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The Great Show: Episodes 9-16 (Series review)

Aww, this show. You can’t ask much more from a show than that it leaves you with the warmth of genuine happiness and a story well concluded. The Great Show did something different in putting together an unusual combination of plotlines, and it goes on to resolve them the least expected ways.

I think what ultimately works the most for me in the show is that whenever it came to a crossroads or a point of conflict, it always chose the other fork—the road untravelled—which sets it apart from its potential genre-fellows. From the first, it felt like the show fell somewhere between Prime Minister and I and My Fellow Citizens, and I think that’s exactly where it fits on the drama spectrum, both in its strengths and its shortcomings.

Episode 8 left off with Joon-ho about to enter the election fray, and everything on the cusp of change. The battleground of the beginning of the second half is Dae-han’s home ground, Inju Market (where his mother used to have her shop), with the occupants are divided over the use of a nearby plot of land. Dae-han campaigns for turning it towards affordable housing, while Assemblyman Kang’s opposing side want to build an international school.

The decisive strike comes at a public forum on the topic when Assemblyman Kang is attacked by a knifeman, which perfectly demonstrates where the neighborhood would be headed if they invited low-income ruffians to move in. Is anyone even surprised that Kang actually staged the attack on himself for that very purpose?

But he’s playing a longer game than that, which becomes clear when the land is signed over for an extensive luxury mall development. The whole thing is a twisted tangle that tells you interesting things about how power in the world of politics really works. For a start, MAYOR JUNG (Yoo Sung-joo), who’s been something of an avuncular mentor figure to Dae-han, turns out to have been hand-in-glove with Assemblyman Kang, even though they are from opposing parties. I always felt a niggling sense of wrongness about him—he was surely too slick, too genial, to mean it.

The better part of this second half was devoted to the battle between Joon-ho and Dae-han. In a precursor to the regional elections, Dae-han and Joon-ho go head-to-head for an advisory seat on the market committee, which is led by Soo-hyun’s dad (Lee Won-jung). And boy, every scene with Soo-hyun’s parents is pure gold.

Between themselves, they have a running tally for which man scores more Suitable Husband points, which Dae-han is constantly on the butt-end of thanks to being a prospective grandfather with four kids. Joon-ho, on the other hand, has everything: good family, good looks, great job. Both men have feelings (acknowledged or otherwise) for Soo-hyun, but it’s refreshing that Soo-hyun just isn’t going along with the story others want to write for her.

I’m glad that we took the time to properly work through Soo-hyun’s grief. We learn that the accident her sister died in was due to shoddy construction by the same company behind the mall development, which makes their encroachment all the more personal. But neither Dae-han nor Joon-ho have the power to reverse the project. When Dae-han fails to secure the promised payout, the tide turns fiercely against him, and he realizes that the mayor used him to manipulate the constituents.

It’s a stinging betrayal for Dae-han, and his loyalty to his roots outweighs his political allegiances. He essentially declares war on the party leader himself, who retaliates by dropping him as their candidate for the upcoming election, despite practically being a shoo-in. It’s another blow to Dae-han, and he decides to take a leaf from Joon-ho’s book and run as an independent.

Joon-ho is such an interesting character to me. What’s been frustrating about this drama, pretty much to the end, is that every single conflict and bad happening is manufactured by his manipulative father, Assemblyman Kang. The man pulls strings like he’s making his own ramyun, and wherever something is shady, he’s sure to be behind it. Joon-ho has to confront his father’s machinations at every turn, and the fact that much of it is in his service even after he cuts their party ties upsets him in a way he can barely endure.

He’s fuelled by the desire to do politics differently—his entire decision to run at all was from his shame and disenchantment over the way in which his father and those like him conducted their office. But for all his gentle personality and sympathetic nature, he’s got tenacity and the real will to forge his own ways, even when he finds himself being outplayed and outmaneuvered by his father’s ploys to crown him.

At the same time, he has to grapple with his feelings about always coming in second-best to Dae-han, and they have a really intense confrontation about this towards the end. Joon-ho admits this, but having learnt of Dae-han’s great secret—that he cynically used the kids to launder his image—he can’t stand allowing someone like him to become a government official. Stripped down and raw, it’s the culmination of everything they’ve ever thought or felt about each other, and their best interaction in the entire show.

The second lead’s fatal flaw is always that he can’t change, but Joon-ho breaks the rule by proving he can (and that he has excellent sportsmanship). In that sense, both of them are heroes. Dae-han experiences self-doubt and recognizes that Joon-ho is worthy despite his affluent origins, while Joon-ho learns to accept nuance and comes understand there’s more heart in Dae-han than his glib front.

