Written by Lee Je-in & Jeon Chan-ho
Directed by Jin Hyeok
The way Sisyphus: The Myth plays devilishly with its tone over the course of its ninth episode is magnificent. The chemistry between Park Shin-hye and Cho Seung-woo gets its most romantic workout during Seo-hae’s birthday visit to an amusement park, the same one that we saw her visit in the series’ future timeline last week.
Of course, the series is toying with us in the most brilliant way and just as we get comfortable, the sense of foreboding danger hanging over proceedings strikes as hard as it has done before and Seo-hae is in the clutches of the Control Bureau, at the mercy of an increasingly vengeful Hyun-gi, and a drug that might wipe her out of existence.
Yes, the series is getting increasingly fraught at this point and any sense of believability is going out a high window that for anyone that hasn’t been enraptured by the crazy twists and turns so far, might be inclined to switch off by this point. Much is being made of its less than stellar ratings performance in Korea, and admittedly you kind of get the sense that the series might be one that is better suited to a binging model than delivered in weekly chapters, but for anyone who has stuck the course, the first half of episode nine and the increasingly suspenseful edge of episode ten can’t help but gets its claws into you further.
The cliffhanger end to episode 10 and its reveal of an older version of Kim Seo-jin is a definite guarantee that anyone still sticking with it will be back for the next episode.
The masterstroke of these two hours is without a doubt the prolonged set-piece devoted to the missile attack on South Korea that fills in the gaps as to how we’ve ended up where we are in the future timeline, but which might also be one of the most emotionally horrifying depictions of the end of the world put to screen in a long time.
So many US productions in the last twenty years featuring end of the world scenarios and sequences of mass destruction (such as the current onslaught of superhero films) clearly take their cue from the imagery of 9/11 and while there are moments here that cannot help but remind one of that day (and it’s perhaps no accident that the day itself has been invoked in certain aspects of the villain’s backstory), the visual of Seoul being bombarded by missiles from the sky and the eventual attack by nuclear means plays into fears and geo-political paranoia that probably cannot help but hit close to home considering the still fraught relationship the country has with its neighbours across the DMZ.
Away from the real-world, the sequence itself is a masterclass in tension, staging and production values. Yes, one or two moments of CGI aren’t quite on a par with the rest of the sequence, but it’s still a tremendously well done and brilliantly put together piece of television that builds and builds in terms of its scale and devastation.
Seo-hae’s parents being constantly attacked by a strange man who is clearly grieving the loss of his own daughter and who fixates on Seo-hae, eventually stabbing her mother and forcing her father to take the man’s life, is as dark as anything the series has come up with so far.
So much of the action and physical altercations between the characters’ throughout the series has played brilliantly fast and loose with geography, editing and choreography, and in fact Seo-hae’s father, an increasingly brilliant and quietly powerful performance from Kim Jong-tae, gets a slickly done fight scene in episode 10 that makes for a more escapist version of his despatching of the danger that he faces as the world crumbles around him in episode 9.
It’s a devastating moment that will probably draw out differing reactions from the audience given the choice that has to be made. That it’s a moment that indirectly leads to the death of Seo-hae’s mother who has no choice but to eventually make the ultimate sacrifice because her wounds are going to kill her in any event could easily have fallen into the realms of melodrama in lesser hands but which turn out to be as powerful as anything the series has delivered yet.
Tears are all but guaranteed, from the characters and the audience and in a series full of massively entertaining moments, it’s the most powerful the series has been so far due to how unflinching it is in its sense of death and loss.