. It was so obvious she already knew about the full-time position thing, I’m sad her colleagues are all straightforward marshmallows and didn’t pick up on her shadiness.
Saner: Work-wise, it makes me super cross—Da-jung got a scoop for another anchor in the college bribery case and did a BRILLIANT job with Ji-hoon’s interviews, only for her to be sidelined and given this dodgy divorce show opportunity because of other people’s questionable choices and morals as opposed to her fantastic skill.
Anisa: Everything about how that newsroom is run raises my blood pressure. I know it’s unlikely, but I really hope it becomes public knowledge that Da-jung was the first place applicant and Yumi was raised from fourth solely for her youth. It’s the perfect way to drag Yumi and lift up Da-jung in one stroke.
Saya: I believe she will get her propers! This ain’t a show of tragic injustice! I also really liked how in the divorce show spot she was offered, it gave her a chance to hear from the people closest to her how much they were rooting for her. Like, even when you know you are good, you sometimes need people to tell you it’s true. And for her, especially as a mother, she would be so focused on protecting her family that she’d willingly make the sacrifice for their sake.
Saner: I was kind of glad they gave us a break from there for a few episodes because watching Da-jung get raked across the coals whilst knowing how brilliant she actually is is actually gutting. And speaking of gutting, that ajusshi reversal fakeout ashkahdsjhsfgd!!
Anisa: Oh that was so heartbreaking! The calendar saying “2017” did feel off, but it was still such a devastating jolt to find out, the same time he did, that that entire tearful, loving reunion as his real self was a dream.
Saya: You know, for all that this show loves to make a gag of everything, they sure do gut-punch you after it. Because what you’re left with at the end of the two hours is the overwhelming loneliness and yearning of young Dae-young, where he’s closer to his family than he has ever, ever been, but also further than he’s ever, ever been. Ultimately, there’s nothing he can do for them in this form. He needs to be himself again.
Saner: Yep. Dae-young has shown time and time again that he puts his family first. And when he has that dream, his whole body and face just show contentment at having his family back. That’s all he wants—not really a second chance at youth—just his family. And he can’t have them and it hurts.
Anisa: I felt that distance powerfully at the police station after they caught Shi-ah’s stalker. While Dae-young is able to physically put his body between his daughter and danger as Woo-young, he’s left on the sidelines when it comes to having a right to be angry on her behalf. Not only when they were all beating up the pervert (for once, I was kind of okay with assault?) but outside afterwards, when Da-jung and her mother thanked him so formally. You could see the grimace on his face at being thanked for saving the life of his own kid. No wonder he was shaken enough to make that “mother-in-law” slip.
Saner: And the thing is, Dae-young would have done it for anyone else (“How dare you attack a woman in my neighbourhood?!”) but finding out that it was his own daughter, how close she had been to danger and not being able to be Dad in that situation…to give her a big ol’ cuddle and let her know how grateful he was that she was safe…..Oooft.
Anisa: Yes. And not only that, but to be unable to give her the assurance that Dad is going to be there for her no matter what. That he was there when she needed him, this time and all the other times as Woo-young. When he knows the lack of that from him has hurt her so much.
Saya: And that ^ is why I feel secure about where they’re taking the Shi-ah—Woo-young storyline, even if it seems to be going “off-course” for the moment. And I also really, really need—once this is all over—for them to KNOW that Woo-young = Dae-young. But I would also love it x1000 more if each of them could eventually somehow intuit this truth, especially Da-jung. I don’t know if we’ll go there, but I would love to dig deep into the idea that you would always recognise someone by their spirit and soul, regardless of what face they wore.
Anisa: I really wanted Da-jung to figure it out at multiple points, but I don’t know if it would make sense for her to figure it out now, after SO many clues that she dismissed as coincidence. Plus I kind of love that it was only his father that figured it out on his own, with the eye of a parent whose intuition supersedes silly things like logic and possibility.
How did you guys feel about the stalker as a plot device? I have to admit, the reveal that he’d been watching Shi-ah this whole time and not Dae-young wasn’t my favourite. It just felt like an unnecessary complication in a drama that already has plenty of satisfying organic conflict. And add to that the fact that both episodes were about taking down Evil Villains, and I had a bit of saving-the-day fatigue. Choosing one or the other this week would have felt less heavy-handed.
Saner: On the one hand, I was kinda glad that they didn’t have some omnipresent person watching over Dae-young’s transformation in some super magical way to give him all the answers and get him back to his ajusshi form…on the other hand, I was unimpressed at this crudely done character, with his black nail polish and dark clothes and super-stalkery graffitied picture vibes. Liking black nail polish doesn’t make you a sexual predator! So I was kinda glad they tied up that knot as soon as I realised what was happening because I would have disliked that to be wrought over more than the five minutes they gave him. It didn’t deserve any more time than that.
Saya: I thought all this time that it was an omnipresent magical character. 😅 The stalker-reveal took me entirely by surprise!
Anisa: Which is why it felt manipulative and kind of gotcha-y in a way that this show usually avoids. But you’re right, Saner, it was thankfully wrapped up quickly. I wonder if the fact that we got two big instances of Woo-young protecting his family this week—one kid each time—might mean that he’s going to transform back soon. Like a sort of final grand gesture each from his young self. Which, as you said above, Saya, they need to find out was their dad at some point.
Saya: Talking of one kid each time though…how did you guys feel about how Dae-young responded to the idea of each kid dating? I mean, I laughed at him threatening to break the guy’s leg (and then fix if good, or break the other one if bad LOL)…but then Shi-woo gets a pat on the back? I mean, I decided not to dwell on it but it did give me a moment of pause.
Anisa: Yeaaaah. I mean, it’s pretty typical ajusshi talk, but it’s also one of the few times I’ve found his character a tiny bit inconsistent, because Dae-young is not a typical ajusshi. It’s kinda rich coming from a man who accidentally got his girlfriend pregnant in high school.
Saner: I think they brushed it off a little bit because Shi-woo was like, “Nah, I’m not dating anyone,” whereas Shi-ah has some pretty fierce competition for her attention (though he is pretty squidgy about Ji-ho having a crush on Shi-ah, versus Ja-sung lol) and also because it was a segue into him musing about Da-jung and what he loved about her. I don’t think this drama is (yet?) seriously considering the idea of Shi-woo dating so I saw it as a narrative device.
Anisa: It was brushed off, but it’s also a narrative choice to decide to focus this much on how uncomfortable Dae-young is with the idea of Shi-ah + boys and not explore that for Shi-woo at all.