The Lonely, Shining Goblin: Episode 2

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The show’s second episode quietens down a little with less grandiose storytelling across timelines and moves into closer focus on our characters and their dynamics. We do get bits and pieces of world-building, and while the show establishes its rules, it’s also unafraid to have some fun with it.

Turns out our supernatural characters, Goblin and Grim Reaper, are terribly vain men, which makes sense since they are always impeccably dressed. There’s a running joke about Grim Reaper sending his hat for dry cleaning. After getting summoned by Eun Tak a few times at the most unfortunate moments, he decides to wait and asks Grim Reaper for his opinion on which items would look best on him. Their dynamic is certainly entertaining to watch. Similarly entertaining is that between Goblin/Shim and Deok Hwa – it was so funny when Goblin wanted to reveal himself to Deok Hwa and Deok Hwa tells him he’d already known since he was 6. We then see scenes of Goblin making gold and holding his sword, while a young Deok Hwa looks on in wonder.

We also learn more about Grim Reapers’ lives through a scene at a cafe, which includes cross-checking many lists, completion of paperwork and even looking for property. Heh. The show certainly milks the death trope for all the puns possible, as the other apprentice Grim Reaper complains that the search for a home is “killing” him and that he’s “dead” tired. In the midst of these light-hearted talk, we get some interesting exposition on “lost souls”, which is where Eun-tak falls into. Lost souls occur when divinities get finicky – in the human world, these are seen as “miracles”, but Grim Reapers see these as “a missing soul”. Eun-tak’s case is an exception because she falls into neither the list of Life and Death nor the List of Names list, so the rules don’t apply. Eun-tak’s case is complicated too because the Goblin is involved and we learn that no Grim Reaper can take the life of someone who’s the Goblin’s wife, especially not under his watch. We can be sure this is not the first and last negotiation between Goblin and Grim Reaper over Eun-tak’s life.

I’m not completely sold on the Eun-tak and Goblin “romance” as yet as there isn’t enough going on and honestly, some of their scenes were pretty low-key. The show certainly knows how to create magical, mesmerising and moving sequences. I enjoyed Eun-tak’s recollection of her time in Quebec with Goblin, which was beautifully shot and matched with the perfect score.

While I’m not completely sold on the character of Eun-tak, I do think the episode does a good job of establishing her sense of displacement within the human world, which Grim Reaper is quick to point out when he asks her who she is with on earth at this moment. Her ability to see ghosts has proven to become more of a boon than a bane. In the human world, she has no real sense of home and no friends in school, hence she seeks solace in the supernatural world as the ghosts serve as a source of comfort and support for her. Having Goblin in her life now gives her a sense of safety and security, as he’s now that guardian in her life that she never had. It’s the unseen world that gives her strength in the seen world. Her identity in the “unseen” world also gives her confidence as the ghosts continually tell her she’s special, as the Goblin’s life. Yet this is also a source of mystery as she’s unable to see the sword – something that Goblin repeatedly asks.

My personal theory is that the Goblin’s wife is not simply a title to be taken on, but a status to be earned – she will only see the sword when Goblin’s heart has been moved. This may tie in nicely with the ongoing theme in the show about religion and spirituality, that when the human world fails, divine intervention kicks in and in the case of this show, “intervention” comes in the form of a guardian who walks along with you, who grants your wishes and knows you intimately. Just walking beside him and in-step with him gives you comfort. Going by a similar thread, one gets to see and understand more within a religion only when one gets deeper into it, as such, Eun-tak may require more maturity before she starts to understand the critical role she plays in Goblin’s life. There were certainly echoes of Christianity coming to mind as I watched the show, given that Christians believe in a similar “personal” relationship with our God. Nonetheless, I’ll keep the analogy just as that as the show seems to be establishing a more tenuous relationship with religion and Gods, given how Goblin declares the church as a DMZ in the previous episode.

It’s still too early to judge the plot and whether we’re headed towards a meaningful story. The double serving of 1.5 hour episodes this week certainly helped establish the character dynamics better, though I was surprised at the lack of sageuk sequences in this episode given that most shows tend to like to milk those to create even more magical, beautiful sequences. Nonetheless, the second episode has provided some assurance that this is a show that’s concerned with substance rather than style. It handles the serious issue of life and mortality with agility and creativity, using supernatural characters that are thoroughly ‘human’ and relatable. I can certainly see elements of a good story already in place already.

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