If you’ve ever read I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith), you might remember its iconic opening line: “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”
I write this before the finale of Sisyphus, and maybe even the act of this preface before the grand finale is giving the experience more importance than it merits.
But do you know what? I don’t care. It’s JTBC’s birthday and Tae-Hae invited me to the party, so I am going to indulge my taste for drama by anticipating the thing in the grandiosestestest way possible: with a navel-gazing, inconsequential foreword which I’ll spend looking backward. Partly because I truly don’t know what to expect going in, and I am deeply enjoying that. Partly as an act of defiance against the disgruntlement this show has elicited. Partly because for the first time in a while, last week’s episodes put me at ideological odds with our lead pair. Nothing to do with that Beyond Evil review that is—highly inconveniently—not writing itself.
And since I’m here—at this point between the airing of Episodes 15 and 16, the former of which I won’t watch until the latter drops, I’m going to quickly exorcise my own disgruntlement. BECAUSE. TAE-SUL. YOU ARE MORE GENRE-SAVVY THAN THIS. Don’t you know about self-fulfilling prophecies? I’ve said it in an earlier review, about whether they actually cause the things they intend to prevent, but in this mad interlude with Seo Gil-bok/Seo Won-ju, the pre-Sigma incarnation of Sigma, you literally watch Tae-sul (and to a lesser extent Seo-hae) turn this pitiful, broken creature into the man who would one day destroy the world. Like, in that moment, if they had shown him kindness instead of violence, would that have changed everything?
Instead, Tae-sul is about as cruel as a human can be, but while he talks to the future version (who, you could argue, deserves it), it’s the one in front of him, the present one—the one he is not just ignoring but isn’t even looking at like he’s a person—who is the one really being cut by the words, eventually to be changed by them. And I find this quite significant in character terms, because oftentimes when you have people trying to prevent evil by killing a villain before they become one, it’s also the case that what stays their hand actually is compassion and the recognition of a) shared humanity, and importantly, b) innocence (and consequently a worldview that future evil doesn’t preclude that innocence in the present).
But neither Tae-sul nor Seo-hae have any of these compunctions. You can argue it’s understandable, but you can also argue that this is where they fall short of acting according to archetype. Can they be heroes if they are flawed like this? I think it would be an interesting treatment of the hero-as-archetype question if the show had set out to explore this intentionally, but I don’t think it has and therefore this is really only an academic discussion I am having with myself.
I admit part of my disgruntlement also is being forced to see Tae-sul in a truly unfavourable light. He’s been the character I’ve invested the most emotion in, so it’s a crisis of conscience to have to confront the fact that this guy may not be the unequivocally good person I want or imagined him to be, but instead someone who also makes bad choices that cause great harm.
So when Sigma offers that basically Tae-sul should be good to people in case the person he mistreats ends up destroying the world…well, to be honest, he makes quite a compelling argument.
And Sigma, it turns out, isn’t an ideologically boring villain even though he’s got a cookie-cutter origin story. It’s not unusual for villains (or quasi-villains) to drop the best truth-bombs and/or insights into the ways the system is broken and unfit for purpose, but Sigma really feels like a full story of how the harsh heel of society can grind you into dust and then just keep on grinding—until you cease to be matter and have become antimatter, until the light has been sucked out so completely that all that remains of you is a black hole ready to consume the world. He’s not interesting in and of himself: he’s interesting as a symbol. And you know. “Sigma” is literally a symbol. He is the sum of his suffering, the sum of what has been acted upon him, the sum of his own twisted bitternesses. The sum of all the evil he’s experienced and the sum of all he has wrought.
And in that sense, we are all “sigma”. We are all the sum of what we have experienced, and to flip it the other way, we are all potentially villains, because it’s a role whose qualifications are terribly easy to achieve. And even if you are a hero in one story, that doesn’t prevent you from being the villain in another, because that’s how we exist, not as singular stories or lone figures, but in this vast web of interconnectedness where one person easily plays a thousand roles. (…I had no idea we were going so existential!)
That is enough navel-gazing for now. I guess it’s time to see how it ends? Here’s some mood music to get you through:
The end (is the beginning)
So far, I’ve started all my reviews at the end before going back into the middles, so since this is the end for real, I’ve decided to go linear for a change and work my way to the end in…well, a highly disorderly fashion (but it’s the thought that counts, right?), and we can pretend we watched it together, okay?
