Navillera: Episode 1
tvN’s webcomic adaptation Navillera gets off to a promising, heart-felt start as it introduces its two main characters: an old man who dreamed of becoming a ballet dancer before life got in the way, and a young ballerino who’s losing his passion for dance.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
SHIM DEOK-CHUL (Park In-hwan) sits with friends in a funeral hall. One of their circle has passed away, and they lament that there seems to be fewer of them every time they meet up nowadays.
Deok-chul is turning 70 and has decided to give up alcohol for his health. Conversation turns to bemoaning the pitfalls of old age: the long boring days of retirement, their declining health and strength, and the feeling that their time is running out. They ask themselves why they aren’t more upset at their friend’s death, and Deok-chul remarks, “As you get older, you get used to goodbyes.”
After leaving the funeral hall, Deok-chul gets a call from a friend telling him to bring alcohol. Emerging from a shop, he hears classical music playing and follows the sound to a dance studio where a male ballet dancer is practicing alone.
Deok-chul watches him dance through the window, entranced. As LEE CHAE-ROK (Song Kang) strikes his last pose he catches a glimpse of Deok-chul watching him in the mirror, but when he turns around he only sees Deok-chul’s back as he hurries away.
Chae-rok’s teacher KI SEUNG-JOO (Kim Tae-hoon) watches him practice, looking dissatisfied. Chae-rok is due to audition for the National Ballet in a few days but Seung-joo doesn’t think he’s focusing properly. YOO ANNA (Lee So-young), the pianist, defends Chae-rok by pointing out that he has a knee injury and tries to blame the speed of her playing for throwing him off, but Chae-rok disagrees with her and excuses himself.
After he leaves, Anna remarks to Seung-joo that she thinks Chae-rok’s in a slump, and Seung-joo follows him into the break room. He asks whether his distraction is related to his father, and Chae-rok replies that he doesn’t have a father before shrugging off Seung-joo’s concerns.
Still in his black funeral suit, Deok-chul goes to visit a friend in a nursing home, bringing sweets with him rather than the requested alcohol. Deok-chul’s friend tells him that as his body has gotten weaker his mind has gotten clearer, and he’s spent a lot of time thinking about his youth and the dream he never accomplished.
He always wanted to build his own boat and sail on the ocean, but now he’s too old and unwell to do it. He asks Deok-chul if he has any dreams he never fulfilled — Deok-chul doesn’t answer — and urges him that it’s not too late, since he still has his health.
Deok-chul’s family have gathered to celebrate his 70th birthday. His granddaughter SHIM EUN-HO (Hong Seung-hee) asks what he wished for when he blew out his candles, and his wife CHOI HAE-NAM (Na Mun-hee) cuts him off to say that he wished for his children’s health and success, and for good health for himself so he won’t be a burden to them. Deok-chul doesn’t look as though he agrees with that answer, but doesn’t object.
SHIM SEONG-SAN (Jung Hae-kyun), Deok-chul’s oldest son, grumbles about his younger brother being late and then starts making barbed comments about his brother-in-law’s failed political career. Deok-chul’s daughter and middle child SHIM SEONG-SOOK (Kim Soo-jin) takes offense on his behalf, while Hae-nam tries to stop her kids arguing. They’re interrupted by the arrival of SHIM SEONG-GWAN (Jo Bok-rae), Deok-chul’s youngest son.
Seong-san instigates another argument over dinner. He clearly disapproves of Seong-gwan, and warns his daughter Eun-ho that she’ll end up like her uncle if she doesn’t work hard. The atmosphere is tense but none of the other family members speak up in Seong-gwan’s defense, and he says that he didn’t want to come because he knew a fight would break out. Seong-gwan gets up and walks out, wishing Deok-chul a happy birthday as he leaves.
Driving home from dinner, Deok-chul and Hae-nam have a disagreement over giving Seong-sook money. Deok-chul thinks that they should live their own lives now their children are adults, but Hae-nam says that her children are her life.
They drive past Chae-rok, who’s on his way to visit his mother’s ashes. He tells her that he has an audition soon, but that his father is getting released from prison the same day. His phone buzzes and he looks at it to find he’s been sent a harassing message: “You don’t deserve a good life, do you?” There are several more like it in the conversation history.
