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.