Friends, we have reached the halfway point, and…this week’s episodes were rather magnificent? I mark that as a question because while I am positive that I LOVED them, I am also feeling slightly uncertain about whether my opinion is to be trusted given that there’s a lot of naysaying for the show out there. Of course, that doesn’t get in the way of my fun: I really, really, REALLY enjoyed them so much, and we GOT so much, and I feel like this pair of episodes is the show’s tipping point. Its story has come together, the stakes are honestly nerve-wracking, and that floppy tension of the last few weeks has been replaced by a taut, harrowing kind of creature.
I think one of the real strengths of this week has been spending a lot more time with Seo-hae, and in Seo-hae’s world, whether that’s present or future. As Anisa said previously, Seo-hae has been not much more than a butt-kicking cipher, and that’s not a character arc.
But this. This definitely was. I am really appreciating the circling narrative structure of the show—which doesn’t always work: last year’s Record of Youth used a similar kind of technique and it fell flat-ish. The difference here (apart from, you know, everything), is that each rewind takes us through a different character’s perspective, adding something to our knowledge of them and their experiences. Apart from filling out the chronology gaps, it also adds meaning to their behaviour. By revealing those bonds and showing us how things connect, it effectively raises the emotional stakes for us as viewers, and heightens the tension.
This week was a lot less action-heavy, and a lot more introspective, and despite both episodes running pretty long, I didn’t begrudge it. (Sidenote: I think my natural fatigue point is around 40-45 minutes, and the show should have given in and gone with that length at a longer count, and also, there were multiple points in both episodes that felt like natural endings, so I had a moment of “oh, there’s more” when there was more.)
Can I start at the end? Because WOAH and HOW DOTH THICKEN THE PLOT SO?
- I am of course talking about Seo-hae’s discovery of the diary AND HER OWN DEAD BODY W. T. F. And I assume Tae-sul’s beside her. I mean yes it is random how she found it and also how her diary has been protected from wind and rain between rocks, but that is legit her body, given that electric-shock moment she had when she touched the skeleton.
- A touch that seems to have transferred something of her future self’s memories to her, and some of those moments she witnesses are ones we haven’t seen yet—like the one where Tae-sul smoothes back her hair, and is close enough to kiss.
- I often think in shows that have strength in plot, you can kind of take or leave a romance/it is surplus to requirement, but Sisyphus is slowly but surely selling me this one, and moreover, I can feel in my bones that it’s going to hurt. Nothing like desiccated human husks to make it feel real and finished, huh—and therefore painfully precious and finite.
- And now I understand why her dad told her by no means to ever cross paths with Tae-sul. Though I wonder how much he knows/she told him for him to give that instruction. That’s the kind of thing he’d say if he knew she was going to die, but that does not seem like information she would disclose to him?
Sigma and other bad guys
- The latest promo on the show tells us that Sigma is the show’s arch-villain, and while we’ve learned that Sigma is a person (in the form of Kim Byung-chul), why is he?
- He seems to be one of the earliest time-immigrants (timigrant?) in terms of when he returned to, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he was among the first to leave…a detail that is neither here nor there, but just something to chew on. (Also, this is kind of puts me in mind of the Canadian show, Travelers.)
- How dark, yet compelling, is his origin story? The money-as-kindling idea left such a strong impression on me last week: what’s valuable in the future? Metal, the stuff of small change and intrinsic value. What’s worthless: the notes. Paper with no value because society no longer exists to ascribe value to it. Of all the things we do as human societies, money is surely one of the most bizarre.
- So it’s both fascinating and horrifying to see how Sigma racks it up—amassing it at the same time as having no emotional attachment to it at all. This imagery is so well done:
- And the jelly ear-people are Sigma’s people? Which means that he’s behind the assassination attempt in Busan…what does he have to do with the Control Bureau? Are they all at odds with each other? And the brokers?
