Start-Up: Episodes 1-2 Open Thread
tvN’s new drama Start-Up premiered this weekend with a heartfelt introduction to our three main characters, some strong storytelling, and that unquantifiable thing we all know and love so well: K-drama magic.
EPISODES 1-2 WEECAP
In order for our present-day story to be as rich and full as it is, we need backstory to set it all up. And so, much of our first episode tells the story of our heroine, SEO DAL-MI (later played by Suzy), fifteen years in the past when she was a young girl.
Her father (played by the omnipresent Kim Joo-hun) is a struggling business man with a promising entrepreneurial streak. His wife, however, can’t handle their paycheck-to-paycheck life, and decides to leave him. She does more than break up their marriage, though — their divorce also breaks up Dal-mi and her big sister WON IN-JAE (later played by Kang Hanna). When we first meet the girls, they’re super close and determined to keep their family together, but later, In-jae leaves with her mother, and their family is left in splinters.
At the same time we meet a young orphan, HAN JI-PYEONG (later played by Kim Sun-ho, but as a teen played by Nam Da-reum). He’s already won a huge high school award and proven himself an investing genius — but that’s not doing him much good with no roof over his head and no way to earn money.
He strikes up a friendship with Dal-mi’s awesome corndog-making halmoni (Kim Hae-sook), and while she puts a roof over his head (and gives him the mother figure he so sorely needs), he invests her money and makes a small fortune. But more importantly, the two cook up a plan to comfort the heartbroken Dal-mi, and together are basically responsible for the entire construct of the drama.
Abandoned by her mother and her big sister, Dal-mi is understandably heartbroken. Her father might be loving and wonderful (and huge points to her choosing to stay with him, they’re golden and precious), but her grandmother’s plan is to give her a companion that she can talk to and open up to: a secret penpal. Halmoni makes Ji-pyeong write the letters to Dal-mi, which they both come up with. They even give this fake penpal a cool name, which they randomly steal from a newspaper article. A boy named Nam Do-san just won a big mathematics award and seems like a winning sort of person. They like his name, go with it, and before you know it a year-long penpalship is formed.
We’re still fifteen years in the past at this point, and my heart is already in shreds. (What’s it going to look like when we’re a few weeks into the story?) Our young cast is fantastic here, and it’s always a treat to watch Nam Da-reum.
But this backstory isn’t just great because it’s poignant and sweet — it’s also carefully lining up all of our plot points for when we reach the present-day timeline. It’s so much fun to intuit where the drama is going, and know they’re planting the seeds for this complicated, interesting, and totally heartfelt story.
But wait, who’s the actual hero of this story? We spend so much of our time with Ji-pyeong during our opening week that it’s hard not to automatically position him as the hero when we meet him in the present. And yay, he’s made it — Ji-pyeong is now a hotshot venture capitalist who’s both successful, insightful, and as hard-nosed as he needs to be to achieve both of those things.
And he’s also (still) totally sweet, underneath the veneer. When he meets our halmae again after fifteen years, he’s determined to pay her back for her kindness to him, and he can’t do that just by eating out her stock of corndogs on a weekly basis. What is it that halmoni asks of him? He needs to find the real Nam Do-san. And he’s gotta do it fast, because after all those years, our grown-up Dal-mi is searching for her old penpal, too.
Will the real Nam Do-san please stand up? We meet him pretty late in our drama’s set-up, but that doesn’t make it any less delightful. NAM DO-SAN (Nam Joo-hyuk) might be a math genius (past and present), but his AI facial recognition start-up is crashing hard. Do-san and his two friends comprise their company, Samsan, and everything about them seems to be in triplicate: the second syllable of their names, their flannel shirts, shaggy hair, geeky personalities, and total adorability.
When we meet these three they’re getting hunted down by their investors (Do-san’s parents) and selling off everything from their “office” in order to pay the rent and server fees. Talk about an underdog team to root for. (If you need another reason, Do-san knits. That’s all it took for me.)
Ji-pyeong and Dal-mi are searching for Do-san, and both close in on him pretty quickly. Ji-pyeong is first, and these scenes hurt! Do-san thinks Ji-pyeong is approaching him as a VC, but Ji-pyeong is only interested in getting Do-san to meet Dal-mi (as per halmoni’s wish). Do-san is so persistent in asking for an investment, though, that Ji-pyeong is pushed past his patience level. He winds up telling Do-san and company that they’re not worth investing in, and he wouldn’t even consider it.
Dal-mi’s letters are the bright side of this unfortunate interaction, and even though Do-san is in crushed puppy mode, he takes the time to read all of her letters. And whose heart can’t be moved by the candid words of a young girl writing to her secret friend? (Seeing grown-up Dal-mi from afar and having a love at first sight moment doesn’t hurt either.)
Even though Ji-pyeong has stormed out of the picture, and Do-san’s deal to get paid to meet Dal-mi as her penpal of the past is clearly off, he goes to meet her anyway. Because he is a marshmallow, and that is what marshmallows do.
This isn’t just your regular coffee date, though. What’s been requested of Do-san is to dress up and accompany Dal-mi as her business partner for a flashy networking event. And to up the ante even more, that important networking event is sponsored by Dal-mi’s estranged (and highly successful) sister In-jae. Oh, and the mother whom she hasn’t seen in years is going to be there, too. We can see (and feel!) why Dal-mi is desperate to appear successful and happy.
And so, this networking event acts as a massive dose of dramatic convergence — Dal-mi is there to feign success in front of the family that abandoned her, Do-san is there to play a successful start-up CEO out of the kindness of his heart (and maybe wishful thinking), and Ji-pyeong is there because it’s his territory, and because he’s determined to help Dal-mi out, too. After all, he’s the one she had really been writing to all those years ago.
It’s such a great scene, not only because it brings our three characters and storylines together so neatly, but because it’s also so well-rounded, believable, and heartfelt. It’s also one heck of an ending for a premiere week. How can you not want more!
With just two episodes, Start-Up has done a fantastic job with its story — I not only feel like I’m emotionally connected to each of our characters already, but their conflicts (internal and external) feel real and relatable. Also, I love each of them.
Finally, the set-up around Sandbox as this hub and safe haven for burgeoning start-ups (and newbie CEOs) is just great. Can’t you feel it all in the air!? I love a drama that gives us such a rich sense of where it’s going — it feels like a giant present wrapped up and handed to us. We can see what it looks like, and guess what it is, but we don’t know all the goodness that’s waiting for us inside.
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