So I thought Answer Me: 1994 was ending this week. Wrong! It’s got at least a week (maybe two?) to go. Which means I’m moving it from my “marathon-watch” list to the “live-watch” list, grumbling all the way. Though, part of my grumbling has to do with what’s been happening in-show. The magic is dying, unfortunately. Let me explain — with a lot of text and also some ranting…
Spoilers through episode 17 below (also of Answer Me: 1997 eventually — I’ll warn when we get there)…
There are three big schticks attached to the Answer Me franchise. (Do two series make a franchise? *ponders*) Or at least… I thought there were three. As it turns out, there are actually two and anyone who thought there was a third got a big pie-in-the-face by episode 17. But I’ll get to that.
The first schtick is a massive heap of nostalgia as songs, tv-shows, fashion trends, technology — all the pop-culture heavy hitters — are incorporated throughout the show. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it’s an anvil over the head. Regardless, I miss almost all of it because the culture is not mine, but I can (and do) appreciate the flavor it gives the show. (And it makes me triply times grateful for the Dramabeans recapping. They explain the jokes and I feel like I learn things just from drama-watching, which is awesome.)
The second is a game of “who’s the husband?” that, because the show doesn’t hide the ball, I enjoy. (Both series begin at a present-day reunion of sorts with our leading lady looking at all the male characters and musing, “One of these men is my husband.”) It makes for some silly jokes with elaborate bait-n-switch tactics — but it’s part of the flavor so, I’m on board.
Spoilers for Answer Me: 1994 in the next paragraph!! I totally give away the ending!
Thing is though — in Answer Me:1997, the love-triangle was a lot, lot softer. By the end, the “whose the husband” game became an almost wink-wink, nudge-nudge thing between the show and the viewers because it was so obvious who the husband was. We’d watched Yoon-jae pine after Shi-won for the entire span. It was obvious his brother cared deeply for Shi-won but it wasn’t the same level of love. And it was definitely obvious that Shi-won liked Tae-woong but didn’t actually love him (and that she did love Yoon-jae — though she wasn’t mature enough to realize it at first). So the mystery wasn’t in the who, it was more in the how. (How will Yoon-jae ever pursue his happiness at the cost of his brother’s?)
Spoilers for ’97 done. (’94 still has spoilers galore to go.)
With Answer Me: 1994 though… it’s all different.
The triangle, in its earlier stages, was much more intense. The two guys involved didn’t (and don’t) have a personal relationship. So there wasn’t any question that one would hang back out of love for the other. It’d be a full on, may the best man win, fight.
And that’s where things got weird. Because for a long time, only one of the guys was fighting. Chilbongie liked Na-jung, realized his feelings, and confessed. Na-jung, meanwhile, liked Trash, realized her feelings, confessed and… Trash totally dithered. For a bizarrely long amount of time. Even after he realized Chilbongie liked her and was wooing her.
Which made me wonder why he was dithering. He didn’t get any voice-overs explaining himself so… I made a huge, huge, huge cultural mistake.
I really did think, for faaar too many episodes, that Trash was gay. Even after they kissed. He constantly looked at Na-jung with these sad, melancholic eyes — like he knew they weren’t meant to be — even though she chased him and kept on chasing him. It was so far outside his general personality (he’s usually really laid-back and confident) that it felt weird. That there was this big shoe just waiting to drop that only he knew about.
Meanwhile, in service of the “who’s the husband?” gimmick, the present date party shows us that this intense love-triangle somehow ended with the two men (who in the past were, at best, polite-friendly to each other) so comfortable with each other it’s hard to tell who’s the host and who’s the guest. Two men who, for several episodes (and therefore — years), haven’t seen or talked to each other. Two men who, when one sees the other on TV turns into a nervous — “he’s going to steal my woman!” — nelly.
Figuring that one was gay and out and thereby completely out of the romantic running was one, and to my totally different cultural background — quite plausible, theory.
Because there was Bingguere. And there was the third schtick. The one that really made the franchise for me — raising it to a place apart from all the usual k-drama rom-coms: The acceptance of, and graceful handling of, homosexuality. Including an actual, fully fleshed out gay character in the main cast.
So in the beginning, with Bingguere nursing his really obvious crush and with Trash being extra sweet and attentive to Bingguere (and mysteriously distant with Na-jung), I thought we’d actually see a gay couple fall in love within a rom-com construct.
Of course, as the episodes progressed, I began to realize I was making some basic cultural mistakes regarding Trash. (He really was that nervous about their families’ acceptance of them.) Especially when it became more and more obvious that he and Na-jung were the end game. At that point I thought it’d be fun if Bingguere ended up with Joon-hee. Not quite as groundbreaking — but still a nice, warm twist. (And if Bingguere came out to Trash first and Trash was cool about it? It’d make a lovely addendum to their mentor/mentee relationship.)
And the show deliberately played with that expectation and then ended with this twist: Bingguere wasn’t gay after all. He was just immature and needing to make a choice. (Seriously — it was like Bingguere “grew up” and “became a man” and chose to no longer have gay crushes on men anymore. Because that’s totally how these things work.) Aaaand, so much for acceptance and graceful handling of homosexuality as the third schtick. “Disappointed” is not a strong enough word.
The drama played a game. The red car was a bait-n-switch and I might have tipped my hat at their successful surprise except… I’m getting a bit tired of characters in k-dramas suddenly deciding they’re not gay. In a vacuum — yes, people can go through periods where they question their sexuality. And Bingguere is a character I can see going through a bi-curious phase, especially with his issues with his father.
But, so many other dramas have done that. Having someone be gay — not confused about it — was what I respected so much about Answer Me: 1997. They depicted gayness so well and I know S. Korea is going through some serious growing pains regarding that issue. I thought — I expected — that’d they continue to show their support. (It’s part of the reason I thought they might turn it up a notch and have a gay character in an actual, on-screen relationship). Instead they took a giant step backwards. While giggling.
So now I’m deeply unhappy. And it’s seriously tainted the show for me. I have no earthly idea how Chilbongie and Trash went from rivals to best buddies and I’m curious so I’ll keep watching. I expect it’ll be stupid and trite, but maybe the show will surprise me. In a good way this time. (If Chilbongie turns out to be gay I will so laugh. And tip my hat. And take this rant all back. Mostly. But I’m not holding my breath.)