- But I find it hilarious that the Control Bureau is always talking about not making a ruckus and “oh people are watching” etc, but totally ALWAYS MAKE A RUCKUS. Come on, you’ve got a battalion of highly armed suits swarming entire neighbourhoods and you think you are going under the radar? LOL no. But keep trying.
- Not at all surprised that Control Bureau Boss and Broker Boss have history, though, they act like high school rivals. 😂
- Also did anyone else feel a twinge of sadness for our broker turning himself in? I really enjoy cunning Seo-hae of the sardonic smiles, but I also kind of was rooting for the Asia Mart gang. (And is Bingbing, the cute little programmer, related to him?)
- Distinct feeling that Sung Dong-il is still being underused. Also guess what: his character has a name! It’s Park Hyung-do! Though they all just call him Boss Park.
- Their uploader/downloader has some explaining to do though—I was wondering how Seo-hae dropped her things into Tae-sul’s place, but didn’t for a moment imagine a timespace-teleporting affair but I LOVED it
- And I realised at the end of Episode 8 that the photo she sent wasn’t from Tae-sul, but hers from the diary (…or wait—is that a photo she got from him originally?! Lost track, oops.)
- Speaking of the uploader: is the whole uploading/downloading business an illegal enterprise? You pay a lot of money, you get to go back. That would put an interesting spin on things, actually, and sort of makes the Control Bureau make sense. But if they are native to 2020, how does Control Bureau Boss know Boss Park (like a peer) and his background? This would suggest that there’s perhaps both a legal channel and an illegal one, for time travelers.
- PS. I’m pretty sure we were told all of this back in Episode 1. *pats self on back for trying to reverse-engineer knowledge we’ve already been given* 🤪
- SEOUL BURNING: the paintings, Sisyphus, Sigma…what does it mean? I am fascinated—and haunted—by the paintings.
We finally have some concrete information on the end of their world:
- Seo-hae tells Jae-sun this. She also tells Tae-sul, along with telling him of his own death, which happens to be the same day, except like Dark, it’s not the Apocalypse that kills him. Kills them.
- I’m really curious about the specific events that lead to young Seo-hae and her dad being pushed into a bunker while her mum stays outside. What is her role, who is she/what does she do, and why couldn’t she join them?
- Also her reaction after adult Seo-hae called her: she cried. It seems like more than a spontaneous, inexplicable moment of sadness. What does she know, what does she expect? Is she grooming young Seo-hae even now, to live in a bleak future without her?
- We don’t actually know which year Seo-hae comes from, but if she was born in 2012, and…oh wasn’t there an inexplicable scan from Episode 1 that made her 26? Okay, so the year she comes from is…2038? Eighteen years in the future.
So…can the future be changed?
- There’s a lot of existential talk this week, but I don’t know that we can really answer this. It’s the central question of any time travel story, isn’t it? And it will depend on how the show chooses to answer it. Does Seo-hae really believe she is changing the future, or is she deliberately following her future self’s tracks knowing it will arrive at the same end?
- Halfway through Episode 8, Seo-hae and Tae-sul have a really great confrontation—it’s so charged, and Seo-hae who usually remains inscrutable and reserved, shows him more emotion and honesty than she ever has, telling Tae-sul that he’s selfish to go after Sigma, and everyone dies because of him, and he yells:
- It’s a legit point but a philosophical bind
- But also they have no idea how the causality is progressing. Does the future Seo-hae came from arise because of what he was going to do, or because of what he will do now? Could she be causing the thing she came to prevent?
- Short answer to the question up top: we’ll have to wait and see. BUT I don’t see this story ultimately being a tragedy, though I would also kind of dig if it went there and was totally soul-destroying in a good way.
- Though by the same token, I’m not sure what form a happy ending takes. “Everyone lives” is definitely one, but…people gotta return to their original timelines or sever something somewhere—to stay together, to prevent being locked into a causal loop, all that stuff.
Chairman Kim, dying, and living forever
The reason I haven’t finished this review is because I keep tripping up on this part. I have a LOT of thoughts, but wording them is hard.
