Public Service Announcement for potential viewers of MLED–Episodes 15/16 :
Don’t bother to watch this rage inducing trainwreck.
Stop halfway through Episode 14, and go find another show to watch. It’s for your own good.
Electronic devices all over the world should thank me right now. I have to honor My Little Blue Tablet, a victim of the ending of SLA. I promised I would tell the story over and over to spare other phones, tablets, and laptops from a similar fate. However, I have this blog now–an excellent place to vent high levels of anger and frustration in a far more dignified manner than throwing a tablet into a riverbed.
K-drama endings are notoriously awful, inducing anger and rage in a viewership like no US or UK drama could possibly aspire to. Part of the blame falls at the start of the drama. The shows start out strong, often at the level of “crack addiction”. No kidding, I remember literally feeling my heart race through the entire first episode of MLED. I even had to stop the video feed at about the 20 minute mark and take a walk outside, it was so emotionally intense. I signed on for the ride, with the knowledge that a disastrous ending would throw me into a depressive funk for weeks, and potentially spur another round of FF writing. However, unlike the baddies in MLED, I take full responsibility for my actions! I’m not alone–other K-drama fans feel the same way about their favorite shows ending badly, or if their favorite actor gets shafted somehow during the course of the drama due to a writer/PD change or episode cut. Some viewers just express it more creatively than others. Check out this awesome FMV about the “Surplus Princess” episode cut and the wasted potential of her favorite actor Song Jae Rim:
(I would totally re-do this for MLED if I knew how to add in the subs. Drat. More stuff I need to learn!)
So what happened? Why did this previously awesome drama suddenly derail? Was it a difference in philosophy between Western and Eastern cultures? That idea was thoroughly debated last year over at the SLA Soompi forum, and was given a fair share of credibility. It was a learning experience for me; even though I consider myself to be Christian, I did a lot of supplemental reading on Buddhism to fill in some major gaps in the knowledge department for myself. I understand the concept much better now, and although I can’t say it made me completely happy with the ending, it provided a lot of food for thought. With MLED, the situation is different. It appears K-netizens and C-netizens are currently hopping mad with the ending of MLED, so I won’t buy the Buddhist philosophy reason this time around. Did the writer not have the script finished and had to wrap everything up quickly with only 2 1/2 episodes? Was there pressure on writer-nim due to low ratings? What message was she trying to get across–if any? Was the writer trying to end the story with the dubious resolutions of the famous HK movies she openly admired? I could see a parallel with “Comrades: Almost a Love Story”, but seriously–the ending should have/could have been just as strong as the first 13 episodes. Sadly, we’ll probably never know what exactly transpired behind the scenes.
Since the failings of the last 2+ episodes can be debated endlessly with no resolution, most fans will take a shot (or several) of Soju, shake their head, and move on to the next drama, hoping for something different next time around, and thus proving the definition of insanity once again. Unfortunately, Soju isn’t an option for me–so that leaves Vietnamese Coffee and writing. There’s nothing like a bad ending to a melodrama to bring the FF writers out in legion to help correct the real and/or perceived unhappy ending into a Happily Ever After. (see “Heirs” for example–literally tons of FF has been written to fix that disaster) Even non-writers throw their two cents/22 Won into the fray on the Soompi forums, and the Viki/DF comment sections.
Here’s a few places where I think the writer made a “left turn” into the Makjang swamp:
1) The suicide: Feeling powerless to stop HS from reclaiming his woman and his son, while never comprehending that his own lies and deceit were the reason for everything that ailed him, JH decided to go all-in, and commit suicide. Knowing his narcissistic past, I am sure he was thinking he will become the ultimate martyr and make HS and ED’s life a guilt-laden hell going forward. Obviously, he never gave a thought to RI, or he would have never done it–RI idolized his dad, and if he would have died, that kid would have a lifetime of issues going forward. Why on earth the writer chose this path is beyond me. The suicide problem in SK is huge, and anything to glorify it or present suicide as an opt-out to solving problems is totally and completely irresponsible–and reprehensible. Where are the censors when you need them? Who gave this idea the green light? That person should be called on the carpet and fired. Someone should have read the script and put their hand up saying, “I object!”–and that person should have been an executive with enough clout to put the brakes on this utterly irresponsible turn in the script.
