[Plot twists] When you’re dead but not really
by Guest Beanie
Editor’s note: This post contains spoilers.
There are many K-dramas that attempt to surprise us, and many times we can see it from miles away. You know the one where the hero fakes his death only to come back, or you know he’s not really dead because there are two episodes left, and you can’t kill your hero off before episode 16? There was one show that I didn’t see it coming–at all–until it actually happened. It’s one of the few dramas that I felt have used the elements of death and resurrection extremely well. Because of how well the drama handled these elements, the show catapulted itself into my top five K-drama list.
Circle is a drama that will be hard to top in terms of its storytelling ability. The show wove two timelines together seamlessly and it deftly used non-linear storytelling to its advantage, telling a much bigger, more emotional story with a tight narrative. It did what I feel the recently-aired Memories of the Alhambra tried but failed to do with its narrative and plot. Memories also had a non-linear narrative but I felt more frustrated than engaged by the story.
While watching Circle, the whiplash I initially felt going back and forth between the present-past (the year 2017) and the future (2037) did take getting used to. In the present-past, we met the main characters: Byul, Woo-jin, and Bum-gyun, who served as the axis that the show revolved around. Initially, the viewer is led to think that Byul, or our “alien,” is the key to the mysteries behind the missing twin Bum-gyun–and that Woo-jin (played by the talented Yeo Jin-gu) is befriending the person that may be causing his twin’s disappearance.
Then there was Joon-hyuk, a resident of the future dystopian society set up as “Smart Earth.” He was investigating the disappearance of a man he believed might be his twin brother. We were in the dark about who Joon-hyuk was, and deepening the mystery was the fact that Joon-hyuk had amnesia and didn’t quite know who he was either. Viewers had to piece together clues from both timelines to figure out the truth of Joon-hyuk’s identity. But that wasn’t the only mystery we needed unravel. We also had: an alien to find, a hacker who was disrupting the status quo to catch, a missing researcher to track down, as well as one twin in the first time line, and yet another twin in the second time line to reconcile.
Where this show shined, and where I was personally floored, was when both time lines collided into each other. There was not a single person on Dramabeans who correctly predicted how Woo-jin would be found in 2037–waking up from a coma. But it wasn’t the true Woo-jin, he was a clone, who only remembered things as they were on 2017. Clone Woo-jin woke up still searching for his missing brother. All the while, that missing brother was desperately running towards him in the future. From that point on, we were rooted in 2037, with the brothers fighting a common evil. It was very clever and I have yet to see another K-drama plot twist that compares.
Because the Woo-jin who woke up in 2037 was not the original Woo-jin but his clone, the show played out questions of who a person is fundamentally. Are a person and his clone the same person or different individuals? If they have the same memories, love the same people, are they essentially the same person? But at the heart of the story was a love between two brothers who couldn’t let go of each other, no matter whose memories were erased or whose bodies were decaying.
As if that wasn’t enough, the very last five minutes gave us a plot twist teaser because the “alien” was a red herring all along. We never find out how she even came to be, how she found herself on Earth, and what her purpose was originally. And this is why I continue to entreat the drama gods for a Season 2. Well played, Show, well played.
Tags: Theme of the Month