TL;DR: It is quiet and sad and a little desperate, and I love it.
This was a great debut episode that expertly set up my expectations for the show. There will be melodrama, yes, but it will be the muted sort, told in silences and self-destructive choices, not in overdramatic flailing or with a frenetic pace. The show isn’t afraid to let a scene breathe or to focus on small gestures to tell the story, and it peels back its characters’ layers to show just how one great tragedy has rippled through their lives.
I’m not sure who to blame for the description on Viki claiming the tragedy was a car accident, because the opening flashback makes it clear the disaster was on a much larger scale: the collapse of a mall. Moon-soo was caught in it, and survived; her younger sister didn’t, and with that followed the fracture of her family and her mother’s downward spiral into alcoholism. She herself struggles with what appears to be claustrophobia (no doubt due to being trapped under rubble) and now makes a living by building architectural models and helping her mother run a bath house. Later flashbacks show that Kang-doo was also there on that fateful day, and he was severely injured, lost his father, and also acquired a case of claustrophobia. The tragedy is over a decade old, but it still haunts their day-to-day lives.
I find myself drawn first and foremost to Moon-soo and her fractured family. She still dreams about her sister’s death, and I wonder when she will confess the truth to her parents about what really happened. What kind of guilt does she carry for being annoyed with Yeon-soo and then telling her not to come with her, so Yeon-soo was killed instead of possibly surviving with her? That day appears to be what drove her to making a career of building architectural models (and learn a great deal about the theory and mathematics behind principles such as how much weight a structure can bear before it hits its breaking point), and her observation and integrity re: not making a model of an unsound building is what got Joo-won to hire her for this new project. And thank god she knows by the end of the first episode that Joo-won’s design firm is connected to the mall collapse. At least that secret won’t be dragged out.
Joo-won thus far seems to be slotted neatly into the second male lead role, though his convoluted family ties are a bit confusing right now. I think his mother may have remarried? She’s definitely the second wife, and that at least partially explains why the older brother was so antagonistic. If I had to bet, being the son of the second wife and his father’s role in the mall collapse are probably why Joo-won apologizes so frequently, to the point of making it awkward for others.
Kang-doo, meanwhile, is definitely the worst off. He is barely making a living on his own as a manual laborer/occasional assistant to the local club madam, and his temper clearly gets him into trouble often. (He was already sporting healing injuries when he got into his first on-screen altercation.) I want to know what drove the wedge between him and everyone else. Kang-doo appears to at least want to be a doting big brother, what with sending his sister money even though he has more need of it and asking her about her day-to-day life, but there’s something keeping him from going home, even though she wants him to return. What happened there?
Despite a number of friendly, even concerned, individuals in his life, Kang-doo seems to be keeping most of them at arm’s length. His temper burns hot and fast and to his detriment about half the time. I was not expecting him to take a sledgehammer to the memorial for the mall collapse on his first night on the construction job, but he’s not the only one with unresolved issues about the whole thing. I personally think it would probably be best if both he and Moon-soo stepped aside and got therapy instead of entangling themselves further in their unhealed trauma, but hey, what do I know?
Not how to write a drama, clearly.
I’m glad that Kang-doo was just barely conscious enough to remember Moon-soo finding him in the alley, though he’s clearly hazy on the subject. I hope it doesn’t take long for him to remember running into her (literally) at Cheo Yoo Construction. Please let him also be properly grateful for her help and not be a jerk to her when they finally do have a real conversation. This show has already hit so many of my YES PLEASE buttons that I will be super sad if I have to bail if he is mean to her for no reason. I’m very much looking forward to the next episode.
By the Numbers
- People killed: 48
- Empty bottles: > 2
- Floors climbed: 16
- Briefly stolen identities: 1
- Terrible storytelling advice moments: 1
- Bechdel Test: 1 episode passed