- Dark and futile: that’s what comes to mind for me with Chairman Kim (Jeon Guk-hwan). His end was dark and his life/death was futile because of it.
- I bought this as a motive for both the Chairman and Seo-jin: that they’re doing all of this stuff to keep her mum alive. It’s hard not to feel something for their desire for one more day—one more good day—and for each day you get making you want just one more, ad infinitum.
- But that brings us to the problem: mortality is inevitable. A natural lifespan is only so long, even at its longest. I don’t mean this in a callous way, but part of being human is that at some point, we have no choice about accepting death, and I felt like the Kims here offer a deeply disturbing spectacle—not just in forcing someone to hold on long past their body can do it—but of the criminal, amoral lengths they go to in order not to experience that loss. I have every sympathy for their situation, but I also am pretty sure that Seo-jin’s mum would not want them to be doing the things they do to keep her alive.
- And the worst part is that what Chairman Kim does to himself at then end…that undoes everything, and that is what tells you that what he’s been doing was more for himself than it was for his wife. It was always a way to allay, delay, and ultimately end his own suffering. And so he did, in the most efficient, efficacious way he knew how.
- And it seems to me that that’s a perfect storm of a situation to turn Seo-jin to her darkest, because imagine what it does to you to find your father like that. It wouldn’t be hard to turn her blame on Tae-sul, and with the right whispers in her ear, she can become the bitterest blade to take him down.
- There are an awful lot of villains gathering around our pair, aren’t there?
Return of Jae-sun, confessions, and character-mapping
- But oh I was very pleased last week to get the return of Jae-sun (I’ve decided we’re calling him Jae-sun now, since that’s what his ma calls him).
- Nevertheless, didn’t it feel like Episode 7 was lingering on him in an oddly haunting way? I really was sure Sigma would be him. I am also devastated in advance. (My standing theory from last week was that he goes on to become Sigma.) and I felt like Episode 7 cemented it: it’s the classic set-up, right? Jilted man + wealth (which converts to power) = never ends well.)
- But that said, I didn’t expect him to escalate so fast and ask her out! I enjoy how direct he is, but also that he brings out Tae-sul’s pettiness, haha! Actually, Jae-sun is the one who seems to come off more mature, despite being much younger. And the whole scene where he decided to call Seo-hae “noona” was gahhh so sweet. BUT THAT IS HOW THEY GET YOU.
- I think I only really started to let go of my Sun-is-Sigma speculation when he insisted on sticking around to help Seo-hae. And then he came back from the airport, and that sharp, heartfelt exchange he had with Tae-sul, where he acknowledges that he can’t change Seo-hae’s mind, but Tae-sul can—that’s him conceding it, while also managing to express his frustration that Tae-sul has no idea what this means. Let me tell him for you, Jae-bae: Tae-sulie, it means she likes you. YOU.
- All of that to say that Jae-sun has the kind of emotional acuity that villains tend to lack. He’s capable of conceding, he’s sympathetic and his sincere desire to help overrides his pursuit of personal safety. He’s proven capable of self-sacrifice. If someone like him turns villain, the case for it has to be really extraordinary, the situation extreme. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I am saying that the show will have to explicitly show us how.
- But most likely, I am overthinking it (naturally) and he’s fine and an all-round good egg.
- I also enjoyed that little segue into his own journey of the last few episodes, when we caught up with him, and how he came back into her sphere.
- Additionally: I like that each of our characters has such a clear map of their literal journeys (and honestly when time travel is involved, it’s the only way). It feels like the writer knows where all their pieces are at any given time. I can see why earlier in the run, that comes off as plot holes or deus ex machina type solutions, but having taken this time, it actually all feels carefully constructed. I hope, I really really hope, that it only laces itself up more tightly as we enter the second half.