From the moment their campaigns kicked off, I knew the thing I wanted most was for the men to join hands and work together. Though we got that after a fashion, it wasn’t quite the way I hoped for, and as I seem to be saying for most of my favorite things: It wasn’t enough! It’s really such a waste that we don’t get to see Im Joo-hwan in lead roles anymore.

Although the ending brought a really heartwarming wrap-up to all our characters, from Dae-han’s long-suffering aide Bong-joo to quiet little Song-yi, I’m disappointed by how thoroughly the focus of the second half shifted from family to electioneering. The first half really excelled in bringing the most unexpected turns, from the revelation of Da-jung’s pregnancy and her decision to keep the baby, to Jung-woo being forced to drop out of idol-training and moving in with Dae-han, and the threat that came with the return of her step-dad. Nearly all of those storylines ended up at sea for most of the last stretch, coming back only at the end for a neat send-off.

We spend some time (not enough) on Da-jung going to school while pregnant, especially in dealing with the cruelty of her fellow students who make a sport of persecuting her. Dae-han remains disappointingly absent in this episode, but it’s lovely to see the sisterly bond between Da-jung and Soo-hyun flower. Soo-hyun, for all that she lost her biological sister, is a woman surrounded by true sisterhood, not just in the form of Da-jung, but her loyal “gal pals” writer-team, always ready for war at her word.

Dae-han does get a chance to return to true fathering when it comes to Tak, though. When the surly teen is framed for an assault that leaves his classmate badly injured, he tearfully begs Dae-han to believe him. And to Dae-han’s eternal credit, he does, and goes out to gather the evidence that would vindicate him. It’s beautiful and satisfying and Tak turns into a marshmallow for him ever after. Why wasn’t there more of this? I wanted so much more of this.

What I didn’t want was the return of nasty, good-for-nothing Stepdad (Assembyman Kang’s doing, of course), through whom the question of Da-jung’s true parentage is finally answered. He reveals to Dae-han that Da-jung’s mom was raped, not long after she and Dae-han had had their one night. The thought of how much that truth would hurt Da-jung drives him wild, and he’s is ready to give up every last thing to protect her and take that secret to the grave.

That, though, gives us the best, most eloquent, most painful scene of the entire drama—the scene this whole show was made for. As he’s about to step down from running, Da-jung bursts into his press conference to object. With reporters looking on and cameras flashing around her, it’s as if there’s no one else in the room but the two of them as she tells him she used him as much as he used her, and his trembling admission that what she did was what she had do to as a kid who needed help, but as an adult, what he did was unforgivable. It’s such a powerful scene between the two of them, his tears, hers, mine—who said this man can’t emote??

I suppose I should also credit Stepdad with coming through in the end for them too, which is really a decisive point for Camp Dae-han election-wise, as it’s his testimony that finally exposes Assemblyman Kang. Dae-han’s sincerity moves him to shame and he realizes how his kids feel about him isn’t about Dae-han, but about himself, and that gaining their trust was in his own hands all along. He’s their dad, he always had their love—that’s why it was so hard. He just had to not be a jerk.

I’m not sure how I feel about the show throwing one last curveball at the end, once it came to election results time, with that lgsjdfkg timeskip. I guess it’s the show’s way of answering that question: Do the results even matter? What are the truly important things? Isn’t it being able to have the people we care about around us? I guess, in that spirit, I’ll leave it here, too, and say that this was a very good show, flaws and all. Like a family, no show is perfect, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be beautiful all the same, and heartwarming and sincere to the end.

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@Saya, I didn't watch this show, but I might, because I love the way you wrote this review.

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@Saya

I second this appreciation for your writing. You have a way with words that just makes me want to read your work. it is always so full of understanding and detail...yet never feels long.

The one element that kills me with this drama is that its underlying message reinforces that oh-so SKDrama saying..."Avoid people with sad stories".

In a land of inherited depts and kinship, no matter how much we loved Da-Jung - every event only compounded the risks for viewers of associating yourself with such a "sad story" person.

I love that Dae-Han and Soo-Hyun found joy in this makeshift family - but that was against the odds and not without cost. This show is like "Danger Mouse" (different reading for children and adults) - To me, "The Great Show" has one reading for South Koreans who ascribe to that cultural structure - but a totally different reading for those in the west.

P.S. Roh Jeong-Eui (Da-Jung) nearly stole this show for me. She just knows how to get the best out of the camera.

