*Spoilers everywhere as usual
Many hours later and I’m still trying to come to grips with the odd montage of happenings that made up the last two episodes of the series. Still fresh in my mind reinforced by a repeat watch of the finale, I’m still suffering pangs of dissatisfaction with what was and angsting just a little over what might have been. For a show that traded relentlessly on plot twists and the shock factor, the finale felt strangely flat and mind numbingly… tedious. The gimmickry of unpredictability had outstayed its welcome and that was certainly felt in the way events played out with Won Sang-a and Jin Hwa-young. I discovered rather quickly that I couldn’t give two hoots as to why Won Sang-a turned into maniacal psychopathic killer or that Jin Hwa-young was back in town to save In-joo from a fate worse than poverty or how General Won was inspired by an almost extinct exotic orchid to start a cult that would infiltrate South Korean society. So what if Sang-a had mummy issues? As if it’s any kind of justification for her deadly syringe-stabbing habit.
It is revealed in these episodes that Jin Hwa-young has been walking (and running) around in heels among the living all this time. Reports of her untimely death were indeed premature (I was culpable too) but the untangling of her reappearance was always bound to be unconvincing. She found a body double among the suicidal types and set her plan into motion for two years. I imagine I’m supposed to be wowed by this nice neat little trick by the writer but I reserve the right to be unimpressed because pulling something like this off was always going involve some kind of a moral or ethical violation. I dreaded the idea that she could be still alive because it meant that someone would have to be dead in her place.
Ding dong the witch is dead. Won Sang-a has fallen at last. Literally too… into an acid bath. But has she indeed? It’s been reported on the news. But are the news sources reliable? Who’s to say that it isn’t fake news or misinformation? Afterall the media is also a playground for members of the now seemingly defunct Jeongran Society. Did anyone see the body after it fell into a pool of hydrochloric acid? I certainly didn’t. Maybe Won Sang-a found herself a body double who had plastic surgery. Two can play the same game. So it could well be someone else pretending to be Won Sang-a in the tree room. Perhaps the “I-know-that-you’re-in-love-with-Oh-In-joo” Ms Go and her goons managed to whisk the lady of the house out before it was too late.
See how that sort of thing works? It’s a never ending cycle of hair-tearing once all bets are off.
That however is not the main problem for a show that promulgates absurdities for breakfast. To me the worst part about the finale is the incoherent pottage of messaging that accompanied the ending. So now that In-joo has been endowed with an apartment and plenty of cash to spare, she’s suddenly, magically going to transform into a strong, independent woman after her near-death experiences. The light bulbs will all come on for her now that she’s got an extra 25 billion won in the bank and at last she will be blessed with financial savvy to do anything. After she finds herself a new winter coat, stock a freezer full of ice-cream and purchase a year’s supply of personal care products that is. Oh and let’s not forget the grenades. Store them somewhere safe like uhm… a subway locker.
So what about the repudiation of greed all throughout the drama? Perhaps I was mistaken to think that this was The Message. However there’s In-kyung’s crusade and tirades against ill-gotten gains to reconcile with. That’s been relegated to the wayside for the happy ending. Moreover In-joo’s penitent courtroom soliloquy apparently doesn’t matter now as long as we steal back from the rich to give to the poor. And the show reminds us over and over that the girls are poor. But what about the poor victims of the Bobae Savings Bank fiasco? Shouldn’t they have a piece of this enormous pie then? It’s not that I necessarily have a problem with the 70 billion being divvied out among the five beneficiaries if I thought I was watching something along the lines of Ocean’s 11 or The Italian Job where nobody pretends that they’re the milk of human kindness or believe one moment that they are poor.
And why would you give a woman who could barely hang on to 2 billion won in cash 25 billion won? Unless of course you are expecting that she will lose most of it before the beginning of an imaginary second series and we’re back to square one. There are good reasons why lottery winners are notorious for losing their overnight fortunes in a short space of time.
Ooops… I forgot… this is just a K drama fairytale.
There’s certainly an incompleteness about the finale. There’s little that’s final about the finale. I could pick several examples but let’s go for my favourite as I have to get it off my chest — the Do-il and In-joo dynamic since I’ve been rooting for them practically from the beginning. After a consistently strong build up of tension and shoulder grabs, it’s “see you later alligator, in a while crocodile” at the airport. Damnit. They were even rehearsing in the courthouse like a married couple. Why create expectations if this was going nowhere?
What’s the point of “I’ll see you again”, Choi Do-il? Why waste all that fantastic chemistry on meagre shoulder grabs, lingering tender looks and boyish grins? You’ve heard of this thing called hugs, right? I’m not too greedy.
Who knew… after all that flirting Choi Do-il still thinks he lives in Joseon?
The rumour is that the writer wants to showcase In-joo as an independent woman now that she’s flushed with cash. If true, that’s nonsensical considering what we know about In-joo. Wanting to be independent was the source of many problems for her and the sisters. Independence also requires some degree of intelligence otherwise it’s just a lot of hot air and posturing. As for the money, it’s not dosh that she acquired on her own ethically even if she did protect it with her life with very mixed results. Also, she wouldn’t have had the money at the end of the day if a man with a very specific skill set had not stuck his neck for her repeatedly. A man who only cares about money would have ditched her in Singapore and would be now sipping cocktails on his own island somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.
