First Impressions: “Hyde Jekyll, Me” Episodes 1 and 2

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  Hyde, Jekyll, and Me. Hyde, Jekyll, I. Jekyll and Me.

This drama has gone through so many English name changes it is living up to the characters of its namesake. But no matter what you want to call this drama, one thing is for sure, “Hyde Jekyll, Me” garnered a lot of public interest prior to its premiere. From a quarrel over original ideas, to competition from another drama featuring a character with multiple personalities airing on the same days, to it being touted as Hyun Bin‘s K-drama comeback project, the first episodes of “Hyde Jekyll, Me” had the burden of satisfying expectations and curiosities.

Honestly, I didn’t think “Hyde Jekyll, Me” had the strongest opening. I think it struggled with how to bring us into its world, and how to get the show moving, so to speak. That being said, what episodes 1 and 2 did right, it did so right.

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The Set Up

Going into these first episodes we knew a couple of things. First, Hyun Bin’s character would have two primary manifestations, namely the cold and unfeeling Hyde personality of Goo Seo Jin, and the disarmingly kind and heroic Jekyll personality called Robin. Second, Goo Seo Jin, as owner of a popular amusement park, would develop an antagonistic relationship with Jang Ha Na (Han Ji Min) the director of the park’s circus which Seo Jin wants to shut down. Third, both Seo Jin and Robin would develop romantic interests in Ha Na, making one confusing triangle.

All of those points come in crystal clear in these first two episodes. Seo Jin and Ha Na butt heads over the extension of the circus contract, but when Ha Na becomes the sole witness to the disappearance of Seo Jin’s doctor, Professor Kang (Shin Eun Jung), they find themselves tangled up in something more dangerous than any high wire act.

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The Good

Han Ji Min as Jang Ha Na. I found Ha Na’s forthrightness and honesty to be refreshingly captivating. For some reason, I thought Ha Na would be somewhat brash, combative, and insistent to a fault. Also flashy to boot, considering the theatrical nature of the circus and her being in charge of it all. I am so glad, beyond happy, that I was proven wrong because Ha Na’s character is really wholesome and…for lack of a better word, simple. I don’t mean that she is simple minded, or that her character lacks depth. But Jang Ha Na lives her life simply: she just wants the circus to continue on because she loves it and because it is a tribute to her late father (the former director). And for being a circus performer, she’s the opposite of flashy; we do get that one scene of her zipping along a wire, but besides that (and the gorilla scene which I will talk about later) we get to see her just as a regular person. That is, she is not a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. And she’s not the girl who needs to be fixed in any way. She doesn’t need a makeover, she doesn’t need to find love to love herself, she doesn’t need to be shown how to live properly. She’s capable, self aware, and she’s vulnerable enough that we can get behind her character.

But what I most love about Ha Na is her honesty. She doesn’t hold back her words, not in the way where she’s mean or careless, but she has a way of just cutting through the crap that everyone says and really honing in on a point that undercuts everything. I loved seeing Ha Na get under Seo Jin’s skin with a word or phrase, to see him withdraw in the face of her sincerity.

(Also, whoever decided Ha Na’s hair color would be that reddish-brown, a round of applause for you as well! Because no matter what light hits Ha Ji Min’s head, she just looks glowing. Seriously, well done.)

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Supporting Cast. I already love the friendships between Ha Na and the circus troupe, particularly the strong positive friendship between Ha Na and Cha Jin Joo (Oh Na Ra). Lee Seung Jun as Kwon Young Chan, the bumbling assistant to Seo Jin, is such a great foil to his stern boss. And let us not forget about Sung Joon. He plays hypnotist Yoon Tae Joo, and while Sung Joon didn’t have a lot of screen time, boy does he know how to make every second count.

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The Familiar

Joo Won v. 2.0. Word about the internetz is that a lot of people feel like “Hyde Jekyll, Me” has a lot of familiar elements that we’ve seen before, specifically regarding Hyun Bin’s character. And I’m not going to disagree. Watching the first 15 minutes of the drama felt really reminiscent of “Secret Garden.” It was like 5 years had passed and Kim Joo Won (Hyun Bin’s character in “Secret Garden”) just got a bigger, more isolated house, took up yoga and meditation, traded in his department store for an amusement park, and switched out a blue sequined tracksuit for blue floral yoga pants. Oh, and got himself some fancy glasses.

