I’m pretty conflicted about Triple‘s end — part of that has to do with the plot, but it’s more to do with the drama as a whole. More on that below.
SONG OF THE DAY
Triple OST – “짙은 바람” by Sub [ Download ]
EPISODE 16: “Ice”
Haru performs a strong short program despite her knee, which starts to pain her mid-program. She grits her teeth and works through it, landing all her jumps and finishing clean. As soon as she’s done, however, the pain is overwhelming and she can no longer stand.
The hospital delivers an unhappy diagnosis: her condition has worsened so she needs surgery right away. Tomorrow, if possible. Hwal wants her to do the surgery, but Haru resists. Tomorrow is her long program, and after her strong short, she’s in third place. They don’t know what will happen after the surgery, and she may never get this chance again.
Haru pleads with Su-in, who, as a former athlete, understands her fears more than Hwal. She says that if she had been in that position, she would have competed too, and they decide that Haru will do the long program, and then get the surgery.
On long program day, everyone shows up to cheer her on. As she takes her position, she looks at Poong-ho’s bracelet and begins. It soon becomes apparent that the knee is hurting her even more than before, and it takes more effort to recover from the jumps that put pressure on it.
Unlike yesterday, the pain is too great to ignore and she falls on a jump, unable to rise to her feet, struggling for an extended beat. The crowd starts to clap for her, and Poong-ho shouts out in encouragement.
With great effort, Haru gets up and continues her program — at this point the music has stopped, and she is skating not to compete, but just to finish. Poong-ho calls out, “You’re the best, Haru!” Sobbing, she takes her bow.
Haru is admitted to the hospital for her surgery. Her father and Coach Nam come to visit her, and her father decides that he wants Haru to come back home with them after her discharge. Haru doesn’t argue, and says that she’ll head down after wrapping up some loose ends.
Poong-ho whisks Haru off to cheer her up, getting her ice cream in the cafeteria. She doesn’t want to talk about her skating future, so with a show of enthusiasm, he takes out brochures of his university to get her excited about the prospect of going to his school. Haru knows that he’s trying to tell her to focus on school rather than skating, and his diversionary tactic isn’t working.
She fights her disappointment over the injury — she had been so determined to take her skating as far as she could go, and it’s a hard thing to be forced to prematurely give up because of an injury. Bitterly, Haru says, “You must be happy about me not skating. You’re always smiling.” I doubt she really means that (it’s the frustration talking), and Poong-ho protests. He says that he was always happy when he watched her skate: “Thank you, skating, for making our Haru happy.”
Later, Haru tells Hwal of her father’s wishes for her to return home after the surgery. She sighs over her sad skating career and wonders, “What do I do without you or skating?”
Hwal tells her she can stay if she wants — she can continue living at his house while going to school. He assures her, “If you want to do something, just tell me. I’ll do it.”
But Haru declines the offer: “This time when I go back home, I want to stay out of contact with you. I want to try that. If I miss you, even if I can’t hold back, I’ll still have to hold back, won’t I?”
As for the others…
The Bond Factory has grown, now employing a team of interns to help out. Hae-yoon’s parents want to meet with him and Sang-hee since he told them they’re living together, which makes her nervous. She even toils over a batch of kimchi to bring along to look more acceptable to his family — she isn’t very good with parents and is afraid of embarrassing herself and Hae-yoon.
On the day of the meeting, she’s a bundle of nerves, and freaks out when she leaves the kimchi behind in the taxi. Hae-yoon tries to calm her down, saying his mother already knows her from high school, speaking reassuringly.
When Hyun-tae drops by to spend another night sleeping in Su-in’s yard, she surprises him by suggesting, “Let’s sleep together.” She means that they’ll both sleep in the yard, which takes Hyun-tae aback. He watches, pleased and surprised, as she brings out her own bedding to join him outside.
And then, Haru says her goodbyes. First she heads to the rink to thank Hye-jin for training with her, and Su-in for being her coach.
Through this all, Haru keeps her emotions fairly calm, but she starts to tear up as she leaves the house, telling the guys (and Sang-hee) goodbye. She tells them, “I really loved living here. I won’t forget it. Thank you.”
As Hwal drives her, Haru muses that they’ll probably return her room to a storage area, like it was when she first arrived. Hwal says that they’ll keep it clean, so she can drop by anytime she wants.
Haru: “No, I don’t want to do that. I won’t see your face or call you anymore. I’ll forget you.”
Hwal: “You’ll forget?”
Haru: “Yeah. But I’ll call you just once every year. On your birthday.”
