The Past is Another Country: Someday One Day Episode 13

You once told me that whenever you hear this song, you would find yourself following the melody to a time in the past. Perhaps it was a smile that you happened to recall. Perhaps it was a hug that you came to remember very clearly.  Perhaps it was a person who entered your dreams when you didn’t notice. And from that day on, whenever I heard this song, I always ended up following the melody and thinking of you and our future. 

Warning: This post contains spoilers for the whole of Someday or One Day, including the ending

A screenshot from the episode of Someday or One Day. A cassette tape lies with his magnetic tape unspooled and tangled on a piece of paper that says, in Chinese, "Track 13: Not all broken pieces can be put back together, just like the past that we can not have"

When I was in highschool in the 1990s, I used to have a Walkman. And on that Walkman I used to play tapes. It was only later – much later – that this turned into a Discman and eventually an iPod.

For most of my formative adolescence, I used to play tapes. No matter how much my musical taste has changed and evolved over the years, I still have a nostalgic response to that music. But those tapes – like my youth – are gone.

All I have left of them is my memories, my nostalgia, and the odd twinge of pubescent embarrassment and humiliation. These years are hard years, even for the happiest and most well-adjusted of us. They’re confusing and embarrassing and sometimes harrowing. And at some point, you will walk around with headphones in your ears using music to escape and cope.

Maybe you still do.

These experiences are universal. And this feeling – that of our complex yet nostalgia-soaked past triggered by the music we listened to in that time – is one that the Taiwanese drama Someday or One Day so brilliantly encapsulates. And there’s a reason why the show harks back to the 1990s and why it uses tape.

Before the Walkman, we couldn’t take music with us as a soundtrack to our lives. But once music went digital it also became permanent. Between those two moments, for a short burst of time, there was tape. Tape is ephemeral; just like youth, just like the past. And tape is a technology already dying even at its apex; just like youth, just like the past.

Tape can only be listened to in a linear way. Just like life can only be lived in a linear way. Tape bends, snaps and tangles. Just like memories.

To replay a tape you need to rewind and then play forward. And every time you do, it changes. Every time you do, you risk it failing you. Just like taking comfort in our memories is an act that can both comfort and fail us.

Tape made way for a future in which it was redundant. But music, like life, lives on. Just in a slightly different way.

Tape is time. Our past. Our memories. Tape is our youth, both literally and figuratively. And tape is merely a memory, just like our past is. We shouldn’t get lost in our pursuit of it, we should instead move on.

Tape is the perfect metaphor for everything Someday or One Day is trying to say about us: the way in which we deal with the past, with loss, with grief. And our inherent wish to travel back and reclaim our past or even to make things better. But, like tape – and like the record store that Chen Yun Ru’s Uncle owns – it’s something we need to put behind us to move forward and live our lives.

The tune may be different. But the tune plays on. Holding on to the past only hurts us and those around us.

The three leads of Someday or One Day sit side by side on a couch. The female lead is in the middle reading a diary. She and and the man on her left (our right) are listening to music through earphones.

When Someday or One Day opens, we meet a Huang Yu Xuan wracked with grief and all its associated regrets. She is a woman lost in the past, replaying events over and over looking for new hints and new nuances – like someone playing an old familiar tune from beginning to end looking for something new but never finding it.

But just as our memories are triggered by a waft of familiar song on the breeze, so she is triggered by her surroundings; constantly reliving her past and never able to move forward to a new future.

The tape ends. It rewinds. She starts again.

When Huang Yu Xuan hears the song that connects her to the boyfriend she knew as Wang Quan Sheng and gets sent back to the past and into the body of Chen Yun Ru, she is caught in a devastating time loop that mirrors a grief spiral.

And like a grief spiral, the only way out is through. When the song ends, you need to stop rewinding. It’s time for everyone to go digital. Not because it’s better but because it’s the future. And the alternative is being stuck in the past.

