Written by Lee Je-in & Jeon Chan-ho
Directed by Jin Hyeok
There is a considerable sense of unbeatable odds creeping into Sisyphus over the course of its penultimate block of episodes. That so much plot and incident is being thrown at the screen is somewhat masking (very successfully it has to be said) that its writers have never really had a clear handle on its time travel themes, but then I don’t think that was what was really driving the narrative here.
Once again, there is a real joy to be had in watching the characters deal with the circumstances they are in, but I don’t honestly believe that if you were to sit down and track the way the story has been told via its timelines and the way its time travel conceit affects one strand of the future and then the past and how its time travelling characters are impacting on one against the other that it would make any logical sense and that you might be more inclined to find an abundance of time travelling related plot holes.
It’s not the first time that’s happened with a time travel story, and it certainly won’t be the last, but what is really giving this such an entertaining momentum is the manner in which the writers are throwing everything they can at the wall and on an emotional level a lot of it is sticking wonderfully.
My biggest fear around the halfway point of the series was that it might fall into some of the same problematic traps with its central relationship as The Time Traveller’s Wife, the Audrey Niffenegger novel and its 2009 film adaptation that starred Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana.
That story essentially had to rely on queasily uncomfortable elements to make its central romance work in the context of its timeline and given that Seo-hae has travelled from 2035 and there is a version of her in the present day who is a child, there was the potential for the series to fall into certain traps that could make the chemistry between its leads and the romance the writers are convincing us of one with a very uncomfortable and disturbing edge.
So far, they haven’t done that and given that they are playing very quick and fast with their time travel rules, it’s seems as if they aren’t going to fall into potentially problematic and disturbing notions.
It’s a good thing too because at this stage Park Shin-hye and Cho Seong-woo have a lovely gentle rapport going on in all their scenes, although there is some considerable edge this week given the moral conundrum they find themselves in at the end of episode 13 and the fall-out that comes with it in the following episode.
What is also becoming very apparent is just how much of an MVP Kim Byung-chul is at this stage. One of the most complex villains to have emerged in any recent television drama, especially in a K-drama, his performance and character development has ranged from being quietly menacing, to more overtly threatening and darkly humourous to one with an incredibly complex and tragic backstory.
One of the most often used thought experiments when it comes to time travel theories is the Hitler question and whether or not you would kill Hitler before he rose to power and killed as many Jews as he did during World War II.
Sisyphus presents a variation here as Seo-hae and Tae-sul find Sigma, real name Seo Gil-buk, before he used the uploader in the future and find a man driven to despair and suicide by what is clearly mental illness. The slickly dressed, humorous, witty and very threatening presence is shown to be a man torn apart by desperation, suicidal thoughts and finding himself at the mercy of not only our heroes on the verge of killing him, but also in the middle of a situation that he has no knowledge off and whose only hope of being saved is from his more psychotic self who has arrived from the future.
The reveal that Sigma has managed to rope in key members of Korea’s political realm and is living large and well in the future he has created gives the series and these episodes an added element of social commentary that is quite welcome, but it’s the thriller and ethical elements where these two episodes are at their absolute best.
Whether it’s threatening our heroes, sending pieces of Seo-hae’s father from the future to her in one of the darkest scenes of the entire series or just the way he gleefully and quietly mouths a victorious ‘yes’ as he manipulates Sun to his side, his performance is fantastic, memorable and darkly entertaining. He is villain of considerable power, and that he is imbued with such dark humour that cannot help but make you laugh all the while you’re being shocked by his actions makes him something of a classic antagonist.
The lack of rules or logic aside with regards to the time travel elements, what is really soaring at this stage is just how suspenseful a lot of this is and how it’s becoming increasingly nail biting just as it’s about to hit its final two hours.
The cliffhanger ending, along with the reveal that Tae-sul is the one responsible for creating the bunker that protects Seo-hae and her father in the future, and the number of plot elements hanging in the air, not to mention a nuclear threat, is giving this K-drama a considerable sense of scale and threat as it reaches it conclusion, and for anyone who has stuck with the series so far, the week long wait for those final episodes is going to feel very, very long.