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Jack Taylor: The Drunken Detective

Having watched the first six episodes of the Jack Taylor series that started in 2010, I’m sorry I didn’t watch it earlier and also surprised that I like it. First off, having only seen Iain Glen in the miniseries Wives and Daughters where he plays a rather unlikeable character, I was surprised how likable I found him as Jack Taylor. Second of all, were he a real person, Jack Taylor, too, would be surprised that anyone likes him, so constant is his drinking, smoking, acerbic attitude, and downright contrariness. He gets in fights and often beat up. His only possessions that he owns are books, and he is well read and smart, but stupidly gives into baser impulses and vices. He is plagued by guilt, both deserved and undeserved. The first episode of the show makes Galway, Ireland, appear way more dangerous and seedy than it hopefully actually is.

Men watching the show might be a bit baffled that Jack has any love interests at all, for he is exactly what many women profess they don’t want at all in a man. However, being a woman, I get it. There’s a certain manly quality to all of Jack’s actions. He’s his own man, even if that means he’s not really nice more than half the time. He may not be there to help you heal from your wounds, but he’s there to save your life. In a show such as this, where one can be attacked at any time, someone who’s willing to protect women and children to the death is powerfully attractive, no matter how unhygienic they might be. Aside from the recurring character Kate Noonan (Nora-Jane Noone), none of the other women want a relationship with him. Why Kate does is mostly due to shared interests and simple chemistry. Sometimes it really just does come down to chemistry, and despite the characters’ age differences, they have it in spades.

Jack Taylor isn’t really a series of mysteries so much as it is following the private detective around in his crazy life. The first episode leaves one considering how this person functions at all, let alone solves crimes. As Jack becomes more sober in episodes two and three, the mysteries become a bit clearer, if rather unlikely. Based on actual events, The Magdalen Martyrs is a standout episode and the most chilling tale out of all of them. The Dramatist reminded me of something from Criminal Minds, and while predictable, was still a good watch. After that, Jack goes back to drinking, but appears to be keeping everything on even keel somehow.

The three main leads in the series are great, more than one realizes while watching, and really only becomes clear upon trying to watch episode seven in which they totally changed the show, getting rid of Taylor’s young sidekick, Cody Farraher (Killian Scott), and replaced the actress for Kate Noonan. After what Cody has been through, it’s not so surprising that he’d move away from Ireland for a better life, but to continue the show without Noone playing Jack’s longterm love interest was a mistake, compounded by the fact that the writers don’t give the audience time to adjust to the new actress, nor do they give the actors room to build some sense of chemistry at all. I did not try any of the remaining episodes, for whatever magic the show had was gone with the changes. Sometimes actors have such good onscreen chemistry with their colleagues that it’s impossible to replace.

Although set in Ireland, the show doesn’t give one much sense of the country, or really of Galway. But it is limited in following Jack, who mostly stays in the seedy, familiar places to him. Even episode six, Shot Down, only gives us a very limited view of the Traveler or Tinker community in Ireland. But there’s also the neighborhood pub Jack hangs out in, the characters who are also musicians, and the drama that Jack exudes, that all connect to a different view of Ireland, a place where people get together in music and story instead of going at each other’s throats all the time.

A key element in the show is Jack’s old regulation Guards coat (the Guards are Ireland’s police force), a dark blue wool pea coat, that looks pretty good considering it’s been in the gutter a time or two. The coat is an instant icon–Jack doesn’t look himself in any other coat–and is the reason I would like to try reading the book series the show is based on. I will be really disappointed if the coat isn’t in the book series, so hope it’s not something the show just added on its own.

The most likable thing about the whole series is simply Iain Glen’s great performance. I wasn’t looking to be impressed, so maybe that’s why it was easy for him to impress me, but I’d never really thought of Glen as ever being a leading man, and he really shines in the role. Some people look better with a bit of age on them, and Glen does. Not sure his accent is truly Irish in this, though the gravely voice is appropriate for the character. Glen also does a great job of connecting with the audience. He plays Jack as always one step away from becoming a saint, and portrays the grizzly alcoholic with his softie, emotional insides often exposed. It’s easy to see why Kate and Cody not only stay friends with him, but explains why they rarely, if ever, chastise him for his lifestyle. They know without question that Jack Taylor would die to save them. There have been many drunken detectives with damaged pasts, but Jack Taylor is different. Maybe it’s the coat, maybe it’s just how much he gets beat up and somehow manages to keep going. I think, though, it’s just that both Glen and the writers manage to portray him as simultaneously irritating as a person and genuine in his affection for others.

It helps that there are only a few episodes, and not a litany of crimes we follow Taylor investigating. In fact, the only episode in which the series becomes humdrum crime of the week type of thing is with episode seven, in which the show was entirely revamped. The series also was inconsistent in Glen’s first person narration. It would often pop in out of nowhere. This a show in which to enjoy mostly the main character, and a few of the others, the setting, and perhaps some elements of the mysteries and crimes, but not a show to be watched purely for the mysteries, which tend to disappoint. Still, it would be fun to see the show continue, albeit with the three original lead actors back in place. Although a character piece, Jack isn’t Jack without Kate, and is better with Cody on the scene.

