Written by Lee Je-In & Jeon Chan-Ho
Directed by Jin Hyeok
After three blocks of episodes where the comparisons to The Terminator appeared obvious, the series just goes and has a character name check the movie. It’s a lovely nod and a wink from the writers that they aren’t afraid to acknowledge the influences of other key sci-fi texts.
What’s even more interesting is that the reference comes in the sixth episode, which for the most part turns down the Terminator-esque stylings of the story, for one that cannot help but remind you of another Arnold Schwarzenegger science fiction film; Total Recall.
That film was based on a short story by Philip K Dick and there is a semblance of paranoia to the sixth chapter of Sisyphus that reminds one of the type of ‘what is real?’ sci-fi story that Dick was famous for and which prompted a Schwarzenegger character to order another to ‘get your ass to Mars’.
There are no trips to Mars here, obviously, but what we do get is a deliciously paranoid and increasingly suspenseful episode that indicates just how much Sisyphus is getting better and better at this stage.
The obvious thing to point out is just how good Cho Seung-woo is here. The chemistry between himself and Park Shin-hye has been sparkling, fun and very comedic so far and by the time we’re in the middle of their little undercover operation to get Seo-hae embedded into the party being held by the Quantum and Time board so they can find out more information on what is going on, the series not only goes and throws an abundance of plot twists our way, but daringly decides to devote a large chunk of the episode to Tae-sul being separated from Seo-hae.
The lack of Park Shin-hye could be a problem. The series is marketing itself very heavily on her presence and the last few episodes have done a magnificent job of selling us on the screwball comedy-style back and forth between her and Cho Seong-woo, but you have to hand it to the writers here, they have managed to pull off a paranoid drenched piece of sci-fi that plays with the expectation of the audience based on the series’ rules and the revelations over the motivations of certain characters.
For a good twenty-minute block of the episode, you’re not quite sure what is going on. You have an inkling, but the time travel nature of the story means that for a minute, there is the possibility that Tae-sul has been sent back several days and is now in the midst of changing the timeline.
You kind of suspect he is being tricked via some sort of long con, and in the end it turns out he is, but this being sci-fi with a time travel element, the possibilities are there for any direction for the series to take and it’s this unknowing part of the story where the episode thrives. Deception, pills and more deception are the order of the day here and it’s this quietly encroaching sense of terror that gives Sisyphus something new to run with in terms of story and it does so to a tremendous degree.
Timelines and time travel can easily become messy and get long form narratives such as this into trouble, but that’s not the intention here. Instead the writing throws its lead character into an increasingly paranoid story where nothing is what it seems, and everyone has shady motivations. That they choose to tell the story mostly from Tae-sul’s point of view means that we the audience are never quite sure either and are brilliantly sharing the confusion with Tae-sul’s increasingly paranoid and confused state.
It’s a brilliant edge of the seat episode and the best of the series so far. Given how great episode five is as well, and we had our first genuine classic episode of the series last week with the introduction of Go Yoon’s character, it’s very clear that Sisyphus is in the midst of a great run of episodes.
Whether or not the series can withstand this much plot and incident, not to mention villainous characters (I think I count at least four recurring villains, five if we count the one appearing during the cliffhanger ending this week) remains to be seen, but it’s clear that the nerdier sci-fi loving side of the series is giving the writers an opportunity to run with tropes, ideas and themes that have been part and parcel of the genre for so long but which the series has having a lot of fun with.
The series has frequently thrown in an abundance of action and spectacle up to this point, but given that it’s gaining suspense from the emergence of Hyun-ki as a Control Bureau agent being manipulated via his grief by the head of the agency and the reveal of Tae-sul’s therapist Seo-jin as part of the larger conspiracy of the series, it’s managing to gain thrills from character and dialogue as much as it is from action, fights and gunfire. It’s still throwing that into the mix too, but it’s also an indication that the series has considerable meat on the bones and isn’t afraid to be a little darker and meaner with its character interactions.
Tae-sul’s story builds and builds, eventually having Seo-jin reveal her truly evil intentions and manipulative character. It eventually gives way to a happy reunion with Seo-hae, but even that leads to the reveal of a figure looming large over the story, an Orwellian figure keeping his eyes on all that is happening it seems.
It’s all getting very exciting.