Graceful Friends: Episodes 1-2 Open Thread
As expected for a tangled story and ensemble cast, we get a lot of introductions in our opening week — strategic glimpses of our graceful friends, their wives, their workdays, and most importantly, the dynamics of their friendship. I came into this drama expecting high-style suspense, but Graceful Friends is more intrigue than suspense, and certainly more relationship-driven than I was expecting. It’s a bit heavy, but I’m not complaining. On the contrary: I’m hooked.
EPISODES 1-2 WEECAP
We’ve been told Graceful Friends is something of a murder mystery, so when we open our drama at the scene of a murder, it’s effective to jumpstart the plot, and also to introduce us to our main players. Our ajusshis are a group of friends that have stayed close since college. But while their relationships look ordinary from the outside, there’s actually a bottomless well of intrigue around each character. The storytelling is tight and dense, so while there’s a lot to take in (especially during all the early exposition), it’s also pretty compelling.
The man at the scene of the crime is our lead, AHN GOONG-CHUL (Yoo Joon-sang). He’s clearly committing a crime of passion, but we don’t learn much more than that. It a rough scene to begin a drama with, but it’s tempered with cuts of his friends talking to investigators about what a kind person he is, and how he would never be capable of murder. And true enough, the Goong-chul we meet this week is all dimples and heart. He’s a devoted husband to psychiatrist NAM JUNG-HAE (Song Yoon-ah)… but perhaps too devoted? They seem like a happy and compatible couple, but nothing is as it looks on the surface — this drama makes sure we realize that right away.
Goong-chul’s buddies and their stories are also introduced to us. There’s JUNG JAE-HOON (Bae Soo-bin), a divorced urologist who seems to be secretly (or not to secretly?) in love with Jung-hae. Then there’s JO HYUNG-WOO (Kim Sung-oh), an adult film director married to a wealthy wife that adores him that he feels stifled by (or at least says so). PARK CHUN-BOK (Jung Suk-yong) might be married to a young wife, but he’s not only having problems in the bedroom, but working himself to the bone to keep food on the table. Finally, we have CHUN MAN-SHIK (Kim Won-hae) who’s treated like dirt at work, and doesn’t seem very happy with his wife, who’s incidentally seeing Jung-hae for her depression.
If you’re a little overwhelmed by all these characters, you’re not alone — there are a lot of players, and their roles might be more convoluted than we’re led to believe at first. Because as we get deeper into the story, that very factual introduction of the characters and their situations that I ran through above seems somewhat false. There’s so much more going on than meets the eye, and we’ve only just scratched the surface. And the drama is not just in our present day, either — there’s also a much talked about incident in the past (20 years ago) that will have an important part to play.
We might open our drama with a jarring murder scene, but it’s the sudden death of Man-shik that actually acts as the catalyst to really start our plot moving. His death hits our ajusshi friends hard, each one grieving in his own way. But it also sets off a chain reaction of events that are set to make some serious waves in our characters’ lives: an unknown woman appears at his funeral and is inconsolable; Man-shik had just sold off all of his life insurance policies and the money disappeared; there is a string of messages between him and Jung-hae; and finally, an important player from the past arrives back on the scene.
This is our femme fatale, BAEK HAE-SOOK (Han Da-gam), who all our ajusshis were crushing on in college. They’re flabbergasted when she appears at Man-shik’s funeral, and it doesn’t take more than a scene or two with Hae-sook to realize how manipulative she is. In addition, she’s got a particular interest in Goong-chul, and he seems just as swayed by her presence now as he was in the past.
Goong-chul and Jung-hae might humble-brag all day about their adoring marriage, but isn’t that a major red flag? It sure feels like one. Seeing Goong-chul affected by Hae-sook’s return confirms something is off behind the scenes, but it’s not just one-sided — Jung-hae has got some serious question marks around her too.
Not only is she newly suspected of an affair with Man-shik, and seems to have some understanding with Jae-hoon, but a new wild card is also introduced in the shape of JOO KANG-SAN (Lee Tae-hwan). The two meet a few times accidentally… but there’s nothing that feels accidental about it after the second time. There’s tension between them, surely, and an even tenser plot stirring up — at the end of this week’s episodes, she’s sleeping in Kang-san’s bed while he prank calls her husband. Agh! Things are getting messy fast.
There is so, so much to unpack already, and I really love a drama that can balance an intriguing and juicy story with depth and intelligence, too. There are a gazillion moving parts to this puzzle, and though we’ve had some clues, I think there are a lot more puzzle pieces coming first, before we start to piece things together.
Amongst all the other mysteries and intrigue is the murder scene that opened the drama — we haven’t gotten a glimpse of it beyond that, and we’re left to wonder where in the timeline that event will occur. It adds to the tension, because we’ve seen something of the climax, and now have to jigsaw our way there. But the more we’re shown, the more questions we have. Are all these incidents connected somehow? They feel awfully orchestrated, but they’re so disparate at this point, it’s hard to be sure.
All in all, it’s quite the strong start for Graceful Friends, and I’m looking forward to where the drama goes next. In its first week, it’s proven itself an intriguing story capable of quickly luring you in — but as much as it hooks you, it also sticks with you. I know this story will be on my brain all week until we get more episodes.