It seems that Goodbye Mr. Black was doomed for abandonment right from the start. Previously, SBS shafted it for Remember, and its existence remained uncertain until MBC decided to pick it up. Now, it is pitted against KBS mega-hit Descendants of the Sun, whose ratings broke 30% , the first time for any drama since 2012.
Goodbye Mr. Black faced some stiff competition right from the get-go, but the real question is: will it be pushed to the sidelines once again?
As Goodbye Mr. Black was advertised as a revenge melodrama, and with lead actors such as Moon Chae-won and Lee Jin-wook, it seemed that Goodbye Mr. Black wouldn’t go down without a fight. But after these first four episodes and the lack of plot progression and interesting characters, whether Goodbye Mr. Black will ever escape being overshadowed is still up for contention.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the first four episodes is that there was nothing more than exposition. We knew from the premise that Swan a.k.a. Kaya (Moon Chae-won) would fall in love with Cha Ji-won a.k.a. Black (Lee Jin-wook). We also knew that Ji-won’s lover Yoon Ma-ri (Yoo In-young) and his best friend Min Seon-jae (Kim Kang-woo) would marry one another and betray him, making Ji-won want revenge. Thus, though the story behind the revenge was solidly set up in the first four hours, it left feelings of dissatisfaction. It seemed as though four hours passed and nothing really happened. Throughout the four episodes, I was merely waiting for the avenging to occur, but it did not. These four hours could have been cut and tightened into one or two episodes, or the background information could have been presented in the form of flashbacks.
It also didn’t help that the small taste of revenge we we were waiting for finally appeared at the end of the fourth episode only to end up anticlimactic. We waited with bated breath for Ji-won’s return, yet he just shows up one day at a party. Perhaps Ji-won’s mere presence at the party was supposed to be swoon-worthy and shocking in and of itself (since they all thought he was dead), but it felt unsatisfactory.
If he was going to play with the lights, he could have done something more interesting. It seems that the show was trying to play with Ji-won’s use of Morse Code, but its significance is still not apparent. It would have made more sense if he used it as a code to scare Seon-jae and make contact with Kaya, but that did not happen. Either use the motif properly or don’t use it at all.
In terms of character, the main characters driving the plot seemed typical and flat.
Ji-won, our main character, is the typical rebellious and “perfect” protagonist that has everything but claims to want none of it. He faces an unfortunate event and becomes dark and brooding. He doesn’t seem quite real yet. Rather than assuming how he would feel during certain situations because it’s the logical way to respond, viewers should be able to get into his head more and actually experience it.
For example, when his father died, it make sense that he should be heartbroken, but it would have been better if we had a stronger picture of the father-son bond so we could feel the poignancy of the death more acutely. Similarly, the betrayal of Ji-won’s lover and best friend could also have been felt more acutely if we saw more of how they grew up and came to love and rely on one another.
Seon-jae is just as typically the poor, overshadowed best friend who feels that he has no place in the world, forcing him to resort to questionable acts to assert his existence. A compelling antagonist is one that causes us to sympathize with him, but Seon-jae merely appeared to be a whiny teenager.
If his actions were deeply explored, one might sympathize with him. One could see how his anger might have built up and overflowed due to constant neglect, and yet, like Ji-won, his struggle did not resonate with me. There should be more than just shots of his jealousy every time Ji-won gets something that he doesn’t. How do we know that he isn’t just one of those kids that wants whatever he can’t have? If we saw more of the characters’ youths and how Ji-won got lots of love while Seon-jae didn’t, Seon-jae’s actions would be more sensical and more resonant with viewers.
Perhaps these these characters were once novel and interesting, but they’ve shown up one too many times. Thus, they need to be fleshed out more such that they are set apart from mere tropes. Right now, the characters’ actions are justified in relation to the character tropes by way of the struggles of previous characters like them, but the characters need to separate themselves from previous characters and forge their own identities.
The relationships in the drama were also a bit confusing.
First of all, Ma-ri is a confusing and inconsistent character. She seemingly had no interest in Ji-won until after he proposed to her, after which she suddenly appears hopelessly devoted to him. Similarly, she had no interest in Seon-jae, but once Ji-won was thought to be dead, she marries Seon-jae and the two are portrayed to be a dream couple.
As mentioned previously, if we were going to get so much exposition, we should have gotten more information on the nature of the love triangle between Ma-ri, Seon-jae, and Ji-won. This portrayal frames Ma-ri as a woman that only cares about marriage but not who she is married to.
However, Ma-ri’s previous dedication to Ji-won’s father and sister Cha Ji-soo (Im Se-mi) implies that the drama wished to portray her as an upright, independent woman that could be depended upon. Subsequently, her “betrayal” of Ji-won seems uncharacteristic of her. One could argue that she settled for Seon-jae because she was so devastated by Ji-won and the chairman’s deaths and Ji-soo’s disappearance, but she didn’t strike me as the helpless and resigned type. After all, she pointedly switches back the Cha family portrait when Seon-jae switches it out, indicating that she does still care about the lost Cha family. So why does she eventually replace the portrait with her wedding photo? And why don’t we see her doing anything? Even the seemingly useless Ji-soo discovers Seon-jae’s ploy and makes her escape, why can’t Ma-ri do something for herself and her beliefs?
That brings up another question: what exactly has Ji-soo been doing? Why hasn’t she alerted her friend Ma-ri that her husband is a questionable character? Her actions are confusing and nonsensical as well.
Also, the relationship between Black and Swan (Ji-won and Kaya) seemed extremely contrived. The cheesy “Wherever you are, I’ll find you” and forced romanticism felt unnatural. Ji-won was clearly still in love with Ma-ri, yet he hung around and latched onto Kaya, who was clearly lonely and infatuated with him. He also seemed to have trusted Kim Ji-ryoon (Kim Tae Woo) in Thailand, yet he kept going back to Kaya to save him. This doesn’t make sense because Kaya’s just a poor girl who can’t do much for him, but Ji-ryoon is a rich man that would probably be much more helpful.
As much as I like Kaya, she seems to have been forcefully written in to complicate the love triangle. It also doesn’t help that she is typical hardworking poor girl that has lost a lot, and has an equally typical Long-legged Ahjussi, making her both a typical and irrelevant character.
However, the show still has a lot of potential to grow and tie up the loose ends. After all, the main plot has only just begun. We will just have to wait and see what happens next.
Does anyone else tuning in think that they will continue watching? What were your thoughts on the first four episodes? Was the extended exposition necessary?