Doc Martin: Tactless and smart–lovable

The Oxford American dictionary defines tactless as “having or showing a lack of adroitness and sensitivity in dealing with others or with difficult issues.” We’ve all been tactless at one time or another, but as we grow and change, most of us become adept at delivering the truth of what we think in soft ways, especially to those we care about. Some, often very brilliant, smart people never learn tact. As awful as their manner is, there can be something refreshing about someone who gives one bad news or a brutal opinion point blank with no couching or frills attached.

The British show, Doc Martin (2004–?) follows one such brilliant doctor as he runs into one frustration after giving up a great career in the city and moving to a small seaside town. Dr. Martin Ellingham as played by Martin Clunes is a bit of a bulldog in a china shop. He cares more about having things the way he wants them and getting things done than worrying about hurt feelings or social norms. Despite initial appearances, the town of Port Wenn is a perfect match for him–the people there don’t really care much about his feelings, either. They, too, are a tactless lot, though a bit subtler, and Doc Martin’s brashness simply encourages them to be more so, for he is a person on which they can dump their true feelings without worry that he’ll be unrecoverably wounded. Truly, he is a gift to them, and despite the anger that often ensues, there’s something healthy about a group of people who can and do discuss things openly. It’s almost American, except we do tend to paint a veneer of “nice” and “happy” on our honesty.

So far I’ve only watched Season 1, but find both Port Wenn and Doc Martin (everyone refuses to call him Dr. Ellingham) charming in their irritating tactlessness and little quirks. The writing and stories are great, as they somehow manage to touch the viewer’s hearts as well, often hitting more emotional notes than more overly sentimental shows do. There’s something real life about the way the characters go about their business, from the infuriating receptionist, Elaine (Lucy Punch), who wouldn’t know the meaning of professionalism if it knocked her over in the street, to father and son plumber duo, Ben and Al Large (Ian McNeice and Joe Absolom), the first who can’t stop talking and the second who overindulges his father and finds his way in life in jerks and starts. Martin’s Aunt Joan (Stephanie Cole) is a treat, an older independent woman who treats her nephew with a matter-of-fact sort of love and has no problem calling him out when necessary. Martin’s possible love interest, schoolteacher Louisa Glasson (Caroline Catz) while initially appalled by his lack of tact, is tuned into his alpha brashness, and it’s amusing how her obvious fluster around him barely phases Martin. For all his tact, Martin doesn’t quite manage to ask her out, but then he’s got so much on his mind.

Doc Martin is both picturesque and strange–one never knows where each episode is going to go. Its humor is more relatable to me than other British shows, and, again, there’s maybe something similar to American culture in it, though I can’t say exactly what. Initially, I was hoping this was a doc who solves murder mysteries, but the mysteries are more those of the human heart and behaviors and how medical situations bring them to light. As the town is bunched up by the sea it has a contained world feel, and the Britain of London or Jane Austen, or Sherlock seems far, far away. It’s a lovable show with lovable characters who at first seem anything but, but it’s the constant, situational humor that draws one in, that and Clunes’ performance, for he manages to just make Doc Martin just awkward enough in the right ways, a man who cares enough about people’s health to tell them the truth. Martin has a softer side, and an interesting fear of blood for a doctor. As Port Wenn has just as much trouble with tact as he does, it’s easy for viewers to relate to his frustration. He’s less of a jerk than say HOUSE (Hugh Laurie) or Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) are, but just as smart.

Looking forward to continuing the series and enjoying watching a British show that isn’t a murder mystery for once, though I do love their murder mysteries. Up next week: Library Wars manga series–yes, Japan is still following me!

Annihilation/Silver Spoon/The Hour

Here’s some quick reviews for this week:

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer. This book was kindly loaned to me by my brother-in-law. Watched the movie with Natalie Portman and it was easily one of the most gross and disturbing movies I have ever seen – and I have seen an embarrassing amount of movies. Still, something about the story intrigued me and I wanted to try the book.

The story follows a group of women scientists of different types, all of whom remain nameless, as they make up an 11th? 12th? (I can’t remember, and it doesn’t really matter) expedition into an unknown alien area that resembles Florida. From the start, it’s clear that they have been told nothing that would actually help them figure out what’s going on in this strange environment, and it’s never clear why. Because the main character is a biologist, a lot of focus is put on the natural world, and it’s refreshing to follow a sci-fi story that not a fantasy set in space, or a drama with science-y surroundings, or, really, that’s it’s just not set in space. Annihilation is a book I would call true science fiction, and had me thinking of Day of the Triffids for some reason, another story I would put clearly in science fiction.

