(Image credits: Asian Superstar/YouTube, taken from itechpost.com)
In my previous post, I commented that the sageuk storyline was more fascinating and intriguing than the modern day one because there was a clearer sense of where it was heading. A similar case could be made for this week’s episode because we essentially spend most of the modern day episode with our protagonists apart, only with them to reunite at the end with Joon Jae still not remembering the mermaid. However, once we start to put both the sageuk and modern day together, we get a sense that there’s something larger that the show is driving towards.
The parallels between the sageuk and modern day storyline become even more apparent in this episode. Sae Wa relates the story of her and Dam Ryung knowing each other as children/teenagers, then having to part unwillingly once the Dam Ryung is match-made. Dam Ryung rides out on the night of his wedding to find Sae Wa by jumping into the sea. She saves him, but also removes his memories in the process and he finds himself adrift on the sea, not knowing what happened. When hearing the story, Dam Ryung gradually realises that the boy in the storyline is him because his wife has always resented him for disappearing on the first night of their wedding. In our modern day storyline, we have a similar set of broad events happening, where they get to know each other and grow closer, only to have the mermaid remove his memories of her while saving his life, then leaving him on the beach. After a certain period of time, the mermaid seeks him out again to reestablish contact. There’s an element of myth/legend-building going on where our protagonists are trapped in a cycle of fate in which they get closer only to have to restart their relationship building all over again. The jade bangle certainly plays an integral role in this myth and I’m thinking it could be a family heirloom passed down over generations of mermaids.
While I appreciated the tightening of both storylines towards building a myth/legend, there are two gaping plot-holes that bothered me, of which the first one was explained not by the show itself but through an interview. Firstly, I wondered why Sae Wa was able to converse so competently, with no sense of social awkwardness in the sageuk storyline whereas she’s reduced to a child-like immaturity in the modern day storyline? Based on a recent interview with the production crew, the mermaids in both storylines are supposed to be different characters, which should have been made more obvious from the start because most criticisms of the first two episodes stem from the inconsistencies of the portrayal of the mermaid. Given that both mermaids are supposed to be different, it makes more sense since Sae Wa did have more time to acquire human language through interacting with Dam Ryung since childhood, whereas the mermaid in the modern day storyline really started from scratch.
Secondly, in the first episode, we learn that mermaids can erase the memories they want erased. If so, then why doesn’t the mermaid just erase the memories of Joon-Jae learning that she was a mermaid rather than all his memories of her? Doesn’t she realise that besides Joon-Jae, there were many others who saw her (many of whom she beat up) and therefore her attempt to erase his memories of her would be futile? If her intent was really to fulfil her promise to him and go with him to Seoul, then why remove all his memories? This is unfortunately not explained convincingly. At the end of this episode, we return to the beach when she departed from him, giving him the jade bangle and telling him that she will go and find him, regardless of how difficult it will be. I actually found the mermaid at the end of this episode rather inconsistent with the mermaid we saw in episodes 1 and 2, because she expresses herself with such conviction and awareness, and when she says “I love you”, it’s as if she completely understands what it means. This is so unlike the bumbling, awkward mermaid that we saw earlier. Nonetheless, this is just something we’ll have to accept as part of building the romance between our protagonists.
I spoke earlier of the show engaging in myth-making, but in some senses, it’s also engaging in myth-breaking and we can see throughout the first three episodes an intentional attempt to break down the traditional stereotypes of what mermaids are like. Instead of being defenceless and in need of protection, this mermaid is physically strong and perfectly capable of fending off any attackers. The mermaid is usually a representation of grace and beauty, yet the mermaid in this series emerges on land in T-shirt and track pants, scrounges through trash bins and even attempts to steal money from a kid. Our usual impression of the mermaid is that she is friends of all the animals in the sea, even sort of a guardian of them, yet the mermaid in this show strikes fear amongst the sea life and we get a hilarious scene of a child expressing shock that the mermaid ate the fish. While such portrayal of mermaids may not be original (in light of what we’ve read recently about the show’s plagiarism), it did work in light of this episode and provided moments of genuine humour. I did like the scene between the mermaid and the child, where the child inducts the mermaid into the realities of life regarding money, which was a really neat twist to how mermaids are usually regarded by children as fantastical characters.
As for Joon Jae, there wasn’t much going on in this episode and I was mostly hoping he would realise that he had met the mermaid in Spain much earlier. We do get some backstory about his mum, but I found it too coincidental that his mum turns out to be the helper of Shi-ah, who is pining after him. I’m interested in what happened between his mum and him that led to their separation, but as of now, his conman tricks are slowly growing old and I’d like to see more character development and interaction between the mermaid and him.
Regarding the romance, I’d really appreciate more moments of genuine connection between Joon Jae and the mermaid because for now the romance seems rather forced and I cannot really see why the mermaid loves him so much to swim all the way to Seoul to find him. Perhaps it’s because she’s the last mermaid left, which made his not letting go of her in the previous two episodes all the more significant because of how lonely she is now. However, we urgently need our characters to reconnect, especially after the memory reset that just happened. On a similar note, let’s not have this memory reset take place too frequently because it often means that the relationship needs to be rebuilt, which is not helpful for a romance. I also found the soundtrack too repetitive in this episode and preferred if it were saved for moments where our characters truly connected, as opposed to the scene at Seaworld, where we know that Joon Jae still does not remember the mermaid.
All in all, there’s some potentially good stuff in this series, but it seems to be stumbling its way forward and losing its audience due to the plot-holes. I feel that it should really be made clearer that both mermaids are different. Moving ahead, the series should stop overplaying the element of the mermaid’s adaptation to modern society storyline and move towards developing its own mythology, or the so-called “Legend of the Blue Sea”, in a more consistent and compelling manner.