2) Reading choices: Does this writer have any children of her own, or any nieces/nephews? I gotta wonder–who the heck reads “The Little Prince” to a child of 10? Most adults don’t even understand that book. I sure don’t. It felt like a blatant attempt by the writer to inject some warped philosophical ideas into the show. Even worse–HS’s choice to read Friedrich Nietzche’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” to RI. That was the moment I knew this show was off the tracks for good, and heading for a crash landing. Nietzche’s “God is Dead” and “Everything is Meaningless” philosophy was a total and complete contrast to the positive choices HS and ED kept making in the face of huge opposition and ever more difficult circumstances. Why the sudden shift in tone? It was jarring to say the least. It made no sense at all to have 13 episodes filled with positive, life affirming messages–and then yank the rug out from underneath. Did they change writers all of a sudden? Did writer-nim forget her meds for a couple of weeks?
3) Finding out the info from the right source: I can’t tell you how happy I was to have HS find out from ED that RI was indeed his son. His sister may have had the DNA evidence in her hand, but for HS to hear it from ED was daebak writing. Given that, why did the writer have RI find out about EH and his mom from overhearing the nurses at the hospital gossiping? Why did the writer not have HS and ED sit down with this intelligent kid and tell him the truth in a way he could understand? Honesty with kids is essential–if you lie and they catch you, your credibility is gone for good. HA could have been there too as backup, and even JH’s mom could have played a part in this, as she finally acknowledged that RI was not JH’s son or her grandson. What a mess….handled right, this could have been a primer for how to tell a kid something very difficult in the best way possible. Instead, RI turns his understandable anger on HS, and it looks like there may never be a full mend in their relationship. HS was made to look like the bad guy here, when he is truly the victim. I hate when that happens. Blaming the victim is not the way to go.
4) RI’s transformation from complacent child to whiny brat: RI wields way too much power with the adults in this drama. He’s a kid–he’s 10. He can say what he feels, but the adults around him need to stop coddling him, tell him the truth (I know–what a novel concept!) and work on ideas to improve his relationship with HS. The adults around RI need to let him express his anger and frustration appropriately, while reinforcing that JH has perpetrated a great evil on his biological parents. Short, monitored visits for a while between JH and RI would be essential–RI needs to confront JH at some future date, and hold him accountable for his lies and deceit. I also recommend a few rounds at the batting cages–let RI get some physical anger out of his system too. I’ll take him if everyone else is busy. I might have the punching bag my boys used to vent their frustrations in the garage–I should go look for it.
5) Having HS leave for Australia: One of the biggest WTF moments. How is HS leaving the situation going to solve anything except to obtain martyr status? How can he slowly get to know his own son if he’s not around? What about ED? She must want HS around too–I know she didn’t put any of the blame on him. Why did she not immediately try to persuade him to come home
because she’s pregnant again, and she needs him there? Surely HS would not have been so distraught he would deliberately choose not to tell ED his whereabouts. He knew she would be in pain from his actions–so why would writer-nim have him make this choice? Regardless, DG knew where HS was, because DG was managing HS’s financial affairs. ED could have wrestled the contact info for HS out of DG in the blink of an eye. She had DG’s phone number. And to top it off, HS writes ED a letter–when he could have communicated this face-to-face! Did he forget the letter delivery problems from 10 years ago? We viewers don’t need to see such poor communication skills in a drama. Most of us have enough examples of that in our day-to-day lives.