Thankfully, the book is much less gruesome than the movie, though just as unsettling as we follow the biologist whilst she morphs into something other than human. An alien? I have no idea, but it is the first book in a trilogy called The Southern Reach, so maybe the other two books explain more about what’s going on. Much like the biologist grew up studying tide pools, her story, too, is something of a tide pool study. The reader is reading a narrative of her observing herself in this new environment. Unfortunately, observation does not equal explanation or lead to the truth of what is happening in this land beyond a border that may or may not exist. Some parts seem it may be simply a journey of her mind, others indicate an alien takeover slowly creeping over the world. That her observations give little answers to, well, anything, was not lost on me. Can this be a criticism of “science” as a whole? The answers that we’ve come up with in observing our world, are they something scientists simply make up? Are our stories of what’s going on on our planet actually true? If we think about it, we can probably remember times when we saw something–a frown, or an argument, or what have you, assumed what was going on, and later, in talking with the people or simply gaining more information, we found that the conclusions we jumped to were incorrect. Observation on its own, was simply not enough. Food for thought.

Silver Spoon by Hiromu Arakawa. I am not obsessed with Japan or Japanese culture—really! I just have, and have always had, friends who are, mostly Millennials. Sometimes I ask myself: Why are so many Millennials obsessed with Japanese stuff? Anime, Manga, the food, the everything? The planners? Ok, don’t get me started on more planning stuff! And then I remember, oh, yeah, there’s plenty of Gen X-ers obsessed with Japan, too. The blame surely falls on Pokemon, somehow, and I have no doubt that a large portion of Generation Z, too, will have the love of all things Japanese. Me, I’m more fond of China, mostly because I lived there, and I like S. Korean drams, but I’m not sure I could breathe in their culture. Same with Japan. But I’ve never been to either country, so it’s really hard to say for sure. Anyway, the point is, Japan is following me, I am not following it.

This was my first time really trying to read a Manga book, or Japanese comic book. I have seen several of the more popular Anime movies in the past decade, so am a bit familiar with how Japanese storytellers tell their stories. And it’s still always so unexpected. At first, I was really dizzy and cross-eyed from trying to read book one of Silver Spoon. Being left-handed, you’d think reading a book from R to L instead of L to R would be easy. Nope. And after having finished the book, it still feels awkward, but I’m really glad I pushed on and read the whole thing.

Silver Spoon is hilarious! It’s about a boy named Yuugo Hachiken who decides to go to an Agricultural high school, thinking it will be easy. Boy, is he ever wrong. As a mostly city person myself, I found I shared some of his freakouts about this strange world of land and farm. In thinking that technology has solved everything, we city people so often forget just how hard and long that the people who run farms and grow the food actually work. People who don’t read Manga, or graphic novels, or even comics often forget that they aren’t all about super heroes and they are not all for kids. Like novels, the genre does offer quite a variety if you know where to look, and if you have a friend who’s obsessed with Japan, they will know just where to direct you. [As an aside, the Japanese anime Weathering with You is awesome. I haven’t written a review of it because I want to see it again before doing so, but have no idea when that will be.]

The Hour. Although I really love the actors in this BBC drama, especially Ben Whishaw (Perfume: The Story of a Murder), and Romola Garai (best Emma ever!), I just couldn’t get into this series. One episode away from finishing season one, or series one, I found I was bored to tears. The plot wasn’t really moving, and the characters had flatlined. Part of it, is the increasing problem with most stories, whether books or movies put out nowadays: Censorship. Not the censorship of old keeping smut off the screen or foul language at bay, no, this new forced “wokeness” that everyone has to conform to actually involves putting smut and bad language on because the stories need to be “real” or something. Stories are never just stories anymore. Characters and storylines must wear their diversity and sex views on their sleeves. These days, one could almost be forgiven in thinking that the only oppressive societies out there must be “right wing,” for that’s so often all the current censorship allows. And The Hour wasn’t even that egregious with the political correctness stuff, either.

The show’s focus was entirely off, spending way too much time on a mundane storyline of infidelity. Ben Whishaw’s rather smart but gamma character does chase after an interesting murder mystery, but it’s so often not at all connected to the producing of this show, The Hour, which is what the series is supposed to be about. It’s also laughable to see how these characters pretend they are standing up to their government telling them what to produce. That is a grand lie that journalists have been telling for decades. I can forgive the writers a little in this one, because it was made in 2011-2012, long before the idea of “fake news” became a thing. Nowadays, it’s hilarious to suggest that any journalist working for any major news organization is doing any free thinking. And they never mean truly free thinking: these supposed wild cards on TV or in movies only spout the same views, whatever current version of political correctness gets one the most virtual signal points. Bo-oring! It was amusing to see the very easily led Bel Rowley (Garai), who clearly is at sea without her smart friend Freddie (Whishaw), be appalled, so, so appalled that she was hired as producer because the big bosses think women are “easily led.” Actually, that part was pretty good. I think the writers were letting some truth into their series, there. Maybe they just weren’t woke enough at the time. Or maybe they were, and now they’re broke? Ha, stupid joke. Maybe The Hour got better in series two, but I doubt it.

