I want to start by acknowledging that obviously a time travel drama is expected to be a topsy-turvy rollercoaster of missed connections and crisscrossed timelines. In fact, if it were not, I think I would be sorely disappointed. The drama Alice is therefore exactly what was prescribed in the confusing department. With that being said, and while the show is definitely more than exciting, the plot itself is somewhat foundationally precarious and there are some uncomfortable themes.
The movie Minority Report is an American movie set in the year 2054 that combines noir action and sci-fi, using “pre-crime” as a means to prevent crime before it even happens. While not directly related to time travel physically persay, the movie explores the possible fallout if one is wrong about said prescribed future. Alice takes this concept further and sends agents from an elusive and seemingly powerful agency (with hyper advanced tech might I add) to catch criminals and protect a “Book of Prophecy” that has yet to be fuller explained.
This review contains spoilers.
Interestingly, this “Book of Prophecy” looks like the book Alice in Wonderland. This imagery, to me, treats time travel more like a wormhole than an alternate reality. With multiples walking around within a timeline and a few deaths along the way (spoiler alert), it so far is unclear what the repercussions are in the current time. One sinister character in particular travels back to persecute a childhood bully, killing him but remaining unscathed emotionally in the process (save for the blood spilt from getting caught in the act.) Without the existence of multiple timelines, it is unclear what the future of the show holds and how time travel actually works in the show foundationally.
One of the most controversial (and uncomfortable) constants throughout the show thus far is the romantic undertone between the two main characters Park Jin Gyeom (Joo Won) and Yoon Tae Yi/Park Sun Young (Kim Hee Sun). Because of their respective crossover in Jin Gyeom’s timeline, the plot seems to imply that Sun Young (Jin Gyeom’s mother from the future) and Yoon Tae Yi (a physics professor around Jin Gyeom’s age from his respective time) are different individuals.
From the onset, their meeting was awkward. Jin Gyeom, believing Tae Yi to be his mother, strives to protect her, while Tae Yi slowly grows affection for the enigmatic detective in return. While fleeting interactions between Tae Yi and Sun Young in later episodes lead us to believe that the two characters are different people that share the same face, the choice to use the same actor for both roles is a bit unsettling. In retrospect it does spark intrigue for the fate of later episodes. However, after the scuffle SBS had with KCSC (the agency that monitors broadcast censorship) because of Backstreet Rookie, SBS is playing with fire.
While the relationship between Tae Yi and Jin Gyeom could be construed as a bit uncomfortable, there is no denying that their acting is enthralling and their respective characters have considerable depth. Jin Gyeom especially suffers from alexithymia, which results in an inability to identify oneself and other’s emotions; they are simply a mystery.
Honestly, I find the way they handle his disorder refreshing, and it adds a unique layer to his character. His alexithymia is treated simply as a part of who he is and how he has learned to process emotions in real time, partially due to the help of his mother’s intervention. At one point, Tae Yi even questions him about being a psychopath because of the psychosomatic implications of his illness. Unperturbed, he merely brushes off these assumptions and explains that he can understand emotion, just maybe in a different way than most other people do.
Other than the way Jin Gyeom is characterized and the occasional nods to him being different, the show handles his alexithymia gracefully, not making it the token keystone of his whole personality or a deficiency that makes him broken. It is merely a part of him; a pretty progressive view if you ask me.
What seems confusing so far is the nod to Alice in Wonderland. Not only is the “Book of Prophecy” modeled off a demented “Alice in Wonderland” fanfiction, but the time travel agency itself is named Alice. Sure it is a fantastical story of finding yourself “down the rabbit hole” in an unfamiliar world, but most of the story takes place firmly in two different years and any time travelling done is incredibly deliberate, requiring special equipment and preplanning (except for that one time, not sure about that yet).
It is easy to follow the fantastical, mysterious, even sinister undertones that both possess, but beyond that, the connections seems shaky. Maybe the agency and its founders see themselves as the “Alice” that stumbles through the not-so-metaphorical rabbit hole and time travel is still in its infancy. Thus far, we are left with mostly conjecture and a multitude of loose ends to tie up.
Lastly, the beginning of this show is an absolute whirlwind. The very first episode has death, time travel, a whole host of unnamed characters, and a leg being cut off over the struggle for a mysterious book with undisclosed contents… and all of this in just the first ten minutes of the first episode. In subsequent episodes though, little is explained in the theoretical frameworks of time travel, the lives of the main characters, or the future ahead of them. While it is exhilarating, by the time you get to around episode four, the pace slows and Tae Yi is left in danger at every turn, but viewers are not let in as to why other than the fact that she seemingly has cracked the secret of time travel, kind of.
While mildly frustrating for sure, it also seems worth wondering, how in the world are the writers going to tie up the seemingly endless loose ends? I want to hear more about how Alice was founded, who Tae Yi and Sun Young actually are and why they look exactly alike, as well as how Sun Young seems to already know Tae Yi and her future endeavors into the creation of time travel. The show never ceases to reveal new twists, putting both Tae Yi and Jin Gyeom in seemingly constant danger, but let’s hope that soon more detail is revealed to fill the foundational holes that leave the show feeling a little more like a collection of action-packed mystery scenes than a firm plotline necessary for a sci-fi thriller of this level of production value.
(Robert Ebert, The Korea Herald, The News Lens, Frontiers in Psychology, Images via SBS)