- BUT ALSO hello, can we all agree that his Batmobile is RIDICULOUS and the worst escape vehicle for leaping into at high speed, ha. Of course trust Tae-sul to turn his nose up at a luxury car being “old”. 😂
The ship, the ship
This week gave us some really great character interactions between Seo-hae and Tae-sul, and it feels like the emotional beats of the show are coming into line as well.
- I love how Seo-hae’s birdseye view of Tae-sul’s escape was so low-key funny. We experienced the events last week from Tae-sul’s perspective, and it was all very Serious Business, but watching Seo-hae watch him be sort of hapless about it all while picking off his chasers and shaking her head was great.
- But it cracked my heart a little when Tae-sul admits to her that he doesn’t know if she’s real or not. He’s such a little lost boy sometimes—an image that’s reinforced by all the times Seo-hae has to lead him around by the hand. 😭
- Yet I love that Seo-hae is the rescuer. Like when he coolly tells Chairman Kim, “There’s a sniper.” He feels safe when she’s got his back, and that’s weirdly warming.
- But seriously: yes dropping your earpiece was a nice moment of quick thinking, but are you telling me the rich-ass Kims did not hoover their study for like, a month? Grosssss.
- He’s also hilariously cocky about his own supposed prowess, haha—but it’s pretty real that he can use his fame and social power as a shield. It’s just not as bulletproof as he thinks.
- But FEELINGS. Tae-sul HAS THEM, though he clearly doesn’t know it yet. Watching Jo Seung-woo pick silly squabbles with the youngun is never going to get old. He has this great ability to be absolutely petty and annoying while also being ridiculously lovable.
- Look at his little sullen face when he’s told nerdboy can’t play with the big kids:
- And it 100% helps that he is her biggest fanboy:
Best scenes and other miscellany
- Unlocking the safe: like, the whole scene. And it’s so much more interesting to see Seo-hae thinking and planning, acting not reacting. It hasn’t been so evident before—it sort of looked like she came without a plan…and while that might be somewhat true, it’s still good to see her as a strategist and a capable negotiator on top of her combat skills.
- Also her action scenes are great, I really, really enjoy them, and constantly rewind to see her execute a particularly cool move (like when she was escaping the hospital—and cocking the gun with her heel!! So cool!)
- Also the letter: there was a lot less Tae-sul this episode, but I quite liked having him relegated for the time being, because we really needed Seo-hae time. He always makes his screentime count anyhow, so I don’t worry about him.
- The derelict amusement park, where Seo-hae celebrates her birthday by gifting herself with plushies and cute fluffy headbands: this will also never get old. I feel like this really evokes a grief for the child she used to be before the world burned. There’s a part of her that is locked into those last days of her happiness—not in a way that denies her present reality or refuses growth, but the yearning in her for a past she can never get back, for her mother, for the everyday happiness of normal childhood.
- It gives so much emotional weight to her character, and I had an oof moment when I remembered how she told Tae-sul that she wanted to go to an amusement park. And it also makes things like her love of cute fluffy things, the colour pink, and BTS, feel like more than throwaway details.
- And her whole day out: it was lonely but also kind of…comforting? And blackly funny, like how casually she sits by a desiccated body or a skeleton and strikes up conversation. Her world in the future is empty and full of death, but there’s a kind of familiarity to it that no longer spooks her, if it ever did.
- Yet you see her still affected by death and that sadness touches her, like when the nurse who helped her in the hospital gets killed. She just doesn’t have the luxury to linger on those feelings, because she has to keep moving. That’s part of why the rhythm of these episodes really worked for me—the fast-moving action side-by-side with these contemplative scenes.
- Sidenote: I love how brown she is.
- I also really love the wistful guitar part of the OST that plays in the background for this scene: it’s melancholy without being overpowering, and plays to the scene perfectly. This sense of being alone, entirely alone, in this dead world. (I checked and this OST has not been released yet, sad!)
- Though I also half-expected her to bond with wolves. Maybe I’ve been watching too many Youtube videos about Twilight.