Mother: A Definition (Review of the Korean drama)

Most great stories are based around simple concepts or trying to answer what one would think are simple questions. The Korean drama Mother, a remake of a Japanese show of the same title, attempts to define a mother. Who is a mother? On a surface level, it’s an easily answered question: It’s the woman who gave birth to you, whose egg was fertilized with your father’s sperm to create, well, you.

Mother probes a bit further, insinuating that a true mother is a woman who acts like a mother, biology aside. To go on this journey, the writers stay firmly within the world of women. There are few questions of fathers here, and their absence silently and continually accuses them.

Starring the everywoman Lee Bo Young (God’s Gift: 14 Days), Ko Sung Hui (While You Were Sleeping) as the biological mother, and introducing a very talented Heo Yeol as a horribly abused child Hye Na, Mother is an emotional roller coaster ride, almost to the point of overkill, that nevertheless offers up very real moral dilemmas in the process. Unquestionably Heo carries the show, as often children do in their first projects, but she is given a definite run for her money as we get to know the mothers who started the chain of events leading to the main story, especially aging actress Young Sin (played by the indomitable Lee Hye Young (Boys Over Flowers) and a mother of oh, so many regrets, played by veteran actress Nam Gi Ae. This is one of the few scripts really allows older actresses to test their mettle. The men quietly supporting in the background are unsung hero types, not romantic leads, and the men not supporting, again, are most “visible” in their absence. Their crimes are alluded to or told to us secondhand, but the message of the show is never that the women can or should excuse away their own behavior due to them.

(Spoilers) After a low-key beginning, Mother kicks into high thriller gear once the abuse of Hye Na becomes known to her teacher, Soo Jin (Lee Bo Young) and the teacher becomes frustrated that the social system has nothing in place to immediately protect this little girl. Soo Jin kidnaps Hye Na with the child’s full consent and most of the sixteen episodes focus on the pair’s continual elusion of the authorities who assume that her mother Ja Young (Ko) is truly heartbroken and wants her back. The plot thickens as we and Hye Na begin to learn more about her abductor and the essential back history that has led to this decision.

Here, the story really begins to plumb the depths of the definition of “mother.” We are introduced to several biological mothers all of whom in some way have been abandoned by their men and who either don’t love or don’t seem to love their child or children. This male abandonment is no excuse, as stated before, and it is Young Sin (Lee Hye Young) a self-declared mother who continually speaks to what a mother should be to her children, no matter the circumstances. Young Sin presents motherhood as a daunting responsibility to her daughter Soo Jin, while giving her courage and cheering her on. Protecting, loving, and nurturing, are all spouted as must-haves for any women aspiring to be a mother.

What struck me as being a little hollow in the story, was the fact that most of the mothers in the show were having essentially to be both mother and father. Aside from the couple of supporting men who are vaguely fatherlike at best, these mothers are all stuck with being both provider and protector. Not that women can’t be those things, and not that mothers certainly don’t protect in their own way, but when the father is in the picture, those roles are usually dedicated to him as a basic form of maleness, if you will.

Kang Yi Jin, Soo Jin’s sister is easily the most nurturing, classic mother-type of the women in the story, and she is the only one who has a husband and father in the picture for her children, who, although gone way too much for work, is clearly doing the providing and protecting so she doesn’t have to. Thus, Kang Yi Jin’s femininity is a lot stronger than the other women in the story–she’s more emotional and not as logical, and her focus is on homemaking, cooking meals, and the like. It is only when considering this character that I realized how masculine most of the other women in the story are, especially Soo Jin, and that it is largely due to them having to protect and provide, again roles that would be normally dedicated to a father or father figure, if he was in the picture.

This is where, despite the great, raw emotions pulled out of story, the defining of motherhood doesn’t go far enough. It’s adequate to define women who are indeed still mothers and act as mothers even if the father or a father is not in the picture, but I think the definition of “mother” as it relates to the feminine in particular needs to be both apart from the masculine providing and protecting, and also contrasted to it. To some degree, women have a physical safety radar on all of the time, but if you pay attention to them (or women, if you pay attention to yourself) you may find you act and/or are more in feminine mode when there’s a man on the scene who is or is at least perceived as the protector in the situation. The women, or you, are softer, more relaxed, perhaps more playful, and perhaps more in multi-tasking mode than single-focus male mode. This side of being a mother is woefully neglected on the show, and that is a shame because it is the main “mother” definition to which much of the world relates.

I give the writer props, though, because although Mother never outright says it, the story heavily implies that if the absent fathers had truly been fathers, things might have turned out differently. The only reason this implication can be made is because of the cool nature of women: We adapt. For example, in the absence of a masculine father/protector for either herself or Hye Na, Soo Jin steps not only into a protective and nurturing mother role, but also into that of a protecting and providing father. We do see her behave a little more femininely when she’s around the hunky doctor on the show, but it’s as if she’s trying on a dress. She’s too much in masculine mode for her feminine side to suit her.

