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[Alternate Endings] Circle’s unexplored possibilities

By @peridot

Even though there are many dramas whose endings were lackluster, frustrating, nonsensical, or plain old disappointing, when it came time to write about a particular drama for this month’s theme, I decided that I would write about tvN’s Circle. On the whole, I liked this little sci-fi drama centered on the deep bond between two brothers, even though the “Brave New World” section suffered from various inconsistencies and lacked the same dramatic pull as “Beta Project.”

I was most disappointed by the choice to keep Yeo Jin-gu at the end, playing a clone of his original character. One could argue that the drama itself wrestled with questions of identity and the nature of being. What makes someone the person that he or she is? Is identity tied to one’s physical form? Is identity inextricably linked to memories, even if one has not actually lived out the experiences tied to those memories?

I could understand the opinions of my fellow Beanies regarding this choice, but ultimately, I could not help thinking that the writers just wanted an excuse to keep Yeo Jin-gu in the role. I’ll never forget the lively discussions and theories we shared with one another, and the creative ideas. I guess I would love to have seen an older Woo-jin in the final two episodes. I could imagine Bum-gyun as the brave prince of some fairytale, bracing himself against the various snares of the Human B headquarters in order to rescue his brother and awaken him from his unnatural slumber.

I thought I might reimagine certain aspects of the final episode and rewrite a portion of one scene. What follows is a small attempt on my part to change the ending:

The long years of being in a coma have left our Woo-jin—played by Won Bin in his comeback project—with a wasted body, although his mind has been painfully active, forced to constantly relive the events of twenty years ago in order to keep the machine, so to speak, running. These memories, played in a continuous loop, have become a nightmare from which Woo-jin cannot escape, until one day…

As Bum-gyun and Jung-yeon make their way up to the topmost floor of Human B, they cannot contain the hope they are allowing themselves to feel for the first time in a long while. For Bum-gyun, much of that time has been wasted. For many years, the complete absence of memories from his youth had turned him into a shell of his former self. For Jung-yeon, the years have felt painfully and agonizingly long, but her desire to repay Woo-jin for all that he had done on her behalf gave her the strength and endurance to continue.

An unknown force seems to guide them to the right room, one of many in a long corridor. Bum-gyun hesitates for a moment, but following one long, deep breath, he pushes the door, meeting no resistance as the security system has been temporarily disabled.

Though the figure lying on the bed, hooked up to various machines that monitor his vitals, is frail and frighteningly thin, Bum-gyun knows that he has finally found his long lost brother. “Woo-jin-ah,” he cries, embracing his brother. Tear drops begin to fall from Woo-jin’s eyes. Though he cannot speak, his eyes convey a plethora of emotions. “Forgive me, brother,” Bum-gyun continues, “forgive me for forgetting you.”

As to how Woo-jin is able to suddenly wake up after all those years, let’s say that it is due to the power of twin telepathy. Since we are dealing with a sci-fi fantasy, and not a work of strict science fiction, I think that we can just leave it like that.

I imagine Bum-gyun carrying his brother in his arms and escaping Human B—aided by his fellow detectives and the forces of the recently awakened mayor of Smart Earth. I even have no problem with the drama’s depiction of the final showdown and the downfall of Minister Park. But I was disappointed in the failure of the show’s writers to explore the shady corporation of Human B itself. I always thought it would be fascinating to make Minister Park the figurehead of that organization. I simply couldn’t believe that this secret organization would have yielded to Park so easily.

I could imagine an epilogue to the final episode, in which mysterious figures in a dark room in an unknown location (after all, we need to create the right ambience), concede that the experiment of Smart Earth was a failure. Human B has lost Byul’s mysterious cube and Park is dead. But these individuals would see this failure as a temporary setback, not an actual defeat. They have been working behind the scenes for many years. Perhaps they have even gotten hold of another alien and will continue to work towards their goal, which is the total control and manipulation of the human population. They are not limited by the constraints of time and financial resources, and they will never give up.

This brings me to the issue of aliens in the show. I guess that the writers had enough on their plate and couldn’t develop that part of the story. The ending of the show does take us back to the alien question and leaves open the possibility of a second season. I wish we could have found out more about what the aliens were doing and why they landed on Earth in the first place, but we would have needed a longer show.

I’ll just pretend that other aliens arrived at the same time as Byul. Like Byul, those aliens were somehow left behind. They have been living secretly among humans. Perhaps they are conducting experiments—some for nefarious purposes, others out of genuine curiosity. One of those unfortunate aliens finds itself in the clutches of Human B in my imagined epilogue.