It looks bad too from a PR standpoint if HS goes to Australia like a dog with its tail between its legs, instead of sticking around and facing the onslaught of fallout from JH’s confession like a man. There’s still more interviews that HS needs to give, and he should reassure the public through the press that RI has been told the complete truth regarding his parentage, and is undergoing counseling. Why did the writer give ED and HS personality transplants at the end of this show, making them weak willed at the moment they needed to be strong together to help RI? What happened to that take-no-crap attitude of HS when he informed JH that he was taking RI and ED back–without negotiation? What happened to that tough-as-nails ED who had no worries about letting SR know exactly what she thought of SR messing around in HS’s financial affairs? Sheesh.
6) Show me your papers: What happened to the alleged “marriage” of JH and ED? No license + no paperwork + no pictures = no proof. Was it a sham? If so, why was that not revealed? The public would have had a field day with a clandestine, forced marriage between JH and ED. Sympathy for HS would have skyrocketed regardless if JH came out and apologized or not. The press would have been at JH’s door, demanding his head on a platter whether he was in a wheelchair or not. Why did the writer drop the ball on this? I felt the non-legitimacy of the marriage between JH and ED was a huge issue. It needed to be blown wide open. Instead, it was shoved aside and ignored. A total fail to tie up another loose thread in this show.
7) No accountability for child abuse: For a society that supposedly places so much value on children and family, it is baffling why the writer let Adoptive Dad (and Mom too) off the hook completely for the abuse that ED took at their hands. IMHO, the writer could have delivered a solid message that abusing and treating an adopted child (or any child) like dirt is completely intolerable in today’s society. Don’t just give lip service about the importance of children. Show it in a concrete way, or it’s meaningless.
(Side note–This is a message I believe the SK society needs to especially hear in light of the Sewol ferry disaster a year ago–BTW, I strongly recommend reading all the content regarding the Sewol ferry disaster at the link above–it’s well worth your time. I will warn you–it’s rage inducing, but highly educational.)
8) No accountability for spousal abuse: Another total fail. JH has spent 10 years emotionally abusing ED, lying to her (and RI as well). Thinking about the emotional abuse ED has gone through at the hands of not only her adoptive parents but JH as well is painful and difficult for me. I have to hand it to Soompi forum member @DzungN, who courageously brought up the uncomfortable topic of JH touching ED in a sexual way during their 10 year ‘marriage’, even if there was no sexual intercourse involved. This is a concept which I started to question several episodes ago–but only here, at the relative safety of my blog. The level of coercion involved makes my head spin. Her memories gone, JH pretends he’s ED’s husband, and that gives him license to potentially put her through a ten year stint of sexual abuse that’s nearly unthinkable–even if the show glosses over it in a perfunctory manner. I can barely write about it–but it needs to be brought up and discussed intelligently, even if it’s distasteful and unpopular. If we viewers sweep it under the rug too, crap like this will continue to be shown on TV like it’s the norm. A relatively popular show like MLED could take a strong stand against spousal and sexual abuse, giving a much needed jolt to the sheeple aka complacent thinkers, both in SK and internationally as well. If abuse like this is the accepted norm in a society, perhaps that’s why it gets the gloss-over treatment from both writers and viewers. That is a very frightening thought. My three readers know I’m all about media and art as a way to get society to look at things in a different way.
There’s so much more….from the writer leaving the issue of ED’s biological mom hanging out to dry, to the lack of resolution between HB, his young paramour, and his wife Ji Soo, and the muddled mess of the accounting scandal…BTW, did anyone ever go to jail for that fraud? *headdesk*
When I first started to write the FF for SLA, I realized I needed to add a few details into the last episode to make my vision of a better ending come true. The writer and PD skipped around scenes so much that it was easy to add a bit here and there, weaving it into the parts that we viewed. (I will be honest–when I see SLA Episode 16 now, I wonder where the scenes I wrote went. They’re strangely missing!) I had no desire to mess with what was shown on-screen; I considered that untouchable. For the most part, I felt it worked well. However with MLED, there are so many scenes in Episodes 15 and 16 that are so massively effed-up, it would be next to impossible to do something similar to that. Whole parts need to be reworked and changed. There needs to be a shift back to the fundamentals and values shown in the previous episodes before the writer lost her way, or succumbed to ratings and/or network pressure: telling the truth, exposing lies and cover-ups, honesty, straightforward communication, and reasonable character behavior without going into martyrdom or noble idiocy.
