Written by Lee Je-In & Jeon Chan-Ho
Directed by Jin Hyeok
That the third episode of Sisyphus: The Myth quotes William Gibson, noted sci-fi author, key architect of the cyberpunk and co-writer of one of my all-time favourite episodes of The X-Files, maybe gives you a sense of just how geeky and knowledgeable the writers of Sisyphus are and just how much glee there is in the dabbling of so many tropes and sci-fi ideas.
By the time we get to the fourth episode, it’s very clear that what we have here is a gender swapped version of the first Terminator and while there isn’t any actual reference to James Cameron’s brilliantly nightmarish and none more 1980s sci-fi thriller, you can feel the tribute radiating off the screen and the positive enjoyment of everyone combining sci-fi, time travel, chase sequences and romance.
Unlike that movie, however, there is more fun to be had with the central relationship between the two characters. Yes, Cameron’s film became a love story in its third act, but there is something considerably more jovial in the chemistry between Park Shin-hye and Cho Seung-woo. There is a lovely sense of chemistry crackling between them, a backward and forwards to their dialogue where the series is positively enjoying using the trope of characters not liking each other at first glance but in a way that you know will turn to love by the time the final episodes roll around.
You also get the sense the everyone here has figured out the formula for how to approach the drama. This is a series that knows how to get the adrenalin going with high-octane action and the sight of Park Shin-hye kicking ass and taking out Control Bureau agents every episode not losing any momentum yet, not to mention the fact that every member of the Bureau are male and look like they should be auditioning for the next big K-pop boy band.
Armed with guns and dressed in the slickest dark suits this side of a Tarantino film, any time they appear on screen it feels as if they are just one step away from either indulging in violence or bursting into song. I suppose there is a near musical quality to those fight scenes; the choreography is really impressive, the violence landing with brutal authority, and the adrenalin surging through our veins as we wonder how the characters that we are coming to care for will get out of the mess they are in.
It’s all very exciting for sure, and on an aesthetic level it’s well produced television, and while the third episode is tremendously entertaining, it does leave one wondering if the series can both sustain this level of suspense and action for another thirteen episodes, or if it will throw its oar into more human drama.
The philosophical conundrums that are hovering over the story (since this is a time travel story it’s understandable that there would be) suggest something deeper and less artificial and it’s with its fourth chapter that Sisyphus plunges itself into something more substantial and brilliant and suggests that we might be in for something very special here.
The entire fourth hour feels like a potential watershed episode for the series. It still has a lot of action, but a lot of it is carried by considerable emotional stakes, fuelled by a furthering development of its world. Before it resolves last week’s cliff-hanger, we get a brilliant prologue depicting the future world that Seo-hae has arrived from, and the devastating possibility that she hasn’t come from some far-away post-apocalyptic future but one that is potentially just around the corner from the present day.
That BTS is still popular and ‘Spring Day’ remains a popular song choice comes as some sort of reassurance and there’s something oddly funny that the series still manages to promote a make-up product even in the face of apocalyptic devastation, but it soon gives way to resolving last week’s final scene and with it and an easing up of Sisyphus’ main story to devote itself to what at first appears to be a lovely little stand-alone story involving a traveller from the future looking to make peace his with mother.
It is eventually hinted at that we might have just been introduced to a key antagonist for future episodes given the chilling hint he gives to Seo-hae, but it’s the emotional undercurrent of the episode that makes it an impressive one. Fuelled by regret over his last conversation with his sick mother, Go Yoon’s performance as cop and potential future Bureau agent Hyun-ki gives the entire episode a sense of emotional reality that has otherwise been lacking amongst the massively entertaining onslaught of incident and prolonged set-pieces, but here gives events a jolting charge that cannot help but leave a lump in your throat and a feeling of poignancy.
Never has the mere suggestion of ramyeon in a K-drama felt as emotionally loaded as it does here. There will be tears.
Yes, there is more action and another brilliantly intense cliff-hanger, but you also get the brilliant feeling that the series has turned a corner and has now given itself not only an emotional anchor to attach itself to, but with Seo-hae’s soliloquy about time travel and regret, quite possibly a deeper and philosophical one.