Oh my gosh I have so many (so! many!) thoughts about Nine, so let’s dive right in. I’ve listed all the things I loved (and one thing I didn’t) and I spoil everything. In fact, I’m writing like I’m chatting with people who’ve just viewed the drama. If you haven’t seen it yet, I’ll have a spoiler-free (or at least, very well marked and warned for) review up within the next few days or so.
Spoilers below! Also, it’s really, really long. So many thoughts!
The romance: We had a killer main-man in Park Sun-woo — tailored almost perfectly for me. I adore smart, articulate, logical characters — the sort of guy who hardens up and shines when the pressure builds, whose thoughts race several moves ahead of those around him — a game-master.
I’d been a tiny bit worried when I heard Lee Jin-wook was cast in the part. I’d hated his character, totally and utterly, in I Need Romance 2012 and, while I didn’t blame the actor, I’d begun to have a visceral reaction to his boyish grin. I feared that would interfere with my reaction to the Park Sun-woo character. It didn’t. (In fact, my reaction to Lee Jin-wook’s boyish grin has done a complete turn around, I’m happy to report.)
And I loved our main-dame, Joo Min-young. She wasn’t the main event, in that the story’s axis point was Sun-woo, but it was easy for me to see how well she fit with Sun-woo. Bubbly enough to pull Sun-woo out of his overly cerebral coldness; bright enough to not get sidetracked or distracted by his glib posturing. (Even when Sun-woo himself got distracted — there’s a reason she always knew they were a couple before he did.)
And oh my Lord their chemistry! Even when they shouldn’t have been attracted to each other, they were. (I’m making the call that Min-young was a little too interested in Sun-woo when he was her uncle — just a touch, but there’s a reason her fiancé leapt to his conclusions that (a) she just wasn’t that into him and (b) she was into Sun-woo.)
Every glimpse of their courtship was chocolate to me — so the long wooing (both in scene count and year spread) in the last episode was exactly what I needed after the heart wrenching episode previous. I loved how much pleasure Sun-woo took in teasing Min-young. I loved how straightforward she was in not just loving him but finding him irresistibly hot. (Unashamed sexual desire in a female character always pleases me because it acknowledges a side to women that has sometimes been either ignored or, in worse cases, depicted as dirty and wrong. Though that seems to be a passing phase, thank goodness.)
And I adored that we got the redux of it taking Sun-woo facing his own mortality to kick his ass into gear and send him off to get the girl before he lost her forever. It was a nice twist on the usual cliche of another guy slinking into the story to let the main-guy know the girl won’t wait around forever. (As long as Death stuck to second-lead, created to lose, territory of course!)
The One Bad Thing: The romance did cause the one aspect of the story that I didn’t like as much. The incest fallout was at least one, maybe even two, episodes too long. I got that the drama wanted to put Sun-woo at his most low to force him into time-travelling again but it got a bit gratuitous there. Uncle and niece sleeping together is scandalous. We know. You don’t have to rub our noses in it.
[Aside: Though actually, I’ve been totally tainted by this kind of story line and was like, “Whatever, they’re not actually blood-related — why such a big deal?” and my husband was all, *raised eyebrow of bewildered disagreement* “Uh… No, that’s actually a big deal.” I’m blaming That Winter the Wind Blows. Ruined for life!]
I think they could have collapsed the scandal down to one episode — memory restoration, Min-young’s collapse, fiancé’s realization, scandal blow-up complete with forest of frosty side-eyes, episode ends with brother gone missing. Then the next episode opens with the funeral and the mourning and Sun-woo deciding, ‘screw-it, I’m going back in’. And we’re back into the good stuff!
The Bromance: As I’d said, Sun-woo is the axis of this drama, so it’s his relationships that we got to see up close and personal. His relationship with his bestie, Young-hoon, was awesome. Both in how Young-hoon played Sun-woo’s sounding board — the Watson to his Sherlock — but also his conscience — the Jiminy Cricket to his Pinocchio. For a boy who was so early orphaned to all intents and purposes, it was nice that he had such a solid rock of a relationship with Young-hoon. (Also, adult Young-hoon was hilarious — easily the winner of the “best reactions to broken laws of physics” award.)
There was also Reporter Oh as his surrogate father stepping in and doing a much better job than the actual Dr. Park (who I think Sun-woo stuck on a much higher pedestal than he deserved) would have done if he’d survived — in my opinion. (I didn’t like Dr. Park.) And there was his older brother, Jung-woo. That relationship showed, I thought, the depth of Sun-woo’s heart under his intellectual veneer. He cared for Jung-woo as if Jung-woo were his little brother and it was Jung-woo who Sun-woo was ultimately aiming to save.
But my favorite bromance was between Sun-woo and himself. He was so, so awesome to his younger self. An older brother/father/favorite uncle all rolled into one, sheltering and shepherding young!Sun-woo through some intense dangers, but also encouraging him to face down challenges on his own. His last words to young!Sun-woo, “Every decision you make will be the right one,” (or words to those effect) were so, so cool. Incredibly supportive and affirming and exactly the kind of thing I’d like to say to my younger self if I ever met her. (Because seriously, what better confidence-boost could you receive?)
The Time Travel: This was the same writers/PD team that brought us Queen Inhyun’s Man so I was expecting the time travel to be tight. I was beyond not disappointed — I was thrilled. My brain is still spinning out meanings and realizations and theories that completely blow my mind. Which is what I want in my scifi. (And if you’re dealing with time-travel, even if the method is mystical, you’re dealing with scifi.)
