What’s making your quarantine livable? Are you reaching for high drama, or fluffy comfort watches? (Or both?)
Here’s what we’ve started, finished, dropped, or kept watching this week. What have you caught up on this weekend?
(Note: We’ll mention some plot details, but will try to keep major spoilers to minimum.)
When the Weather is Fine [9-10]
It was beautiful to see Eun-seob and Hae-won slowly allowing themselves to come closer to each other, in a much less cautious way than they did when they were just friends and each was holding much of their self back. It’s heartbreaking how difficult it is for Eun-seob to allow himself even the tiniest happiness. One of this show’s main themes is the way that our families teach us how to be happy (or not); for Hae-won, it was her mother’s coldness and abandonment that made her even more honest and forthright—if guarded—in response. But Eun-seob learned early on directly from the one adult in his life that nobody can be trusted, and all happiness is illusory. The lesson is so ingrained in him that he can’t see what he already has in the people who love him now, and have for many years. It doesn’t help that now his mooching uncle has come back wearing the face of his dead father, trying to make Eun-seob believe that blood is the only thing that matters, and he should throw away his family (and they are his family). I want to see him have that breakthrough and finally grab on to the happiness that’s been within his reach all along, but first he has to let go of the fear he’s kept clenched in his fists since childhood.
I was very much Jang-woo in Episode 10: Hae-won and Eun-seob are adorable, but it’s worrying how little they talk to each other. No amount of swoony kisses and one-sided internal conversations can make up for the fact that Hae-won needs to make a decision about her future, and Eun-seob needs to actually speak his plans for the future out loud. So I’m glad that both Jang-woo and Myung-yeo reminded Hae-won that her self-imposed deadline is coming up. But my favourite scene this week was between Eun-seob and Hwi: him fixing her bike seat in the only overt show of love he finds himself able to make, and her bursting into sadness and anger at how obvious it is that she’s loved him since birth, that he’s her brother, DUH, and how can he not get that?! (…brb sobbing.) I hope that all this plain speaking finally allows the dam to break for Eun-seob, and he can accept that the story of the wolf’s eyebrow was the result of some deep hurt experienced by his father and uncle, and not a guideline for how to live his life. Because as is evident by how many people are clearly willing to die for him, he is not someone destined to live out his days alone (even if I believed that rot).
Hospital Playlist 
Until now, Seok-hyung has basically been a cipher (albeit a pathetic one) about whom we knew little except that he’s a mama’s boy and he had a thing for Song-hwa back in the day. I had a feeling there was something deeper behind his sudden return to Korea and his attachment to his mother, and this episode we found out that heartbreaking backstory. It was tough to watch—and it also gave us another window into the ecosystem of these five peoples’ friendship, and the history they carry around with them. That’s what makes this show (and all of this PD-writer team’s work) so compelling to watch: they live and breathe together the way real friends do, and it feels incredibly authentic in the way that the best slice-of-life shows can. And that’s why it also feels natural when we find out small details about them through their interactions with the huge cast of characters at the hospital. We learned about Seok-hyung’s soft heart, for example, through Green Eyeshadow Resident’s misunderstanding about him. (I have to say, I really dislike her. You have to be pretty heartless to assume what she did given the circumstances of that birth. It was so obvious what he meant!)
And: I’m very interested to see where Jun-wan and Ik-sun’s story is going next week.
When the Weather is Fine [7-9]
I have not loved a show for all its tiny moments, for every scene and every line of dialogue so much since Temperature of Love, and oh, this show knows me. The number of screencaps I have for the show is obscene, and it probably takes me at least three hours to watch one episode. I actually can barely manage both the week’s episodes because each one is so FULL, it takes me all week to digest. It’s also taken me to new levels of nerd, as I sit there writing out bits of dialogue for myself in Korean to pore over in their actual form rather than insufficient translations. (Any and all translations would be insufficient…where can I get scripts?)
There was a scene in episode 9 I just kept rewatching. The part where Eun-seob tells Hae-won, “Come here.” It’s like, two minutes, but it’s also EVERYTHING and FOREVER. On first watch, I was awestruck, and when I could finally put a thought together, it was just…this is a scene I wish I had written.
