Little Women (2022) Episodes 7 and 8 Musings
It’s somewhat gratifying that these last couple of episodes confirmed previous musings made about Won Sang-a. Not that it was much of a leap in logic. All the facts pointed in one direction the moment Won Sang-a referred to herself as an actress — a part she relished. It is suggestive that In-hye refers to her as Ariadne who in Greek mythology was associated with the labyrinth at Minos on the island of Crete. That same labyrinth/maze was most famously known as the prison of the dreaded Minotaur who (by one account) was appeased each year with sacrifices of young men and maidens. Minotaur was finally killed when Ariadne who fell in love with Theseus an Athenian prince helped him slay the man-bull creature. This reference throws up a number of pressing questions. Who is Won Sang-a’s Minotaur? Her father? The former General Won who’s lying in a hospital bed aided by a respirator? Who might her Theseus be then? Park Sang-jae?
It is apropos that Won Sang-a is not only an actress and puppet master but the mistress of this elaborate labyrinth of occurrences that we’ve been privy to these past few weeks. It makes sense that someone is actively directing things from behind the scenes, doling out scripts to a large cast. while pulling the sisters onto a stage for which they are entirely unprepared. On the other hand it does seem like a bridge too far that Won Sang-a has been so ubiquitous, meticulously plotting her “secret plays” (especially in Singapore) without the knowledge of her paranoid, controlling husband. Still it does seem like she has a penchant for picking choice candidates to groom which includes Jin Hwa-young — to set into motion self-perpetuating narratives that provide respite from her humdrum existence as the wife of a would-be politician on a campaign trail. Or so she says.
While it’s not a stretch to believe that the wealthy elitist types are abjectly contemptuous of the middle and working classes, I’m not persuaded that Won Sang-a is only playing puppet master for kicks. This is a woman who not only enjoys inherited power but has a overweening need to exercise it. There’s a megalomaniacal side to her (under the cloak of sympathy) that has to prove a point to her unsuspecting victims. With unholy glee, she claims that it is her mission to put the likes of In-joo and Jin Hwa-yang in their place for having aspirations to better their lot in life. In her eyes, the poor are disposable playthings one day and thrown out the next when the novelty has served its purpose. They can be baited with the promise of untold wealth like a performing seal who does what it has to for the fish treat. Ultimately the poor are lesser beings that are to be ruled and used for the convenience of the rich.
Furthermore no one can be in doubt that she’s a deeply troubled woman and her mental stability is precarious. After being privy to a series of disturbing exchanges with Park Sang-jae, it occurs to me that she might have been sexually molested by her own father. Of course part of the challenge of making sense of this show is sifting the facts from the fabrications. But the “Closed Room” artwork that In-hye and Hyo-rin finds in the attic seems to indicate sexual abuse as a real possibility. The hot and cold sex game that she plays with Park Sang-jae to get a rise out of him, to keep him on a leash as it were, is equally disquieting to say the least. It’s almost as if she wants outsiders to think that she’s the abused wife but in reality she’s leading him by the nose, using him to perpetuate layers of deception around her, cocooning herself from any blowback from her activities. She consistently reminds him that he has to protect her as part of the teasing. so he is as much her puppet as anyone else. Afterall he too is just a poor boy who has risen up the ranks with her family’s help and she has no compunction in deploying him in her games.
The writer has creatively woven an imaginative, mind numbing crime story that revolves around the Vietnam War, a decades old conspiracy, local election politics, a serial killer and the embezzlement of more money than most of us will ever see in our lifetime. South Korean involvement in the Vietnam conflict was something I’d never heard discussed previously in any drama I’ve seen although it makes sense that it would be a blot in their history too. It really does beg the question whether the “super soldiers” black ops unit that’s come up is based on some actual historical events because let’s face it, the CIA was notorious for conducting all kinds of mind control experiments.
What I have a harder time buying into in this supposed homage to Alcott’s coming of age novel, is the positioning of the three sisters in the criminal aspects of the story. This is part of the drama I have to exercise all suspension of disbelief. Yes, recent revelations from Won Sang-a explain how the wide-eyed In-joo becomes embroiled in something that’s way out of her comfort zone. The intent is plain to see but the bridging of the two primary elements of the story remain tenuous. Three ordinary under resourced sisters taking centre stage in a story that ordinarily would be the purview of detectives offers up its own set of writing issues. They are babes in the woods — completely ill-equipped to take the heat from villains of all stripes. I imagine the inclusion of Jong-ho and Choi Do-il is there to mitigate some of those shortcomings. It’s a shame because the most significant characters in the show are the least plausible. Considering the gravity and magnitude of what they’re facing, In-joo, In-kyung and maybe In-hye should be dead already. There’s been rumblings on the web that the sisters’ flaws make them realistic. I don’t disagree but realism in a story isn’t automatically a virtue. Writers of Asian dramas are notoriously choosy about what they deem to be realistic. I would contend however that they are too realistic to be the primary drivers/investigators of this landscape inhabited by such powerful villains. The gap between the protagonists and the antagonists is far too wide. Putting the girls in the driver’s seat in this murder mystery feels like a mismatch. Emotional and reckless cops who look before they leap are bad enough. Inexperienced reckless civilians with serious character deficiencies running around doing the work of cops beggars belief. They cannot help but be reactive in most instances. It would take nothing short of a miracle to turn this ship around and sink the villains if Choi Do-il isn’t what I think he is.
Writing In-joo as a thirty year old ingenue is right out of the playbook for these sorts of morality tales. But it doesn’t make me root for her with any great enthusiasm. It’s certainly a thankless role for Kim Go-eun although she does a good turn. The only benefit I see is that it expedites the romance and ensures that the more cynically shrewd Do-il is consistently protective towards her. In-kyung unfortunately really doesn’t know how to play the long game despite having plenty of pluck. There’s no doubting her moral compass but there’s nothing to be gained from being belligerently obvious about it. She’s only really still alive because the baddies don’t see her as much of threat at this point. Surprisingly the inscrutable In-hye the youngest is the most circumspect playing her cards close to her chest while acting agreeable in front of the Park-Won pair.
The biggest mystery in the entirety of Episode 8 however is how Choi Do-il manages to acquire a revolver in Singapore or manages to get one into the country. Knowing Singapore, it’s a question I have to pose. On appearance it seems to suggest a possibility of Do-il being law enforcement. It’s a cherished of theory of mine (practically from Week 1) that Do-il was recruited out of university by the FBI or NIS or the national police and is working in conjunction with Interpol. Nothing that I’ve seen so far has debunked that idea in any meaningful fashion. Particularly when he says something like “why put yourself at risk for revenge when there’s a safer alternative”. It’s ambiguous enough that it could mean a number of things including my pet hypothesis. No one should discount the possibility that he is exactly who he says he is but since this is show about theatre and actors, why not him too? Undercover cops, spies and moles would have to be the best actors in the world because their very survival is at stake if they were to be unmasked.
Lately his backstory has thrown up some new relevant facts. His father is a reclusive Vietnam vet living in the mountains and his mother who was convicted for a murder that took place 20 years earlier is languishing in prison. It would certainly make the cop theory more probable.. What isn’t clear yet is how all that fits into the Park-Won family dysfunction and their bid for the nation’s top job if the mayoral position becomes theirs for the taking