The show moves into more serious territory in this episode with Joon Jae’s dreams of the Joseon era becoming more vivid and him delving into the history of Dam Ryung. He also finally comes face to face with Dae Young and realises something has happened to Ajusshi. For Sim Chung, observing the merman, Jeong Hoon’s, life makes her realise that her time is running out and she anxiously asks Joon Jae if he has a plan to love her. Jeong Hoon’s death and the reaction of his lover makes Sim Chung realise that it may be easier for Joon Jae if she leaves, rather than cause him pain.
It was certainly a very moving and sweet episode. Min Ho and Ji-hyun have remarkably good chemistry and the most amazing thing is that this chemistry is of such a different nature in the Joseon and the modern day storyline. In the Joseon storyline, their attraction has a mythical, magical and melancholic quality to it, whereas in the modern day storyline, their attraction is energetic, eccentric and endearing. Scenes between them are such a joy to watch in both eras. In the modern day storyline, Sim Chung delivers the most cheesy lines in the most touching ways possible not just due to the Ji-hyun’s stellar acting, but due to the largely competent characterisation of her as being so simple and single-hearted.
What is beautiful about the modern day romance is also how it shows the growth of Joon Jae. When Sim Chung asks him innocently in his bedroom if he has plans to love her, he tells her that loving is the most difficult thing to do because it’s so easy to get disappointed. Beneath his cool and suave exterior is someone who’s hurting and afraid. Joon Jae clearly is attracted to Sim Chung, but he has continually denied it, because he’s scared to love. To him, love is equivalent to “losing” because you expose yourself and allow someone to have control over you. In some senses, he’s equally cynical as the merman in their worldview.
However, unknown to Joon Jae, he has already opened himself to Sim Chung and she has caused him to do many things that he wouldn’t normally do, like looking into being a public officer. All that he can muster up at the end of the episode is to tell her that he does have a plan to like her, which is already a big step ahead for him. While Sim Chung is hiding her identity as a mermaid from Joon Jae, in actual fact, he’s the one hiding much more secrets from her. He’s hiding his feelings, his past and his entire identity from her. As much as Sim Chung requires Joon Jae’s love to keep her alive and “unharden” her heart, it’s also Sim Chung’s simple affection for him that softens his heart and causes him to express care and concern for her like he has never done before. In a world where the word “love” is used so loosely (as Jeong Hoon tells Sim Chung), Joon Jae is different because he’s so cautious in using it, which makes his declaration of his plan to like her at the end even more meaningful.
Copyright ©SBS/The Legend of the Blue Sea
Sim Chung also experiences growth regarding love. Her initial idea of love is to pursue the person you love, even if it means swimming across the sea from Spain to Seoul to find him. It means clinging close to him and holding him tightly. However, she learns from Jeong Hoon that sometimes loving also means letting go, which is why she comes to her decision to go back to her world at the end of the episode. Her decision to go back to her world causes Joon Jae to “hold her hand” again metaphorically by telling her not to go – the exact thing which drew her to him in the first place.
The beauty of the romance storyline and the great character work done for both Joon Jae and Sim Chung make me feel that the show could have improved on certain elements to make the story even greater. The first aspect would be to heighten that sense of threat and danger. While it’s not necessary for a good story to have danger or threats, it’s clear that there are villains in this story, but they are just used in such a functional manner with little attempt to paint them as convincing or compelling villains. Seo-hee, Joon Jae’s father’s second wife, is only shown scheming about tracking down Joon Jae, but we don’t understand more of her motivations or her backstory. Dae Young is only shown lurking around in various disguises, serving only as an instrument of Seo-hee’s machinations. And more importantly, whatever threat is being posed by Soo-hee has no implications at this moment on his relationship with Sim Chung at all. It seems like Nam Doo and Shi-ah could potentially serve as a bigger threat as they have vested interest in exposing Sim Chung’s identity, but even so, what implications would there really be if Sim Chung’s identity was exposed?
The other area I feel the show could improve on is to have a greater sense of urgency in storytelling. At this point, Joon Jae still does not know what happened to his memories in Spain, which feels like a stretch. Given that viewers already know from the start that there has to be some connection between the Joseon and modern day storyline, it seems like we should have gotten the scenes of Joon Jae finding out about Dam Ryung much earlier. Even so, the connections being established right now are all too convenient. Joon Jae having dreams of Dam Ryung was already stretching it, but in this episode, he sees the vase and says that he feels that the person in the painting is him, which was a little too easy. I’d prefer if we get the connections between past and present clearly established soon, so that our modern day storyline can also really move ahead.
As it is, the love story between Joon Jae and Sim Chung is compelling enough to keep me watching, but there’s a sense in which the story could be so much more powerful and more engaging. I do hope the show steps up its game in the second half to elevate this story into something that’s truly mythic and powerful.