All in all, Mother is a great show, exciting and heartbreaking to watch, and even if it doesn’t flesh out the mother definition to my satisfaction, it’s not shy about showing the cycle of abuse and just how awful women can become after being betrayed or abandoned by a man. Hye Na’s biological mother is a pathetic figure, her love for her child hinging not on maternal instinct, but upon keeping any man who will have her, in her life. This woman wouldn’t have been the best mom in the world even if the biological father had stayed and supported her, but she probably wouldn’t have started abusing her child or contemplated suicide. This mother would likely have adapted well to the love and support of a good, strong man, but the show doesn’t really give us enough background into her character to make that a rock-solid certainty. Sometimes parents simply cannot parent and do not have instinctive love for their children. If that doesn’t speak to the existence of evil in the world, I don’t know what does.

It’s far easier to think there must be a reason for the neglect and abuse, that it can be understood in some way, but Young Sin would say there’s no good reason for it. No matter what you’ve been through yourself, there’s no good reason to neglect and/or abuse your child. That message is the takeaway of Mother, and it can apply to either or both sexes, either or both parents. It is a timeless declaration for what kind of person a parent should be.

Her Private Life: Kdrama review

I thoroughly enjoyed Her Private Life starring Park Min Young (City Hunter, What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim) and Kim Jae Wook (Coffee Prince). Park is currently my favorite drama actress. She has grown on me since City Hunter and has become very good at her craft. As for Kim, I’d only seen him play minor characters before now, but he did well as a leading man, and is a natural at it.

Her Private Life romantic comedy is possibly the stuff of nightmares for boyfriends and husbands around the globe. The romantic relationship in it is perfect–perhaps too perfect. Who could meet such standards of understanding and willingness to work together? This show is one of example of why some men run from the romanic comedy genre, but really, it’s just as unrealistic for women. Fortunately, most women know this is fantasy and that most men may not be so understanding if your side hobby is fangirling after other men. Yes, that is the main character’s “private life.” She is a crazy fan for the lead singer of a band called White Ocean. Fortunately for her, her love to be ends up thinking it’s a bit cute.

Although I like the feel goods in the series, it doesn’t focus on the fan stuff all that much. It could have been an opportunity to really show, well, how crazy fans get, and how obsessed. It touches on that, but quickly moves on to more comfortable territory of family drama and a first love back story for the leads. If I could read Korean, it would be fun to see how the novel goes, if it follows the same plot or sticks with the fangirling.

My favorite parts in the series were where Kim’s character, gallery director Ryan Gold, infiltrates Miss Sung Deok Mi’s website and message boards, picturing him entering in disguise through a metal detector to an inner sanctum of women sitting at tables and talking as if they were in a coffee shop. It was a fun visual and I was hoping they would do a lot more with it.

My second favorite part was the ending. Everyone ends up happy and fulfilled, even the people who didn’t get to be with the person they wanted. It’s fantasy, but we need that once in a while to keep that bird of hope perched in our souls. I am definitely looking forward to more from the two leads. They have great chemistry and hopefully will work together again.

K-drama Review: Because This Is My First Life

This will be more a review of the second half of this sweet contemplation on couples in their thirties trying to adjust to the work, social, and romance demands that come with being an adult. For my thoughts on the first part, please see Winter’s Last Hurrah. Because This Is My First Life stars Lee Min Ki (Shut Up Flower Boy Band) and the awesome Jung So Min (The Smile Has Left Your Eyes). The writing of this series is good, which is always a helpful thing when one of the characters is a writer, too. Somehow, the show managed to hit the right combination of sentimentality, comedy, and drama.

Would you enter a contract marriage? In America, living together while not being married is pretty commonplace, so it’s more difficult to imagine that people would find it necessary to do a contract marriage unless some huge amount of money was involved or some high stakes circumstances. South Korea’s a bit more conservative and traditional still, so the plot works in this show and they highlight especially the family pressure on the two: Living as landlord and tenant like they want to do would not be at all acceptable to their families.

Would I enter into a contract marriage? As a forty-something-year-old single lady, spinster if we were in Jane Austen’s world, the thought of it is sometimes tempting. Dating has never really been a fun thought for me, though romance and marriage always have been. And my family is conservative Christian, so living together wouldn’t be acceptable, for me or for them. I just couldn’t carry on the charade. And they’d be so disappointed with the lie and really disappointed that there was no love, not to mention being a huge diss on the institution of marriage itself. We often joke about marriage being just a contract, but it’s not, it’s absolutely not. It’s a commitment unlike any other, which is why so many cohabitate instead of taking the plunge. Jumping with both feet in takes real courage, and I don’t get writers like Agatha Christie, for example, in which her characters get married after a couple of weeks. It boggles the mind. Besides, what would I have to offer in a contract marriage: Money? Nope. Carnal favors? Yikes. No, marriage for me would have to be about love, but it is hard sometimes. I have four weddings to go to this spring and summer and they are all for beautiful young women in love and loved, and it seems something, well, only for the young. It seems something that’s passed me by, or I’ve passed it by. Did I mention it’s going to be a difficult season?