The female of Someday or One Day sits shocked and upset at a broken cassette tape she's holding in her hands.

As the final episode opens, we now meet a Chen Yun Ru wracked with grief and all its associated regrets. No matter how our story ends, somebody gets hurt and it’s the show’s refusal to put the happiness of one character above another that is its greatest asset.

Chen Yun Ru matters. Mo Jun Jie matters. Just as much as Huang Yu Xuan and Li Zi Wei’s epic time-bending love. In fact, they matter more. And that, ultimately, is what puts the show well above almost everything else that has aired so far this year. Because what seems at first like an epic love story across time and reality actually… isn’t.

As Someday or One Day progressed, I began to become concerned about the body count necessary for our main couples’ happy ending. Huang Yu Xuan and Li Zi Wei’s relationship may be beautiful but is it really more important than the lives of Chen Yun Ru and Mo Jun Jie and even poor Wang Quan Sheng?

It was the one sour note in the show’s unfolding; like a gorgeous flower opening to reveal all its splendid glory – and one poor dead bee. It was hard not to see their epic love as being in some way selfish, built on the bodies of more and more people who matter just as much and should not need to be sacrificed for the happiness of others. The fact that one of those – Wang Quan Sheng – was gay did not go unnoticed. Of all the characters buried for our lovers, his was the most narratively distasteful. This is the second time in only a few months that Taiwan has Buried Its Gays and it made me extremely uncomfortable.

As the bullied Wang Quan Sheng put his music down and walked into the sea to die, I was struck by how horrible a death it truly was. And that emotion only gained intensity as Lie Zi Wei found his happiness by wearing his gay doppleganger’s body like a meat suit.

A phone sits abandoned on the shore of a vast ocean. In the distance, a dot dwarfed by perspective, Wang Quan Sheng walks purposefully to his death

As time went on, it became more and more obvious that for Huang Yu Xuan and Li Zi Wei to pursue solely their own happiness was selfish and self-absorbed. Letting yourself get lost in the past hurts – not just you but those around you. If your happiness requires the sacrifice of others, is it worth it? Do you truly believe the universe would or should restructure itself just for you at the expense of others?

The answer, obviously, is no.

It turns out Someday or One Day isn’t an epic time-travelling tale of destined love. Someday or One Day isn’t about whether our couple will end up together. It’s about whether they will learn to put the past behind them and live, even if they don’t end up finding love or fulfilling some kind of epic romantic fantasy.

The happy ending in Someday or One Day isn’t about great love conquering all. The happy ending in Someday or One Day is about the ascension of normal life and all its associated ills – grief, loss, alienation and loneliness. Someday or One Day is about the power of community, family and friendship but also about our decision to live despite love lost or unfulfilled.

Just like Chen Yun Ru and Mo Jun Jie have to learn to live too.

The universe is not going to mould itself around your happiness. You have to choose happiness despite the universe’s indifference. And in doing so you help others pursue their own happiness too.

When episode 12 ended, the time loop everyone was stuck in seemed to be complete. Chen Yun Ru and Mo Jun Jie are dead. Huang Yu Xuan and Li Zi Wei get to be together for a while and are genuinely, beautifully happy. But only by standing on the corpses of their friends and only by Li Zi Wei co-opting the body of the poor, tortured Wang Quan Sheng.

Chen Yun Ru's dead twisted body lies on the ground, still in her school uniform

Huang Yu Xuan realises that her desire to recreate and relive her past due to the intensity of her grief is selfish and entitled. She now has a choice.

And as the final episode unfolds she makes that choice: to put the past behind her completely and to move on from her grief. In doing so, she provides an example to Chen Yun Ru who also realises that she can put her past behind her and walk into the future too.

The great overwhelming natural force that is time remains inviolate. Huang Yu Xuan and Li Zi Wei are from different generations and will never be together. But everyone will live and live well. And that is ultimately more important*.

