All the right parts were there:
- Our leading lady was sweet and good and completely undeserving of anything bad ever happening to her. Thus, bad things fall down on her like a rainstorm of anvils. *check*
- Our leading man was spoiled and powerful and obsessed with our leading lady in a completely unhealthy way. Thus, he comes to realize his life is a howling wasteland without her in it. *check*
- Our two second-leads are brittle and bitter and clamoring for something they can’t have (our main-leads, basically). Thus, they plot and connive to either get what they want or make others suffer the waaaay over the top consequences. *check*
And those were the totally-bad-for-you, no-health-benefits-at-all ingredients I wanted. So at first I was a happy, demented, little camper. But Secret never quite achieved the twisted depravity I like in a good makjang melodrama. It came close, but something was missing.
Really what the drama needed was a full on, completely committed, bad guy. Bea Soo-bin, as our second male lead Ahn Do-hoon, did his best. He’s got that toxic “nice guy” role down pat, and he played it well here. All wide-eyed shock when his girlfriend gets tired of being his doormat, all trembling lip hurt when she strikes back. He totally saw himself as the one being wronged all the time (even when she went to prison for him — which takes a certain kind of talent), which meant he gunned for our leads with that self-righteous certainty that makes the “nice guy” such a depraved character.
But the story didn’t take it all the way. They left a smidgeon of humanity in Do-hoon so there were lines he wasn’t willing to cross and people (specifically female second lead, Shin Se-yeon) he wasn’t willing to use. And that disappointed me. I wanted him to take it to the mattresses! I wanted him to use Se-yeon’s unrequited love for Min-hyuk without any sympathy. I wanted him to be obsessed with bringing Min-hyuk down and making Yoo-jung miserable. Basically, I wanted Do-hoon to be like Iago from Shakespeare’s Othello: evil for evil’s sake.
That way when his inevitable fall came, I’d be filled to the brim with delicious, delicous schadenfreude, without any worries about redemption possibilities. I wanted Do-hoon to be gnashing his teeth with frustrated outrage when Yoo-jung decided she was done taking it, and Min-hyuk turned out to be cleverer than he seemed, and Se-yeon remembered her humanity and they turned the tables on his brilliant, over-complicated, twisted and evil plans.
It almost happened, so I don’t feel like I lost my time in the watching. But I do think the drama had delusions of being slightly cleverer than it actually was. The caliber of acting was several notches above the usual, and that might have fed the delusion. Our two leads (Hwang Jung-eum and Ji-sung) are strong comic actors and they both brought a sense of humor, and therefore an unexpected depth, to what were otherwise shallow, standard roles. And Lee Da-hee added a nice patina of vulnerability to Se-yeon (part of the reason I didn’t peg her as the ultimate villain, like I did Do-hoon — even when she was at her coldest).
But the story stayed very firmly on the surface of things and the plot did a lot of jumping around. Mysteries weren’t so much solved as quickly explained away with camera footage and witnesses turning up when needed. Things happened (Secretary Choi went to jail), then just as quickly un-happened (and then he was out) without our players having much to do with it. Which left me scratching my head.
(One particularly weird section was when Min-hyuk suddenly got sick. Because of an ankle injury we never saw happen. For one scene. It was totally bizarre because it came out of nowhere and at first I thought he was faking, but he had the intensely chapped lips dramas use to signal sickness, so… I guess he was honestly sick? It did lead to that lovely little scene with Yoo-jung spoon-feeding him while they stared intensely into each other’s eyes…
…which worked for me. So I’m not so much complaining as just pointing out its oddness.)
And then Do-hoon learned his lesson and confessed to his crimes. And then there was a time-skip and everyone else had a happy ending. (Actually, you could argue Do-hoon had a happy ending as well in that Se-yeon is obviously still into him even as he rots in jail.) Cue the closing credits and… Secrets became a drama I had watched.
The ending was fine, but it wasn’t satisfying. Our heroes prevailed without doing all that much (Do-hoon confesses, the Chairman gives in) so it felt more like boxes being ticked than an ending actually earned. However… that’s the general way of makjang melodramas, isn’t it? Empty calories only leave you with a slightly sick feeling of full and a vague horror that you actually ate the whole thing. I’d swear I’d never do it again but… you’re all too clever to believe that lie. The mood will strike and a drama will be chosen.