I find his reaction to Hae-won’s confession and then his later (real) answer to her on the mountain-top so interesting: the closer he gets to her, the more it shakes him (both in a good and bad way). Loving her from afar is something familiar, something he understands and knows how to do. And as fulfilling as their growing friendship and new closeness is, her confession marks an invisible line which once she crosses, sends him reeling. Because it’s too close—it’s confusingly, terrifyingly close, and even if he wanted that with her in an abstract way, the reality is something he just doesn’t know how to do.
But for all that, somebody needs to tell Eun-seob that a heart can’t be bought with kisses, and nor do hidden feelings replace the need for words and telling. I’ve been feeling—acutely—the imbalance of Hae-won making herself vulnerable to him while he keeps himself closed to her. Especially when we know so much more of his feelings than he ever tells her. It also puts a different slant on his introspective voiceovers, which sound like they’re things he’s telling her, but in actual fact, I think they’re more conversations he’s had with her in his head. It’s beautiful and sad and longing. He’s so much unspoken things, it squeezes my heart. And his sad eyes and the way he looks at her!
But I’m worried about whether we’re romanticising his melancholy. In real life, that’s far more likely to end like Kurt Cobain than happily ever after, and there’s nothing beautiful about that. I feel the show is presenting that facet in an only semi-self-aware way, because there’s something literary and aesthetically appealing about a lonely hermit poet in love. But the moment you apply it to real life, it’s…terribly sad. For Eun-seob, there’s a shadow over even the purely good things: because he fears (not unreasonably) that it will disappear, he is wont to treat it like it already has. As a result, he lets that fear steal what joy he could have in the present. BUT all that said…he is actively trying to change, and he takes steps into the metaphorical light by literally coming out of the shadows. Like, wanting to change is as meaningful as change itself.
Speaking of joy, though: I will never ever have enough of Hwi. The girl gives me life and I do. not. understanddddd why she is rejected by her peers? Also, I laughed long and hard over her defence of banmal, god this girl is GREAT. I can never get used to her using banmal with Eun-seob (and Jang-woo), I get a little shock every time she goes “Eun-seob-ah~!” or “Ya, Im Eun-seob!” This little peanut!!
Speed: 1.0 – 1.1 (I only speed this one up when it is taking self-indulgent shots of winter and I have housework to do! Honest!)
365: Repeat the Year [1-8]
This is pure sci-fi and SO good. It’s tightly written and the plot goes a mile a minute without leaving you behind. I didn’t really know what we were in for when I started the show, but it turned the stakes all the way up to 1000% really fast. Once it threw in the game element of it, it felt like something between Liar Game and the better parts of Memories of the Alhambra, except this is a game where nobody knows the rules, the goals, or even the players. Each mystery connects to another, and resists guessing in a way that is thrilling rather than infuriating. The assuredness of the show’s developments and trajectory indicates to me a well-laid plan beneath all its disparate pieces. I am not even bothering to check myself in how much I am enjoying this addictively thrilling creature. (But Anisa, prepare yourself—Lee Joon-hyuk has all his limbs, but the man is in dangerous waters!)
Speed: 0.9 (This show is so packed with details and goes by so fast that I actually have to slow it down!)
Repeat: 10 Months that Change Fate [1-6]
I was nerding around in 365 stuff and was reminded that it was based on a Japanese novel. I vaguely recalled a J-drama called Repeat and maybe I even had an episode of it somewhere when it had started airing back in 2017. And lo, the J-series was also based on the same source novel, but man, if I didn’t know that, I’m not sure I would have guessed it. There’s very little similarity between them in the details, though they both have this opening premise of a mysterious person bringing together a group of people and giving them a chance to do over ten months in the case of Repeat, a year in 365.
But the world of 365 is so much richer, and its character intrigue has far more depth and dimension—not to mention doing more interesting things with gender, with Nam Ji-hyun a broken badass, Lee Joon-hyuk a fanboy marshmallow of a detective, and mysterious Director Lee Shin an ambiguous and unreadable…villain? Victim? Saviour? Nobody knows and that’s the thrill of it.
