Nevertheless: Episode 1 (Review)
JTBC’s latest webtoon adaptation Nevertheless is off to quite the start. It doesn’t feel much like your typical K-drama at all. Silly hijinks and grumpy heroes are replaced with a story that’s already knee-deep in a lot of mature topics, and is pretty frank about the sexual attraction between our leads.
Note: Coverage will continue with weecaps.
EPISODES 1 REVIEW
Our drama opens with YOO NA-BI (Han So-hee), our rather innocent-hearted heroine, narrating about the joys of being in love only to be utterly humiliated by her artist boyfriend moments later. An intimate moment between the two has become the subject of his latest sculpture, and is in the middle of his exhibit for everyone to stare at.
We don’t have to know anything about Na-bi at this point — we feel for her automatically, and our reaction is as visceral as hers. I was curious about the sort of drama Nevertheless would be, and particularly what Han So-hee’s performance would be like. She does not disappoint. This opening scene is really well-done, and we see Na-bi go from eager art student in love, to a young woman who’s been stripped naked (literally and figuratively) for the whole world to see.
It’s a strong way to start a drama because it’s so off-putting, and so quickly puts us in Na-bi’s camp. But even beyond the story, it’s the way the story is told that makes it so effective, and that’s mostly to do with the filmmaking.
As Na-bi sees the sculpture, talks to her boyfriend, and later breaks up with him, we never get a full shot of his face. Instead we see fragments of his facial expressions, and hers, in such a way that the exchanges feel incredibly intimate — but also so up-close that they overwhelm. We can’t get perspective on the scene because of the lack of wide shots, and likewise, Na-bi can’t get proper perspective either, locked in this moment of horror.
After this galling moment, we back up a bit and get a better sense of our heroine. She’s a student at an art school, and her work seems to be mostly in clay sculpting. The backdrop of the art school is a lot of fun, edgy of course, and full of characters that we’ll get to know more of later. For now, the main sense is that Na-bi is well-liked, but seems to be struggling a bit with her classes. She dreams of studying in Paris, but she doesn’t measure up just yet. Her break-up, understandably, has flattened her spirits, but she doesn’t have much time to mope.
As fate would have it, she’s sitting alone at a bar when a guy walks in, and touches her shoulder in greeting. It’s PARK JAE-UN (Song Kang), but she doesn’t know his name yet, or anything about him really. There’s an immediate attraction in the air, despite the initial misunderstanding, and over the course of the night they talk, drink, flirt, throw darts, and the like. And no matter what is happening, Jae-un is at swoon level 10.
Here the drama again uses its earlier tactic of really close-up and detail-oriented shots as we watch the two interact at the bar that night. Jae-un’s hand on Na-bi’s shoulder. His finger gently tapping her temple. His mouth blowing on her arm as he draws a tattoo on her. The corner of his smile. The butterfly tattoo on the back of his neck. That glance he gives her when he turns up his gaze at her. It’s a bit exhausting to take in all these moments with such intense proximity, but it’s also really effective because it puts us right inside that moment with Na-bi, and it turns up the heat.
But who is this Park Jae-un anyway, and why is he hitting on her so hard? He seems utterly taken with her, and charmed by her innocence, but can we trust this guy? He seems to either know he’s swoony as hell and no one can deny him, or he’s genuinely tractor-beamed to Na-bi. Not sure which yet, or maybe it’s both.
The two part before things can escalate (and after many near-kisses), because Na-bi hears him on the phone, ostensibly with another woman. She tries to forget him, but over the next few days she keeps “seeing” him on campus – they clearly had a high voltage connection that’s hard to forget.
Then things get interesting. One of Na-bi’s friends convinces her to join them for drinks instead of pull her all-nighter in the studio, and who is there but Jae-un? As it turns out, he’s also a student at their school — and one that’s been asking around about her. Na-bi is halfway between swooning and ready to hide in her shell, but boy, Jae-un is a pro.
Even at a crowded table with a bunch of loud, drunk college students, he manages to cultivate this sense of intimacy with her, whether it’s through meaningful glances, whispered side conversations, or wordlessly passing her the snack he saw she wanted. One can’t help but liken them to a gazelle and a cheetah, already engaged in this complicated dance. That dance continues through the rest of the episode, and most likely through the rest of the drama.
Na-bi is already in over her head — that’s easy to see. She is completely overpowered by Jae-un (not that I can blame her), and as she tries to piece together who he is, each detail she discovers only pulls her in closer.
For instance, the metal sculpture that captivated her so utterly was actually his work. Also, there’s the detail that he’s fixated with butterflies. This works two-fold (or maybe even three-fold) in the story. It gives Jae-un a reason to use some flirty wordplay (Na-bi’s name literally means “butterfly”), it gives them both a symbol that connects them — and it also works on a metaphorical level too. Na-bi is surely the same delicate creature as the real butterflies he keeps at his apartment — one is left to wonder if he appreciates the fragility of these creatures and wants to protect them, or if he just likes knowing that he can tease them and then tear them apart. (Can you tell I don’t trust him at all?)
I might be wary of Jae-un at this point, and squarely on Na-bi’s side, but that’s not to say the attraction and flirtation isn’t mutual and reciprocated — it surely is. And while it’s sexy and exciting, there’s also this sense of danger to it, and unwritten questions about what will happen between them as this story plays out.
All in all it was a bold first episode that did what it intended — whether it’s one’s cup of tea is another question. I’m invested enough to see how this plays out, I just have to remind myself that the drama is being quite clear: it’s not going to be our typical drama, whether that’s in content, tone, mood, or any of it. If I don’t expect from it what I usually expect from my dramas, I think I can enjoy Nevertheless for what it is. But when it’s over, you’ll still find me sneaking back to the more sweet, innocent, and heart-filled dramas that brought me to dramaland in the first place.