The series that begins with the ending and ends where it started, only neither of which is conclusive.
I can’t believe they did it again — the maddening no-ending for another N Series — and i can’t believe i fell for its trap twice within months. And yeah, if you read my final post on Arthdal Chronicles, then you know my reaction to Vagabond‘s.
To be fair, the universe might have given me signs and i should have taken note of the red flags. First off, for some inexplicable reasons, i had always thought that this show was a movie when the first news was out and eventually realized about its 16-episode nature mere months before it aired, which honestly killed my enthusiasm for it a bit. Secondly, the subject matter (a sabotaged plane crash) is uncomfortable to watch due to a real-life tragedy that occurred just a year ago. Thirdly, there are simply too many politics, cover-ups, and antagonists since the first few episodes, which only mushrooms as the show progresses. But i shrugged them off due to my enjoying the production quality and finding the action sequence quite gripping. Which ended up being two of its only a few merits.
And honestly, the plot seemed straightforward at the outset. Cha Hoon (the ubiquitous child actor Moon Woo-jin) is one of the school kids who rode the fateful B537 flight, but his uncle Cha Dal-geon (Lee Seung-gi) soon realizes that the crash wasn’t an accident but a staged one after chancing on a shifty surviving passenger, and that it was orchestrated by a powerful Big Bad since all evidence are quickly tampered with and everyone who gets in the way is swiftly taken down. Difficult and impatient to convince other bereaved families or authorities about his findings, he then embarks on a solo mission to track down the perps and unearth the truth behind the incident, before a NIS agent Go Hae-ri (Bae Suzy) lends her hand.
They’re after one key character: Kim Woo-gi (Jang Hyuk-jin), the captain as well as an accomplice to the crime. You’d think it is a relatively easy mission with the help of NIS, but it turns out an uphill battle since the bad guys are hell-bent on taking him out, going all out with using their power and resources to bribe, blackmail, or pull rank on others to do their bidding… to the point that made me really curious as to how rich John & Mark is and how wide their networks are that they’re able to plant moles in every layer/organization there is, domestically and even overseas. That it’s hard to discern who’s truly on the good side. That bringing Kim Woo-gi to court seems more impossible by the episode since the duo is ambushed at every turn, and is fighting against the government. I mean, if even the country’s president is in it to bury the truth, who will support and back up the small team of justice fighters to get to the bottom of the case?
Fortunately, Hoon’s uncle has more determination that a rock, more resilience than a spring, more endurance than a punching bag, more agility than a bullet, and most importantly, more lives than a cat. Yep, extreme suspension of disbelief is required to enjoy this drama, because surely no stuntman experience and training can prep him to tackle then survive so many action, close combats, barrages of bullets, and sniper shots with minimal to no injuries. Either he’s a superhuman or those assassins-for-hire are fake pros. What’s the point of those fancy-looking sniper rifles and surefire automatic firearms if the aims are abysmal no bullets ever hit the targets? There are a few instances where Dal-geon is cornered and could have been ended then and there but the shooters stall for no reason. That the only life i feared for was Kim Woo-gi, the more since he’s the only solid evidence the good guys have.
And while i do find the action sequence intense and tight, the story lags behind so much that i’d reach the end of an episode and felt like nothing much happened. That it feels as if an episode is written around one event and filled to the brim with stunts, car chase, and gun fight. That Show inevitably gets exasperating to watch with the constant thwarts, endless crisis, and increasing number of characters switching over to the immoral side. Funny thing is, the baddies are so incompetent with their takedown mission their operations are getting more desperate and ridiculous toward the end: dispatching a dozen of special forces to kill two unarmed men, opening fire in the middle of a busy street, holding them at gunpoint in front of a mass, and sniper-shooting them inside the court’s ground. Seriously, can they get any more obvious?
Yet, after all of the struggles and near-misses, the trial doesn’t even last for 10 minutes…
After watching how deep and far John & Mark’s reach is, i can’t believe they can’t buy the presiding judge. Heh.
What’s more questionable, however, is the fact that the case is closed within the first 10 minutes of episode 13. Nearly four whole episodes to catch and punish every accomplice, partner-in-crime, and minion seems too long… and we haven’t even reached the drama’s opening scene where Dal-geon and Hae-ri are on opposite sides. I have always thought that the case would be too difficult to solve they needed to infiltrate the lion’s den to bring justice to light; nope, it’s due to the double dealings and greater evil behind the crash.
Yeah, the story gets over-convoluted with political affairs (which i had zero interest in) and deception games that everything becomes confusing. The culprit and motive are crystal clear in the beginning: for John & Mark to win the tender for the jet fighter deal with the government by pinning the blame on its biggest rival, Dynamic System, the manufacturer of the doomed aircraft. But this one company’s filthy scheme to secure a mega-project quickly spirals into a nationwide cover-up. Still, there’s a hidden conspiracy ON conspiracy underneath it all. *groan*
I knew the entire ploy was a bit too much just for a jet fighter bid, and i’d always had a funny feeling toward Dynamic’s Edward Park (Lee Kyung-young). Rumor has it that he’s capable of anything, like planting explosives inside a Korean embassy or smuggling those on Interpol’s red notice out of a foreign country — stealth maneuvers that don’t surprise his adversary, sly fox Jessica Lee (Moon Jung-hee). Yet, given his comparable influence, he isn’t actively trying to protect the witnesses or expose John & Mark when it should be the company’s best interest to clear its name.
These crooks believe the end justifies the means, and Dynamic’s expected returns might be worth the loss on paper, but not on humanity and logical level: how can he dream of a building of a stronger, better Korea by sacrificing a plane-full of school kids, the nation’s future generation?
Well, not that the other plot points make more sense, either. There are too many to list, but my main quibbles are the leads teaming up with the lesser baddies to get to the Big Bad (Jessica not ordering the crash doesn’t mean she isn’t evil. Lily and Do-su’s work-for-money philosophy doesn’t make them trustworthy allies; they were itching to kill Dal-geon until a couple episodes before!), their respective sordid new profession (Hae-ri is inheriting Jessica’s femme fatale way of lobbying while Dal-geon essentially becomes a killer), and yet another secret organization to crack above Edward. My biggest one, however, is how the unnecessary extra layer of enormity is seemingly added so that the drama can’t wrap itself within 16 episodes. Which is totally possible if there weren’t too many failed assassination attempts, boring political agendas, or any love line. In fact, it couldn’t have been to if it wanted to, since the plot was nearing the end already.
Apart from the messy storytelling, the directing and acting departments are pretty good. I don’t mind the black-and-white characterizations, though i wish the bad didn’t gain the upper hand as long as they did and the good were more vigilant and didn’t hide their skills or the savant card for nearly as long. The tension and suspense were there. The battle of wits and deception were fun to watch once all parties were up to speed. Vagabond was a great show to marathon, until i lost patience with the pacing and nonsense. But eventually, the no-ending was the ultimate deal-breaker. I felt so scammed that i will think thrice before starting another Netflix show in the future.
Director: Yoo In-sik
Screenwriter: Jang Young-chul and Jung Kyung-soon
Production: SBS, 2019
Cast: Lee Seung-gi, Bae Suzy, Shin Sung-rok, Lee Ki-young, Hwang Bo-ra, Shin Seung-hwan, Moon Jung-hee, Jang Hyuk-jin, Kim Min-Jong, Lee Kyung-young
Genre: Action spy thriller, Politics, K-drama (16 Episodes)