In conclusion, Circle remains one of my favorite K-dramas, but I was not completely satisfied with its ending. I wish the reunion of both brothers would have included the Woo-jin we all cheered for and grew to love. I wish we would have learned something about the forces behind the original Human B, and the goals of the aliens, who have visited Earth on more than one occasion. I wasn’t able to write an alternate ending that satisfied all of those wishes for the show, but I thought I would just share my thoughts about some of the possibilities that could have been explored. Thanks for letting me do so.

 
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Won Bin...because why not? Hee!

Kidding aside, I love your imagined epilogue. If this drama decides to have a second season like some other dramas (Signal, Forest of Secrets) are currently considering, your ideas could very well be the springboard for the season 2 plot.

Congrats on a well-written article @peridot !

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A girl can dream, right? :)

Thanks for your kind words. I'm glad that you liked my ideas.

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Congrats @peridot!!!!

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Thank you!

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Personally I think that clone Woo Jin was one of the best things about Circle, because he pushed the drama's central question into the foreground and illuminated it beautifully: what is it that makes us who we are? I also don't think I could have emotionally connected with a different actor who suddenly appeared in the last episode or two. I did really enjoy reading your alternative scenario though, and I completely agree that it would have been great to find out more about Human B rather than bundling the whole organization behind Minister Park. Thanks for writing!

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Thank you. :)

I can understand the importance of an emotional connection, but I still think it could have been possible with the right actor. I guess it would have been a risk.

Thanks again!

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I completely agree. Also I'm never going to complain about Nation's Little Brother being in anything.

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Another great write-up! I thought Circle was very well-done and even the ending would have been satisfying, if we were guaranteed another season. But, we are not, so just leaving it felt incomplete, somehow. I'm one of those that loved the fact Yeo Jin Gu ended up in the 2nd time line, because HELLO! he's amazing and I totally cried when the brothers held each other in the future. I also think that was the strongest indicator that people are people because of their memories, and even though Woo-jin's original body had long passed away, his memories were still living, and therefore, his core, his being, and all that he is was still alive as well. That's my interpretation of why the story ended up this way.

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Like when people say when someone passes away, "He may have gone but his memory lives on." And in this case his memory literally lives on through the clone of Woojin.

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Thanks for a nice new ending @peridot.

I like your epilogue and the rationale of keeping the original Woo Jin for as long as possible. I'd also like to have my cake 🍰 and eat it *Heh*. I'd like for the original Woo Jin to be old and dying and no amount of future knowhow can keep him alive.... therefore the clone Woo Jin is created.

Bum Gyun and Byul rescue both of them. It's a bittersweet ending as the brothers get reunited only to be torn apart by death. It's also painful yet hopeful for Bum Gyun to be constantly reminded of what had been and what can still be by the clone's continued existence.

The question of identity then is not longer tied to just having the memories, but includes recognising that besides the physical and mental, there is another aspect of personhood - call it 'the soul' or what you will - that still determines the uniqueness of every individual person. 😃

I definitely like your take on the epilogue and on getting more closure on Human B and how aliens are hanging about earth, and if there's only Byul or lots others. I'd go for the latter alternative and open up the doorway to a whole series of seasons for the show, with a different alien in each one. 😆 😊

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Thank you!

And I think that you have some great ideas as well. Thanks for sharing them! :)

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Right in the Circle feels, I love it so much

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:)

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Congratulation on your Won Bin's casting @peridot~
hehehe

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;)

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Aww Won Bin as Kim Woojin! I just watched the movie Taegukgi a few days ago and had so much feels from Won Bin. If one's gonna write their own alternate ending why not cast Won Bin! I think he would've made a great grown up Woojin.

Personally, I've always rooted for Yeo Jingoo to somehow appear in the 2037 timeline... (aside from my obvious bias hehehe) but also, it's just what always made sense to me from the get go. I think it's because my mind has been set to that resolution the moment I saw the main poster where half of Bumgyun shows in 2017 timeline without his face (since he's Ahn Wooyeon in that timeline) but shows in 2037 as Kim Kangwoo... while Yeo Jingoo appears divided for both timelines, looking normal in 2017, and his other half looking like a glitch in 2037. Also like what @myheartisomg said, cloning Woojin just makes so much sense for the message that the writers were trying to send. What makes a person, is it his physical body or his memories? It makes such great parallel to Kim Joonhyuk who doesn't have his memories but has his own body, while Kim Woojin no longer has his original physical body but has his memories completely in tact.

If anything... the thing I missed from Circle's ending is some proper closure for the old Woojin. Like finding where he's buried or a tribute of some sort... Just a proper acknowledgement that while Clone!Woojin is also a real Woojin, the Woojin who died still really died.. If that makes sense. xD Also maybe aside from being a clone, I think it would also be interesting to make him into some AI or half android with the real brain of Woojin or something (no idea how possible that is though hahaha).

Thanks for your amazing write up! I've always enjoyed reading your theories previously in Circle recaps.

