[2021 Year in Review] Stuck like glue
Originally I wanted to spend my year in review post looking back on the heroes we’ve had this year (#becauseheroes). But then, while covering Dal-li and Gamjatang, I got an idea for a different way to spin my year in dramas: through particular scenes that stuck to my heart like glue.
There were only a few of them. But these small moments and scenes are ones that I won’t forget as quickly as I do the plot points from dramas I’ve enjoyed, but that didn’t kick me in the heart. It’s also been an interesting way to look back on my year in dramas, as I gathered the scenes that stood out to me, and then sat back and asked myself why they actually did resonate so much.
Looking back on my favorite scenes, here’s what I found: one for squees, one for great dialogue, and two for this wistful, yearning that, whenever captured by a story, becomes unforgettable for me. (I guess I like yearning.) Even though the scenes and dramas themselves are quite different, I’d argue that each of them actually contains the same magical potion: when characters are at a pivotal moment and are either letting go of something, or reaching out for someone. Either way, there’s a depth to the storytelling in these scenes (okay, maybe minus Imitation) that makes me hold my breath for fear of missing something beautiful.
4 Favorite Scenes From My Year in Dramas
Drama: Yumi’s Cells
Scene: Broken-hearted Yumi at the bus stop with Bobby
Find it at: Ten minutes into Episode 14
Emotional reaction: Clutching at heart and eyes filling with tears but not sure why
The why: It’s the final episode of the drama, and Yumi is reeling from her sad breakup, and trying to get used to the emptiness she feels in being suddenly alone. The sun is setting and the sky is orange as she waits at the bus stop, musing about a run in the park later to help her fall asleep. Her coworker Bobby walks over, and they have this very simple exchange about being alone, and how to you need to be alone to recognize that in other people. It sounds sad, and indeed it’s quite bittersweet, but it’s also perfect. The lighting is magnificent, the soundtrack at this point is beautiful enough to splinter my heart, and the whole scene is just bursting with emotion without actually being “about” much at all. It just somehow manages to capture this haunting wistfulness, sadness, hope, and promise.
Drama: Dal-li and Gamjatang
Scene: Moo-hak comforts Dal-li as her world shatters
Find it at: End of Episode 11
Emotional reaction: *Gah* How did the writer do this!
The why: At this point in the drama our heroine has been through hell and high water and the last attack is the reveal that she’s adopted. She’s struggling as everyone automatically sees her as illegitimate and questions her love for her father; she avoids Moo-hak for fear of his reaction. When he finally goes hunting around the gallery to find her, they have the greatest exchange ever! The acting is spot on here, but it’s really the writing, I think, that grabbed me the most. The two have such an organic and emotional conversation, first with Dal-li admitting the truth to Moo-hak, and then her surprise over Moo-hak’s non-reaction. Rather than splinter them apart and change how they feel about each other, he uses this information to see deeply into her heart and offer the best comfort ever. In the finest combination of encouragement and humor (how do people even do this in real life anyway!?), he wipes Dal-li’s worries away, makes her smile with his silly joke — and then that smile actually makes her cry. She reaches out for him, smiling and crying at the same time. Ack! This exchange feels so real, and for me, this scene really is the pinnacle of these characters and their relationship.
Drama: The King’s Affection
Scene: Dam-yi’s dream sequence
Find it at: About 40 minutes into Episode 20
Emotional reaction: Hand over mouth to hold back the sobs
The why: At this point we’ve been through 20 episodes with Dam-yi and seen all her struggles. Now, in what seems like her final act of sacrificial greatness, she takes poisoned tea with her grandfather/nemesis so that they can die together and end the feud that’s left the palace drenched in blood. The poison scene is positively brutal, and they both throw up blood and collapse. When next we see Dam-yi, she’s a royal princess in her wedding garb, preparing to marry her true love, Ji-woon. She’s cute and feminine and everything she was never able to be in real life (her brother the prince is still alive, too and they continue to naughtily cosplay each other). All Dam-yi’s beloved people are around her as Ji-woon approaches her by the secret cottage where they first met. The whole scene has this tinge of wistfulness and heartache — it literally feels as if we’ve stepped into Dam-yi’s heart and have seen the life she secretly dreamt of for herself. It’s as precious as it is completely heart-breaking. There’s something in her eyes, too — she knows the scene is too sweet to be real, too perfect to be true. And then it fades out from around her, confirming her fears that it wasn’t real. This scene destroyed me more than the actual ending of the drama, I think because of that feeling it was able to capture: the life she wishes she had been able to live. It’s the first time we actually see Dam-yi’s heart so openly expressed, and the play between her dreams, her reality, and the life that could have been was absolutely heart-wrenching (in the best sense).
Scene: The reluctant but then awesome dance between Kwon Ryuk and Maha
Find it at: Opening of Episode 3
Emotional reaction: The ear-piercing squee that only dramas can provide
The why: No shame — this was one of my favorite dramas of the year, but of all the cute little squees and romance moments, nothing topped the dance that Maha and Ryuk shared on the variety TV show they guested on. Maha has to dance her rip-off of La Rima’s famous number, and she shocks the guests (and everyone off-camera) by walking up to Ryuk and putting out her hand for him to join her. The moment hangs in the air. He’s 100% scoff, yet gets up anyway and walks to the stage with her. She demos the dance moves, and then, BOOM. Just as the music kicks in, he gives her the tidiest nod, and they start the dance completely in sync. The scene is barely three minutes long, but it’s sooooo satisfying and fun. I have watched this scene a thousand times for that tiny nod of understanding, for the way Ryuk’s perpetual scowl lightens into a secret smile while he’s dancing with his girl, for the way they both fall into sync with each other so easily, and for that moment when the ridiculous ear worm of a song kicks in. It’s strangely satisfying to watch them dance this goofy dance together (which is also how I feel about the drama a whole).
Tiny moments, huge tears, and even bigger feels. At first I thought I was disappointed with this year’s dramas (or the ones I chose to watch, anyway) — they didn’t seemed to check all my boxes and I dropped a lot, losing interest. But in retrospect, and looking at these moments that I’ve held on to, it was a pretty good year after all.