Instead of going all-in (for the moment) to write out what I think the ending should have been, this time around I will attempt to rewrite a couple of scenes from Episode 15 that really ticked me off. Let’s see if I can fix anything with the twin super-powers of logic and reason….
*screencaps are from Tiveee.com
Here’s the first one:
From Episode 15 about 36:40 in–The book reading scene:
HS has just talked to DG to get pointers on playing with a 10 year old boy:
As always, DG give his boss great advice:
HS still is feeling insecure when RI appears in the doorway:
HS heard the timid knock on his bedroom door, and RI opened the door just a bit. “I’ll call you later,” he said to DG. HS turned to RI.
HS sighed. He wanted to tell RI the truth–about everything. But he wanted ED to be there too, and now she was at the hospital with JH. How much should he tell RI? “RI, listen to me..” HS said, sitting next to his son on the bed.
“Your dad…he got sick tonight. Your mom is at the hospital with him now, and with Doctor Park. That’s why she asked me to take care of you tonight. We can see him in the morning.” HS could barely keep up the pretense that JH was RI’s father, but he had to do it, at least until ED was there with him.
“Is he gonna be okay? Did he fall again? Why can’t I go see him right now?” RI asked, as he started to cry.
“Because Dr. Park says we can’t go–only your mom can be with him right now. We can visit him tomorrow morning. He has to sleep quietly tonight, so he can get better. Just like you need sleep too. How about if we watch TV on the couch for a while together? We can watch cartoons, and have a snack…”
HS wondered if the cable stations were still showing re-runs of the great cartoons of his childhood like the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and He-Man…. gosh, those were fun cartoons. What a shame he’d never been able to spend time with his son just laying around on the couch, munching on shrimp chips and Choco Pies while watching cartoons on a rainy weekend afternoon. RI didn’t look like he thought watching cartoons was such a great idea though.
That sounds like ED, HS thought. Always so careful…
RI asks, “Ahjussi, can you read me a story before bed? That’s what my dad does, and I always fall asleep. Do you have any books here?”
Oh, no thought HS. There’s nothing here at the house that would interest a 10 year old boy. He looked around the room, and then he remembered…the tablet! He could find a book there–something RI might enjoy. “I don’t really have any books here, but could I read you a story from a book on my tablet?”
“Okay…what kind of story is it?”
HS looked quickly through the book recommendations for 10 year old boys…then he found the book he knew RI would like, and downloaded it. “How about this one…it’s about a superhero. You like superheroes, right?”
“Aw, cool!” RI settled down into the bed. “What’s the title?”
(Side note–this book is available in Korea with full Korean translation–I did my homework! Click on pics to enlarge and read the comic excerpt if you so desire. All photos are from our family’s personal book too. And yes, I’ve had this book hanging around my house for 16 years!)
“What?!” RI started to laugh. “No way…books don’t have titles like that!”
“Sure they do…Here, look at the cover picture..”
HS handed the tablet to RI who dissolved into giggles “He only has his underwear on…and a bath towel cape too! Ha! He’s swinging like Spiderman…with toilet paper, hahaha..” HS laid down on the bed next to RI so they could both see the pictures in the book.
By the time HS was finished reading the book to RI, he was having a fit of giggles. HS wondered if he had pulled a muscle in his own stomach from laughing too. It was a moment he and his son could just have fun together. Seeing RI have such a great time was priceless. For a few moments, RI had forgotten about his Mom, the fact that the guy he thought was his father was in the hospital, and he had to stay with a friends’ uncle who he didn’t know very well.