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Well not AI because he has Kim Woojin's memories after all.

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I really liked the cloning of Woojin because it completely devastated me and had me contemplating existence, memory, family, and the meaning of it all.
"It makes such great parallel to Kim Joonhyuk who doesn't have his memories but has his own body, while Kim Woojin no longer has his original physical body but has his memories completely in tact."
THIS. You really hit on an excellent point.
There's connections between Byul and Clone Woojin since both are not human born. The two of them also have complex memory and identity issues. They both end up choosing to be the people they wish to be.
I really wanted some closure for OG Woojin too. That part really hurt.

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Thank you for your kind words! I'm glad that you enjoyed my theories. :)

I do agree that more closure for the old Woojin would have made some difference. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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I was fine with Clone Woo Jin because there is sci-fi precedent for this (the Duncan Idaho character in Frank Herbert's Dune). My main problem with this show (which I loved) was that Smart Earth appeared to be just an island on Regular Earth. I went into the show assuming we were dealing with a multi-verse concept (like Blue-verse vs Red-verse on Fringe). I would like to know more about how Regular Earth became so polluted and if the destruction was contained within Korea, or if each country has its own Smart Island. Or if only South Korea is left and the rest of the world destroyed. I have so many questions and would welcome a sequel. It was not perfect, but I was pleasantly surprised to see such solid sci-fi writing/acting/production in a kdrama format. I hope we get more!

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I agree with this. I wish the concept of Smart Earth vs General Earth was explored better. We don't really get to find out more about Smart Earth and General Earth as the story goes on, we were left to the info given to us from the first episode. The idea of travelling to Smart Earth was not that clear either. Nevertheless, given the small number of episodes, I'm letting it pass.

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OoOOo Dune reference. YES! I think because of Dune's Duncan and We are Legion Bob's I too didn't have a huge problem with Clone Woo Jin.
I can understand from the posters why you think it would be a Fringe multiverse.
Have you seen 3%? Brazilian show on Netflix. I saw it before Circle and they have a super similar island concept.
Anyways for Circle...I realized from your comment that I had made a ton of assumptions while watching Circle.
**The pollution comes from themselves & the surrounding South East Asian countries that finally overwhelmed most of South Korea so Human B scouted an Island and Smart Earth was created. Human B could have even helped the pollution grow.
**I didn't think South Korea was alone in a destroyed world rather I just think it's like the situations in many countries today...where they had to find ways to live in their environmental devastation.
hahah I didn't realize that I had made head canon in till I saw your post. haha Thanks!

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I have no problem with clones in science fiction worlds per se, but I wasn't too happy with the way clone Woojin was used in the show (if that makes any sense).

I had similar criticisms regarding Circle's world building. I remember asking many questions about Smart Earth itself (such as how it is governed on a day-to-day basis). For a heavily monitored/controlled city, I always wondered how the non-residents could move about so easily.

I get the feeling that Smart Earth was an experiment and that there might have been discussions about creating similar cities throughout the world. Unfortunately, however, this was never brought up in the show.

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I also wanted to see a different actor as Woo Jin in the future, so I'm glad you proposed this alternate ending! Thanks!!

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You're welcome! :)

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*applause*

Your ending is much better. It was a let-down for me that the alien subplot was never addressed. I am certain to be among the minority here but I thought the show could have toned down the comedy and picked a few sci-fi elements to run with instead of throwing in everything but the kitchen sink. I felt because of that the drama didn't have time to answer all the questions it posed and therefore we were left, well, hanging.

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Thanks so much!

I am not a fan of slapstick, over-the-top comedy. I think that humor can be employed in ways that do not compromise the quality and tone of a show.

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I LOVE that you picked Circle.
Circle was amazing. I was so emotional during this series but there were plenty of moments where I had to shush my brain because no show that doesn't make sense. There were lots of lost opportunities to grow different story lines and explain a bit more that were ignored.
Thanks again for giving a different ending!
I definitely wanted a nefarious Human B shadowy masters with captured alien scene. It would have made wayyy more sense to have a project like Smart Earth got up and running.
It was really inspiring to read your post I'm going to think about the alternative ending I would have wanted now. :)

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Thank you!

If you ever feel like sharing your alternate ending, please do so! I would love to read it. :)

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This is one of my favourite dramas but I too felt the final episode lacked something and I hated that final scene.

I personally had no problem with the cloning, since this show was ultimately about identity. The clone was the perfect vehicle for exploring that. My problem was with the alien thing.

I've said it before but Byul was not an alien. Oh yes, the writers say she was an alien but they also say she had human DNA and human brain waves. That makes her a human being, by definition. I still believe Byul is best explained by time travel.

Either way, I live in hope of a season 2 even though I know that's very unlikely.

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