The thing is, time-travel is a paradox. As soon as someone leaps either forward or back in time they create an existence in which the time-leap must always have taken place — both before the original leap and after. It’s wonderfully mind-bendy and sometimes (often) the work around is to ignore it. Doctor Who tends to ignore it (except for those times they enthusiastically embrace it), outside some brief lip service Star Trek ignores it. StarGate embraced it — and the whole multi-verse theory it can raise — which made for some awesome fun times back in the day.
Since I love what the paradox sets in motion I’m over the moon that Nine is an embracer. They set some parameters (which you definitely need if you don’t want to go completely mad) by making one point of linkage to the past and then letting everything spin out from that point. Time-travelling!Sun-woo is never able to travel back to a time earlier than his original leap — so his actions have lasting consequences and the ticking clock is still ticking. And the paradox begins to spin.
I’ve been dancing around the ‘net dipping into other blog posts and comment sections and developing my own conclusions.
Here’s how I’ve decided it worked: (Broken into “time-traveling! ‘verse” and “young! ‘verse” in honor of the two Sun-woo’s.)
As soon as time-travelling!Sun-woo lit his first incense stick he created an alternate universe — a place holder that changed as he used up his sticks — but that ultimately collapsed into what young!Sun-woo experienced as he made his choices and decisions. (As everyone of that young!universe made their choices and decisions, actually. Recall the disappearing incense stick when young!Dr. Choi tells the corrupt policeman to bring the evidence to him because he’s looking into the mysterious witness — time-travelling!Sun-woo.)
As the pivot point — the time-travelling cause of the shifting alternate universe’s effect — time-travelling!Sun-woo always remembered how things were before he leapt. And because the universe he moved through had become a place-holder, he could nudge others into remembering as well. Interestingly though, they could only remember up to the point that the paralleling young!universe had unfolded. Hence the vivid memories when shift-causing decisions arrived.
But for those in the young!universe, this was their first time through. So young!Sun-woo lived his life without things shifting around him. He had a strange visitor that gave him warnings and hints of the future (check for brain tumors, you can trust this reporter dude) but his universe never changed — it unfolded in the usual manner.
So here’s how I think it all ended. Within his shifting alternate universe, time-travelling!Sun-woo dies. He’s folded into the young!universe and the alternate universe collapses — no longer supported by his actions. (There was a comment in a blog —
that I cannot find because I visited so many, I’m reaaaally sorry found! it’s in Maybee’s blog, a comment by Jamok99 — noting that nothing happens in the time-travelling!Sun-woo’s ‘verse after 8:07p.m. when he dies — all scenes, like Min-young’s memory and Young-joon’s listening to the messages, take place before that time.)
Young!Sun-woo moves forward through time in the usual way. He makes his decisions, becomes a reporter, flirts with Min-young. His brother is much healthier but still a bit haunted. And as Jung-woo realizes how much his little brother resembles the man who had such an effect on his life, time travel becomes a viable possibility to him. As in the time-travelling ‘verse, Jung-woo runs across a guy who has an incense stick and a story of more hidden in a mattress in a long-destroyed hotel.
Young!Jung-woo goes on his quest a year later than his time-travelling ‘verse version (he’s got obligations now — can’t just run off willy-nilly). But, because of those same tighter ties to society, is missed much more quickly by his fellow doctors without borders (or whatever group he’s working for). So he’s searched for and his body recovered.
Meanwhile, young!Sun-woo, realizing that it’s his time-travelling version Min-young saw die, is grappling with mortality again. Will he die at the same time because they are both the same person? He decides, screw it, I’m going for the girl — the fantasy of his choosing, and leaves to do his, “Marry me now, I’ll be gone in 6 months… maybe,” thing. While he’s there, word of his missing brother comes to him, he identifies the body, notices the incense, makes another decision.
(It’s at that first point of realization that the two universes fold into one, I think. It’s close enough to the time the time-travellling!Sun-woo made his first brief journey linking the two ‘verses and creating the paradox. Plus, the mirror dance of ’92 Sun-woo and ’12 Sun-woo illustrates that coming together.)
Young!Sun-woo knows time-travelling!Sun-woo tried to fix the things he’d tried to fix, (save his father, prevent his brother from doing bad things, etc.) but it never quite worked as planned. And now he knows getting trapped in the past is a possibility. As is death. (Young!Sun-woo has the time to search police records if he wants to make darn sure. Maybe even hear time-travelling!Sun-woo’s last messages to Young-hoon. *sob*) So he’ll realize the massive consequences.
I think, young!Sun-woo holds onto the stick his brother was clutching. Twenty years later (he’s definitely more wrinkly-eyed and grey-bearded in that scene), he uses it once to rescue his brother… aaaand scene. The rest is happily ever after. The paradox still exists but young!Sun-woo isn’t flinging himself into it. So he’s safe.
And that’s my thoughts! I mean, I still have more. Questions tumbling through my head (how linked are Dr. Choi and Sun-woo? As much as in the time-traveling ‘verse? Why did time-travellng!Sun-woo become a reporter? Was that a paradox effect? What happened to the remaining incense in the young ‘verse?) … so many questions. I’ll definitely be watching this one again.