Episode 1 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 2 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 3 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 4 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 5 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 6 – | Review Score – 2.5/5
Episode 7 – | Review Score – 2.5/5
Episode 8 – | Review Score – 1.5/5
Episode 9 – | Review Score – 2.5/5
Episode 10 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 11 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 12 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 13 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 14 – | Review Score – 2.5/5
Episode 15 – | Review Score – 2/5
Episode 16 – | Review Score –2.5/5
Throw together some political intrigue, a passion for mathematics, high school angst, and forbidden love; and there you have the k-drama Melancholia. This romantic series starring Lee Do-Hyun and Im Soo-Jung promised a nail-biting story of virtue versus privilege, of love versus personal gain. Unfortunately, it doesn’t deliver.
Melancholia’s storyline can be laid out in two parts. In part 1 (episodes 1 through 6), Yoon-soo (Im) accepts a maths teaching position at Ahseong, a private high school. When she meets student and maths genius Seung-yoo (Lee), she mentors him in an attempt to get him interested in mathematics again. By doing so, she and Seung-yoo unwittingly gain enemies in the school’s director, Noh Jung-ah (Jin Kyung), and her prized student, Ye-rin (Woo Da-Vi).
Part 2 of the show (episodes 7 through 16) shifts in tone. It follows Seung-yoo’s and Yoon-soo’s respective paths to expose Ahseong’s deep-seated corruption and to take down Ms. Noh.
The majority of the season focuses primarily on school politics and Ms. Noh’s schemes, with the romance between the two protagonists serving as an underlying subplot.
I’m well aware that the existence of this romance is controversial. Without going into deep spoilers, and simply to ease potential viewers’ minds, I’ll say that Seung-yoo and Yoon-soo do not strike up a relationship while Seung-yoo is a student. In a clueless manner, however, they do spend a lot of time alone together.
The progression of their relationship is actually rather slow and nonsensical. In the second part of the series, Seung-yoo’s character takes a 180-degree turn, and his pursuit of Yoon-soo comes across as overbearing and even a bit stalker-ish.
Seung-yoo is not the only one to see drastic character change throughout the course of the season. Some characters demonstrate inspiring growth, like Ye-rin. Others–particularly Ms. Noh–devolve into the simplest of caricatures. It doesn’t help that the show has such a large cast of characters that it can barely juggle them all.
Ms. Noh is a prime example of the K-drama’s oversimplification of good and evil. Instead of providing a nuanced take on corruption in the world, Melancholia is content to portray everything as black and white. The initial complexity of Ms. Noh’s character, then, is reduced to a cackling, mean, and mentally unstable woman who represents evil itself.
Melancholia also struggles with uneven pacing. Several episodes do very well by providing a consistent flow of compelling twists. However, the show relies heavily on filler moments that bring the suspense to a screeching halt.
When it stays focused, this Korean drama can be passionate and moving. It boasts some clever directions and strong character arcs, but often gets distracted from what works for the show and instead chases outlandish plots simply for the sake of shock value.
Overall, Melancholia has its enjoyable moments. Still, it demands much more from viewers than it gives in return.
Verdict - 4/10