Redemption & Hope: The Curse of Time Travel

Are we all just prisoners of fate?

Regret, heartbreak, the crushing hands of fate. Wash, rinse, repeat. We’re going on an adventure, people! Oh, and bring your hanky, cuz your gonna need it!

What am I talking about? Just your standard time travel kdrama elements.

I love TV shows and movies about time travel. Anyone who has had the pleasure (and I will use that term fairly loosely) of discussing the shows Travelers or Timeless (both available on Netflix as of the writing of this post) with me, knows first-hand how compelling I find these types of stories.

The concept, the temptation, to be able to go back to a moment in time to set something right, is so appealing to the human psyche. The chance for a do-over – big or small. A second chance at the ‘big game’, the job interview, the test, that conversation that plays over and over in your mind. The chance to change a world-altering event. A do-over at love.

Would you still go if you knew nothing would change? Would you go if there was a chance that everything could change – and not necessarily for the better?

These are the questions I find myself asking whenever I sit down to write stories with a time travel element. What could be compelling enough to risk everything, not just for me, but for everyone I know, to go back and have a second chance?

It’s a risky proposition – and often a selfish one. Which makes it a daunting topic, fun though it may be.

Regret and hope are huge drivers in time travel stories, and JTBC’s “Sisyphus: The Myth”, is no exception.

Sisyphus: The Myth

The inherent danger, a path undoubtedly fraught with tragedy and betrayal, and the seeming futility of it are balanced against an unbearable future, and positions each character to decide, in their own unique way, what or who they are willing to sacrifice to achieve their desired future.

Pair those elements with your standard kdrama elements of romance, betrayal, loyalty, and complicated relationships and you have the making of a compelling tale.

Park Shin-Hye (Memories of the Alhambra and #Alive) plays Gang Soe-Hae, and Cho Seung-Woo (Stranger and Life) plays Han Tae-Sul in this sci-fi, action drama.

The brave, willful, and determined, Seo-Hae, has returned from a future devastated by nuclear war to stop Tae-Sul, the cocky and brilliant engineer from creating the pathway for time travel (ironic) and unwittingly laying the groundwork for the horrific events to befall the Korean Peninsula.

The two join forces with a cast of characters who, for reasons of loyalty or regret battle a mysterious villain named Sigma. Is he evil incarnate, or just a victim of circumstance?

Kim Byung-Chul as Sigma

As the mystery unfolds, relationships are tested and strained alliances create strange bedfellows (Not literally though. This is still a kdrama).

The depths of a father’s love is explored through the lens of a hero and an anti-hero. Both, knowing what the future will bring, will do what they think is best to protect their family.

As with most kdramas there is a romantic element, and while this story is set against a fairly action-packed background, the burgeoning romance did not disappoint. Though it did beg the question, “Does love, in fact, conquer all? Or are we simply puppets on a string?”

With smart, strong, female characters who act in their own best interests, while supporting or manipulating those around them, this story has a little bit for everyone.

The other element to this story that I found interesting was that it was hard to miss the ongoing underlying discussion of discrimination faced by foreigners in Korea, and the fear and loathing held about them by surrounding community. It is a fairly common theme in kdramas of late, as depicted in other shows such as “Designated Survivor: 60 Days”, “Itaewon Class”, and “Crash Landing on You” (all of which I commend unto you, watch those shows for that among lots of other reasons – you already know how I feel about “Crash Landing on You” and if you don’t, click the link!).

Television is a terrific way to open sensitive issues up for national discussion and bring issues to the general social consciousness. It was fairly evident on its face in this show, and I think the writers did a decent job of shining a light on the insidious nature of discrimination and how it impacts society.

The way the show ended was, in my opinion, so satisfying. Like Travelers, it ends exactly how a show that asks questions related to time travel should. That is to say, it will leave you with questions. Questions about motive, determination, and futility. Questions about Fate and Destiny. Questions about man’s struggle between Id and Ego. And ultimately about redemption and hope.

I know for a lot of North American audiences, that is not how they like shows to wrap up. Things should be resolved in neat tidy bows – which explains the outcry when Travelers did not go on to a fourth season (but honestly, why would it? The story was done – Use your imagination to take it where you want it to go).

That phenomena is very much why I like kdramas, and have spoken about it on the Kdrama Mamas podcast episode 1. When the story is done, it’s done. Where your imagination takes it after that is a testament to the writers and actors.

Are we all ultimately like Sisyphus? Doomed to repeat the same gruelling torment for eternity as an act of penance?

Is that all that time travel really is? A Sisyphean act? I’m going to be thinking about that a lot.

Have you watched any thought-provoking dramas lately? Have you watched Sisyphus?

Drop me a line, let me know what you think!

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