In Repeat, Nam Ji-hyun’s counterpart (I think) is more of a shrinking violet with moral strength, which isn’t bad, but it feels…old. She also needs saving and provides inspiration to her hero. Director Shin’s counterpart Kazama is a grinning cartoon villain, plus there’s a psycho (ex-)girlfriend with a penchant for making her boyfriend her dog, a date rapist, and it’s all very…I mean, it’s interesting in a dry, cerebral kind of way, but it’s more emotionally flattened while having more drama, which is very different from 365. That’s not to say it doesn’t have decent emotional moments, it just…it feels mechanical, like it’s following a script. OKAY I KNOW IT IS LITERALLY FOLLOWING A SCRIPT but you know what I mean, right?
This is much more action thriller than I expected and I am a) surprised, and b) digging it! I’ll be honest, though: the conclusion of the whole arc with the current villain doesn’t make sense if you look at it too closely, but I’ve decided not to look at it closely because the cast is very endearing, and it’s a fun, easy, low brain-power watch. I think I’m far less objective about its problems because it’s not actually offensive the way Catch the Ghost or Two Cops was, and I really like the characters and their chemistry. I watched it in broad daylight this time, which I think is the most sensible way for a scaredy cat. Another one I had to slow down to catch everything!
Note: is this the first drama I’ve seen police execute a search and seizure in an actually correct way? I.e. carefully and systematically, without destruction of property, and informing the person that they have the right to observe? It was weirdly vindicating. Also! Scum Lawyer here is also Scum Lawyer in Diary of a Prosecutor (actor Cha Soon-bae), which I’m simultaneously watching. An unexpected yet entertaining crossover!
Speed: 0.9 – 1.0
The Game: Towards Zero [9-16]
I set myself a target to finish off shows I’ve left hanging, so I had a nice midweek binge of The Game. I’m still surprised at how unpopular this show was! I really believe it was a genuinely good show, if a little over-long. (In its defence, nearly all dramas are a little over-long—nothing that can’t be solved with your speed button though!) It wasn’t a show I urgently felt like I had to watch when I wasn’t watching it, but while I was watching, I was drawn in completely.
I suppose this show is not what you would consider a traditional thriller. I think it’s part psychological study, part moral philosophy allegory, and in those respects, it really is riveting. The question was never really who so much as it was how and why, and the answers were complex and delivered in a thoughtful and sympathetic way. (See my thoughts on the first half of the show from this Long Yak, at 28:34).
This show’s treatment of its hero and villain sets it somewhat apart from the usual paradigms of good cops vs. bad killers. The events of the show are shaped by a childhood encounter between the two, when Kim Tae-pyung (Taecyeon) tells Jo Hyun-woo (Im Joo-hwan) about the death he sees for him, and it’s a particularly horrible one: he commits suicide surrounded by police. Hyun-woo lives his entire life haunted by the poisoned chalice that the knowledge of his own death represents. Does that mean he has no free will or self-determination? Is his entire life set to follow this predestined route until its foreseen end? He had turns of fighting his “fate” and surrendering to it, and the show took care to give him an equal footing as a narrator. I think it’s fair to say that even with Taec’s emotional and involved performance, Im Joo-hwan had the better character and delivered it in a painful, nuanced and ultimately more memorable way. Sympathy for a serial killer? Why not.
But even as we’re called on to feel for all the wrongful tragedy in Hyun-woo’s life, it asks: does that excuse his wrongful choices? The show makes forgiveness and redemption a separate question, and put me strongly in mind of that iconic scene in I Hear Your Voice, when Lee Bo-young tells Lee Jong-seok that even though he’s a victim with arguably just cause, the moment he takes someone else’s life, “all your reasons disappear.” When you kill, you become a murderer: nuance is not part of that package.
At the same time, though, the show also obliquely asks how much of Hyun-woo’s villainy Tae-pyung creates through his own actions. Do your actions drive you towards fate or against it? They’re pretty big existential inquiries, and they get a thorough treatment without short-changing either the characters or the argument.
But I had a really big problem with this show saying that all these people die because of Tae-pyung, when they die because they were murdered by a murderer who wasn’t him. It’s dumb. Talk about a literal fundamental attribution error. “I didn’t kill her, you killed her,” said the guy who put the woman in a coffin and buried her, to the guy who didn’t.
Sidenote: that Samsung Galaxy Z Flip got a LOT of PPL mileage. Also, I think I want one?
Speed: 1.2 – 1.4