Reflection of You: Episodes 1-2 (Review)
Reflection of You has just premiered on JTBC, and it kicked off with a complicated story that’s somehow romantic, eerie, and captivating all at the same time (melo, much?). I’ve been waiting a long time for a juicy melo to arrive on my plate, so I’m all-in and ready to dig in.
Note: This is an opening week review only.
EPISODES 1-2 REVIEW
We open with a haunting intro that features our heroine and some almost Gothic narration about living in hell but being alive. She narrates: “To me, hell is watching my loved one die for me.” We see what looks like a murder scene, our heroine wiping up blood, and then a trunk sink slowly to the bottom of a lake. If that doesn’t give you a sense of the (melo) drama to come, nothing will. *rubs palms together*
Our heroine is JUNG HEE-JOO (Go Hyun-jung), and when we meet her in the present, it’s a much lighter scene than our intro. She’s in the zone in her studio, sketching away and surrounded by easels, art, canvases, and more — it’s an idyllic scene, but it’s soon interrupted by chaos.
Hee-joo gets a call and then next thing we know she’s in the ER with her young teen daughter AHN LI-SA (Kim Soo-ahn) who’s just had an incident at school. We might assume it’s bullying, but when Hee-joo sees the CCTV footage it’s a hundred times worse: the teacher (a temporary art teacher) is seen beating Li-as on the side of the head with a book, so much that Li-sa has a ruptured eardrum.
As if this wasn’t horrific enough, what’s worse is the non-reaction from the other people reviewing the footage with her. Their connection to the school is implied, but we soon learn that the woman in charge is Hee-joo’s chaebol mother-in-law PARK YOUNG-SUN (Kim Bo-yeon). This is the first example, and then they follow in spades, of how she controls Hee-joo’s life and family.
The more we see of Hee-joo’s life, the more it’s a bit sobering. She’s a successful painter and essayist and has a family she loves, but there’s this undercurrent of tension that just doesn’t go away. Watching their family interactions is unsettling, and Young-sun is all but taking control of Hee-joo’s young son AHN HO-SU (Kim Dong-ha) by pitting him against his mother. In fact, we’re told later by Hee-joo’s sister-in-law that her mother “is trying to take your son from you since you took hers from her.”
That “taken” son is AHN HYUN-SUNG (Choi Won-young), who seems like a devoted husband, and the two seem pretty solid together. However, there are secrets between them. In particular, Hyun-sung is monitoring a man in a coma whom he’s hidden away in Ireland, and it seems like this man is an important player in their past. Because like most melos, the past is a huge component of what happens in the present.
Hee-joo’s family issues are actually the least of her problems, because the incident with the art teacher soon spirals out of control. The art teacher’s name is GOO HAE-WON (Shin Hyun-bin). During their first meeting, she is absolutely feckless when it comes to apologizing for the assault of Li-sa, and infuriates Hee-joo so much that she winds up returning the favor and hitting Hae-won with a book to see how she likes it.
After this incident (which causes much legal and familiar brouhaha), Hee-joo is left with this lingering feeling that she actually knows Hae-won, and this is when the madness truly begins. We slowly realize along with Hee-joo that the two do know each other. Many years ago there was a young art student who taught Hee-joo how to draw and basically set up the artist that she would become. From the flashbacks we see, the two were quite close, and the young student had a near-adoring relationship to Hee-joo. That student was and is Hae-won (then called Hannah).
Lest it sound like all rose petals and friendship at this point, it’s clear that their relationship has a lot of bad blood. Hee-joo references Hae-won as “a person she never wanted to meet again,” and Hae-won is constantly referencing “the incident” in the past, and talking about how forgiveness should not be given (she speaks abstractly, but it’s clear it relates to their relationship).
On top off all this drama is Hae-won herself, marvelously and psychotically acted by Shin Hyun-bin. Hae-won is super strange and comes off as having a screw loose — but in reality she’s about ten steps ahead of Hee-joo at every given moment.
After their first (re)meeting when Hee-joo hits Hae-won with the book, it’s not until later that Hee-joo has a moment of realization: Hae-won had instigated her anger purposefully. She wanted to be hit. This same pattern of manipulation and realization keeps repeating itself every time the women meet.
Hae-won shows up at Hee-joo’s house (ack, it’s so eerie) and begs her unni’s forgiveness. Their exchange is loaded with emotion and subtext, and while Hee-joo holds her own, it’s not until Hae-won leaves that Hee-joo realizes that the apology was also a front. Everything Hae-won seems to do has an ulterior motive, and Hee-joo is always moments too late. It’s super tense and the acting is great; we also have no idea what lies between them in the past and the mystery feels like the elephant in the room.
As the premiere week comes to a close, we get a few reveals that start linking things together. First, that the man in the coma is SEO WOO-JAE (Kim Jae-young) and he’s been “stolen” from Hyun-sung’s secret (probably nefarious?) custody. And to top it off, Woo-jae has been discharged by Hae-won, who, according to the paperwork, is his wife.
After that shocker, we end with an extended flashback, seeing the women in the past when they were close. Hae-won was having her wedding photographs taken, and the two went shopping, which was when Hee-joo bought her the now-infamous green wool coat. When the groom-to-be arrives on the scene… it’s Woo-jae. Even though he’s there as Hae-won’s fiance, there’s something in the air between him and Hee-joo. You could cut the air with a knife (and one of the reasons I love Kim Jae-young is just this — he’s super good at intensity and yearning).
What was between these two in the past? Is Woo-jae at the center of the incident between the women? And a step beyond that, who is actually at fault? Probably the most delicious thing about the drama at this point is that we frankly have no idea. Hee-joo, while we like her as a heroine, seems like she could also easily be nursing unseemly secrets. And Hae-won seems like an insane Ophelia-type character, and I don’t think I’d put anything past her.
There are also a bunch of fun cinematic details going on in the drama as well — things like the constant contrast of Hee-joo’s vivid red to Hae-won’s muted green, as well as the dozens of scenes where reflections are used. Whether it’s seeing our characters via mirrors, or them seeing each other in glimpses and glimmers (like how Hee-joo keeps seeing Hae-won in her rear-view mirror), the idea of perception and reflection is running strong.
For me, this premiere week of Reflection of You was melo done right: a juicy setup, hints at darkness, and a present-day setting that seems sturdy and safe, but is actually rife with secrets. It’s exactly this sort of delicious tension that makes the genre so much fun.