Written by Lee Je-In & Jeon Chan-Ho
Directed by Jin Hyeok
Hitting the halfway mark of Sisyphus’ run, you get the feeling that something major is on the horizon and sure enough, the eighth episode runs through a whole range of revelations that cannot help but leave you reeling at the possibilities of what they might suggest for its story, characters and larger world-building.
Before we get to what might amount to a game changing episode of the series, episode seven runs through Seo-hae’s version of the events of last week’s story as she finds herself trying desperately to save Tae-sul from the clutches of Seo-jin and the larger conspiracy orchestrated by Sigma.
It’s very much a section of the series that trades water a little because we know she’s going to save him, and it’s also relies more on Sisyphus’ trademark action and well put together set pieces. As always, it’s very entertaining and a lot of fun, but it lacks the considerable sense of suspense and unpredictability that came from last week’s descent into paranoia and never-ending suspicion that was undoubtedly a series highlight.
What ends up developing over the second half of episode seven and which runs into the nearly the whole duration of episode eight, is the escalation of threat that comes from the mysterious Sigma.
It’s here that Sisyphus starts to resemble the onslaught of blockbuster American television from the mid-2000s and as someone who is a massive fan of that era of television, that’s not a bad thing. We don’t really have a sense of who or what Sigma is; is it a criminal organisation or a person?
That answer comes in the darkly satisfying second episode from this week and a stomach-churning certainty that we’re in the presence of a truly diabolical villain.
Michael Caine once intoned in The Dark Knight that some people just want to watch the world burn and that is exactly the impression you get from Sisyphus’ central antagonist. Like The Joker, he isn’t above burning stacks of cash because he can. Kim Byung-chul’s performance is darkly commanding, deeply mysterious and evokes a level of threat that just adds to the increasingly suspenseful air.
Like so much of the series and it’s exploration of time travel tropes and ideas, it takes an idea that we’ve all thought about, and was even explored in the second Back to the Future film, of going back and taking advantage of our knowledge of things like sporting events and world history, and the possibility of using it for financial gain. Instead of a sports almanac, Sigma is taking advantage of the stock exchange and knowledge of world history (including 9/11) to become powerful and rich.
This is a villain of very few words and brilliantly director Jin Heyok and writers Lee Je-in and Jeon Chan-ho go for a ‘show, don’t tell’ approach to the character’s actions. We watch as he makes his fortune, the pile of money in his hotel room growing larger and larger, increasingly taking advantage of the world around him and amassing more wealth.
He hasn’t even shared much of the way of screen time yet with our heroes, but already he is posing a massive threat, radiating an increasing sense of jeopardy and danger on proceedings and that’s before we even get to the bigger revelation at the end of the episode.
The post-apocalyptic sequences of the series featuring Park Shin-hye travelling over the remains of Seoul with her colourful gun and scavenging for food and supplies are amongst the very best scenes of the series because they also rely less on words and more on visuals to tell the story. There is always the danger such moments could become filler, but they always have a habit of exploring Sisyphus’ world to a brilliant degree, letting us see what awaits our characters if history isn’t changed and also allowing us to spend time with Seo-hae as a character away from Tae-sul’s increasing obsession with events.
Her discovery of a shared grave that contains her and, presumably, Tae-sul’s remains, as well as the diary that we assumed she had written during the future timeline but in fact has done so during her mission to the past (is there a paradox of sorts being created here given that it is she that gives herself the object in question in the future/) and the possibility that maybe she has been trying to accomplish her mission more than once, adds more questions than answers, but they are questions that cannot help but leave you desperately wanting more episodes.
At this stage Sisyphus: The Myth has become a brilliantly calibrated slice of blockbuster television packed to the rafters with incident, mystery and unanswered questions and the writing is on fire at this stage.
There are some blanks being filled in, but also a sense that its larger mysteries are still somewhat out of reach, just waiting to be given to us and its characters. The discovery of Sigma’s painting of Sisyphus himself and the story of his doing the same task of dragging a rock up a mountain over and over again also gives the disturbing suggestion that this is not the first time Sigma and Seo-tae have found themselves in these events.
Their knowledge of things like lottery numbers from memory and Sigma’s ability to cash in and take advantage of events around them suggest foreknowledge that goes beyond study and memory commitment.
Of course, this is all speculation at this point, but it’s part and parcel of how much fun a series like this can be that it can fuel this amount of debate, both in terms of storytelling and the series’ larger philosophical concerns that it doesn’t for one minute lose the audience.
There are a lot of plates being spun here still, and the series has just gone and added even more to its palette. Best of all, it’s showing no signs of slowing down just yet and now as it heads into the second half of its run, it’s simply only getting better and better.