So what’s wrong with having the man and the money? Lots of women do it. It’s not a zero sum game unless the writer wants it to be so. Let’s face it, Choi “If-you-know-that-I-love-her-why-did-you-do-this?” Do-il is a pretty good deal and proven quality. He fights well and looks good in a suit. He can even help her look after the money. More importantly he likes In-joo the way she is. Which does boggle the mind somewhat. All jesting aside, it’s not that difficult to see why. He too is a working class boy whose parents were caught up in the Jeongran cult. His mother gave up her life for these very mad people so that her son could have a better life. Besides there’s no one in the loony house he can trust and she’s simplicity itself.
This begs the question — what happened to Mum and Dad?
I saw another rumour too that the dynamic between them is only a one-way street. Do-il’s the one doing all the crushing. Well, that was a new one and odd too. It leads me to wonder what we’ve all been watching the whole time. When Sang-a asks In-joo if she likes Do-il in Episode 10, the look on her face speaks volumes. In-joo doesn’t deny it and even looks a tad sheepish as she falls prey to Sang-a’s mocking tone. Obviously In-joo has always liked him. Blind Freddy knows this too. I mean, why not? The shy nervous schoolgirl twitching that Kim Go-eun excels in while being around him practically said it all.
Fanwanking is fun up to a point but let’s call a spade a spade. The showrunners either dropped the ball on this or they’re deliberately baiting the audience for another season of insanity and absurdity. Me? I’d rather read fanfiction or write my own.
I also observe that the three sisters barely spent any time together in the entirety of the drama. Until the last two episodes In-joo spent most of her time with Do-il and Won Sang-a. In-kyung was mostly hanging out with Jong-ho. Even the siblings in My Liberation Notes who didn’t like each other much could be seen together around meal times with some regularity. That could be why I didn’t feel a lot of love for them. It’s a credit to Kim Go-eun’s acting chops that she was believable in her sisterly concern but evidently stuff got lost in translation from script to screen somewhere in the family dynamic.
I suppose I can console myself that Jong-ho did not die. Indeed, not only did he not die but he got his girl which is what I only wanted for him. And in all honesty I enjoy happy, modest In-kyung more than angry, self-righteous In-kyung. It’s also interesting how she reinforces something I always believed about her and that good journalism was never really end in itself and in effect she was always trying to prove something to herself about herself.
In the final analysis I did enjoy the drama up to Episode 10 but the writer overplayed her hand with plot twists and revelations to the point not only did the messaging become a cacophony of discordant noises but that the element of surprise/shock lost its force by the end. A case in point. The supposedly big show down among the three women was stagey and talky. It didn’t reveal anything of real importance or add much to the texture of the narrative. The entire scene was overly contrived and it was a weak attempt (in my view) by the showrunners to make the point that In-joo had come into her own and turned the tables on Sang-a without relying on Do-il. What the entire scenario proved to me however was the writer getting value for money in her characterization of In-joo. The always reckless In-joo goes all out and brings a grenade to the fight and as luck would have it, it comes in handy just for the moment she has to blow the lid off the door to the underground sewage system. To the end In-joo lives up to the reputation of being a woman who lurches from the frying pan and into the fire.
One more thing. This has to be said. A happy ending is not necessarily a satisfying ending. Yes, it was important to me in the name of completion that the leads at the very least publicly acknowledge their feelings for each other to each other. Why? Because I care about consistency in relationship dynamics regardless of what one thinks subjectively about chemistry. I am the sort of reader/writer who holds to the view that it’s terrible storytelling to build expectations and not provide some kind of closure for it. It is one thing to throw in red-herrings with impunity, it’s another to bait and switch in the name of “doing something different” especially when the show itself has invested so much time and energy on that relationship only to leave things unresolved. Vincenzo had the right idea in that regard.
Frankly I can't see In-joo hanging on to that money long. I'd say she gets conned out of it and then it's Choi Do-il to the rescue. Again. So much for being a new independent woman. The Won genetics kicks in and Hyo-rin gradually turns into a psychopathic killer which sees In-hye lying in a coma somewhere in the Swiss alps. This explains why Hyo-rin is able to go on living happily without much grief for her deceased parents. The remnants of the Jeongran Society regroup and rally around her as their new leader. They meet in an underground facility under In-joo’s apartment block to plot world domination. But wait... Won Sang-a isn't really dead. She's making a comeback as Poison Orchid with all that hydrochloric acid in her system. They've found a new way to grow the ghost orchid and now it glows in the dark.
It's revenge time for the killer orchids.
What a savage review :)
Thank you for helping me decide not to watch this drama (ok, if I'm reading spoilers maybe I already know...) I would have been frustrated by the FL.
I'm so annoyed. I wasted my time on this, I knew from ep 6 or so that this show was not to be trusted and yet I went along with it and I've even watched this two last eps hoping against hope that everything would be better. I had to start skipping bits because it all became too much.