|I wish I’d averted my eyes, too, Kyung Joon.|
So I finally got around to watching episodes 15 and 16 of Big. (And yes, it was just as much of a chore as that sentence makes it sound.) On a WTF scale of 1 to 10, this drama’s ending easily rates a 32.
I find it amusing that episode 4 featured a guest appearance by the work of a Russian writer—Turgenev’s First Love, per the Dramabeans recap. If only the Hong sisters had been thinking about Chekov instead, we might all have been spared a significant amount of frustration and annoyance. But I guess they missed the Literature 101 class when Chekov’s greatest gift to beginning writers was discussed: “If in act one you have a pistol hanging on the wall,” he advised a friend, “then it must fire in the last act.”
This is a helpful reminder to avoid pointless excess, to “make every character sing for its supper,” as one of my own writing teachers put it. If someone had piped up with this tip while the Hongs were drafting Big, I suspect I’d be writing a swooning, sloppy-with-love review of the show instead of shrugging it off as an embarrassing waste of time. Because, after 15 episodes snoozing in Kyung Joon's body, the unused pistol’s name is Yoon Jae.
Whether it’s because low ratings forced a mid-shooting change of strategy or because the Hong sisters need to lay off the crack cocaine, the first half of this drama set up a scenario that the second half had almost nothing to do with. The nifty mystery of Yoon Jae’s true feelings for Da Ran? Unaddressed. Why Yoon Jae was going to LA? Unaddressed. The reversal of the body swap? Unaddressed. Were memories lost and then regained, as posited in the last few episodes? Unaddressed. The giant, glowing, neon pistol that was the centerpiece of the early episodes was not only unfired by the time this drama’s finale rolled around, it was thrown out on the trash heap with yesterday’s dumplings.
I cannot even believe what I just saw: Did the character of Yoon Jae truly never make an appearance in this show’s entire timeline? Did Da Ran never have to face up to the fact that she cheated on her fiancé when he was in a coma? Did Yoon Jae’s family never become a real family? Did Kyung Joon never accept the familial love he longed for? Did Kyung Joon and Da Ran never have to convince her parents they were in love? His parents? Did Yoon Jae never have to let her go?
Sure, the last few episodes were deeply terrible, but I’d checked out a long time before. Big’s trajectory had clearly been out of control for a while (if not since the very beginning), so it’s no surprise that the end result was a catastrophic crash.
As far as I’m concerned, Big’s slow-motion failure began with the time jump at the end of episode 5. Up until that point, the show’s focus was on its compelling cast of characters and the complex web of relationships between them. The body swap was a device that allowed the writers to twist that web of relationships to the breaking point, giving us an opportunity to see what happened to the characters when their every point of connection was suddenly and fundamentally changed.
When the time jump happened, it was as if someone hit the Reset button. While some shows have benefited from this sort of narrative compartmentalization (Will It Snow at Christmas? comes to mind), Big just lost its way. Instead of developing the themes and characters it had created, it turned into a one-trick pony—a saccharine love story stripped of anything like nuance, spirit, or momentum.
Episodes 15 and 16 felt as if the writers were throwing in any old scenes to fill time, intentionally staying away from the heart of things. Did they decide that the boy playing Kyung Joon looked too young to actually hook him up with Da Ran in the end? Did the allure of Gong Yoo prevent them from telling the story they needed to tell? Heck, did he have screen-time stipulations in his contract that made undoing the body swap impossible? The shift away from the show’s original premise might have been one thing if the romance was so epic it couldn’t be denied, but the scenes focusing on Kyung Joon’s relationship with Da Ran were cute at best, and dragged-out product placements at worst.
The Hong sisters may not be Shakespeare, but before thus show I actually trusted them to tell a decent story. How they went so tin-eared this time around I can’t even begin to imagine. I’m not ready to write them off forever, but I’ll be watching any future dramas they pen with a parachute on, ready for a dramatic escape at the first sign of things going downhill, ala Big.