When I first heard of this show, my impression was that it’d be largely a love story with some elements of mythology intertwined in it. I never expected myself to be so drawn to its comedic elements, which is currently its strongest element.
While Jun Ji-hyun’s excellent acting is certainly a large factor, there’s also a certain brilliance to the writing in the way it takes typical tropes in dramas and turns them on themselves, like what my wife said yesterday. This is a show that knows how to laugh at itself and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It was funny to watch the old lady in the hospital trot out all the predictable set-ups in melodramas, like how the long-lost father is always a CEO (coincidentally also the case for Joon Jae) and how the cup of water isn’t there for drinking.
The whole water-splashing scene is milked excellently for humour in the epilogue, which had my wife and I laughing so much. From the moment where the camera zoomed in on the cup of water, I knew we were in for a treat and it was so entertaining watching Sim Chung stare at the cups of water in fear, then snatching them to gulp them down and telling Chi Hyun that she will never leave Joon Jae before rolling herself away in her wheel chair. Lee Min ho doesn’t fare too badly as a comedy actor too, especially when he takes on such extreme personas when executing his plans. His playing of the president of the hospital’s son was fun to watch and provided quite a few laughs.
On the flipside of things, certain aspects of the love story didn’t quite work for me this episode. I much preferred the more down-to-earth interactions between Joon Jae and Sim Chung in the previous episode, compared to the more drawn-out moments this episode. The scene in the hospital where Sim Chung awakens and tells Joon Jae that she dreamt of him holding her hands didn’t work for me. I personally find reincarnation and “fate repeating itself” storylines rather unconvincing, which is why I like the way the show plays with some of the parallels between past and present. That moment of her dreaming that he reached out his hand for her was too straightforward of a parallel, as if her affection from him was strengthened by that memory from a past life. I also didn’t like the way the show drew out the whole moment at the end, where he asks her to say “I love you” to him – that’s probably just personal preference and I’m sure many would have found the sequence beautiful, but I preferred it when he was more direct with her in getting her to tell him the truth about his memories. On that note, I do hope that Joon Jae finds out the truth about the memory loss by next episode, because at this point, it does seem slightly draggy already.
We do spend quite a bit of this episode establishing Joon-Jae’s family backstory, which I am honestly getting tired of. There’s oo much re-establishing and re-threading of the same issues – we already know three episodes ago that Joon Jae’s dad has been seeking him out and his second wife has been eavesdropping and dispatching Ma Dae-young to track him down. The only significant thing that happens in this episode is Ajushi’s discovery of the wire-tap and Dae-young appearing at his car door, but given how vital he is in Joon-Jae’s life, we know the show wouldn’t dispatch of him so quickly. Joon Jae’s dad, his half-brother and second-wife aren’t inherently compelling enough as characters because we don’t know enough for them. We don’t love them, neither do we hate them – they are just bland as characters. The same can be said of Shi-ah, who still doesn’t do very much and I was hoping that her discovery of the vase would have led to something more significant.
The supporting characters who are growing on me though are Joon-jae’s band of brothers, Nam Doo and Tae-O. Tae-O certainly had some good moments this episode, especially when he stared at Joon Jae when in the hospital. However, if what we see in the Joseon storyline is supposed to be repeated in the modern day storyline, doesn’t that mean then that something bad is going to happen to Nam Doo eventually? I have to say it’s still largely a mystery how the past and present storylines are connected, but the current thread of fates/dreams is not looking good as I’d appreciate if our modern day characters had more agency in determining what happens next.
Woman in My Life: Friendship seems to be an emerging theme in this episode, from the courtier who saves Sae Wa, to Nam Doo and Tae-O who back Joon Jae up in crime or at the hospital, or Ajusshi being a friend to Joon Jae’s dad and a father figure to Joon Jae. The courtier falling to his death may have a modern parallel, foreshadowing something happening to one of the supporting characters. I doubt Ajusshi will be conveniently axed just as his storyline was becoming prominent, so I shall put my money on Nam Doo instead, who has discussed Sim Chung and her enthrallment of Joon Jae, and is requesting her hospital records. Whether he will be a turncoat or remain loyal, but at a high personal cost, like the courtier, is anyone’s guess. Such loyalty between friends also serves as a contrast to Joon-jae’s feuding family members. This is highlighted when the episode returns to the supposedly heartwarming dialogue about families taking care of each other like fish pastry. The woman in the hospital bed does not allow that scene to end on such a sweet note, but disrupts it by observing that families can get people into dire straits, such as how she ended up with a slipped disc because of her son. Back to the husband.
On a final note, we seem to be losing that sense of Sim Chung’s identity as a mermaid in the last two episodes and she simply seems to be someone adjusting to a new society. I’m not asking for more scenes of her swimming in the water, but certainly let’s have more exploration of what it means to be a mermaid, and not just any outsider, trying to integrate and assimilate into life here. I usually try not to compare shows, but the identity of the alien certainly came through much stronger Park Ji-Eun’s previous “Your Love from Another Star” even in the early episodes. His supernatural abilities like being able to hear conversations from afar were played up and put to good use in establishing his relationship with Cheong Song-yi. Sim Chung seems to be so set on integrating into modern life and while she’s met with hiccups, they certainly haven’t been major. Surely there’s something worth exploring about how the mermaid and Joon-Jae come from fundamentally different worlds. That seems to be something conveniently forgotten in both the Joseon and modern storyline and I hope the show will pick up on that.