Posted in Commentary, Drama Series

Who Are You–School 2015: final thoughts

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Ah, now that class of School 2015 is finally dismissed, i can only think of what could have been, of what could have made it a better drama…

As far as closure goes, we do have it for most (if not all) characters we’ve come to known, loved, and cared about, and it does end on a happy note since everyone is all smiles the last time we saw them. Except So-young, i guess, but she gets what she deserves; plus, does anybody look forward to her happy ending, or even redemption?

I didn’t. Well, i probably did, somewhere along the line, wish for a turn-around for her (and Eun-bi’s) character — for her to realize what she did wrong, or for Eun-bi to step up her game. Alas, until the penultimate episode, nothing has changed between and about them. They are still the same version of themselves we saw in episode 1: So-young picking on her to no end, Eun-bi too craven to stand up to her advances, no character development whatsoever. The moment So-young is thinking to use the video of Eun-bi she filmed back in Tongyeong as her last weapon, and Eun-bi needing yet another person to save the day — Eun-byul this time — i was done with them.

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In the end, Eun-byul’s presence and reappearance only serve as another plot device to be another protector to our resident damsel in distress and possibly as a catalyst to help Yi-an sort out his feelings and make up his mind. She’s the one who put So-young in her place as well as a kibosh on her shenanigans no matter how hard we wanted it to be Eun-bi. Her spunk is such a refreshing contrast to Eun-bi’s meekness i could only imagine how great it’d be had she come back earlier and had her own story arc because she didn’t even have a hand in revealing the truth behind Soo-in’s death and did nothing but visited her house and tree and mourned for her, as if she never felt sorry for her before. I was also surprised that she didn’t regard Yi-an as special — why did she smile to herself upon hearing that he finished first and then feigned ignorance when her friends mentioned it to her back then?

She also promised to do this and that with Eun-bi now that they’re finally reunited yet i hardly see them together besides at home. Why can’t we have them attend the same school at the end, and let Eun-bi make her own friends instead of riding on Eun-byul’s again? Not that they can’t have the same circle of friends, but with Eun-byul transferred out (and abroad) and she transferred in, does her existence make a difference at all?

If anything, i think Eun-bi’s last words to So-young would make more sense if coming from Eun-byul. She never experiences wanting to sincerely apologize to someone who’s no longer around, does she? Therefore, it’s kinda weird for her to say that she hopes the fact that she’s alive and well consoles So-young when she does have something to say to her one day. So-young doesn’t even know that Eun-bi did attempt suicide due to her harassment, does she? That said, i won’t discredit her pain of having not even her parents’ support during her lowest points in life. But does it make me evil if i still don’t sympathize with her despite it all? She hasn’t done anything to redeem herself, but i gotta admit that her role was well-acted.

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Backtrack a bit: if Eun-bi could return to school (as herself, with new surname), why can’t Teacher Kim? He quits school but never stops teaching, and upon realizing that it is where he belongs and what he likes the most in the world (thanks to Tae-kwang), the school and students shall be more than happy to welcome him back. Even though he’s been criminally underutilized, we easily see what a great character and role model he is, and the extent of influence and wisdom he imparts to his students, when he does given proper screen-time and material to work with. Lee Pil-mo nails the role; plus, Saem is a much better alternative to this pointless cameo by Bae Soo-bin.

Eun-byul: “You said that a mistake is nothing to be ashamed of, but being unable to admit your mistakes is shameful. I won’t forget that, Teacher.”
Min-joon: “Teacher, thank you for leading me down the right road, not the easy road.”
Tae-kwang: “I can call you ‘Hyung’ now, right?”

Who didn’t tear up during that scene??

The notes — also the epilogue — would be deeper and more impactful if the characters were more fleshed out and had more interactions with him. The ones with Young-eun and Min-joon, for example, were really poignant and meaningful; imagine if the show focused on one student’s story per week like they did with the above two… I was particularly disappointed that they sidelined Shi-jin and Song-joo and dropped their mini-arcs just like that when theirs have the potential to be explored further and resonate with many people: one is frustrated by her inability to figure out what her edge and career-aspiration are, the other struggles to get her talents recognized and acknowledged in the world where someone less capable but with connection could easily land the coveted spot.