When Hwal returns home, he sees Haru’s room all packed up. On her bed, she has left him her last note, which he opens to read. It’s the sheet of paper with her footprint on it, from back when Hwal had measured her feet in her sleep in order to surprise her with skates. On the paper, she has written, “I had fun, Oppa.”
Lee Jung-jae gives us a lovely mixed expression, as his face half-smiles, half-twists sadly. Back in her hometown, Haru takes out her skates, crying as though saying her last goodbye.
And then… TWO YEARS LATER.
Bond Factory has grown so large that it now has its own office space. Hwal is the CEO, while Hae-yoon and Hyun-tae have senior positions as directors.
The office is bustling, and the three friends discuss their new project. They’ll be conducting a shoot near Haru’s home, and the other two suggest that Hwal drop by to see her. Hyun-tae and Hae-yoon have kept in occasional touch with her, but Hwal hasn’t spoken with her at all, and his hesitant expression shows us that he’s not really keen on their suggestion.
Sang-hee still has her own business and is busily raising her twin babies. (She and Hae-yoon split up kid duty during work hours.) All her prior fears are now a distant memory, and she has embraced motherhood with gusto. Jae-wook marvels at how much she has changed, but she’s unfazed at being called an ajumma.
Hwal receives a package in the mail, which is the promised yearly gift from Haru. This box contains frozen seaweed soup (the traditional birthday food), which he heats up and eats. He smiles to read her note:
Haru: “Hi, Oppa. Are you doing well? It’s that once-a-year time again when I contact you. This is the second year now, your second birthday. I wonder how many birthdays later it’ll be when I can say happy birthday in person. In… ten years? Twenty years? You can just heat the seaweed soup I sent, so eat up. This is your birthday gift this year. I heard from the other oppas that you’re really busy. Be strong! Haru.”
Haru is now a university student, and sees Poong-ho regularly. Today, he drops by before her class begins, and with his usual charming boldness, he announces himself to the class, “Haru, your boyfriend’s here!” He kicks out her deskmate and earns a few quelling looks from the professor for not paying attention, and she looks at him in a mix of amusement and exasperation.
Poong-ho, who is still skating, is also a frequent fixture at her home, and continues to click along well with her father and Coach Nam. In fact, Haru complains that they treat him better than they do her, buying him particularly nice things to eat. He trains at Taereung, the athletic compound for national and Olympic athletes, and prefers staying at Haru’s place in his off hours since his parents live abroad. That casual comment makes Haru look up in surprise, since she never knew that about him. She asks Poong-ho, “In two years I’ve hardly done anything for you — why do you like me so much?”
Poong-ho asks whether she still thinks about Hwal, figuring that she isn’t over him yet. She answers that she doesn’t know that herself, so there’s no way he can know. He remarks, “Even when we’re together like this, sometimes it feels like you’re somewhere else.”
When Haru wonders who he lives with if not his parents, he marvels in an exaggerated tone, “Wow, this is the first time in two and a half years that you’ve asked about me.” She hadn’t realized that and feels abashed, saying that she’s sorry.
Poong-ho answers that he was raised by his older brother, who is married with children. He feels sorry for being a burden, so now he wants to hurry up and marry so he can set up his own household. (A little leadingly, he asks when she’s planning to marry, but she hasn’t thought it over yet.)
As they eat watermelon, he suggests making a game of spitting the seeds (the goal being to spit a seed and get it to land on their own faces).
He catches her cheating and finds her playfulness cute — Poong-ho leans in forward and surprises her with a kiss. This catches her completely off-guard, and Haru mumbles incoherently before running off to her room — and her flustered expression indicates that perhaps she’s finally starting to see Poong-ho in a romantic light.
Outside, Poong-ho exults, “I did it!”
Hae-yoon and Sang-hee take some time to drink wine together while the babies sleep. They think of how they’ve changed, recalling how they grew up bickering, and promise to stick it out together when they’re both old and gray. The couple enjoys a brief quiet moment before a baby wakes and cries.
Su-in and Hyun-tae are now dating, and when he has to cancel a date because he has to work late, she drops by unannounced to bring the team some dinner. Insisting she’s comfortable, she sits back and waits for Hyun-tae to wrap up his meeting.
It’s nearly dawn when he’s finished, and they take an early-morning walk outside.
Hyun-tae: “Why don’t you propose to me?”
Su-in: “Why would I do that?”
Hyun-tae: “Then, if I did it, would you accept?”
Su-in: “We’d have to try to find out.”
Hyun-tae: “Ah, I see. Let’s get married.”
