What I like most about this show is the atmosphere it creates, with its pervasive sense of unease that runs through the whole episode, no matter what is happening. It adds a lot to the soft worldbuilding approach of the show, so rather than getting info-dumps interspersed within blocks of plot movement, you actually get a story that eddies and flows naturally, and slowly reveals how the world of Sisyphus works.
This episode also lost some of the lighter, more comedic touches from last week in favour of a lot of running around (not necessarily to its detriment…though that remains to be seen). However, while this hour had a lot of movement, I think it was more lateral than forward. It’s not bad, because we need to find our feet in the world and its rules, but it does mean that having got to the end of the episode, I’m not really sure that there is a lot to say about it—it’s too early, there’s still a lot left to be revealed in the setup, and for that, we must defer to the four-episode rule.
Here are my bullets, hopefully better aimed than our vitreous friend’s (you will understand this, uh…twelve points down?):
I forgot why we were in Busan, but points to the show (and helpful taxi driver) for marketing it as a very desirable holiday destination! I’m coming, Busan! Wait for me! I’ll find you when the weather is nice…in 2043!
Tae-sul/Jo Seung-woo bounding on stage: he has such an extraordinary level of stage charisma, you can see why he’s more of a fixture in live stage productions than he is on the screen. His easy showmanship, the way the energy of the audience is so responsive to him. That’s a master you’re watching, even if he’s playing to a primed audience.
But just before that I really, excessively loved that little moment where he takes a second to high-five/clasp hands with that one ajusshi on his way down to the stage. I always wonder how much of the details of performing your character is scripted, and how much is spontaneous. We know Jo Seung-woo puts a lot of thought into how his characters behave as a whole person.
Does the sugar-cube’s travel through space preface and foreshadow Tae-sul’s invention/discovery of how to travel through spacetime? Yeah, I mean, of course. The sugar-teleporter was a miniature version of the transporter Seo-hae used, which you can also see in the opening credits…
OH CAN WE TALK ABOUT THESE. The opening credits are really so WOW. The first time, I didn’t pay much attention, but by Episode 2, I was watching it shot by shot, and it’s so interesting. I’d wondered whether “Sisyphus” actually was a classical reference (therefore holding meaning for the content of the show), or if it was sort of randomly plucked because it sounds grand. Look at the shot above, though.
Both the opening and closing shots of the credits have this imagery, and now we’re left to read into it in terms of what it means in the show. Or rather, see how it plays out.
But my favourite shot is this one:
Look at it! It’s like the marriage and clash of these elements that would never naturally meet: the hyper-modern (future) represented by the wall of flashing monitors, the ground carpeted with thick cables, snaking around this utterly incongruous throne which looks like it came straight out of Narnia (The Silver Chair, to be exact). That is art like I like it.
Aaahh, hyung Tae-san turning up as expected! (We know he took those future-photos.) I really want them to actually meet properly and share info. This is one of the mind-bending fun (?) things about time travel: they die at the beginning. It’s sort of a little bit better than dying at the end? No? Okay it’s not. But also that’s sort of what tells you that you’re in a loop and that the point isn’t merely to change the past or future, but to break the loop somehow. Or at least, tie it off/jump tracks to a timeline that doesn’t cross back on itself.
But what an oof moment when Tae-sul goes for his pills and ends up cracking on stage, in front of all of those people. It felt so personal, so private and low-key devastating. Seung-bok really shows a strength of friendship here which is valuable in the moment, even if it doesn’t last.
Like in the way his first concern when Tae-sul shows up and pretty much steals his literal limelight for the keynote is about him exposing himself to danger because of the death threats. I think it’s evident that he cleans up behind Tae-sul a lot, but his love for his friend hasn’t soured, even when he’s mad at him.
So obviously it’s going to hurt us all later when he turns coat.
I see all the speculation about Seung-bok going to the dark side…yes, all the setup is there and they’re already sticking him with their hooks, but I am still going to appreciate that his first instinct when Tae-sul was shot was to go to him despite the danger.
What you do in that first moment of crisis says a lot about where your heart is, and as of now, Seung-bok is still a good egg, even though Psychiatrist Girlfriend Seo-jin (Jung Hye-in) was very much on the side of forget-Tae-sul-and-run.
I respect the instinct to save your own life—it’s probably the most deeply-wired human instinct we have—but…I’m still a little disappointed that you’d leave your friend for dead, just like that, Seo-jin. Who really dumped whom, hm?
Bong-seonie!!! I’m glad they took a second to tell us our sweet bodyguard wasn’t dead 😭 Okay, I didn’t think the show would kill him off (so soon), but they sure didn’t hesitate to down him.
Actually, this is good, and I want to feel like people can die, because stakes. Stakes are important. Stakes = tension, and tension comes from momentum, and momentum is only possible with a roiling, dynamic plot.
But that assassin isn’t much of a shot, is he? He even misses them at close range!