(All quoted text is courtesy of Netflix because I am too tired to translate it myself!)
Tae-sul on the hunt for Sigma:
“You were really fast when running away in tears. You should’ve become a professional runner instead of an artist. Then you probably would have turned out all right (…) Some people just never make it no matter how hard they work. That’s you.”
The way Tae-sul really mocks Sigma, I would like to believe that what he believes he’s doing is playing mind games with a villain, not that these are his sincere thoughts. Because he is downright mean. No, cruel.
Though I’m still trying to figure out how much merit Tae-sul’s claim has, that what separates him from Sigma is that he doesn’t blame others for his mistakes.
“You people…you, Kang Seo-hae, that old man who sold me the rope and charcoal briquettes and said nothing, the taxi driver who hounded me for the fare when I was running away barefoot, covered in blood, and the cops! I slept at the park for two nights, freezing. Not a single person asked me if I was okay. Not even one person.”
This. The stripped down, dissociated way in which Sigma tells this story leaves you with a sense of horror that makes it worse than if he’d told it with feeling.
You’re left with the twisting knowledge that Sigma—a villain, a mass-murderer, a war criminal—was created by society and failed by a prejudiced system, and therefore society is collectively responsible for his existence.
Though also I must add that despite those failings, it doesn’t ultimately absolve Sigma of the moral responsibility of his choices, though it does mitigate them. But I think we must always hold systems responsible before we can hold individuals to account.
“I kept racking my brain to figure out why the heck you tried to kill me. I thought it was unfair. I didn’t think I’d done anything to deserve that (…) Did I do something to deserve getting shot? Did I? But you know, it turned out the reason didn’t even matter at all. Because the world is an unfair place to begin with.”
And still, all of this is incredibly sad. Especially when it would have taken so little to save him. It haunts you with this idea that among those we deem monsters were once people who needed saving, and more importantly, could have been saved.
HOWEVER. I have never heard of being saved in a nuclear apocalypse by taping up the windows. 😂 But I won’t begrudge his surviving after the rather crap life he had.
Oh hey, these Quantum & Time office workspaces look like the same as Kim Haneul’s in 18 Again. Are JTBC just using their own offices? 😂
Tae-sul playing with guns: hasn’t he had like, idk, 20 minutes of gun coaching from Seo-hae in the bunker? Ah well I guess I can go along with this, lol.
Though the Sigma-peekaboo and all does make me wonder who is playing with whom at this point.
“I went outside. The outside world had become so quiet. It was dark, even during the day. And there was no one. Those who belittled me, all those arrogant show-offs and obnoxious jerks. They were all gone. That moment, I realized that those jerks were the ones who deserved to die, not me.”
At least Sigma gets all the best monologues.
“Let’s put an end to this today. This could be the beginning. The beginning and the end are always intertwined. Just like a poor little puppy that chases its own tail in circles. You’d better get used to this darkness. Because that…is all you have left.”
You cannot deny that he has quite the flair, our Sigma. I mean, if you’re going to end the world, keep things dark and do it with style, right?
Seo-hae, Sun, and saving the world
I really like how the show ended up setting up Seo-hae and Sigma as opposing forces. I think we’ve tended to forget that the show’s main main character really is Seo-hae: she’s the one who’s travelled through time and space and is trying to shift the colossus of a broken future into reverse.
Sun: “Aren’t you scared of dying?”
Seo-hae: “I am. I am scared. But…what scares me more is surviving alone in the world.You have no idea what it’s like. If you lose everyone you love and survive alone, do you think you’ll be happy? Trust me. I’ll save everyone. All of you.”
I like the contrast of how she and Sigma wake up to the same world, but experience totally different reactions to it: she’s sad, he’s glad. She’s determined to save it, he’s determined to destroy it. She wants to change the past, he wants to make sure it doesn’t deviate from what got them here.
I guess it means backstory is everything.
NooOooOooOooo not SUN!!!
Okay I knew there was going to be a body count this episode
but Sun 😭😭😭😭
Hyun-gi and tying up all the loose threads of time:
I was surprised by how well done this wrap-up was. Apart from when we first met him, Hyun-gi hasn’t been a particularly compelling character for me—he didn’t have enough doubt in his convictions, so as a character whose end we knew before anything else, it kind of took away the tension of his character and our ability to sympathise with him, and just left him as this annoying dude we knew was going to realise the truth in the end, but instead was just being played for a fool over and over, and who kept buying what Chief Hwang was selling without asking for receipts. YOU NEED RECEIPTS.