Hwal surprises Haru by showing up at her school — he stopped by after their shoot and took his friends’ advice after all. They catch up a bit — she wants to become a good coach like Su-in. He asks, “Are you still thinking of being a skating coach? I thought you would find a new dream.” She answers that she’s not sure; she’s just going to study for the time being.
Hesitantly, she asks if Hwal is dating anyone. He hedges (the implication is no, though he doesn’t say that outright), and asks if she is still seeing Poong-ho. Likewise, Haru hedges, saying only, “He’s… just…”
The tone of their conversation is casual and light as she thanks him for coming to see her, and he tells her to give him a call if she ever needs anything. However, the emotion breaks through to the surface when he turns to leave. Haru stops him, tearing up: “I thought that when I saw you, my heart would really ache.” She waves goodbye.
Hwal’s poignant, rueful smile in response just reinforces my belief that Lee Jung-jae was tragically wasted in this drama. He accepts Haru’s goodbye with a wonderful look on his face, all a-jumble with mixed emotions.
Hwal drives away, and Haru rides her bike, thinking:
Haru: “The ice has disappeared. Where have the passion and efforts I poured onto it, and my dreams and love, all gone? Have they melted and disappeared, along with the ice? I’m twenty years old. I’m racing on another ice rink now.”
The screen fades in on Haru, standing on a colorfully lit rink. The above reference to her age indicates that she is celebrating her 20th birthday — the Korean age of adulthood.
She skates playfully to a pop song, and Poong-ho joins her on the ice. All her friends — Hwal, Hyun-tae, Hae-yoon, Su-in — cheer her on from the sidelines, and then join in.
At first I wasn’t entirely sure about the implication behind Hwal and Haru’s last scene together, but now I think Haru’s parting comment means that she’s actually over him. Hence his rueful expression. She says, “I thought that when I saw you, my heart would really ache,” but there’s an implication that adds the unspoken, “But actually…”
Her tears are therefore as much a goodbye to her old feelings for him as they are to Hwal himself. I don’t want to belittle Haru’s feelings for Hwal by calling them a schoolgirl crush, because I really think her love was earnest. Certainly it was a strong, significant presence in her teenage life. But with Poong-ho’s kiss awakening new feelings and her stepping into adulthood with her twentieth birthday, she’s moving onward and the goodbye applies to her old self, too. It was a really nice, understated scene.
I was okay with the ending, although there were little things that I could pick at. Awful, cheesy dialogue, for one. The horrible dialogue really stood out in the last two episodes, because they were filled with scenes that had the characters sitting around musing things in really stilted conversations. You actually had people saying things like, “You know, thinking about it, it’s really interesting how I grew up bickering with you, as we studied together, played together, and fought together.” I had a writing teacher once who pointed out this kind of dialogue as akin to saying, “Son, as you know, I’m your father.” Stuff that the scriptwriter wants to get out and forces her characters to say, but which real people would never utter. It’s a testament to the skill of the actors that they carried off poor dialogue relatively well.
The finale was full of pleasant beats, but as with much of the drama, these moments were strung together loosely — it’s more a series of events than a finale that pulled together a drama’s worth of story and conflict. This drama was never about a central storyline; it was more about six people who live with (or near) each other and go through some tribulations, both individual and shared. This is an aspect that may endear Triple to some, but it’s also one of its biggest failings, in my opinion.
For example, many scenes are enjoyable to watch but don’t further the plot. They establish tone, which is not insignificant, but ultimately that’s not enough — tone is not satisfying on its own, no matter how light and breezy.
It isn’t to say that this style of drama cannot work. My Sweet Seoul took a stab at this kind of looser plotting and did a better job of it (even if I liked Triple better). Even Coffee Prince had its side stories and loose ends, but Coffee Prince‘s side stories felt like an enhancement of the drama’s world, because they had a strong central focus anchoring the drama. In Triple, there’s no narrative anchor so everything feels hazy and vague. Haru is the closest thing to a central figure, but even she didn’t have much of a focal story. She grew up, okay. I appreciate the theme of growth, and Haru’s birthday and skating metaphors support that idea. But a theme is not a plot.
Another key problem with Triple was that the writer painted a picture on the surface, but didn’t think of these characters beyond their most basic use to the story. Maybe that’s giving her too little credit; I’ll amend that to say that if she had created rich interior lives for these characters, she failed to bring those to the surface and left us with very hollow shells. Part of the work of bringing a character to life falls to the actor, but s/he’s got to have something to work with.