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Thank you, @saya. I watched every episode after 8, hoping it will have more scenes with Dae Han and the kids, but was disappointed that I didn't get more. I agree that the show is at its best when that is the focus. I love the kids, especially the twins.
Also agree about Joon Ho. I wish he had more things to do. Im Joo Hwan is capable of so much more. He is totally underutilized. Even his "confrontation" with his father was not as gripping as I hope it would be.
Overall, I think this show is mediocre. It wasn't bad, but not good enough for me to rewatch.

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I liked this show a lot. Thanks for recapping, Saya!

I loved how the two rivals in the end stuck to their guns and wouldn't let the process corrupt them, however tempted they were to win. I wish more politicians were like this, and also actually won elections. It's idealistic, but maybe I'll live to see it happen one day.

One eye-opening thing for me was the cyber-bullying of Dajung -- trapping her in the chat room with the constant hate comments. I didn't know such a horrible thing existed. Poor kids these days. I hated high school, but it seems like technology makes it 100x worse now.

I went into this drama thinking it would be mostly fake family shenanigans, but there was only maybe one episode of that. The show took a few turns, it was like 3 dramas in one, but that was ok for me. It kept me interested to the end.

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This was a pretty good watch. I, too, wished for more family moments (Daehan and his 4 kids + 1 son-in-law-to-be) than the political moments. The Inju market thing was a drag. They should have focused more on Daehan being a father.

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There was a time in the middle of the drama that I almost gave up watching but glad I didn't. SSH is such a great actor! And looking forward to future works of Roh Jeong Eui =)

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Part 1 of 2

Thank you so much for your review and commentary on THE GREAT SHOW, @saya. While the show abandoned the charming and emotionally-impactful synthetic family hijinks that characterize the first half in lieu of electioneering and behind-the-scenes political skullduggery in the second, it had built up enough good will that it was able to coast to an open-ended conclusion. It hints at future wedding bells for Dae-han and the still-healing Soo-hyun – and eventually for their mini-me counterparts Jung-woo and Da-jung after the birth of their daughter. There's redemption for errant Dad Han and a nice co-parenting deal between him and WDH. A good guy wins at the polls for a change. Best of all, an initially-immature protagonist grows enough to take the high road because it is the right thing to do, his own hopes and dreams be damned.

Here's a radical idea, Joon-ho: Move back to your old district before the next election so Dae-han can have a shot at representing his own home district. That way you can give more citizens an opportunity to vote for an upright, independent candidate. Then you and Dae-han can join forces to make the world a better place. It's easy for you to pull up stakes and move, but not for him because he owns a house and has kiddos in school. Please consider spreading the joy to even more deserving citizens.

WDH and Soo-hyun's parents take a road trip with all the kids on a site visit to a spiffily-revitalized traditional market. A shop offers floating lanterns for the current festival, so everyone writes their wishes. Da-jung wants Dae-han to run for the Assembly in 4 years, so that the powerless will have a voice. Soo-hyun's folks want her to marry Dae-han the following spring. And go to Hawaii for their honeymoon – despite the fact that she has never flown because of her elevator-induced claustrophobia. Maybe they should have launched sky lanterns? Just saying. ;-)

The ending is a bit pat, but it dodges some of the tropes and makjang I was hoping it would avoid. The changes of heart by major villains Kang and Dad Han are a little much, but that lends a taste of fairy-tale morality I can live with. What is satisfying is the way in which Dae-han grows up, and comes closer to achieving his lifelong desire to champion the oppressed. It isn't ground-breaking, but it does have its moments.

- Continued -

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Part 2 of 2

To me, THE GREAT SHOW has been a worthwhile drama reminiscent of such classics BAD FAMILY / FAKE FAMILY SERVICE and STARS FALLING FROM THE SKY / PICK UP THE STARS, and SSH's movie WONDERFUL NIGHTMARE. Yeah, I'm a sucker for explorations of the nature of family, be it blood kin, families of choice, or kindred spirits. I agree that the shift to politics in the second half gives short shrift to the very domestic moments that made the first half of the drama so memorable. But being left wanting more means that the show got it right, right?

Since his turn in BLACK, I have been enjoying Song Seung-ho's increasing strength as an actor, with much more nuanced facial and eye expressions than he mustered in DR. JIN, my first Kdrama. He's got great timing, too. That face-off against Joon-ho was done so well, and showed both actors in top form. I second @saya: Lim Ju-hwan deserves more and better roles, dang it! It may be time for a good sageuk for a change of genre. It has been a while since his turn in SHINE OR GO CRAZY.