Let me also take a moment to appreciate Chief Hwang, who likewise has not been much of a character—he’s always been so occupied being a plot device that he never had the chance to develop into more. Partly because a large cast of characters naturally limits how much development the tertiaries can get, but he absolutely made his final moments count. You know, unpopular opinion I’m sure, but I think the story would have benefited from a longer run. I get a very definite sense of a lot of untold stories among the rest of the characters and I kind of wish I had known them.
But Hyun-gi ABSOLUTELY KILLED his exit. Like, that moment the penny drops and he realises what it means when Seo-hae didn’t kill him when she could have and clearly wanted to: he. has. agency. A thing he clearly neither realised nor exercised before.
And he finally gets it, that he has the power to overcome “fate” by making his own choices.
Ohhh what a powerful parting gesture—“I’m not going to shoot you, and I’m not going to get on the Uploader.”
And then he walks out of Hwang’s office without looking back, empties his gun, drops it, and he’s done. He’s out. Like, OUT.
It’s THE watershed moment, not merely for his character, but for the WHOLE SHOW, the full realisation that to win the game, you have to not play the game.
How can you change the future, save the world, if you do what’s always been done? And that’s really the conflict that lies at the core of the show as well—that one side (Sigma, the Control Bureau) wants to maintain the cycle, and the other wants to end it.
From the start, this show understood its concept really well, and I think it managed its internal logic in a clear and consistent way. It also answers that question which I was always a little uncertain about in Dark—how do you know what happened in the last cycle? The diary for Seo-hae, the Control Bureau records for Sigma, are the assigned continuity agents in the carry-over from loop to loop, and we understand that in some way they maintain a history of the loop’s progressive iterations.
You know, one of my absolute favourite relationships in this show is the one between Seo-hae and her father. It’s just so good. I wish so much that we had been able to explore it more, but I do love that we finally got to see some of Seo-hae’s teen years. Because really, imagine. There’s no one left in the world you can trust, there’s nobody for you to rely on but that one person. There’s also so much time. It’s a really exceptional relationship: he would have been both her mother and her father, her teacher, her friend, her confidant. I actually had forgotten the details of that departure scene, and now, knowing everything we know, it’s even more sad and bittersweet to watch this scene again.
However. It does seem inadvisable to go into the Uploader chamber all guns blazing if you want to bribe them to give you a ride.
This show really does show itself in contrasts—it has these brilliant, amazing parts and then it has these downright silly parts.
Lol at Sigma’s bizarro greasy playboy messiah look though 😂
How many Sigmas are there, and which one greets Seo-hae when she takes the Uploader? If that’s the one that’s lived through the apocalypse, when does he go back to the past to become Endgame Sigma? Didn’t he go back with the advance guard? If he did, how is he still there in 2035?
And then the end again: of the penultimate episode, the world, and also the show
“She’s here. Seo-hae is here.”
This will never get old for me. This thrill of anticipation that his not-quite-smile holds when he says that.
Wait what? Sigma’s intention was always to manufacture a relationship between them? 😱
“I’ll tell you why you’re hesitating. Because you love him. You love him! You two should thank me. I worked very hard for you two to end up together (…) It’s natural to develop feelings for each other when you go through hardships together. While helping and saving each other, and making sacrifices. That’s how love begins. And once it begins, it can’t be stopped. You can’t help but love him, even though you couldn’t avenge your dad’s death because of him.”
I mean. I kind of can see how that is the ultimate revenge. It’s both genius and pitiful at the same time, because in so doing, while you are hurting them, you also have genuinely given them a gift.
But also, you can’t really take ultimate credit because while being thrown together helps, that’s not what love grows from. The love comes from those two people giving something to each other that can’t be manufactured, that can’t be produced on demand or programmed. So I find it quite fascinating that Sigma, who is deeply emotionally starved and abused, has an insight into the mechanics of love—how it grows, what it makes people do—but also fundamentally cannot understand it at all.
And his refrain: “Don’t look at me with those eyes.” That’s pretty hard-hitting.
But I also don’t want to begrudge him giving himself the credit. I’ve got to the point with Sigma where it’s difficult to really see him entirely as a villain.
