Watching Big as it airs in Korea has been a weird experience for me.
Usually, I wait until a drama is fully subtitled and available online before starting it. I’m now realizing this means that I spend very little time assessing the show’s ongoing quality—it’s an organic whole when you’re free to watch episodes at will, a complete entity rather than 16 (or more) free-standing episodes that each demand individual scrutiny.
Spending time with a drama that’s currently airing is also strange for another reason: I’m not spoiled rotten the way I usually am when watching older shows. When deciding what to watch based on years worth of online reviews, there’s no way to avoid spoilers. I almost always know what’s coming from the very beginning—the way the OTP will fizzle out by the drama’s midpoint, that the show will take a quality nosedive after episode 12, that the shocking surprise ending involves incest. (Okay. I guess that one’s a surprise to no one watching a Korean drama.) Truly, I’m not convinced that I want to avoid spoilers, anyway; there’s something to be said for the comfort of knowing just what to expect.
This is exactly what I don’t have with Big. Waiting for new episodes to air feels like hanging in suspended animation: there’s no moving forward of my own volition, so I have lots of time to think about exactly where the show stands, snapshot-style, at any given moment. And episodes watched this way take on their own independent identities (“episode 2 was amazing, but episode 8 was kind of boring”) in a way that just doesn’t happen when marathoning an already completed drama (“Dal Ja’s Spring was awesome!”).
At this point, it’s hard for me to judge Big’s quality because my experience of watching it has been so very different from all the other dramas I’ve seen.
Here’s what I know for sure: At the beginning, I loved how Big’s traditional-to-the-bones noona romance was enriched by the drama’s trippy premise and mindfucky storytelling. With each passing episode, though, the former is overpowering the later. After the time skip, my greatest fear was that the changed circumstances would downplay the body swap angle and level the balance of power in the OTP’s relationship, turning Big into a straightforward romance just like all the others. And guess what? That’s exactly what happened.
I still enjoy watching Big and am excited to see where it goes, but as things stand my primary reaction to the show is disappointment. As of episode 12, the originality and excitingly skewed perspectives of the first few episodes have been jettisoned in favor of a slightly above average love story and enough mercenary product placements to choke a blue whale. And now that much of the mystery has been revealed to the viewer it’s physically painful watching the characters slowly, sllloooowwwwllly piecing it together for themselves.
What’s good about this show could still save it—an amazing, knock-your-socks-off performance by a beloved lead actor (although even Gong Yoo’s significant charms seem to be flagging in the most recent episodes, thanks to the underwriting of his character), a compelling central storyline that is chock full the of potential for greatness, and a pleasantly amiable tone and cast that shouldn’t be underestimated.
I could easily fall back in love with Big, provided that the home stretch uses some snazzy narrative sleight of hand to pull the many fragments of this drama into focus. Will that happen? Painfully, the only option is waiting another two weeks to see.
• There are still random mysteries out there:
—Did Kyung Joon’s dad fall in love with his mom, the surrogate? Is that why Yoon Jae’s mom hates them so much?
—Why did Da Ran’s mom have a shaved head, as mentioned in episode 12? Did she shave her hair in protest of her parents’ disapproval of her lover? Or was she being treated for cancer, maybe bringing her into orbit with Yoon Jae’s dad?
—Will Ma Ri’s talismans—and Choong sik’s involvement with them—come back into the story?
—Does the Miracle book have another part to play? Da Ran and Kyung Joon don’t know about it yet, after all.
—Did anything significant happen at the wedding? Why hasn’t the drama included a single scene from such a momentous event? Was another wedding not in the budget? Or are those wily Hong sisters intentionally holding out on us?
—Will Kyung Joon’s body wake up on his birthday, as Ma Ri’s dream seemed to portend? And whose soul will be in it if it does? (I suspect the catalyst for this will be gathering the four family members together in one place—Yoon Jae, Kyung Joon, and mom and dad.)
• When Da Ran removed her ring and put it in a glass in episode 12, it recalled Kyung Joon’s soul-swapping demonstration in episode 2. But in contrast to the earlier scene, Da Ran’s soul is represented by the ring and the ties she has to another person. It’s oddly fitting that such a flat, motivationless character is embodied by nothing more than a symbol of matrimony, while Kyung Joon and Yoon Jae’s souls were embodied by fully-formed beings in the shape of robot figurines.
|In his cups, episode 2|
|In her cup, episode 12|