VIP: Episodes 9-16 (Series review)
VIP has just finished a rather successful run, and I have to say the show deserved its ratings. While it was a heavy look at some heavy circumstances, the drama still remained really watchable, enjoyable, and compelling right through to its conclusion.
VIP did take a turn halfway through, though — with a very important reveal — and the drama felt a bit different in its second half. This wasn’t the halfway nosedive so many dramas have taken, filling up airspace with, well, air — what was different with VIP was that it spent its first half asking questions, and its second half answering them.
As I mentioned in the midpoint review, one of VIP’s strengths was its gorgeous way of using gray space. The drama wasn’t afraid to have us guessing, and in fact, sometimes it intentionally misled us — or perhaps a better way to say it is that the drama led us on? And that’s what made it such a great watch.
The primary question to answer, of course, was the who/when/what around Sung-joon’s presumed affair. VIP did such a good job of holding back facts we needed, or giving us other facts that turned our thinking in a certain direction, that I was honestly shocked when the affair was confirmed. Even more than that, the affair was revealed to be with the least likely character, the down-on-her-luck office newbie Ohn Yu-ri.
I liked this development a whole lot less than I thought I would (and I wasn’t really expecting to). But at the same time, the drama doesn’t shy away from showing us the aftermath of broken hearts, trust, and marriages — maybe that’s why the second half caught me off guard, when it started to tell us (or at least explain) the love story of Sung-joon and Yu-ri.
I understand these two characters found each other when they were in need, and that they had a lot of past hurt in common, but does VIP really expect me to take them seriously as a couple while I’m also watching Jung-sun in agony for most of the drama? To the show’s benefit, this section was short-lived and quickly undermined. VIP, it turns out, was not telling us about a love affair at all. Or even really about love. The drama was more about relationships — if you can separate romance and relationships for the purposes of the argument.
It makes sense that a drama that’s tasked with answering questions in its second half has to fill in all the holes with backstory. So, a lot of what we see in the last several episodes of the drama is each character’s backstory. Most importantly, it’s that of Jung-sun and Sung-joon. A door that had always remained shut in their apartment is opened to us, and we learn that it’s the nursery for the baby that Jung-sun miscarried.
If VIP was about showing us the cracks that can form in a relationship, then this miscarriage was the moment, or circumstance, that started that break for Jung-sun and Sung-joon. It’s heartbreakingly told, and even more so because it’s so believable and familiar.
That their marriage never had a chance to repair after this event is frightening. We see first-hand the vulnerability it created in their relationship, and the drama’s look at the fragility of relationships and people is not unintentional. Neither are the mentions of broken glass, cracks, and pieces that Jung-sun and Sung-joon so often use when trying to talk about their relationship.
Speaking of, those scenes are some of the most intense in the drama. Jang Nara and Lee Sang-yoon created this amazing, palpable silence between them that were both agonizing and yet filled with the intimacy that you’d expect between two people who have been married for ten years. The subject matter might be grim, but these two actors made it real.
Jung-sun might be the victim in the affair, but she doesn’t wallow for long (or much at all). In her own words, she “went crazy for a while” and had to solve the mystery around the text message and affair. She goes through a very understandable journey of grief and anger, first trying to hold onto her husband and their marriage, then realizing she couldn’t do so without the facts.
It doesn’t take her (or anyone else) long to piece it all together, since the evidence is there, and Jung-sun is understandably shattered. “Cheating is one thing, but this is disgusting,” she tells Sung-joon. She turns cold as ice (wow, I didn’t know Jang Nara could whip out that much of an RBF), and is hellbent on making Sung-joon’s life as miserable as possible.
It’s interesting that it’s not till much later on that we learn the origins of the text message that started it all: it was Yu-ri who sent it herself. To me, this was one of the most charged moments of the drama — realizing that this girl started a fire and pulled the alarm all at the same time. But it’s also adeptly revealed, with the flashbacks and extended scenes that we only saw short cuts of earlier. Indeed, the mechanics that VIP used to deliver its story make it one of the best I’ve seen in a while.
This method isn’t used just for our main storyline — it’s used for each of our leading characters as well. For instance, we were led to believe that Mi-na was having an affair, and watched her leave home, struggle through the early weeks of her pregnancy, and cross the line for a promotion at work.
However, similar to the reveals around Jung-sun and Sung-joon, when the facts were filled in, questions were answered (and assumptions dismissed). Mi-na and her husband’s storyline was about communicating, making changes, and addressing problems in their relationship and lifestyle. I enjoyed that their story was about a new chapter in their relationship, and the healthiness of communication (and the contrast to the lack of communication in Jung-sun/Sung-joon’s relationship is intentional, I’m sure).
Then there’s Hyun-ah, whose story has been my favorite from the get-go (and Lee Chung-ah is just so perfect for this role). We learned not only about her family’s fall from grace, but finally, the reason for her leave of absence from work. Through Hyun-ah’s storyline, VIP addressed sexual harassment at the workplace and attempted rape — but even more than that, we got to see our female characters joins forces against the hegemony, and heal a lot in the process.
VIP told a story where the spheres of work and home were tightly knit together. While perhaps it was a bit coincidental that all of our main players not only worked for the same company, but either in the same office, or a nearby supporting office, it served to up the ante on many occasions.
As is not advisable (but rather inevitable for a married couple working in the same office), Jung-sun and Sung-joon took their relationship war to the workplace. And a workplace setting that was already interesting to watch got even more so, as VIP wove its exciting tale of love and work and revenge and corporate political battles.
While the drama’s subplots were each equally interesting and well-developed, what they did the most, as a whole, was provide a strong balance for the drama. In other words, while we saw the downward spiral of Jung-sun and Sung-joon’s marriage, and even the break-up of Sung-joon and Yu-ri’s affair, we also saw a new couple come together, and a marriage set back to rights. Hyun-ah’s romance with Cha Jin-ho, for example — and especially the way she learned to open up to him — was the perfect story to offset the disturbing look at Jung-sun and Sung-joon’s crumbling marriage.
I started out my review of VIP’s premiere episodes by saying it “wasn’t a happy drama” — and I can conclude with the same statement. However serious and sobering it was, though, it pulled its final message together beautifully. Jung-sun abandons her fury and revenge; she recognizes their relationship has broken, and finally lets him go. Sung-joon, who seemed as shocked as anyone over what he had done, was left to live with the consequences of his actions (and I must say, I found him appropriately devastated).
In essence, VIP was a lot about letting go, and knowing when to move on. It was a painful lesson for Jung-sun, especially, but I think at its close the drama leaves her a better, stronger character than when she started. Scarred, definitely, but also wiser. She learns that forgiveness is better than hate and anger, and though her marriage was lost, she’s able to make peace with her past, whether that’s the mother that left her, or the loss of her own child.
Even so, it’s relationships that are at the core of this drama, and you can’t watch VIP without asking: What makes a relationship healthy, and stay healthy? What makes it strong and lasting? While I think the drama attempts to answer those questions with the stories it tells, VIP also closes with space for us to ask these questions of ourselves.