OH FASCINATING, the Control Bureau incompetence was intentional?
I think it would have worked better if we had been given some clue, some small hidden hints that all this was intentional, because it ended up being a reason a lot of people left the show.
Whereas if they had dropped some clues, it would have increased our unease and tension and made us doubt whether what we were seeing was everything. I think it must have been present in the script, but when it came to showing it on screen, they didn’t commit to any foreshadowing—perhaps they were afraid of giving it away?
On the one hand, I think they’d argue that they wanted us to feel the same way Tae-Hae do when it’s revealed, but the distance between the beginning of the show and the end is too long for that to be a reasonable choice. Like, it withheld that detail too long for it to have maximum impact.
Boss Park and found family
Oh I knew it!!!! I knew Bingbing was his daughter!!!
I don’t know why I am so pleased with myself though
They lingered over this arc for quite a while but I’m not sure it’s really clearer what actually happened. This is what I’ve got: he is saying that because he changed the past by not killing—the killing that made him end up in prison (which I presume is underground lol) and survive the bombings—since that now no longer happened, the whole chain of his existence up to this point has been cut off, so he…is disappearing.
But here’s what I don’t get: which version of him did the original killing, and was it his wife that he killed? It seems like according to Bingbing, his past self didn’t do anything—so what actually happened? Did his future self (aka the guy we know) kill his past self and…but then what is Bingbing (aka Ji-eun) remembering? And if it’s future-him that goes to prison and then comes back…well shouldn’t he be even older?
I think I am overthinking this 🤣
Did they do it omg did Tae-sul change it by being NICE to past sigma, by saving him??
The idea that this version of you is trash, but that version of you deserved to be saved
It would certainly restore my faith in Tae-sul
WAIT WHAT THIS IS THE ENDING OF THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN
BRING ME MY HIPPOGRIFF
DON’T FORGET, THREE TURNS SHOULD DO IT *cough*
Well, if they travel back and shoot Sigma it’s certainly thematically fitting that the time travel that caused the problem is also the thing to solve the problem.
But…is this feeling the feeling you feel when it’s a bit anti-climactic? Why does it feel like things can still go badly wrong?
At least Tae-sul gets to say a very silly line to Seo-hae about always showing her emotions on her face. Lol where else are you meant to show your emotions if not your face, Tae-sulie?
I would also like to take the opportunity AT LAST to point out how darn fresh Seo-hae’s clothes always look—her boots are unworn, her hair is always clean—okay I forgive the hair, because TV—but her gloves are always pristine too, even in the post-apocalyptic dystopia after days of being on the road!
So far I have rationalised it as scavenged supplies that were new, but I have officially decided to stop lying to myself. She is just fresh as a daisy at all times and lesser beings must deal with it.
Wait, back to the time-turner escapades, wherein we snip off all roads to nuclear destruction:
Even though I know they get Sigma, I still feel nervy about this mission
Wait so the Tae-sul who went to Boss Park to buy guns in Episode 14 was…Future Tae-sul? Because the thing he whispered in his ear (about his daughter being by his side all along)…earlier Tae-sul wouldn’t have known that, would he?
That’s sneaky, Show! Like, disingenuously!
OH are they going to save Sun? I approve!! I mean, I was going to forgive this show for killing off my best puppy because I was like “yes, stakes!” but I am so happy he is alive 😭
Killing Sigma with kindness and bullets, in that order
Oh but Tae-sul plans to remove the threat of Future Sigma not by making his life better but by arresting him? Hm.
I’m disappointed that their answer to the system failing Seo Gil-bok is to fail him more—hope I’m wrong.
OKAY DAD—apparently apprehending Seo Gil-bok is his job. But his eyes when he looks at Gil-bok. 😭
Man I hope the first thing Dad says to him is “are you okay”.
😭 he doesn’t even say it
He just wraps his jacket around him
And this here, this is Dad understanding something Tae-sul doesn’t. That sometimes what people need most is a moment of human kindness, whatever the situation or context is otherwise. Humanity breeds humanity. And even when it doesn’t, showing humanity is never a loss in the grand scheme of things.
