Final Review: “While You Were Sleeping” Leaves Loose Ends But Is Worth Getting Hooked On

No, this isn’t just a bad dream: “While You Were Sleeping” is really over, and we miss it already! From the nightmares to the laugh-out-loud moments, the nail-biting court trials to the feel-good scenes, the drama delivered some wonderful content over the past 16 episodes. But that’s not to say that “While You Were Sleeping” was entirely without faults, so let’s recap what we thought of the drama, both the great and the disappointing.

Warning: the second half of this review contains spoilers for the final episodes

Perhaps the number one reason we’re sad to bid “While You Were Sleeping” farewell is the adorable friendship/love triangle of the Three Flying Dragons: Hong Joo (Suzy), Jae Chan (Lee Jong Suk), and Woo Tak (Jung Hae In). These three are as charismatic as can be, not to mention quirky, earnest, and so genuinely good that it was heartwarming to watch them grow closer together with every challenge and near-death experience they faced.

Of course, the romance was also central to the drama, and Hong Joo and Jae Chan’s relationship was natural and sweet, and refreshingly funny due to Hong Joo’s eccentricities as a female lead.

But it wasn’t the Three Flying Dragons alone that made “While You Were Sleeping” such a joy to watch: the drama’s supporting characters were all just as lovable and quirky as the main trio. From the workplace…

to the family dynamics…

Each and every character added an extra dimension to the drama that made the storyline that much richer. And while none of the characters presented particularly challenging roles to play, the actors were well-suited to their parts in a way that really made them shine. Little details can make drama characters come to life, and it’s a credit to the show’s writers that “While You Were Sleeping” is rife with these humanizing elements, like Lee Yoo Beom’s (Lee Sang Yeob) nervous habit of rolling up bits of paper when he’s thinking.

Yoo Beom is admittedly confusing as a villain; it would be a stretch to say he’s full-blown evil, because we do see signs of his self-loathing for defending some truly vile people. But he’s a good foil for our main characters, and through this contrast the drama shows how the choices people make impact those around them. Self-centered Yoo Beom never cares about how his decisions affect others, and ends up having to lie and fabricate, digging himself a hole that eventually becomes way too deep to climb out of. The Three Flying Dragons, on the other hand, choose to always diligently to stick to what they know to be right, at times even putting their careers at risk, in their desire to do good.

The criminals that Yoo Beom defends are more standard villains, and the drama became a bit repetitive when it cycled through one of these bad guys after another, falling into a familiar pattern of our characters dealing with the latest case, dreaming about some related danger, and then saving each other from this danger. Perhaps it’s inevitable that a show in which the characters can see the future is bound to be predictable. But because this cycle became so familiar, each hazard that the characters faced felt less urgent, so that by the time the drama reached Hong Joo’s big scene with the green umbrella, the situation had lost much of its gravity because we were so used to Jae Chan, Hong Joo, and Woo Tak bailing each other out.

To break up this pattern, the drama might have benefitted from delving further into the dream abilities. In general, this was one of the biggest disappointments in “While You Were Sleeping” – it bestows its characters with this remarkable and interesting power… but then does little to explore the how and why of this power.

Why does Hong Joo have these dreams in the first place? Why do Jae Chan’s dreams only start up once he comes into contact with her again, and not when she saved his life 13 years ago? Do the other, random characters that the Three Flying Dragons save also develop the dream ability? We arrive at the end of the show with a lot of unanswered questions about this key plot device.

All things considered, this is fine, because “While You Were Sleeping” is so enjoyable that it can get away with not fully delivering on this fantasy element. It’s only when we look back at the beginning of the drama (remember how mind-bendingly meta the first week was, with multiple layers of dreams and reality?) that we realize that the direction the drama ultimately took was not quite what we were promised at the outset.

What we got was a lot more straightforward, but also more focused on the comedy and the relationships, which I’m not complaining about, because it helped furnish the characters with so many layers, both in the present and in their shared past.

Warning: the remainder of the review contains spoilers for Episodes 13-16

“While You Were Sleeping” really finished strong with its bittersweet yet feel-good finale. The death of Choi Dam Dong (Kim Won Hae), so shortly after the revelation that he was the police officer that Hong Joo and Jae Chan saved when they were children, was heart-wrenching in the best of ways. Jae Chan talking to a dying Investigator Choi in the present, knowing that the Choi of 13 years ago is/was listening to his words in a dream and has/will live with them in his heart for so many years – and still make the same choices that will ultimately lead to his death, just to watch over Jae Chan – gives a new level of poignancy to the entire arc of the drama.

Investigator Choi’s death also makes us wonder if this is the drama’s way, however ambiguous, of resolving some questions that it posed and then largely ignored. Remember all that talk in the first few episodes about time flowing like water, and the mystery of what would come of the characters altering the flow of time?

Are we meant to think that Choi’s death by car crash is time’s way of making up for the fact that they saved Woo Tak from dying via car crash at the very beginning? Does this mean that somehow the direction to which they redirected time has taken root, and our main trio will no longer face constant mortal peril? It would be nice if the drama offered a clear explanation of this, instead of leaving us scrambling to fill in the gaps.

Speaking of Woo Tak, he endears himself to us even more (did we even think that was possible?) in the finale when he forfeits his job as a police officer rather than perjure as a witness, and then reveals just how alone in the world he is, with parents that wouldn’t even care if they learned of his sacrifice.

We’re heartbroken for him, but also even more glad that he finally has found a family in the form of his friendship with Hong Joo, Jae Chan, and of course, Hong Joo’s mom, who always had a special soft spot for the lovable police officer.

With all these people supporting him, we have a feeling Woo Tak will be just fine. And as for Hong Joo and Jae Chan, well….

Final thoughts

“While You Were Sleeping” really delivered when it came to the characters and the sheer range of emotions they made us feel. We laughed out loud, held our breath, contemplated some tough moral questions, sobbed our hearts out, and laughed some more (seriously, this drama was hysterical). The struggles that each character faced are what made the drama so impactful and easy to connect with: Hong Joo’s choice to go back to work despite her death dream, Prosecutor Son’s decision to carry out an autopsy even though it would deny her son an organ transplant, Woo Tak’s choice to be a truthful witness even when it meant losing his job. The drama was so effective at warming our hearts because it reminds us:

Is “While You Were Sleeping” about the characters’ dream abilities and how they hone and use these powers to change the future? No, not so much. But it is about a group of highly endearing characters trying to do good in the world and realizing that this isn’t always easy; that hardships and setbacks and pain are inevitable, but if they keep doing their best, they’ll make it through, together, to happier days. And really, what more could we ask for?

Want to know what all the hype is about? Catch “While You Were Sleeping” on Rakuten Viki! Start watching here:

Hey Soompiers, what did you think of “While You Were Sleeping”? Let us know in the comments!

hgordon stays up way too late on weeknights marathoning K-dramas and trying to keep up with the latest K-pop releases.

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