For instance, Hwal is an example of a character who is written only on the most barebones level, but Lee Jung-jae totally breathes life into him. Hyun-tae, on the other hand, is a failure of the writer and (I’m sorry) Yoon Kye-sang, who needed to do more than the minimum of reciting his lines and looking sad. I don’t think this assessment is blinded by actor-love (if you’ll recall, both Lee Jung-jae and Yoon Kye-sang are on my shortlist of favorites), and I’ll explain what I mean.
Hyun-tae’s inner conflict is just as strong as Hwal’s; while one has untoward feelings toward his ex-stepsister, the other has untoward feelings for his best friend’s wife. Both men have hinted at some sort of familial discontent which ostensibly explains how they have become who they are now. In fact, I think Hyun-tae even has the edge on this one, because he has mentioned several times how his strict father is disappointed in him, compared to his much more competent older brother, which is probably why Hyun-tae is such a clown. It’s a defense mechanism and an act of rebellion. But do we care about his inner turmoil? Hardly, because it’s barely drawn upon. The whole backstory is thrown away.
Su-in’s even worse, and I think she’s the only character who was truly miscast. Lee Hana is a decent actress so it’s not her ability I’m questioning — but she felt wrong for this role, and her scenes actively annoyed me. She has tons of stuff to work with here — she knows what Hye-jin is going through with her skating, because she was once a champ who hated skating because of the pressure. Does that come through? Not at all. The girl playing Hye-jin is not even an actress by trade and she did a better job showing that dual bitterness-happiness than Lee Hana. (Choi Sun-young (Hye-jin) is actually a former skater who was contacted by producers for a skating consultation; she was given a part but doesn’t plan to continue acting after Triple.)
Furthermore, Su-in cheated on her husband — where did that emotional thread go? Hardly anywhere. She wins him back, and loses him again. She falls for his best friend against her better judgment. Her mother DIES. Given all this stuff, Su-in should have been a fantastically complex character, and instead we got a pile of mopey, mumbly mush. Sorry, Lee Hana, you have been better than this. I expected better than this. To be fair, I don’t blame you, I blame the producers.
These character issues are not only problematic, they’re also symptomatic of a larger problem: the drama lacks verisimilitude. As I watched this drama, I kept feeling like the writer was just making stuff up as she went along. It didn’t feel like she did a lot of character work or world-building — she just plunked down some characters in a setting and played house with them.
Example: Poong-ho has two Olympic gold medals. Yet the drama never plays with that in a realistic way. Yes, a few ten-year-olds squeal over him, but ten-year-old girls would squeal over any oppa as cute as Poong-ho, gold medals or no. A two-time Olympian in South Korea would be a household name — at least at Park Tae-hwan levels. That means his every move would be noted and reported, especially when that involves a girlfriend who is also a national athlete. I’m not saying the drama should have focused on Poong-ho’s celebrity, but if you’re going to create a celebrity, you’d better support that. There’s no depth of truth. The writer could have made Poong-ho a national athlete with no Olympic medals, and that would have worked. Why throw around random buzzwords like Taereung and Olympics and gold medalist? Why create stuff that isn’t supported by the narrative and doesn’t ring true?
Same with Su-in — she’s a former world champion, painted rather like “Kim Yuna in a dozen years.” But as with Poong-ho, these character traits are tossed on like an afterthought, and given no purpose.
Call me old-fashioned, but I want my dramas to say something. It doesn’t have to hammer in an overbearing message, but I want there to be more to a drama than its surface. I want there to be an emotional significance, some sort of point.
Despite my complaints, I quite liked a lot of its elements. Triple introduced me to Min Hyo-rin, whom I’d been tempted to write off as another lame singer-turned-actress. Instead, I got a bubbly, adorable, engaging young actress who may have more charisma as an actor than she did as a singer. It also gave us Song Joong-ki, who is shrewdly building up his career with small but notable supporting roles — one can only look forward to what he does when he finally gets his first leading role. And Lee Jung-jae shows that it IS possible to rise above bad material and still act the hell out of a problematic script. He created a real, wonderful, understated character and even if Triple will do nothing for his already strong resumé, at least I appreciated getting to see him for sixteen hours.
Triple was a pleasant, forgettable watch. It had some nice bits, but still ranks as my biggest disappointment of the year.
- Triple: Episode 15
- Sports dramas struggle to stay in the game
- Triple: Episode 14
- Triple: Episode 13
- Triple: Episode 12
- Triple: Episode 11
- Triple: Episode 10
- Triple: Episode 9
- Triple: Episode 8
- Triple: Episode 7
- Triple: Episode 6
- Don’t trust that cute face of Song Joong-ki’s
- Interview from the cast of Triple
- Triple: Episode 5
- Triple: Episode 4
- Triple: Episode 3
- Triple: Episode 2
- Triple: Episode 1