Meanwhile, we get a second coming of that incredibly charged showdown between Sigma, Tae-sul and Seo-hae that ends everything…except LOL this time future Seo-hae and Tae-sul providing running commentary of their now-past fight with Sigma from up in the gallery and it’s absolutely hilarious. 😂
So…they do ultimately straight up assassinate him. I don’t know what I think about that. But then he was about to wipe out 60 million people, so…somebody had to?
And that’s it, that’s finally it. It’s over. All this time, Tae-sul’s confidently been saying that everything was going according to plan according to the future he saw when he communed with his bonemeal—the future where he won. But after this point, when Sigma is really dead (is he REALLY dead? Are you sure? Did you check?), he tells Seo-hae that this is as far as he saw.
And with Sigma gone, that brings us to a world where Seo-hae—the Seo-hae we know—can no longer exist, and it’s time for her to go too. And god, this is achingly…feelingful. How do you deal with this? Being lovers not in the same time? I talked about Tae-sul and figuring out his feelings here, but I want to reword it: his conflict isn’t “I have these feelings and I am trying to figure out what they are.” It’s: “I know what I am feeling. I know what these feelings are, but I am trying to figure out what I want to do with them.” And ultimately it provides a really poignant endgame conflict to his arc that I will talk more about later.
I actually sort of wish they’d got one more go of it just so Seo-hae could have the jazzed-up bunker experience…
Wait why is she still there
Oh damn I knew it was going too well. Too easily.
Wuuuuuuuuttttttt? Eddy Kim? Seung-bok?
Seung-bok was the darkest one of all???? w. t. f.
His most persuasive argument shooting Seo-hae—un-killing her is really Tae-sul’s only incentive to do what he wants. But why does he want the Uploader? So…he can have another shot at winning over Seo-jin?
I actually think rejection and spite would make better motives, because I don’t see what he has to gain from the Uploader at this point. Also it has been a few days since I wrote these notes and I have forgotten what happened/what I was thinking when I first wrote them 😂
It’s not lost on me that Tae-sul is a pretty trash friend (sorry Tae-sul, but it’s true). He skates by on his achievements and charm, and uses them as a substitute for actual relationship work. After losing his parents, I would say he only really loved his brother before he met Seo-hae, and even that was tainted with his casual and dismissive treatment of other people as if they existed solely as his accessories. At the same time, like with Sigma, I also can see why he is like this, and perhaps they are neurochemical opposites, if we’re talking about how overactive or underactive their respective amygdalas might be.
All that said, I also can’t really hate Tae-sul (or Sigma for that matter), and I think like others of his type, he “compensates” for his social shortcomings by offering other things, even if those things end up being material.
The interesting thing is that Tae-sul thinks he’s a good friend, that the friendship he offers is meaningful and worthy, which is why Seung-bok turning on him is so shocking. He has no sense of his failures and inadequacies and it’s a huge flaw. I feel like as the show draws to a close, the line between hero and villain is very blurred—both Tae-sul and Sigma are morally ambiguous characters, if in different measure. But the distance between them is not so wide as Tae-sul perhaps imagines.
So in the end, it’s the same thing whether it’s Sigma or Eddy (can we please just stick with Seung-bok, lol): they feel scorned and disdained by Tae-sul.
But here’s the thing: you can leave people who make you feel like that. You can. You should. You don’t have to stay around people who don’t value you or who debase you. It’s not an excuse for blowing up the world. I understand your feelings—the anger and the shame and the desperate desire to be seen—but you can opt out of bad relationships, even when you think you can’t, even when it’s a parasocial relationship like Sigma’s. At a point, you do it to yourself: you take away your own choices, you give up your agency, and actually, Tae-sul correctly diagnoses it: you blame other people, when it’s something you had control over all along. Externalising the blame and your locus of control is great for letting you not deal with what’s wrong in your life, but it also does not let you fix what is wrong in your life. And sometimes what’s wrong in your life is the people in it. Use your vetoes, everyone.
But I also accept that these things are very messy and emotionally complicated. Like, I don’t think any of those moments of concern and care for Tae-sul that we’ve seen from Seung-bok were ever faked, or indeed that Tae-sul lacked affection. (What he lacks is emotional intelligence.) And perhaps that true affection is what makes it even harder—love turned sour is still love. And this juncture where Seung-bok takes a gun to what Tae-sul loves—more than a primal desire to hurt him, it’s his own pain boiling over in this moment, after letting everyone get into his head.
But I cannot lie, I did not expect this turn. 😅😢