Apparently, I am not the only one surprised by this:
Speaking of the assassin: why is he so…vitreous? I nicknamed him Jellyman, which was pointless because I have nothing else to say about him. Oh no, wait: that last thing he said to Seo-hae was intriguing and perplexing. I didn’t realise they weren’t just murderborgs.
The way these travellers come in is kind of grotesque. It’s like they are literally being born but in full-size, grossly misshapen and dripping with unidentified liquids. Why did Jellyman come in like that when others (like Seo-hae) came in normally? Are they even more illegal than the other illegal time travellers, and therefore the tech less effective?
Actually are any of the time travellers legal? And is the Control Bureau a legit arm of government, or are they like, super deep state dudes? To be frank, I’m not overly bothered, I’m pretty happy taking them as they are.
But we finally saw the introduction of our wildcard broker Sung Dong-il, who manages to be both entertaining and maddening. He’s one of those actors who always leaves me torn about his characters. Do I love you or do I hate you? And I often can’t decide. I guess it’s a bit of both. He’s not much of a middle-grounder, is he?
But he probably had the best line of the episode: “Welcome to…” *thinks for a moment* *gives up on English* “…mirae.” *is far more pleased with himself than he ought to be*
Hold on, I have heard that line before…
Dark: Willkommen in der Zukunft.
Also, dude, never read a girl’s diary! I mean, don’t read anyone’s, but particularly beware provoking the killing wrath of a trained fighter!
On the other hand, it gave us some cool camera angles, and a neat (and deserved) little dig at American gun culture, lol:
“This isn’t the US! Can we not resolve conflict without guns?”
Seo-hae spoke a little more this episode, but I admit I am wary of whether she’ll really get more to say, or generally be allowed to develop as a presence in the show. Yes, yes, I’ve come around. I’m like that friend who goes into relationships where the other person is draped in a giant red-flag and justifies it as, oh maybe they just really like red! Like me! While all my friends are yelling, NO THAT IS LITERALLY A RED FLAG
But they have also said that me giving things a chance is one of my virtues, so… *clings to the flagpole of follies*
But x2…ADVERSARIAL BANMAL, Anisa! P.S. Thank you for this term. (I like this more than “frenemy banmal”!)
Also I am more entertained than I should be by a slightly bereft, wholly discombobulated, definitely cowering Tae-sul when Seo-hae nerdnaps him. Is it at odds with his plane-saving cool and general McGyveriness? Maybe. Yes. It is. But do I care? Not really. Yet.
I am actually enjoying the whole trope-reversal here with Seo-hae being the rescuer, and the one plucking Princess Tae-sul out of the line of fire and dragging him along while he whimpers. Whimpering Jo Seung-woo is one of my faves. Also that little detail of him clutching to the doorframe by the fingernails, idk why but I enjoyed it enough to rewind and rewatch multiple times. Hee.
And now I know why she wanted Sun’s jacket: to match her future-gun. Which is kind of…pink and toylike? But I guess she’s had it since her dystopic childhood, so it makes a sort of sense…
~happily suspending all the disbeliefs~
I miss the slight fluffiness of having Sun (Jae-sun? Puppy boy? Banana-bringer?) around, and I hope he isn’t a throwaway character. But I guess…he knows Seo-hae was headed to Busan, and he knows she’s after Tae-sul. He can catch up.
Random thought: when she’s relieved that Tae-sul isn’t dead, she specifically thanks actual God (Hananim). Religion is still important in the time she is from? Kind of interested in this, even if it’s a throwaway line. In most shows with bleak, dystopian futures, they tend to lean hard into anti-theism.
You know what’s funny? Tae-sul and Seo-hae have a lot of together-time on-screen this hour. But none of it is quality connecty time. I guess patience is the order of the day. After all, that (literally shotgun) wedding is definitely going to happen. The question isn’t when we’re going to get there, but how. 🤣
And hey, they finally spat it out! I was getting a little crazy-eyed every time they cut this damn sentence off before it finished. But finally, we conclude a thought we started in Episode 1: the most important thing isn’t “where”…
“IT’S WHEN”—WE KNOW, SAY IT!
Wow I feel like I just had an Edward Cullen moment. (Unsurprising, given that I have been bingeing on these all week, haha. Recommend!)
But for any graduates of Dark, the German time-travel thriller that concluded last year, taking three episodes to finish that sentence is frustrating pacing.
The question isn’t…
I’m not trying to constantly compare this show to Dark, but I am beginning to think that this is basically going to be an inevitable standard for the genre now, because Dark is an object lesson (and perhaps even a template now) in how to do time travel in all its paradoxical intricacy and mindscrewy glory. I don’t feel it’s an unfavourable comparison just yet, though. I’m also getting shades of 12 Monkeys (2015; trailer here), another favourite of mine.
I think the former excelled most in the science of its world and creating a robust, internally consistent mythology, while the latter shone in its character work. Both of them actually were excellent on both aspects, but they remain memorable for me in these slightly different ways.
In conclusion: I’m ready for tomorrow, and my share of the future. Bring it.