There are many Kdramas that attempt to surprise us, and many times we can see it 5-6 episodes away. You know the one where the hero fakes his death only to come back, or you know he’s not really dead because there’s two episodes left, and you can’t kill your hero off before episode 16? There was one show that I didn’t see it coming, at all, until it actually happened. It’s one of the only shows that I felt used the element of death and resurrection extremely well and because it did, it catapulted itself into my top five Kdrama list.
Circle is going to be one drama that will be hard to top in terms of its ability to weave two timelines together seamlessly, and how it deftly used its non-linear storytelling to its advantage, and told a much bigger, more emotional, and tighter narrative because of it. It did what I feel the recently aired Memories of Alhambra tried and failed to do in terms of its plot and how it used this non-linearity to keep me engaged and not frustrated.
The whiplash I initially felt going back and forth between the present-past (2017) and the future (2037) did take getting used to. In the present-past, we meet the major characters: Byul, Woo-jin, and Beom-gyun who serve as the axis that this show revolves around. Initially, we are led to think that Byul, or our “alien,” is the key to the mysteries behind the missing twin Beom-gyun, and that Woo-jin (played by the talented Yeo Jin-goo) is befriending the person who is causing his twin’s disappearance. We are also in the dark about who Joon-hyuk is in the future dystopian society set up as “Smart Earth” who is investigating the disappearance of another twin, who he believes is his brother. The amnesia that Joon-hyuk experiences adds to the mystery, because he doesn’t know who he is either and therefore can’t give us any clues who he might be personally. Is he Beom-gyun or Woo-jin, or another character altogether? The viewer has to piece together clues from both timelines to figure this out. But that’s not the only mystery we must unravel. We also have an alien to find, a hacker who is disrupting the status quo to catch, a missing researcher to unravel, a murder to solve, not to mention the second twin in the first time line, and the first twin in the second time line to somehow reconcile.
Where this show shined and where I personally was floored was when both time lines came colliding into each other and there was not a person on the Dramabeansrecap that predicted how Woo-jin would be found in 2037, waking up from a coma, but not him, but his clone, who only remembered things as they were on 2017, and woke up still searching for his missing brother. (And I was just as frantic as that last run-on sentence!) All the while, that missing brother was desperately running towards him in the future. And from then on we are rooted in 2037, with the brothers fighting a common evil. It was very clever, and I have yet to see another Kdrama plot twist that compares.
Because Woo-jin was not the original Woo-jin, but his clone, the show tackled real issues of who a person is fundamentally. Are they the same person or a different “clone” of that individual? If they have the same memories, are they essentially the same person? If they love the same people, are they the same person? But at the heart of the story is a love between two brothers that couldn’t let go of each other, no matter whose memories were erased or whose bodies were decaying.
Then, if that wasn’t enough, the very last five minutes gave us a plot twist teaser because the “alien” was a red herring all along. We never find out how she even came to be, how she found herself on Earth, and what her purpose was originally. And this is why I continue to entreat the drama gods for a Season 2. Well played, show, well played.