TL;DR: There are some choices I would not have made if I were in charge of this show; if I can get over that, I may end up really enjoying this drama.
Easily my biggest concern about the show right now aside from the misplaced Phantom of the Opera musical cue is how overwhelmingly male this show is. By my count there were four female characters: possible alien Han Jung-yeon, who appeared naked in a ball of light and has yet to speak in her grand total of three scenes; Kim Min-ji, victim of a kidnapping twenty years ago and now murderer; the thus-far unnamed woman Bum-gyun presumably tasered off a rooftop to her serious injury and/or death; and the Smart Earth lady who I’m half convinced is the futuristic version of Siri and not an actual flesh-and-blood woman. Aside from some extras in the background, that’s the grand total of female representation in the first episode.
And while the preview for episode two promised that Jung-yeon would actually speak, I don’t know if that’s going to improve anything. Since Jung-yeon and Min-ji are both central to the mysteries unfolding in 2017 and 2037, respectively, the show has every incentive to keep them out of focus and enigmatic until the last possible moment. I think it’s likely that both of these women will end up being the keys the men use to solve the mystery instead of characters in their own right.
Please prove me wrong. I would love you ten times more if you did.
With that out of the way, there is a lot that Circle is doing right. First off, the pacing is exceptional—there were very few wasted moments. This episode did a great job of setting up and tying together the conflicts in 2017 and 2037 all while establishing (the male) characters and their motivations. The production values are superb, too. The two different timelines looked and felt different, and the 2037 tech was a strong blend of familiar and futuristic.
However, the best part of this episode was Kim Woo-jin. His is an interesting character, at once sympathetic because of family-related trauma but also unlikeable because of his callous pragmatism. Woo-jin isn’t the sort to boycott a test to protest his university’s administration; he is the sort to break through the lines and take the test all on his own. He goes to a professor the same day he finds out the previous TA committed suicide in order to express his interest in fulfilling the position. And yet Woo-jin also is paying for his grandmother’s live-in care and welcomes his paroled brother back into his life (though not without an appropriate amount of caution).
I’m excited for Woo-jin and Bum-gyun and what it will mean for them, their relationship, and the future of earth now that they have re-encountered the alien from their childhoods. Is she really an alien? (Well, yes, but they don’t have proof yet.) If so, is she connected to the “suicides” on campus? What purpose would those suicides fulfill?
And what the hell happens that these boys both go missing for two decades?
The second-best part of this episode was the twist that Woo-jin, Bum-gyun, and Joon-hyuk are all brothers. (Does this mean we will see a younger Joon-hyuk in the 2017 timeline? I hope so.) Even though the “detective with a personal connection to the case” is a well-worn trope, I’m excited for it this time because no women were fridged of the possibilities in the story. The missing twins aren’t just sacrifices to kickstart the plot—they have half of the plot. With the stories unfolding in both timelines, I hope this means that as Joon-hyuk gets closer to the reason for their disappearances, Woo-jin and Bum-gyun will be growing ever closer to their own tragedy.
(My sci-fi senses predict that there will be a point where the timelines converge and Joon-hyuk will have a chance to save his brothers, which will trigger a better timeline for the future. But we’ll see!)
Joon-hyuk has that same callous, pragmatic streak as Woo-jin, too, between the elaborate setup so Lee Dong-soo would agree to track down a rumored hacker that could get into Smart Earth and his total willingness to use a murder and woman’s kidnapping to get into Smart Earth without having to submit to having the chip put in. I’m also interested in Lee Ho-soo, the peacekeeper, and how quickly his emotion controlling chip activates. Was that just to demonstrate why crime in Smart Earth should be impossible, or does he, in particular, have a quick temper (and maybe an evil streak)? Chief Hong is of minor interest; mostly I want to see his POV during the university suicides/murders to find out how close he was to solving the case.
I’m still excited about this series, though my enthusiasm has been tempered somewhat. Please make the women more relevant and keep the plot fast-paced and interesting. If so, I’ll likely be along for the ride.
By the Numbers
- Tasers: 2
- Chalk outlines: 1
- Memorials: 3
- Pink umbrellas: 1
- Mentions of air pollution: 2
- Crime-free days: 5,001
- Bechdel Test: 0 episodes passed