The next day Deok-chul shows up at Eun-ho’s workplace to take her out for lunch but she says she’s already eaten and has to get back to work. Deok-chul eats by himself and runs into an old friend. They used to work together as mailmen but now he’s doing food deliveries. Deok-chul says that he’s having trouble filling his days now he’s retired, and his friend urges him to spend more time with his wife. As Deok-chul waits for the bus to head home, he sees a poster for a college ballet performance of Swan Lake.
Meanwhile, Chae-rok is working at his part-time job when YANG HO-BUM (Kim Kwon) walks into the restaurant with a group of friends who look like trouble. After they eat he confronts Chae-rok, complaining loudly about how unfair it is that his father will be released from prison soon after he ruined people’s lives. He echoes the text Chae-rok got earlier: “You don’t deserve a good life, do you?” Chae-rok doesn’t respond and volunteers to foot the bill when Ho-bum leaves without paying.
As he’s getting changed after his shift, Chae-rok thinks back to when he was in high school. He was pleading with Ho-bum about his dad’s situation, but Ho-bum punched him, furious that he would ask for help after quitting soccer.
Seung-joo and his ex-wife EUN SORI (Yoon Ji-hye), also a ballet teacher, watch from the wings as a group of college ballet dancers run through their routine. Chae-rok is running late (which seems to be a habit of his). They disapprove of him working, as it takes time away from ballet practice but Sori advises that it’s best to leave him be for now. When Chae-rok’s ambitions grow and his goals become clearer, he’ll quit working on his own.
Chae-rok arrives just in time to take his seat in the audience. In another row Deok-chul stares enraptured as the curtain rises and the performance of Swan Lake begins. Chae-rok watches the male lead closely.
After the performance, Chae-rok goes straight to a chiropractic clinic. The doctor knows him well and treats his knee even though the clinic’s closed. He tells Chae-rok that he shouldn’t be dancing on it, and advises him to rehab it after his audition.
Chae-rok is practicing in the studio and his knee gives way when he lands. He attempts a jump again and again but fails every time. Seung-joo arrives and stops him, angrily telling Chae-rok that what he’s doing isn’t ballet. When they first met, Chae-rok had told him that he followed his emotions when he danced, but now he’s just following the routine mechanically. If he can’t pull himself together he should forget about the audition.
At home, Deok-chul can’t sleep. He tells Hae-nam that he saw a ballet performance today and envied the young dancers on the stage. In 70 years he never had the courage to dance, and now it’s too late for him.
It’s the day of Chae-rok’s audition–and his father’s release from prison. Chae-rok stretches in the hallway while he waits, but keeps glancing at the time. The audition manager surreptitiously tells Seung-joo over the phone that Chae-rok is there, and wonders what his deal is. Seung-joo responds that Chae-rok will be a lead dancer within the year. When his name is called, he’s disappeared.
Chae-rok waits at the prison gates for his father, but he doesn’t come out. A guard tells him that he’s missed him; he was released earlier that morning. Just then Chae-rok’s dad (Jo Sung-ha) calls him from a payphone to tell him that a friend has found him a job and he’s left Seoul. He says he’ll be in touch and hangs up. Crying, Chae-rok calls back repeatedly but his father doesn’t answer.
Deok-chul sits at home looking through an old scrapbook of ballet pictures and articles. Just as he’s about to trash it, he gets a call from his friend in the nursing home telling him not to throw it away.
That night, Deok-chul’s awoken by a phonecall. His friend has killed himself. He kept hearing the sound of the ocean outside his room, so he folded a newspaper boat and jumped out of his window with it. His suicide note to Deok-chul says that he wanted to be happy in his last moment.
The next day Deok-chul thinks about Chae-rok’s dancing as he contemplates the newspaper boat. He remembers watching a ballet dancer through a window when he was a boy and falling in love with it, but his father refused to have a son who wore makeup and danced and would live a life of poverty.
Chae-rok is practicing alone at the studio as Deok-chul watches him through the window again. This time he doesn’t leave when Chae-rok notices him. Chae-rok is annoyed and asks what he’s doing there, and Deok-chul replies that he wants to do ballet.
Seung-joo sits down with Deok-chul and tells him that he doesn’t give lessons, advising him to try elsewhere. Deok-chul has a fanboy moment over seeing the Ki Seung-joo, and says he wouldn’t have come if he was going to give up that easily. He insists that he genuinely wants to learn ballet.