The song that is our past plays out. The tape ends. One day we do not rewind anymore because we know we need to find a new song. The record store closes. The future beckons and everyone takes a step towards it. They have no epic love but they have something better.

They have tomorrow.

Someday or One Day is available for streaming on Viki +

EDIT: As of 2023, Someday or One Day is no longer available on Viki and is not available for Australian viewers on any streaming platform

*That one sour note

If there is one sour note in the show and in the ending – if there is one thing that stops the show from being as completely perfect as it first appears – it’s the issue of Wang Quan Sheng.

Even as the show came to its beautiful conclusion – perfectly bookended with its beginning and demonstrating how intricately plotted the show was from its first frame – Wang Quan Sheng’s short tortured life was in the forefront of my brain.

Wang Quan Sheng’s death may no longer be used to propel the arc and happiness of our straight leads (thank God) but he did not benefit from Huang Yu Xuan’s decision to save Chen Yun Ru’s life and close the time loop. He will still be born, be bullied, and die young. His arc so perfectly mirrored Chen Yun Ru’s that I wish the show’s lessons about life getting better and choosing to live could have been extended to him. It’s a sour note but it’s doesn’t ruin this song – which remains almost perfect.


5 thoughts on “The Past is Another Country: Someday One Day Episode 13

  1. I also feel sad for the real WQS. He had about 5 min screentime but it was so impactful and sad that he was just there to propel the love story forward. I really wish they did more with and for his character. Basically everyone got their happy ending but him. I was hoping up until near the end that they would still have their memories and be able to save him or do something for him. So I was disappointed that didn’t happen. Ultimately I feel his character was just a plot device to propel the otp romance forward.

    But thank you for this post LT. It was very beautiful and thoughtfully written ❤

  2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this show LT! I loved your trip down the memory lane about walkman, cassette tape and how you’ve tied this exhausting rewind, replay back to what Huang Yu Xuan is in the drama……

    Quoting this because it’s soo beautifully written:

    “ The great overwhelming natural force that is time remains inviolate. Huang Yu Xuan and Li Zi Wei are from different generations and will never be together. But everyone will live and live well. And that is ultimately more important*.

    The song that is our past plays out. The tape ends. One day we do not rewind anymore because we know we need to find a new song. The record store closes. The future beckons and everyone takes a step towards it. They have no epic love but they have something better.

    They have tomorrow.” 😭😭😭😭😭

    As for Wang Quan Sheng – I didn’t have that much gripe with the writer for killing a gay character… to me, it wasn’t a plot device… but he was yet another misunderstood character like Chen Yun Ru whose story needs to be told. His depression got the best of him. I wish we saw him get a second chance at life too after stealing some limelight and making us fall for him hard beginning of episode 8… but the truth remains is he was not the highlight of the show. And some… just don’t get a second chance either.

    I can see why the writer went to this route though. They can’t have another just another depressed, aloof character in the plot with no reason why. Chen Yun Ru and Mo Jun Jie are already naturally like that.

    Another thing, to me, his character raises awareness for change, to highlight more on equality. He may be dead now, but his death resonates to anyone who had seen what he went though; how unloved, unwanted, alone he felt in this world and may this history never repeats in this day and age.

  3. Damn, LT, this is your best review yet. I’m just struck dumb by you, once again.

    I’m so glad the drama kept its logic. Once every piece of the puzzle was in place, I drove myself mad trying to write my way out of the tragedy. There just had to be a way for this love to survive. Three friends from 1989 were all dead, and Huang Yu Xuan was stranded, tortured by the knowledge of it all. The only consolation of this horrible, horrible situation was the love that she and Li Zi Wei had for each other, right? Well, no. They didn’t fall in love in spite of the tragedy, they fell in love because of it. Who cares if their connection was a magical, unstoppable and hard-earned one? Two people had to die, and one had to live 15 years in immense pain, just for a glimmer of it to happen.
    No. Let’s erase the suffering. Let’s destroy the record of our tragedy. What comes from the ashes will certainly be better.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top