[Once again, this is a joint entry with my wife, with her comments indicated in italics as being from Woman-in-my-life. :)]
The show turns in one of its most enjoyable episodes yet, which was light-hearted, engaging while shedding just the right amount of light on its mermaid mythology. The Joseon sequences are once again beautifully shot, tense and well-paced as the threat on Sae-wa grows and we finally learn too that the painting on the vase was done by Dam-Ryung based on his dream. He also adds that events of the past will certainly repeat themselves in the future, and we get a nice paralleling of him riding on a horse to save Sae-wa with Joon-Jae riding in a car to save Shim Chung.
While there are parallels between past and present, I appreciate that there are clear differences and that the present is not simply a rehash of the past. Unlike Sae-wa, the present day mermaid, Shim Chung, is fearless and able to defend herself against physical attacks, though she’s certainly less savvy. Dam-Ryung stands on the side of the law as the mayor and people look to him to mete out justice and protect them. Jae-Joon does have a social justice agenda, but his approaches run counter to the law, or can be said to even be above the law. This is made evident by him ramming through police barricades and offending policemen in his attempt to save Shim Chung. In the Joseon storyline, Dam Ryung simply accepts that his memories have been lost, whereas modern-day Joon Jae is persistent to find out the truth. In light of these contrasts, I’m also hoping at some point that Dam-Ryung’s claim that the present will echo the past will be broken, or there will be some creative way of circumventing the “strong hand of fate”.
Coming back to the episode itself, it really reinforces the fact that the show does so well when it keeps both Shim Chung and Joon Jae together and the episode is so strong because we spend almost all our time with them. Lee Min Ho and Jeon Ji-hyun have great comedic chemistry together and every conversation between both of them is just so delightful to watch. Perhaps I’m already immune to it, but Shim Chung’s childish antics did not grate at me at all in this episode and I found them largely amusing. Jae-Joon’s teasing of her when she asks about the people in TV was also fun to watch.
[Woman in My Life: the show is rather aware of its construct as a show, and pokes fun at some Korean drama genres, such as the TV melodrama which Shim Chung is so absorbed in, and the horror drama, as with the pulled-back shots of her disembodied long hair peering out from the attic bedroom. Remove these bits of media and social (re: living debt-free and homeless, versus having a fancy home and worries/ debt that Husband discusses later on) commentary and you have *don’t knock me* what is a fairly typical rom-com, except that the agency is reversed and it is the female lead who pursues the male. I am hoping that this romantic plot, having been set up rather neatly, will be subverted soon.]
While the first few episodes relied a lot on coincidences and “fate” to pull Joon-Jae and Shim Chung together, I appreciate that their being kept together is motivated by more than just fate, but by Joon-Jae’s desire to watch out for the underdogs, as emphasised by Nam Doo when he realises that Joon-Jae has chased her away. It’s also nice that he’s not simply falling in love with her because of her antics or some unexplainable connection. At this point, what he feels for her is simply compassion and protectiveness. He wants to watch out for her, defend her and help her to succeed in finding a place in society and he will use all means possible to help her.
Underlying the antics of this episode is also a commentary on possessions and wealth, which is coming on pretty strong especially through the fellow beggar who ploughs through thrown away clothes with Joon-Jae. She points to those who own homes and calls them money-rich, but debt poor, being enslaved to the banks. Shim Chung may have completely nothing right now – no connections, no money, no home – but in that sense, she’s also completely free, with nothing to worry about except her single-minded focus of pursuing Joon Jae. The person who contrasts the most with her now may be Jin Joo, who even though has tonnes of money and aims to renew her wardrobe, is trapped in the need to please others and put on a front so as to seek others’ approval.
Another thread that’s quietly building up in the background is also Joon-Jae’s rather complicated family dynamics. The second wife of his dad wants to seek him out and even kill him, but her son, Chi-hyun, has a separate agenda and intervenes just as she receives his address. Chi-hyun has vested interest in this and wants to meet Joon-Jae, attempting to get his dad to go along with him, but we learn that things are not as straightforward as his dad is looking into things because his Head of Department Nam has instructed him to – which is intriguing. Chi-hyun then warns his dad against letting his mum know of his intentions to find Joon Jae. What’s brewing here seems largely interesting but I did find it convenient to have Chi-hyun enter the storyline by hitting Shim Chung down with a car. Perhaps we’ll learn eventually too that he has a historical parallel – since the show seems to want to convince us that everybody has a historical parallel figure, down to even the child who can read Shim Chung’s thoughts.
A commonly-cited criticism of this series is its lack of plot, particularly in the present day story. A similar criticism could be levelled against this episode as nothing much really happens in the big scheme of things, but it’s ultimately still enjoyable and engaging because things are being set in place and we see our characters driving the story ahead through their motivations and actions. The accident at the end was quite jarring and seemed like a rather artificial way to delay the breaking of the truth, but I’m hoping this is adequately addressed in the next episode.