And I understand why Hyun Bin would choose this role as his comeback, but I can also see how people were a little disappointed, a little bored even, especially with the first episode. I do think the more you watch the less aware you are of the similarities, but because Hyun Bin is such a well loved and well watched actor, his challenge will be to make Seo Jin and Robin feel like new characters for us. Not an easy task, and in less capable hands I would be worried. But we’re not just talking about anyone; we’re talking about Hyun Bin, and I think he’s at his most daring, dangerous, and surprising when backed into a wall.

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The Ridiculous

Attack of the Ape. Another fault in execution that I think turned a lot of people off was how overtly gimmicky the first episode, and in particular the first half, actually was. The gorilla scene was over the top in a way that drew me straight out of the story and made me talking to myself trying to figure out what exactly it was that I was watching (Is this another dream? It has to be, right? Oh shoot, it’s not a dream. Ugh, this is so painful. WHY DRAMA WHY?!) . It was such a shameless rouse that it cheapened, so much, the thing it was trying to do. We all get it, Seo Jin is a big scaredy-cat who is all about self preservation, and he’s not someone we are supposed to like initially. I understand we are meant to see the contrast between the self-preserving Seo Jin and the self-sacrificing Robin, and that we’re supposed to see that there’s something about Ha Na being in danger that causes Seo Jin’s Metamorphosis Signal Point (MSP) to spike, but he shouldn’t be made to be someone ridiculous, someone we don’t respect. Especially not at the cost of making Ha Na ridiculous also by being the hero in such a cheap manner.

It was a gross miscalculation on behalf of the writers and director of what their audience is willing to tolerate, a travesty against the talents of their actors, and overall just lazy writing aimed at easy thrills. The writers could have played this in such a different manner, especially as we see a similar event occur later on with Seo Jin throwing Ha Na in the way of danger. But anything else would have been better than making the male lead lose the respect of the audience. Seriously, drama, do better.

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The Better

Hyun Bin as Goo Seo Jin. This is going to sound a bit contradictory given what I just criticized about “Hyde Jekyll, Me,” but I am still so happy to see, impressed with, and excited about Hyun Bin being in a new drama. I would say that Hyun Bin was the reason why certain scenes worked, and definitely what saved other scenes from falling apart. Even at the episodes’ most ridiculous points, Hyun Bin was still so committed to the character, but more than that, what made these episodes work were all those moments when he wasn’t barking out orders and crushing little kids’ dreams, where he wasn’t throwing women to beasts, or choking on air. Where Hyun Bin shows his quality as an actor is in those moments when he catches a glimpse of himself in a mirror, he’s terrified of his own reflection, when he’s allowed hope for a cure to bloom in his chest, only to have it cruelly ripped from his desperate hands. It doesn’t excuse anything about Seo Jin’s behavior or his treatment of others, but there is something pitiful about his character being so emotionally crippled.

What lies beneath Seo Jin’s carefully crafted facade is a painfully wounded and scared human being. Seo Jin has had to withdraw from the world, removing himself from anything, person, or stimuli that could bring up his MSP (Metamorphosis Signal Point), which, in the drama, acts like the threshold for when Seo Jin loses control and Robin emerges (anything above 150 and Seo Jin crumbles to the ground and Robin comes to life). He’s afraid of literally losing himself, of not knowing what his body is doing, of ceasing to exist. The writers have taken him to an extreme, but even if they are trying to undermine Seo Jin’s character, what is saving him right now is Hyun Bin and those tortured (beautiful) eyes of his.

I am most looking forward to seeing Seo Jin’s character arc, because as utterly adorable and charming Hyun Bin is as Robin (and he is. Oh goodness, he is so disarming), it is, by far, more interesting, challenging, and intriguing for Seo Jin to develop into a decent kind of guy.

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Chemistry 101. And we want Seo Jin to become a decent guy because whenever Han Ji Min is in his arms–whoa. I’m pretty sure Hyun Bin can have chemistry with a rock, so all the better that he’s playing the romantic lead opposite the loveliest Han Ji Min with her glowing hair. Here I am, drama, all ready to love them, so please don’t mess this up.

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The Verdict

It wasn’t a perfect start. That being said, it wasn’t a bad start either. Far from it. I think “Hyde Jekyll, Me” suffered from the weight of expectation and perhaps pandered to too many demands. Episode 2 was definitely better than episode 1, and that is a good, reassuring sign. “Hyde Jekyll, Me” has a lot of talent and resources at its disposal, and I think it just needs to find its pace and tone. I’m willing to forgive its missteps because when you strip the drama down to it’s core elements, its earnestness overshadows its flaws.

What did you think of the “Hyde Jekyll, Me”? Are you feeling as polarized as Seo Jin and Robin? Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments below!

[tv]Catch the first episode of Hyde Jekyll, Me on SoompiTV![/tv]

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