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Alas, like Saem/Tae-kwang bromance, many developments came too late in the game to be anything but satisfying. The same goes with plot points that were dragged on for far too long — Eun-byul’s comeback, the love triangle, Soo-in’s and So-young’s cases — they left me cold. I can’t help wondering if the writers could only come up with great setups and conflicts without a clear idea how to follow them through because none of the resolutions satisfied me.

Which is a bummer considering how much i loved the show at the beginning to probably two-thirds through. It was an instant love, the first to give me all kinds of feels post-Healer, for which i had many things to say each week from all gush to those rife with grouses. Its engaging story, intriguing mysteries, and compelling characters inevitably made me stack expectations upon expectations; i even hoped it’d rival Dream High as my favorite high school drama by the end of its run… and was thus beyond crestfallen to see it struggling to find its footing and keep its focus toward the finish line when it managed to deliver on all fronts so effortlessly at the start.

I for one won’t lie and say i hated the love triangle even if it frustrated me in the last stretch. I actually leaned toward YiBi pairing and found Yi-an extremely winning at the outset — i wonder when he started to become this stiff and flat — as well as cheering for Eun-bi a lot throughout the course but ended up caring for no other characters than Gong Tae and Teacher Kim in the end. Which is a shame because while the directing continues to give us pretty shots, the acting remains strong (for the most part), and the scores as swelling as ever, it is the writing that lags behind and loses grip.

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That Eun-bi likes Yi-an, i could see why. He was the first friend to shower her with love, before Tae-kwang entered the scene and shook our heart. That Yi-an ends up having feelings for her, i could get behind it too. But if Yi-an can belatedly realize he likes the other girl, why can’t Eun-bi? Because during the time he stepped back and pushed her away post-revelation, Tae-kwang was never absent being by her side. This argument is getting old but i’m being objective here — why couldn’t she feel otherwise, her-heart-wants-what-it-wants be damned? I mean, if she put off rejecting Tae-kwang for the third time not because she’s confused but because she’s waiting for Yi-an’s confession, as it seems to be the case sadly, that’s just plain cruel. By that point, i sincerely wanted him to stop hovering around her because he started to come off as clingy and desperate… but boy, was his final confession before letting her go once and for all heartbreaking.

These unnecessary dilly-dallying and prolonged angst wouldn’t have even transpired had Eun-byul’s return been aptly utilized — to straighten the triangle and enable us to walk away with two pairs at the end. How the show opted to blow the chance to make everyone’s happy and went with this ending instead is beyond me. Furthermore, didn’t they say opposites attract? So why is YiBi the final pair when both are exasperatedly indecisive and rather passive? And this comes from me despite/after admitting that their last bus ride was cute.

So now you tell me to be content with Eun-bi and Tae-kwang being friends even when he’s still that ecstatic and his heart still goes dugeun-dugeun upon seeing her again? Well, at least he finally gets the parental love he’s been deprived of for years…

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All in all, the finale was draggy and while i didn’t hate the ending, i couldn’t say i like it. My heart can’t accept it even if my head saw it coming from miles ago. As expected, it’s hard to find a drama that i love and enjoy from beginning to end. School 2015 suffers mainly from poor writing that won’t let us have a completely happy ending but i’ll remember it for the parts that worked and made me fall head over heels to begin with — the cinematography, great OSTs, the wisdom, Teacher Kim, and Gong Tae (i like this pet name better than Tae-kwang actually ;p) — even if i can’t un-see the ending.

Lastly, Tae-kwang: i’ll fondly remember you as the best second male lead i’ve ever watched and grown to love in dramaland (sorry Yoon Pil-joo of Best Love >.<).

Maybe it’s time to pick up School 2013 and finish it?

_
Rating: 4/5
Director: Baek Sang-hoon and Kim Sung-yoon
Production: KBS2, 2015
Cast: Kim so-hyun, Nam joo-hyuk, Yook-sung-jae, Lee Pil-mo, Jo Soo-hyang, Kim Hee-jung, Lee Cho-hee, David Lee
Genre: School life, Friendship, Teen romance, K-drama (16 Episodes)

p.s.
so that i don’t seem like i refuse to acknowledge the ending, here’s my final still:

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