Love Alarm: Season 2 review
Anyone remember a little drama called Love Alarm? Netflix has just dropped the final half of the story in the shape of Season 2! That means it’s time to dig into our love triangle, the social and emotional repercussions of an app that tells you (and everyone else) your romantic feelings, and find some sort of resolution for our heroine.
SEASON 2 REVIEW
Back about a year and a half ago, we watched Season 1 and fell into the complicated love triangle, and the even more complicated world, that the Love Alarm app created.
For a bit of review, the app was created by a high school student as a way to “show” instead of “tell” his crush that he liked her. The Love Alarm app goes insanely viral, taking over not only the school, but the nation. Soon, all of our characters live in a world where they can’t imagine not having the Love Alarm app. Indeed, the app quickly becomes both the currency and communication conduit of all romance.
In Season 1, we saw our heroine KIM JOJO (Kim So-hyun) first resist the app, then use it, and then abuse it, if you will. The app developer gives her a special feature: a “shield” that will block her from ringing anyone’s alarm — even if she truly loves them. Jojo uses the shield to literally hide her affection for HWANG SUN-HO (Song Kang) and ultimately break up with him + break his heart.
When Season 2 opens, we continue where we left off: a few years have passed, Love Alarm 2.0 is released, and Jojo is still blocking her feelings with the shield, unbeknownst to those around her. She’s long broken up with Sun-ho (who still loves her), and has committed herself to squishy second lead LEE HYE-YOUNG (Jung Garam), who’s loved her from the get-go.
As I recalled my experiences with Season 1, I remembered feeling frustrated by the social reliance on the app that we witness, and how it’s almost weaponized by its users. It lays one’s heart bare — which is fine in and of itself — but it’s how that is used that creates the problem.
The heart is no longer something with unplummetable depths and emotions; instead, it’s totally predictable, quantifiable, and mathematical. You ring someone’s alarm, or you don’t. Someone rings your alarm, or they don’t. Version 2.0 even shows, algorithmically, people that will love you in the future. In short, there’s no room for nuance or subtlety or anything that’s… natural.
Leaving Season 1 with a bitter taste in my mouth, I was hopeful that Season 2 would do what it was hinting at: show us a romance that said “Screw you” to the app, and went full-on analog. Show us that what the Love Alarm app did to society, by monetizing and quantifying love, was not only bad, but deleterious. Show us that love is about trust, and that data-driven guarantees are not guarantees at all. Alas, Season 2 didn’t do any of that effectively, at least to my reckoning.
For much of Season 2, we see Jojo dating Hye-young, trying to convince him — and herself — that she truly loves him. The fact that she can’t ring his alarm is something that they both pretend not to care about. But they do care about it.
Jojo senses that her relationship with Hye-young can’t be legitimate without the app involved, and so she sets on a mission to find the app developer and get the shield removed. There’s a little pocket of intrigue here when it comes to who is, or isn’t, the developer of Love Alarm, but really the main point is that Jojo is given the ability to ring the alarm of her choosing.
Ah, free choice — that’s where we’re headed? Free choice versus Love Alarm makes sense in my head, except for one thing: why does her choice have to be exercised using the app? Jojo is anxious to prove her love to Hye-young, but there’s no other way for her to do it besides the app — and even worse, it’s as if she doesn’t believe her own feelings until she has the assurance of the Love Alarm ping.
Furthermore, even though Hye-young says it doesn’t matter to him, the beautiful bridge scene where Jojo finally rings his alarm is definitely (and intentionally) one of the most romantic moments in the entire drama. So what are we really saying here? She loves him regardless of the app, but still needs the app to express herself? And why did we all but abandon Sun-ho and his passionate heart for Jojo?
If we spend Season 2 following Jojo “trying to like” Hye-young and kill the shield, we follow Sun-ho at an equal pace. He’s similarly “trying to like” his girlfriend-for-show YOOK JO (Kim Shi-eun, who’s adorable but useless here), and trying to understand why Jojo so suddenly stopped ringing his alarm. (It’s been years, but it’s still plaguing him.)
When Sun-ho finds out about the shield, it’s as if the heavy weight of misery he’s been carrying around has been lifted — there’s a reason she didn’t (or couldn’t) ring his alarm. He’s so elated that he tells Jojo he’s not even going to think about the alarm. Instead, he’s going to trust only her eyes. That sounds like a good plan to me, Sun-ho. And I certainly feel something between them. But why doesn’t it work? In the end, Jojo chooses Hye-young, not Sun-ho.
What does this OTP mean for our drama’s theme? I feel like I’m supposed to get some kind of second lead vindication from the fact that our OTP is Jojo and Hye-young — except by the time we get there, it no longer feels like Hye-young is the second lead.
Since Season 1, Sun-ho and Hye-young were set up as digital versus analog. And in Season 2, Hye-young is still our analog boy, with his love of archaic film cameras and radios, and it’s “digital” Sun-ho that’s rejected by Jojo. They had me up until this point.
But then, where’s the logic when it’s analog Hye-young wants his alarm rung by Jojo, and it’s digital Sun-ho who doesn’t care about the app at all? Hye-young might buck the trend and say the long-forgotten words, “I love you” — but that’s not until after they’ve had their relationship consummated by the app (if you will), so the argument loses the punch it should have had.
If I sound disappointed, it’s only because I had high expectations for the social statements we might get from Season 2. The ideas in Love Alarm are so fresh, and there’s so much to pull out that’s relevant for today’s society, that I left this drama feeling mostly the missed opportunities for rich, insightful storytelling.
That being said, Love Alarm does try to show us that Jojo and Hye-young realize love is a choice, so I guess that’s something. Jojo chose to shield her heart from Sun-ho, just as she chose to ring Hye-young’s alarm. But unfortunately, the app is too much a part of everyone’s psyche for that argument to come off completely.
If I could write my own ending to this drama, it would probably have consisted of a shift back to Sun-ho, right at that moment where he said he would look at her eyes for the truth, and not the app.
That could have been the turning point of the drama — where Sun-ho let go of relying on the app’s logic, and Jojo realized that she couldn’t (and shouldn’t) use the app to prove her love to herself or anyone else. I’m surprised to hear myself say this, since I’m generally a second lead kind of girl (and Hye-young embodied SLS in Season 1), but Love Alarm zigzagged so much with its love triangle, and what each end-game would mean, that it undermined itself.
I’ve talked mostly about the Love Alarm ships, not because ships are everything, but because that’s how the logic of the drama was constructed. The ships represent two different worldviews, and Jojo’s choice was meant to signal which view wins.
However, looking beyond the love triangle element, what the drama truly masters is tone. The story is slow and melancholy, and everything from the dialogue to the way the drama is shot carefully builds the mood. Even in its light and breezy moments, and with a rush of cherry blossom petals in the air, there’s something heavy about each scene. Is it the weight of a world where your heart is mastered by an app? Or is it just the weight of Being that’s put under a magnifying glass because of the app?
Either way, Season 2 concludes our story as our heroine finds the strength to navigate this heaviness, and also comes to understand her own heart. She chooses the person that she loves, and gets her happy ending. I just wish it had made a little more of an impact.
- Premiere Watch: Love Alarm 2
- Love Alarm rings in second season with Kim So-hyun, Song Kang, Jung Ga-ram
- Love Alarm: Season 1 review
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