“Ahjussi, that was a super fun book! My dad never read me anything like that….yunno, I think you’re pretty cool.”
HS felt the pride surge through him. He wanted to have RI accept him as a father more than anything. It wasn’t going to be easy, but tonight seemed like a good first step. “RI, tell you what. I will bring this to the hospital when we go and you can read it to him–but you’ll have to be careful not to laugh as loud as we did here tonight–or the nurses will scold you.”
“Do you think my dad will like it?” RI looked concerned.
“I think so. He will think it’s funny, and that will help him get better. My mom always said, ‘A cheerful heart is good medicine‘. And who knows…your mom might even think it’s a cool book too!”
RI turned over in bed. “Good night, Ahjussi. Thanks for reading to me.”
HS stayed with RI until he fell asleep, then he got up quietly and locked all the doors. He looked down at his sleeping son, and thought about all the things they could do like father and son.
They could build Lego sets together. HS could show him how to fix bicycles too–wait, did RI even know how to ride a bike? HS sighed. There was so much he needed to learn about this son of his. Their relationship wasn’t going to happen overnight. There were going to be a lot of tears and sadness; RI had been lied to for ten years, and finding out how the adults in his life deceived him was bound to cause him a lot of pain. HS resolved to be straightforward and honest with RI. He would have ED by his side to make sure he didn’t say anything wrong, because he didn’t know RI as well as she did. HS knew he didn’t have much experience with this fatherhood deal yet, but he was determined to learn quickly, and make the most of the time going forward.
Here’s another scene that badly needed fixing–From Episode 15, about 51 minutes in:
HS is fishing with his father–who subsequently gives him the worst advice ever to deal with RI. HS’s dad rips his own son’s heart out by telling HS to give up RI and let JH have him. WTF kind of advice is that? I can’t even imagine the pain that HS feels after hearing his father say this to him. HS is so beaten down at this point, it’s truly heartbreaking. He tries to tell his dad that he’s already been denied his son for 10 years, and that he deserves a chance to raise him too, but it’s obvious that he’s going to give up–and give up RI. *facepalm* JH is hardly a fatherly role model for RI–he’s selfish, narcissistic, abusive, manipulating…and the fact that he’s tried murder-suicide once and suicide for himself once is prime evidence JH needs psychiatric intervention before continuing his relationship with RI. I think some supervised visits between RI and JH would be considered generous at this point. Here’s how the conversation should have gone:
HS and his Father are fishing on an overcast summer day. It’s not easy for HS to take a break like this–he would much rather be back in Seoul with ED, but he hadn’t seen his dad too much because the last three months had been so crazy.
“Son, I wanted to talk to you about RI. He’s going to have a really hard time finding out that his dad tried to commit suicide, and that you are his father now. Maybe you should just let him go…and let JH keep being his dad.”
“Dad! How can you say that? He’s my son! I’ve been robbed of the first 10 years of his life by JH! He’s lied to RI–how can he be a good role model when he does things like that? Besides, now that he’s attempted suicide, the authorities will be very cautious about letting JH seeing RI alone.” HS worried that next time, JH might try to kill both of them–just like he tried to do in that car accident years ago with ED. There was no such thing as being too careful anymore–RI had to be protected.
“That man has nothing else…RI idolizes him and thinks he’s the greatest. How can RI ever recover from this? He will have pain in his heart forever if you forbid him to see JH.”
“Dad, I understand you want the best for RI. I do too, and so does ED. I was really hoping you could support us. ED and I are going to tell RI the truth as soon as JH wakes up. He needs to hear it from all three of us. I know he will have a hard time with things for a while….that’s why I hoped you could spend some time with him. Take RI fishing like this, or have him work in your greenhouse and teach him about the herbs and flowers you grow there. He is your grandson too…don’t you want to be close to him?”
