[This is the second show I’m watching together with my wife and I’m loving the discussions we have about it. This review was done jointly with my wife and her additional responses are indicated in brackets as being from WIML – “the Woman in My Life”. LOL.]
As the plot thickens and more characters get introduced, we seem to be losing the zippy, fun energy that characterised the first two episodes where we could just focus on Joon-Jae and Sim Chung. While there certainly wasn’t a lack of plot progression, I did find this week’s episodes much less compelling to watch than last week’s offerings.
Part of the reason is that the other characters within the modern day storyline aren’t very interesting at the moment. Nam Doo, Joon-Jae’s partner-in-crime and best friend, is probably the most interesting character in the modern world besides our lead protagonists and his dynamics with Joon-Jae is fun to watch as there also seems to be something deeper going on between him and Shi-ah. However, besides him, the other characters in the modern world are currently quite bland, including Shi-ah. Another reason is due to the looser structure of the modern day storyline, where episode 3 was mostly about missed opportunities for Joon-Jae to meet Sim Chung and this episode was really about re-establishing the premise for Sim Chung to become part of Joon-Jae’s life. We do get some insights into Joon-Jae’s rather complex family background in this episode as we learn his dad, Chairman Heo, has been attempting to find him, which angers his wife so much that she has sent the fugitive, Dae-Young, to get rid of Joon-Jae. However, even based on this, there doesn’t seem to be enough storyline to stretch across twenty episodes.
By comparison, the Joseon storyline fares significantly better because the characters are more compelling and storyline much tighter. We may not have seen Lord Yang much, but I always find his words carrying so much weight. The brief conversation he had with his giseang was so loaded and menacing as they put in place a scheme to spread rumours about the mermaid, while concurrently sending swordsmen after her. This is rapidly followed by growing anxiety amongst the villagers who then proceed to pressure Dam-Ryung to kill Sae-Wa. However, he decides to go find her because she has risked her life to come out and find him. The brief sequence ends with Dam-Ryung arriving in the nick of time to save Sae-Wa. There certainly is an energy to the Joseon storyline that I wished was more present in the modern day storyline.
What I liked about the modern day love story though was that although Joon-Jae’s memories had been removed, both him and Shim Chung do not start off from ground zero. (WIML: Thankfully so. Amnesia is always a plot cop-out, and once in a whole series is about what I can handle, two would be tiresome. I’m waiting to see what it is that will trigger Joon-Jae’s memories and fill in his flashbacks, which are currently of him escaping the thugs alone, with Shim Cheong.) The photograph with both of them in Spain triggers suspicion from Joon-Jae and his question is goes beyond who she is, but why he can’t remember what happened. I appreciated that she becomes a part of his life once again not because he finds himself instinctively attracted to her, but because his curiosity about what happened in Spain and his protectiveness for the under-dog, something which we also saw in the previous episode where he led CEO Jang to reflect the people she had wronged. Shim Chung’s child-likeness is put to good use, especially in the fireworks scene, where she instinctively (and hilariously) jumps to protect Joon-Jae and also asks him innocently why he’s not taking photographs, unlike everybody else. He then tells her that he can just remember, and she responds that he’s taking photographs in his heart. It’s a nice moment of connection between both of them, which also links Joon-Jae back with his past.
Once again, the tightening of the Joseon and the modern day storyline works well as we learn about how the mermaid can only love once in their lives and will risk their lives for that love. I’m not quite sure that we can say the mermaid “loves” Joon-jae, but there’s certainly an attraction that could be classified in human terms as an infatuation. That infatuation alone could be compelling enough for her to come all the way to Seoul to find him. Once again, we see that the mermaid’s life is put in risk because of her relationship with Dam Ryung/Joon-Jae, who decides in both storylines to go defend the mermaid in spite of his friend’s advice. We also return to the picture on the vase, which is from the Joseon era, but the guy is dressed as if he’s from modern times. This is certainly intriguing, but it opens up the possibility of time-travel which I hope is a route that the show doesn’t go down because it’s not quite in line with the tone of the show.
There are also parallels which are established in a more playful manner. While the naming of the mermaid as Sae-wa in the Joseon storyline was poignant and sweet, the naming of her as “Shim Chung” here is done in a teasing manner, where Joon-jae says it’s a short way of saying “really, really stupid”. The mermaid’s joy at being named “Shim Chung” is adorable, as she immediately introduces herself to Tae-Oh with that name. It’s not just Joon-Jae and Sim Chung who have parallel storylines, but the epilogue also shows a scene where Joo-Jin and her husband are slaves of Joon-Jae’s mum, who torments her so much that Joo-Jin wishes that she were reincarnated as her master. It’s a delight to see that the parallel between both storylines is not taken too seriously, almost as a subversion of the seriousness of the myth.
On a final note, Jun Ji-hyun continues to be the highlight of the show, with some great comedic moments in this episode especially when she gets jealous of Shi-ah and tries to mimic her ladylike ways of eating. (WIML: This meeting between the two, right after Shi-Ah relooks at the mermaid pottery, appears to be a setup. My guess is Shi-Ah will be the one to make the connection that the mermaid on the vase resembles Shim Chung.) In a Lee Min Ho’s character is growing on me as we start to see the softer side of him and his vulnerabilities. My sensing of the show though is that it seems to be losing steam after last week. Let’s hope the story starts to pick up pace in subsequent episodes and that the supporting characters get built up more concretely.