Blergh. Well, I finished it. And it ended pretty much how I thought it would with no surprises — especially since, for the first time in my life, I read recaps before watching. Because if the show was aiming to surprise me, I wanted none of it. Which is where the disappointment came in. Even though the ending was fine, I kept being reminded that the show had chosen “surprise” over narrative and managed to sour a good, solid story and fully fleshed, sympathetic, interesting characters.
Everything spoiled below…
Let me state right out that I liked Chilbongie best. There was a sweetness to him and he was a striver and he won me over pretty early in. But that didn’t mean I had to have him and Na-jung as the end-game. I was a bit sad when I realized he wasn’t going to be the husband (right around the time he disappeared for a couple of episodes), but I got over it pretty quickly. The sadness of his never getting the girl brought its own low-key pleasure. Part of his sweetness came from that forever-alone, isolated quality he had.
Plus, I really liked the issues Na-jung and Trash were facing as a couple: transitioning from an unequal sibling-like relationship where he sheltered and cared for her, to the equality a healthy romantic relationship demands. I loved that their getting back together hinged on Trash’s willingness to be weak in front of Na-jung, to let her take care of him. It was a subtle and mature look at what it really takes to make a relationship work.
But here’s the part that sucks. That above paragraph took place over the course of about 15 minutes in the penultimate episode. We’re given a series of flashbacks — with Na-jung’s voiceover explaining it further — and then we watch the solution scene. And then we’re done. In less than an episode. In a drama that had approximately 32 hours to work with. (If my math is correct. The episodes were long.) And this was the central love story!
But that was the thing. We weren’t supposed to know that this was the central love story. So the show had to dance around it to better leave us in the dark. Yes, it was beyond obvious that Na-jung was madly in love with Trash. But she also had a spark with Chilbongie. And that spark got a lot of airtime because we weren’t supposed to know which guy ultimately won her heart forever and ever.
So we got a lot of scenes from Chilbongie’s point of view. He was madly in love with Na-jung so every positive action on her part hit him doubly hard. Because that’s the way of crushes — reading all sorts of things into your love-interest’s smallest action. It’s an emotional roller coaster but it can be such an exhilarating ride. And we watched Chlibongie’s ride for a great many episodes and in loving detail.
Which would have been fine (unrequited love can be quite poignant), only we weren’t able to get a similarly clear view into Trash’s feelings towards Na-jung. At first his crush seemed obvious. He was hyper-alert towards her, especially when she wasn’t watching. But then Na-jung realized she’d fallen for him, gathered her courage, confessed and… nothing. There was just this several-episodes-long pause where Trash’s feelings remained a mystery. (While Na-jung was miserable, which wasn’t fun to watch.) Then finally we’re shown that Trash did like Na-jung back. But the reason for his delayed confession made no sense. Honestly, none.
Apparently, he was really worried about their families’ reaction. And… I seriously don’t have the words to explain how much that made no sense to me. It didn’t make sense when he floated that as a reason for his hesitation in the beginning, and it didn’t make sense when he threw it out at some point mid-show, and it made even less sense when Na-jung’s dad went ballistic in the final episode when he heard they were engaged. That scene happened and I literally said out-loud, to the empty room around me, “This storyline makes no sense to me.” I. Do. Not. Get. It. The families are best friends, Trash is a successful doctor, he’s been looking after Na-jung his whole life. Not only should their dating have been a dream come true to the families, the parents actually said as much in the one scene, mid-show (during Trash’s mysterious hesitation while Na-jung was painfully pining), when both families were together.
So it felt like this pasted-on excuse to throw a monkey-wrench into a love story that didn’t need it. Transitioning from an older-brother figure to a boyfriend was enough of a storyline for such a slice-of-life drama. But the show needed a mystery to support their gimmick, so they shoehorned a mystery into a character that couldn’t support it and, in my opinion, came dangerously close to shrinking Trash into a caricature. (Jung Woo‘s acting skills and the otherwise strong writing managed to keep him afloat. Barely.) Which meant it was really hard for me to get behind their love story. Because I didn’t get to see their love story. Not until the very end when all masks came off.
Which also meant, there was no time to resolve the rivalry between the two men and I didn’t buy their becoming good friends. But! Since the resolution happened offscreen anyway — I felt free to come up with my own head-canon. My theory: Chilbongie — who has no real friends or family other than the home-stay gang — is friendly with Trash (who is easy to be friendly with) because that’s the price of staying in the group. But he still bears a torch for Na-jung and if Trash dies or something he’ll be courting Na-jung in a heartbeat. (In my head-canon, Chilbongie doesn’t fully realize this about himself. He’s happy enough with his marriage and content to just be included in the gang. But in the deep recesses of his heart, the torch still burns. Na-jung knows it but lets it go. Trash has no clue.)
It’s too bad. Because, on the whole — aside from a desperate need for a good editor, the show did everything else right. The other characters were so nuanced and well-realized and warm. It really felt like this ragtag band of country kids, coming together in Seoul, and forming these deep, lifelong, bonds. The show made me laugh and tear up and sigh with contentment as I watched. But they got so caught up in their gimmick they destroyed their own story. (Bingguere did sink into a cardboard cutout, all character layer and nuance gone with the speed of a passing sports car. I squirmed through all of his subsequent scenes.)
I do wonder what the viewing will be like for marathoners — especially spoiled marathoners who’ll be able to ignore the gimmick and just focus on the story. But for me? Disappointing.