The Plough Department of the Song Dynasty (2019) Final Remarks

This is one of those dramas that leaves you with a nagging feeling that while it’s entertaining that there’s something amiss. The concept is good, plays out well and there’s much about it that’s commendable but it’s ultimately… I dunno… unsatisfying. At least to an ahjumma like myself. Which leads me to believe that the target demographic might not be so inclusive of the likes of me despite nods to classic wuxia. I’m often left wondering if this isn’t a nice bit of patriotic dogooderist propaganda for the youngsters by the largely agreeable tone and breezy storytelling choices.

The surprising thing is that the show seems to be comprised of two distinct sections which means that it doesn’t belabour the contest for the throne. Attempts to unseat the incumbent lineage makes even less sense when the unambitious prime candidate strenuously resists the opportunity to play the villain at every turn. After all if it ain’t broke why bother fixing it? Makes sense to me. Especially if the result of all the political wrangling means chaos and instability. On the other hand, the second part of the drama is focused on a holy grail hunt of a Nostradamus-inspired object which is essentially a comic book foretelling the future. Here the spotlight then shifts to jiang hu. All kinds of individuals gets dragged into the fray in this search of the Tuibei Divination plates in something that seems like a wild goose chase. Tai Sui might be the lead male perspective in much of this but he’s not really that handy to have around except to get beaten up despite having an extraordinary capacity for martial arts. The show doesn’t go the usual route of making thoroughly good use of his skill set although he does well as a punching bag. In fact, the presence of the titular Plough Department in the second part of the drama feels minimal and obligatory as each member takes it in turn to show up late to the party.

Zhang Yujian, the main reason why I gave this a peek in the first place, is largely relegated to the place of bit player in the latter half of the story. The show does get overcrowded which causes me to wonder if this wasn’t meant to be a longer drama — something more along the lines of 50 episodes that was pruned back to 36 for pragmatic rather than storytelling reasons. The presence of abrupt transitions between scenes that gives the impression that there are crucial missing parts on the one hand or over-exposition on the other. The romance while largely inoffensive although some of the early bickering did grate, doesn’t ultimately achieve much except for some comic relief. Even while there’s talk of marriage, it feels much more like a teenage high school pairing of two frenemies in Professor Charles Xavier School for the Gifted.

Despite all the criticisms, it’s by no means a terrible show. It’s decent enough. The cases vary from so-so to engaging and there’s some complexity to the final case. The mild disappointment that I feel stems from the belief that it could have been better especially with how the Plough characters are utilized particularly in the second part of the drama. For 36 episodes there are one too many threads in need of resolution that end up sacrificing the development of the very thing ie. the Plough Department that is supposed to be its most distinctive element.

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