“Of course! He’s my flesh and blood…how could I not want that? But I can wait, if I have to, for RI’s sake…”
“I promise you, ED and I are not going to just cut RI off from JH. I thought about taking RI and ED with me to Australia or even back to the US to live, since RI and ED have already lived there–but that wouldn’t work too good for me, since my English is not the best, and if RI can’t see JH at all, it won’t work for him either. Nothing will ever be resolved, and RI will resent me taking him away from JH. We just have to be careful, and take things slowly. Hyun Ah gave me a referral to a counselor at the hospital for RI, and I think ED and myself could use some therapy too. No matter what–I’m going to tell RI the truth. I’m never going to lie to that child. He’s been lied to enough. It’s stopping right here. If I don’t lie to him, he will eventually figure out that he can trust me.”
HS’s dad was quiet for a moment as he thought things over. “How is school going for RI? Isn’t he at the International School now?”
“Yeah, ED took some of the money I gave her from the book royalties and enrolled him there. He is doing pretty well, but I know with the stress that kid is under, his grades will probably take a hit. ED needs to tell his teacher what is going on, so she can explain things to the other students and the gossiping will lessen if everything is out in the open. And I…I need to go in and introduce myself as his father…” HS felt a lump come into his throat. It was overwhelming…finding out you were a father in one day. HS envied other men who had months to prepare for fatherhood–instead of minutes.
“Son, I know it’s been difficult for you, and for ED. I read your book–I wish you would have told me what was happening back when you were 17. I knew something was going on with you. First you were so happy, then you were so sullen and grouchy….I should have said something. Maybe if your mother and I would have known, none of this….” HS’s dad shook his head sadly.
“That’s my fault, Dad. I could have told you and Mom, but…I didn’t. I didn’t want to burden you with my problems.”
“No, as a father, your problems are my problems too! Aren’t you making RI’s burden into your burden? I should have been more aware of what was going on with you. All I could think about back then was that you were going to school, not racing that motorcycle around, and acting more mature. It was selfish of me. I hope you can forgive me. I’m really proud of you, son. I see now that you truly love RI, and you want the best for him. Even if it’s difficult for you.”
“Dad, I promise you…I will take good care of my son. It’s good to know you will help me out too. And Mom…she needs to spend time with RI. He loves to do crafts. Maybe he would like to learn how to cook too…”
HS’s dad was barely listening. “Models…we need to do some of those classic American car model kits together. I guess the rockets are out…remember we made those homemade rockets in the garage, and shot them off at the park…you never did tell your mom about those, did you? ‘Cause she’d have my backside in the doghouse for making those with you, even now…”
HS laughed. “Don’t worry Dad. Our secret is safe. But no more rockets–I think they’ve been banned anyways. They’re pretty dangerous. We were lucky we never got caught.”
“Heh. I know, I know. But they sure were fun! Remember that one time……Oh, look! I got a bite!” HS grabbed the net as his dad reeled in the fish. “Ahh…too small. This one needs to grow a bit more….I’ll catch him another day.” HS’s dad tossed the fish back in the lake. “Timing….it’s all about timing. At least you found RI now, and there’s still time for us all to work things out. Kids are resilient, he will come around.”
MLED had the perfect set up for a happy ending to a melodrama. Up until the end of Episode 13, the writer had steered away from all kind of ridiculous makjang tropes, turning them sideways or upside down; giving viewers hope that this time, we were about to see something different than the usual disappointing ending. Unfortunately, we have been burned again. There’s not much to do about it now, but if we stay silent about it on forums and comment areas, then we only have ourselves to blame going forward. I have to believe that some writer, somewhere in Korea is taking notes about what viewers want to see…with the understanding that a drama today does not exist in a “Korea-only” vacuum. The audience is international, and increasingly internet based–meaning traditional TV ratings need to be thrown out the window like yesterday’s technology. There needs to be a more coherent picture of actual viewership–web, TV, cable, and taking into consideration international viewers as well. Perhaps that is the first step in achieving a better ending–get the ratings monkey off the backs of the writers and give them the freedom they need to fully develop a story from beginning to end without interference.