We’re halfway through the words bit, guys! (After this and the last one we’ll really get down to business–a screencap gallery). My love for this show isn’t even dented by the almost 3000 words I’ve written so far. I could spend much more than another two posts on this show… but I have you dear readers in mind and don’t want to put you through that. Speaking of which, I’ll stop talking now and get down to the real business: W.
Part 3: The Premise/The Beginning; The Reset;
That’s all we’re covering here, because there’s a lot to say. Let’s get going!
The Premise/The Beginning.
I’m an avid reader. You all know that–the name of the blog ought to tip you off, if you didn’t. Novels, webtoons, manga, drama subtitles, blogs, textbooks, hymnbooks, street signs… I love ’em all. And you also know I’m a writer: blogs, poetry, novels, essays. I might not be a great writer, but I am one nonetheless. And I’ve definitely wondered, along with a plethora of others, what it would be like to actually talk to the characters of a novel. I’m sure I’m not the only one who fantasizes about spending a day in the world of a story, talking to the residents and running from the bad guys. And so far as those desires go, W: Two Worlds was pure satisfaction. I got to squeal as the premise I’ve secretly dreamed of for years legitimately came to life: that is, the characters came to life and I got to watch. Not only that, they came to life under the influence of my favorite actor and writer of all time. So yeah, I like the premise. What is it exactly? Well I suppose you might be reading this review without having watched it, so I’ll run through it for you.
W: Two Worlds focuses, funnily enough, around two worlds. One is the “real” world, populated by lawyers and doctors and manhwa artists and our heroine, Oh Yeon-Joo. The other is the world of W–a webtoon drawn by Yeon-Joo’s father. These two worlds seem distinct and independent of each other… until Yeon-Joo is summoned to the Webtoon and saves the main character’s life. Everything spirals after that as Kang Chul, W’s Main Character, grows interested in Yeon-Joo and rejects the story written for him.
That takes us to the beginning of the webtoon. By this I mean more than just the first episode, the actual beginning of W: Two Worlds. I mean the entire “first season”. I feel comfortable calling it that because that’s what Yeon-Joo herself thought it was, post reset. But more on that in a minute. The beginning season of W fit the premise’s setup perfectly: the perfect hero, the perfect tragic backstory and an exciting life every day. This reflected in the story Yeon-Joo found herself in: every twist came faster than the last and we as viewers scrambled to keep up with the roller-coaster of twists and development. Did anybody else think it was insane that he realized he was a webtoon character in freaking episode four?! I mean, that’s normally the point where our leads are finally getting comfortable with each other–not thinking back on their first two kisses. But it fits so perfectly with the premise we were given, and I love how well it fits with the teasers we were given pre-show: several times they showed Chul banging on the wall between them as though trying to shake off the webtoon holding him back, and that sort of feeling could only come about if he knew where he was from–who he was. The show, like any good webtoon, dispensed with the formalities of getting to know the characters for a few episodes and jumped right in–you got to know the characters along the way.
I also loved how quickly the show dispensed with the “getting to know each other stage” in terms of their relationship. Yeon-Joo started at a “I’m definitely interested in this guy” stage as a matter of character, and Chul had plenty of time to develop his feelings–we just didn’t see it. As a both a webtoon and a drama, writer Song could mess with time on two different levels. She could use one episode to cover three months of time not as a drama trope but as a webtoon device–allowing the development to happen offscreen in a way the audience would accept. It’s not that time skipped because the drama writer willed it, but because the webtoon story demanded it. No thriller webtoon spends three months developing feelings and nothing else–that’s straight up kdrama logic. Instead they tell us it’s later and explain how he spent every moment thinking of her. So when it happens in W not because of the show but because of the webtoon, I sorta mini-cheered. It’s like watching an entire epic fantasy in 16 hours, I’m serious. With an added layer of meta.