Back to the review: I last watched, I think, episode six, when writing the first half review, and the writers had just introduced a corny love triangle. I am happy to report that the love triangle really isn’t one, merely a vehicle to test the main characters’ contract–is it really that, or is their marriage more a real marriage than they want to acknowledge? Of course it’s the latter. Both have already given each other their hearts by this time, and there’s no going back. The biggest problem they have, is really the Korean traditions of one having to help one’s in-laws for certain events. We have a little bit of this in America, but it’s not this pressure of making one person do all the work for something just because they are the new daughter-in-law.

On the night they first met, Jung So Min’s character, Ji Ho, kissed Lee Min Ki’s Se Hee out of the blue because she’d never kissed anyone before and wanted to have a first kiss. Later on, when he’s acknowledging how into her he is, he scoffs, “That wasn’t a kiss, that was a peck, a touching of lips at most,” and shows her what real kiss is. It was very swoon worthy and had me thinking of Crocodile Dundee: “That’s not a knife, this is a knife.” 🙂 Se Hee is so hilariously robotic and analytic, yet he is sweet and alluring as a man in love, and probably more dangerous, too. His goal is simply to not be a hindrance to Ji Ho. If that’s not romantic, I don’t know what is. Like I said before, there was no way she would not fall for him. He’s offering her safety, stability, security, and love that allows her to be who she is instead of asking her to become a pretzel.

More on the pretzel thing: A few posts ago, I talked about Alison Armstrong, her Keys to the Kingdom and The Queen’s Code. Because she’s truly curious, Armstrong has a learned a lot about men, women, and their differences. She often gives the advice: Don’t go for the people you’re super physically attracted to. It will never work. Why? You can’t be yourself. You won’t be yourself, you will constantly be trying to be someone else that you think will impress them. And you won’t be able to turn that off. It’s true, when you think about it. Mostly, I hate all exercise except walking and dancing, and I have professed a profound interest and love in running all to impress a guy that would have never have been the right one for, and who would have never been right for me. I know now, I would have exhausted myself, turning myself into a pretzel for him and still wouldn’t have felt good enough. Armstrong says it best: The people you’re most attracted to, don’t really like you, mostly because they’ve never met you and never will. The people who are attracted to you, but you’re not so physically into them, they’ve actually met you and know you quite well, which is why they like you so much. She says if you’re not having any luck in romance, to give those people a chance. Se Hee’s kind of that man that’s not super attractive, mostly due to his manner, but for the woman he loves–and the love probably came a lot sooner that he thinks it did–he is gold. He is the perfect one for her. With him, she is loved for who she is and she doesn’t have to be somebody else to please him.

The two of them do end up happy, though it takes a mild separation for them to get there. They first have to acknowledge just how much they’ve been dissing marriage and each other, as a whole, but they do end up getting married for real, but keep their “contract” part for fun. And that is great, because, that kind of communication about the relationship is vital to keep it going. They assess where they are, what their expectations are of each other, etc. It’s actually very romantic. As for the other couples, they, too, end up happy, but the women especially have to put aside timelines and expectations. There’s no year in life in which you absolutely have to be married by or have a baby by. Some people have families under the most dire of circumstances and thrive; for others, not even a six-figure salary and a mansion is enough. The question is, what do you want? Do you want marriage? Is it something you can plan for or do you just want to jump in with both feet?

Babies are trickier. In our whole march on the feminism road, we often forget that women’s bodies are built to have babies when their young. Instead it’s encourage in their 30s or even 40s and more as an afterthought after they’ve accomplished career goals or other kinds of goals. As a woman whose time is running out, whose biological clock is ticking: Don’t wait. Your body will drive you crazy wanting to make a baby, and failing the ability to do that, you will want to mother and take care of everyone–the whole world!–with comedic, yet, decidedly disastrous results. All I’m saying is if you’re in your twenties now, I can say as a forty-one year old, you might someday regret that you didn’t have children sooner, and this is a choice that cannot be corrected. There’s no cure. You could have a baby in your forties, but you would every day realize how much easier it would be if your body was younger. Am I being too depressing? I don’t mean to be, it’s just as a person ages, you start to look back on your life and see all the missed chances. The times where if you’d just taken the time to stop, or given that person a chance, that maybe now, you might be so happy in love and family. And I expect it only the gets worse the older one gets. I don’t see it as anything to be depressed over, just contemplating the new perspectives, the new information. Because this is my first life. As Se Hee says, this is all our first lives. We’ve never done this before, and of course we will make mistakes.