Deok-chul comes back day after day to watch Chae-rok and the other dancers practice, despite the lack of encouragement. He sits in the corner mimicking their movements, cleans the studio to try and earn his keep, and applauds Chae-rok’s dancing, much to Chae-rok’s annoyance.
After watching him for a while, Seung-joo eventually asks him why he wants to do ballet. Deok-chul replies that he’s spent his entire life supporting his family, and has never been able to do anything he wanted to do. He knows he probably won’t succeed, but he at least wants to try.
Later in his office, Seung-joo remarks to Chae-rok that he looks pathetic next to that old man who desperately wants to learn. Chae-rok is offended and says that Deok-chul is the pathetic one.
Meanwhile, Eun-ho has started an internship at the restaurant where Chae-rok works. She’s asked for a recommendation on her first day and flounders until Chae-rok intervenes, then gets told off by the manager.
Eun-Ho overhears other staff members gossiping about Chae-rok’s father, who used to be the coach for a youth soccer team that disbanded after a scandal. Chae-rok’s friend KIM SE-JONG (Kim Hyun-mok) interrupts them to say that he was part of that team and tells them to mind their own business.
Seung-joo can’t stop thinking about Deok-chul’s words, and the look on his face when he watches the dancers. Later Chae-rok arrives at the studio to find Deok-chul already there. Seung-joo declares that Chae-rok will teach Deok-chul ballet, much to Chae-rok’s horror and Deok-chul’s delight.
The premiere was slow, thoughtful and melancholy, giving us a chance to get properly acquainted with our leads. This is clearly going to be a character-driven drama, and I think it was a wise decision to immerse the audience in Deok-chul and Chae-rok’s lives before moving on to the premise of the show. By the time they meet we’re already invested in their characters, and understanding where they began will help us to appreciate the ways in which they’ll change each other.
Deok-chul is in a state of crisis. On the one hand, his 70th birthday signifies that he’s entering into the last period of his life. He’s becoming slower and weaker and his health is declining, and he’s confronted with his own mortality. His time is rapidly running out and he starts to dwell on his regrets and missed opportunities. On the other hand, Deok-chul’s struggled since his retirement, lacking the purpose that employment and the need to provide for his family gave him. Empty days stretch ahead of him. He has at once too much time and not enough. Deok-chul thought that his opportunity to fulfill his dream had passed him by, but with his friend’s urging he begins to question what “too late” really means. He doesn’t want to die with this regret, and decides to use what time he has left to accomplish his life-long ambition of dancing ballet. He may not succeed, but something is better than nothing.
Deok-chul’s storyline this episode really hammered home the theme of time running out, perhaps a little bit harder than necessary. Presumably the writer really wanted to ensure that the audience fully understood Deok-chul’s motivation by giving us so many conversations about old age and death, but it started to feel a little repetitive and heavy-handed. But it’s a universal theme and everyone watching can identify with Deok-chul: who hasn’t missed opportunities that they regret? Who hasn’t had to prioritise reality over dreams? Who hasn’t thought it was “too late” to change? I think we’re all rooting for Deok-chul to fulfill his ballet dreams, although I’m expecting some familial opposition. Hae-nam believes that their role in life is to support their children and grandchildren, and I think she’ll struggle to understand Deok-chul’s desire to put himself first for once.
Chae-rok, on the other hand, is a little bit of an enigma. He took up ballet seriously only a few years ago when he met Seung-joo, around the time of his mother’s death and his father’s incarceration. When we meet him, he seems to have lost his love for dance and is struggling to connect with it emotionally. Throughout the week of his audition his lack of focus can be explained by his preoccupation with his father’s release, but his switch from international competitions to aiming to become part of the National Ballet suggests that Chae-rok’s changing feelings may have been bubbling beneath the surface for a while. Did he want to be in Korea near his father? Did his knee injury change his plans? Or is he simply becoming jaded after devoting so much of his life to a single purpose? Chae-rok seems lost and unhappy.
Right now Chae-rok is dismissive of Deok-chul’s ambitions, but in pairing them together Seung-joo clearly hopes that Deok-chul’s obvious passion will rekindle Chae-rok’s. Two disparate people changing each other for the better after being forced together is an age-old trope and I’m not expecting any major surprises from the plot, but I have high hopes that it’ll be executed deftly enough to create something heart-warming and a little bit inspiring. This premiere was certainly a promising start.