Kim Dong-young, who portrays Doo-joon's room mate in LET'S EAT 3 (which I didn't realize until a couple of episodes ago!), has really grown on me. His partnership with WDH is wonderful. Watching him good-naturedly playing horse to "ride herd" (har!) on the irrepressible Tae-poong is a hoot. As usual, I enjoy Lee Won-jong's and Kim Hyun's turns as Soo-hyun's parents. They're right up there with Lee Han-wi and Kim Mi-kyung as Oh Hae-young's iconic folks. Lim Ju-hwan yet again fails to get the girl, but I like how he stands up to his father's political machinations. Thank you, Son Byung-ho, for so effectively portraying the show’s major slimeball politician.

All the kids are scene stealers. I especially like when Tak turns to Dae-han for help – and Dae-han goes to bat for him. It is thoroughly satisfying. As @saya noted, Da-jung's scene with Dae-han at his press conference is another marvelously riveting interlude. Roh Jeong-eui is one young actress to keep an eye on.

On a more somber note, the depiction of merciless school bullying and ostracism inflicted on Da-jung and Tak also crops up in WHEN THE CAMELLIA BLOOMS. I’ve commented on the phenomenon in the recap threads there. Vicious judgment by netizens – and denizens of the unwired realm – extends to adults in both shows. Sadly, such persecution has been a factor in the recent real-life demise of yet another young Korean entertainer, Choi Jin-ri aka Sulli.

Overall, THE GREAT SHOW is an enjoyable drama that often dodges predictable tropes. Having a Wie Dae-han and a Kang Joon-ho on the ballot in our upcoming local elections would be a pleasant “October Surprise.” Thanks again, @saya, for reviewing the series. ;-)

-30-

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Thanks for your brilliantly thoughtful comment! I felt bad skating over lots of big deal things but your comment covers so much of the things I thought while watching, and you've said it so well.

SSH was also great in Saimdang, Light's Diary...a drama that maybe nobody watched but me, lol. But it was the first time I watched him and I found his performance deep and acutely attuned to the character.

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Heh heh heh, @saya, I watched SAIMDANG, LIGHT'S DIARY, too! Despite the half-baked modern time line and the excessive hype, the Joseon story was quite good. The papermaking arc was fascinating, in fact. And I thought that SSH was great in it. Plus he looked absolutely dashing in hanbok. Not to mention that Yang Se-jong portrayed SSH's younger character, and did a dandy job, too. (And now he's a lead in MY COUNTRY, and continuing to acquit himself well.)

Aw, shucks. You're most welcome. ;-) I had to keep a tight rein on my comments or I would have churned out a humongo pseudo-recap. I'm glad I happened to cover some of the same points you had in mind. This isn't the first time we've had a Beanie mind-meld. LOL! ;-) There was a lot of nice food for thought in THE GREAT SHOW, and I found it to be a mostly-relaxing watch. SSH has a nice, soothing voice, and it's always a treat to listen to him.

See you on another review/recap. Thanks again! <3 <3 <3

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@pakalanapikake @Saya
..."I would have churned out a humongo pseudo-recap"...

Firstly, I am so happy @Saya posted these summary reviews - thanks DB. However, This show has way more in it...and no one viewer can draw it all out.

Da-Jung and Tak were 2 incredibly complex characters (seriously, they could be a spin-off). Roh Jeong-Eui was simply compelling early on, treading that line between vulnerable and dogged survival. Tak with way less screen time (much of it moody) still found so many layers. I was intrigued not only by his back story those defences were covering but also his journey to a place he at least felt safer in.

Song Seung-Heon - I don't know what clicked in his brain but since "Black" he has really nailed his roles. Those early Black episodes are still my highlight - such black comedic timing is rare. Particularly when you aren't expecting it from the actor. I wish this script had stayed slightly stronger over its whole run as I think SSH would had so much more to work with.

A man who when pushed sideways by life and events actually found a new way to see the goals he had originally. You could almost see his mind struggling with letting his old world go - and then struggle again to recognise that this wasn't purgatory. He had to re-learn how to live in/with these new realities and find the opportunities within them. It was only then he actually gained a bit of freedom from standing slightly to the side of "normality".

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Ok. But at the end, who won the elections?? I didn't get it. Did Saya write it down??? I don't mind spoilers... not this time.
Second: did soo hyun confess, albeit maybe only to herself, that she liked Dae han?
Third: Did the kids stay living with Dae han or came back to love with trashy real dad?

Again, I don't mind spoilers this time... somebody tell me...