To continue with the epic fantasy analogy, I’ll have to mention…
All of my favorite epic fantasies have a moment where I stop and wonder: has this crossed the line from complicated to convoluted? It’s at this point I begin to feel a bit jaded to the incredible twists and turns out of pure self defense. Writer Song is incredibly good at making her dramas epic in just this way (without actually crossing the line), but they do get so heady I normally stop in the middle of them and take a couple of weeks break–it’s just too much to handle all at once. When I rewatch W that’s exactly what I’ll do… right at the reset.
The reset allowed the show to step back and begin to handle the rest of the premise–rI’m pulling from the teaser here, but Chul wanted out of the webtoon. That holds true with what we saw in show: more than anything he wanted to be his own person, and he went to great lengths (even shooting someone, sheesh) to prove his autonomy. The reset both served as conflict to stop his breaking free (he wiped his own mind and history, I come on.Who does that!!), and create a clean slate for him as worked towards freedom (I think he really really regretted shooting Daddy Oh, and I wonder how he would have dealt with it if they hadn’t reset. I mean, he tried to kill himself the first time).
All of those were technical reasons to appreciate the reset, however. They don’t really describe why I love it so much. That ties more into the characters themselves. For me the reset is really when Chul begins to take control of his own life, despite having just given it away: it’s when he decides to play with the rules of his own world, showing a shift in priorities. He demonstrated a lack of interest in acting as the main character–a man driven to find the killer of his family and uphold justice–and began to think about his world as a false construct, something able to be manipulated and played with. He cared more about his world than his purpose inside it, and more about Yeon-joo than the rest of his world. This is where I believe the real shift away from the main character began. Even after the reset this decision to depart from his written identity lingered, changing him. The dichotomy between his desires and the webtoon’s grew ever more stark and edged–raising the danger against himself even as he began desiring a simpler life. How ironic that in an attempt to save what he cared about (no longer in line with the webtoon), he had to become once again that which he now detested: the webtoon’s main character, nothing more.
And so the second half of the show takes on a strange clash of feelings: the webtoon creates situations for conflict and excitement as it’s meant to, raising the stakes and giving our villain a makeover… while Chul does everything he can to break out of this pattern. He fights now not to add to the excitement but to escape it. I think many of the viewers felt this shift and didn’t know exactly how to handle it–it’s not every day you meet a hero who’s greatest desire is to stop being a hero. This “fighting out of necessity” attitude introduced a weight on the story that, while often interpreted as a slowing in the plot, really just introduced a new level to the characters. It’s not often our main character doesn’t want to be the main character. I’d even argue the plot thickened, what with faceless Daddy and the constant world-hopping.
I also think we experienced a bit of the shock I mentioned above: like our characters, we began to wish desperately for a happy ending. Somehow, anyhow, the madness had to stop. We needed a sense of simplicity, of normalcy… stability, some called it. Yeon-Joo and Chul had been tossed about on the whims of the webtoon so much it felt like there were no rules–but I’ve thought about it a lot and they remained intact throughout the drama.Wishing for things to calm down in the drama is exactly what Chul and Yeon-joo wanted from the webtoon too, and that gives me chills. W: Two Worlds not only made the viewers empathize with the characters not just about the plot points but also how they felt about their own story. (Does that make sense, or does the meta hurt?) Think of it this way: I didn’t just feel bad for Chul and Yeon-Joo because her dad had no face and they had a crazy presidential candidate after them. I felt bad because they knew those things happened as the webtoon wrote them, and they wanted out.
It took a while to explain, but that’s why I liked the reset so much. To me it represented the beginning of Chul as his own person, in complete opposition to the webtoon’s plans. The change in tone makes sense, because the characters changed. And that’s pretty darn brilliant, in my opinion.
Thanks for tuning in for this installment of my rant! Tomorrow’s will be the last of the wordy bits, featuring the philosophy, the writing and the ending. That ending though. After that I’ll take a break from W until Thursday, when I hope to have my gallery of the show completed. I’ve never been so grateful be able to screenshot in my life. See you all tomorrow!
Thanks for reading,