Honestly, I am glad to be a Christian where we only have one life to live. If I could go back and relive my life, not only would I likely make the exact same mistakes, but I’d probably make even worse mistakes and would always have the memory of how the first life went a lot better when I couldn’t anticipate what was coming. Like a time traveler who keeps going back to save the life of the woman he loves, but he can never do it. She was always supposed to die. You were always supposed to be as you are now and with who you are with now. Reliving life won’t make you a cooler more sexy person. You might win at sports gambling, but if you didn’t have money in your first life, in your second you probably wouldn’t be able to hang on to it. This first and only life is precious, every second. And a commitment like marriage should be honored, not brushed off as merely a business contract. If it’s a contract, it’s one of the heart, and hearts shouldn’t be navigated idly. Who can win another’s heart? It’s just given, isn’t it? In this, our first lives, we should appreciate that.

Winter’s Last Hurrah

Some years winter just. won’t. let. go. Here in Minnesota, we’ve gotten our last snow storm of the year well after we were all preparing to settle into spring. Well, hopefully, it’s the last. We did get more winter in May once. So it’s one of those times when one is supposed to be moving forward with the new season, but one is being held back from that and told to wait. That’s probably a metaphor for something. In any case, we must wait a little longer for our sunshine, our outdoor activities, our events and barbecues.

This week I’ve given up trying to read Cynthia Voight’s On Fortune’s Wheel, not because it’s not a good story, but I’m just not in the mood for it. Maybe the romance is just too much or something. It’s a spring story, not a winter one, and so I’ll pick it up again later. What has captured my attention is The Terror by Dan Simmons. I read a book a couple of years ago called The Kingdom of Ice or something like that, and I don’t even remember the author. It was the true story about arctic exploration north by ship in the mid-1800s. Well, the ships got stuck in the ice and never were able to get to the supposed open sea at the north pole. Years stuck in the ice and eternal winter, with no way out and supplies dwindling. I find these cold weather exploration tales fascinating, but hope to never live them myself. I’ll leave the battling of the elements to others, but am happy to read about their exploits.

The Terror takes the same story a bit further. Two ships with a hundred or more men are stuck in the polar ice, same time period, same plan of crossing the pole to the other side of the world, etc., only added on top of that the crew is being slaughter one by one by a terrifying creature whose domain is the cold and snow. I haven’t read very far, so I’m sure if the creature is an especially vindictive polar bear or an abominable snow monster of myth. Like all of Simmons’ Abominable, set in the Himalayas and purporting to be about purported said abominable snowman or monster, the writing is detailed, giving one a full picture of the setting and what kind of men are on the ships the Erebus and the Terror. The difference with this story is that I will likely finish it. Abominable simply wore me down with too much detail and delay long before they even started to climb Mt. Everest, and then I spoiled the ending, found that Nazis were involved somehow and thought it too cliche to continue. At this point, Nazis are overused and, well, kind of boring. Maybe they shouldn’t be, but they are. For me, Indiana Jones was the last time they were at all interesting in a story. Ok, maybe Heidegger’s Glasses, but at any rate they’ve been overdone as villains in storytelling.

Dan Simmons and other writers like him, Diana Gabaldon of Outlander fame, for example–I really, really appreciate their attention to historical detail and research. But it’s a pickle and a pain, a real pain, to read a story with too much nonessential detail. How can I, the reader, know it’s not essential? The story isn’t moving fast enough, that’s how! But what about all the hard work the writers put into the details, what about that? Oh, it’s a pickle, real pickle, and a pain. How much detail is really too much? As a writer, it’s often hard to know, but the readers will always know, and they’ll either go with you despite too much detail, or they won’t. In any case, The Terror isn’t as slow as Abominable, and the details are worked better in with the action, so I have high hopes of reading until the end.

Also, I have found a K-drama I am enjoying watching, though it is a second try: Because This Is My First Life starring the talented Jung So Min and character Lee Min Ki. I call Lee a character, because I’ve only watched him in two things and his characters are “characters!” He played a memorable out-of-control band leader in Shut Up Flower Boy Band, so well and so charismatically that for some it’s a struggle that he’s not in the entire series. I know, I know, spoilers, but that show was about his fellow band member and the audience trying to carry on without him. The writers probably didn’t anticipate the audience having to carry on, but Lee Min Ki’s Joon Byung Hee was a firecracker of a character. Also in Because This is My First Life, his Nam Se Hee is extreme. Se Hee insists on having everything his way all the time and explains everything in a robot, nonemotional manner, yet he somehow manages to come across as also thoughtful and endearing.

I’m not sure why I’m enjoying this show so much, especially as I’m to the point where the writer are throwing in a love triangle where it really isn’t needed, but maybe it’s just the attraction of doing something like getting married for other reasons than love. Why is that attractive? Well, we in these modern times often think of marriage as just being a contract, so it’s interesting to see that idea put to the test, even if it’s just in a TV show.