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First: Joon Ho won. Dae Han's aide works for him now. DH still wants to be assemblyman though.
Second: She didn't say it outloud, but chose to ride in DH's car during trip instead of her parents'. She also wrote on a wishing lantern that she hopes to join DH's family next Spring.
Third: Trashy real dad had a last minute personality change and conveniently shipped to Vietnam for work, so kids stay with DH until he comes back. Kids did video call with him every day.
It's one big happy ending for all.

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Thanks for the spoilers. I don't know, but I hate last minute change of personality. I don't believe in them. In order to remain true to reality, trashy dad should have stayed trashy and away forever, but anyway... 🙄

Second: Joon ho seemed to be a better politician from the beginning, better than DH and better, a way better than his father, so I am ok with him winning. DH had good speech, but didn't have a good heart... although maybe he became better through dealing with the children and soo hyun.

Third: I am glad they didn't create an official romance between sh and dh, although I know, it is pointed out subtly, but I didn't feel good chemistry between them, and if I were her friend I wouldn't advice her to pair with DH, not because of his "children" or his job, but because of his principles or lack of thereof.

Anyway, thanks again.... 😉

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You're welcome!🙂 I am okay with the "romance" of DH-SH. I just don't understand why she has to insist to the end that she isn't into DH even though everyone and their mother knows. I get it that there are ppl like that in real life who are embarrassed/shy (I might be one of them). But once you get ousted, then there's no more reasons to pretend.
Well, from my comments, it might sound like I don't like this drama, but I do! It's just that your questions touch upon things that don't quite work for me.🙂

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@javinne,

Joon-ho won by 190 votes, which didn't strike me as a severe trouncing of Dae-han.

I agree with you about not being a fan of eleventh-hour personality transplants for baddies. On the other hand, it made sense to me that Dad Han's own kids preferred Dae-han to him even though he had at first rebuffed them and sent them away. That's because Dae-han truly came around to their plight when it reminded him of what he and his mom had gone through after his father abandoned them. The ex-cop was not a very sympathetic character, to be sure, but he still had enough of a conscience for the twins in particular to get under his skin. (If he had really cared about their well-being, however, he wouldn't have separated them from their big sister and forced them to change schools yet again. His pride -- or was it lack of shame? -- was a big factor in those actions.) As for Tak, at least he had gained some self-confidence after Dae-han unearthed evidence of his innocence, and was in a better position to be a hyung to the younger kids.

I guess what it comes down to is the fact that none of the characters in THE GREAT SHOW are perfect. They all have their quirks and foibles -- Dae-han in particular. But there are good reasons why most of them are the way they are, and part of the fun for me was watching as they all responded to the challenges of their circumstances.

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I am all about redemption for Dad Han, and I totally agree that he is actually nice to his own kids even though he did not seem to care for their well-being that much until the last third of the series. What I find a bit jarring is him acting all chummy like a doting grandpa to Da Jung's kid at their video call in the end. Perhaps 6 months in sunny Vietnam did that to him, but I was a little "huh.." at that scene. :)

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Maybe Dad Han has Seasonal Affective Disorder and should have moved south a long time ago. ;-)

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Judging this is a kdrama, I would not be surprised if he has Multiple Personalities Disorder. We'll just roll with it. ;)

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Or, the writer was simply cheese at the end and didn't know what to do with the character. Honestly, I stopped watching the show in part because to his character and how he abused Dae han taking his money to gamble, And being fresh about it. I hated his ugly face, and Dh let himself steal all his money for what? I knew the guy would show up again to tell the truth anyway. And Da jung should have never accepted such a trashy person to be close to her baby, that is not a message the show should have given. My humble opinion.

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@javinne I think what happened to Dad Han was the writer's plan all along. It aligns with the message of the show, which @pakalanapikake mentioned that flawed people can change for the better, and what Da Jung said to DH at the end, that family isn't necessarily have to be blood relative. Family comprises of those imperfect people that work together to make each other more perfect. I thought that was a beautiful message and really was the strength of the show.
This is message we can see with DH's growth. He gave trashy dad money because he came to care for the kids and actually didn't want them to know how trashy their dad really is. He is already a different DH than the beginning of the show. I just wish we get a little bit of his transformation on screen so it would not feel so abrupt.

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What happened to dae han in the end tho? Like I know he lost the election but what is he doing that he's able to travel so much

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I liked your recap a lot more than the show. It really gave me a more positive light on what I’d been viewing as way too forced. I guess I lost interest when they played into the whole conservative conversation around abortion, it just felt like a cop out of a serious issue. So, im glad I came across your recap. It took out the cynicism that had been ruining the show for me.

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I finished watching this show just now and wanted to add also that it has a great "who cares about bloodline?" message, a nice antidote to all those portrayals of adoptions as second-class family relationships.

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