Strangers Again (2023) Final Thoughts
I have a theory about this show. While I never thought that I was watching a garden variety rom com, I laboured under the belief that belying all the absurd coincidences that this was a serious show that had serious things to say about marriage and divorce. Fast forward six weeks later, I question my own judgment wondering what I’d been privy to. I begin by trying to grapple with the question of why for 11.75 episodes nobody ever thinks to go for some kind of relationship counselling. Not a single soul. I wonder if it’s deliberate. Moreover while everyone is decent at diagnosing other people’s problem, they are terrible at perceiving their own hang-ups. Apparently the cult of experts don’t exist in this world where Eun-beom and Ha-ra, two supposed grown-ups stumble around avoiding answers. It may be that hardly anyone reads books anymore but in their world there’s not even an app or a website that people go to for advice. How odd. It’s straight to lawyers and courts we go. Learning takes place accidentally rather than purposefully. And the results speak for themselves.
The people behind this, it occurs to me, aren’t interested in any other solutions except divorce. Except that divorce itself is problematic — a convenient exit strategy for two people who haven’t learnt the art of communication or accommodation. And they never have to because there’s divorce to put an end to everything once things turn sour. A get-out-of-jail card as it were. Because they sidestep the fundamentals, the characters default to the same behaviour over and over again expecting a different result.
Realistic? Perhaps. It’s arguable how realistic the show is. But from the point of view of the audience, frustrating.
So I’m inclined to think that the entire project is a storytelling experiment. Whether in earnest or for laughs — I’m still puzzling over that one. The experiment starts with “what if”. What if we were to tell a story about two divorce lawyers who are divorced from one another working cases in the same firm? It would be a hoot, right? A couple of ex-spouses who haven’t been schooled in the art of relationship, who haven’t even learnt to communicate, handling relationships that have “inevitably” reached their endpoint. The result is sheer chaos. All the wisdom of the ages cast aside for this narcissistic introspective trial and error approach to the most foundational of relationships. As if the present generations will be the first to discover something the previous ones haven’t. Underpinning all of this is a materialistic, consumerist impulse as seen in an ex-wife who hops from lover to lover with impunity leaving her ex-husband lawyer to clean up her messes.
Therefore the entire project only makes sense when I think of it as satire. Again I can only speculate because divorced individuals here are mercilessly mocked. Or it’s just modern “love” marriages that’s under fire. So much heartache could be prevented if people actually opened their mouths and uttered coherent words. For a world of actions so dominated by feelings, the people in it are so poor in articulating them. I am left wondering if the moral of the story might be that a world where human agents are driven by emotions unchecked by discernment only leads to chaos. Feelings of goodwill towards another just aren’t enough for marriage. Indeed feelings aren’t substantial enough of a foundation to build any kind of future on.
As a reviewer of dramas there’s a part of me inclined to think of this entire project as a critique of the romantic comedy popularized by Hollywood first and whose mantle has been picked up by K dramas in the past decade. The genre is waning. Cynicism is on the rise. Building paradise on earth is no longer feasible when narcissism has a grip on the culture. No one is willing to change or feel the need to. That’s the troubling part in all the push and pull.
There’s no happily-ever-after her. For the leads that is. Just a tired cycle of withdrawal, miscommunication and conflict. There’s plenty of baggage. The ending seems to be a logical one amidst all the illogical antics that ends in sabotage. Yet one is left feeling dissatisfied because the two people at the centre of the story don’t really get it until it’s too late. Or do they? That’s left open to individual interpretation. But I repeat. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.
There’s nothing progressive about that.