The plot is this: Jung So Min’s Yoon Ji Ho needs somewhere secure to live in Seoul, and Se Hee needs someone to help pay rent and also get his parents off his back about getting married. Both people are fully aware they don’t love each other, yet decide to get married for two years and then separate. I would say here, Se Hee is worrying more about the short term getting his parents off his back than the rent payment, because after two years he’ll need to find a new roommate and he has a lot of requirements that not just anyone, and most of his single, male peers would not be up for. Ji Ho rates highest on his roommate scale because she is an accommodating woman, not so much because she’s Ji Ho.

Of course, the point of the story will be that the two of them will fall for each other without even knowing it, and perhaps will never really answer the question about marriage just being a contract or not. In the early episodes, at least, they are trying to make their marriage a simple contract and coming to find out and having other married people tell them, that whatever marriage is, it’s not simple. Ji Ho finds this out quite suddenly shortly after they are married when she begins by making breakfast for the two of them. Why would she do that? Se Hee doesn’t eat breakfast and they’ve been telling each other they will just continue on as if they are renter and landlord. It soon becomes obvious to both of them, that although Ji Ho said she probably wouldn’t need romance or physical affection at least for two more years, when the contract is supposed to end, that this is in reality not the case. Ji Ho, like most woman, sees marriage as a relationship, no matter if it’s a contract on paper. She’s spending a lot of time with this strange but handsome, kind, and thoughtful man. Maybe being a man Se Hee can’t understand, but there’s almost zero chance she won’t fall for him, especially as he is providing safety and security for her. When Se Hee tries to bring her back to their landlord/renter association, the reaction is immediate: He’s hurt her and she realizes he has and more alarmingly, that she cares about him, which is why her next move is to give him payback. She even says she wants to hurt him back.

Oh, the poor man. He has no idea what he’s gotten into. We women often pretend today that we don’t care about marriage and family–and maybe somewhere in our heads, we don’t, but our bodies are a different story. Our bodies are built for husbands, families, and babies, with all the emotion and complication that entails. Men would be better off realizing that trying to be roommates with a woman, especially in her fertile years, is futile, even if love is involved. She will take the relationship further, because she has to. It’s built into her biology. Se Hee’s the one to wonder about, here. Is he actually attracted to Ji Ho? He calls her pretty, but seems to see that as merely an accurate description. He clearly likes that she’s willing to cede to his demands on a roommate and that in many ways they are compatible as far as living together. Perhaps unanticipated is that her being so accommodating rubs off on him: He also becomes accommodating for her, all the while rationalizing it as being the most logical thing to do.

By episode 6, all is not well. Ji Ho wants to hurt Se Hee emotionally, as he’s hurt her emotionally by trying to stick a contract-only relationship. Se Hee is also irritated and thrown off by the fact that now that they are married he’s going to have to pretend to a relationship they don’t actually have, not only in front of other people, but also in front of Ji Ho. This is going to zap a lot of Se Hee’s time, energy, and, yes, emotion, which is exactly what he didn’t want, but now he’s in a situation in which he can’t so easily back out: They have a two-year contract and Ji Ho would be out on the street without him. Oh, the weight of responsibility! Se Hee. Men. I don’t envy that, not one bit. If the situation were reversed, the woman would either have a lot of help from family, friends, and government, especially if the dependent was a child, or she would be released from the contract and the responsibility. Not here, oh no, Ji Ho will likely out of spite make him hold to the contract, and if she doesn’t, her father will. Or his father will.

Or not. Maybe they will both fall happily in love and live happily ever after, grow old together, have kids, and be content in their relationship.

The main couple’s friends highlight other aspects of romantic entanglement: one couple a manly career woman, vulnerable to sexual harassment by her coworkers, and an also driven, but more emotional man who wants to protect her and help her stand up for herself; the other a couple who are in love and living together, the woman anxious to get married, the man not sure if he can yet handle the responsibility, yet willing and able to please her in every other way. Good writing, very good. Enter the love triangle. This will be either done outstandingly or will force the show into an awkward place. Can Se Hee actually get jealous at this point? Even if he was in a romantic relationship with Ji Ho, would he really get jealous, or would he just get mad? He’s actually doing a lot for her. Despite the turmoil of her feelings, shouldn’t she be grateful to him, not spiteful? Do men ever really get jealous, or do they just get mad? Come on, women, they know, everyone knows we don’t care about the other guy. It’s just a ruse, a test to force your man’s hand and get him to tell you how he feels. It’s not treating your man very kindly or like a grown up. Ji Ho wants to know how he feels, she should just ask him. Ok, Se Hee would have to calculate things for a few days, during which his feelings might change, but he’d probably give her an honest answer. And she would and should appreciate him when he does, even if that’s not the answer she wants to hear. And that would seal their fate together more than using another man to make him jealous.

I’m sure Ji Ho will do the wrong thing. She has to: It’s a drama, and she’s a women who feels scorned. Se Hee’s just going to be trying to keep his head above water until he figures out how to help her do the right thing, which, ironically, will probably be sticking to their contract, though they may decide to extend it.