Intermission: Drama’s Best Scenes

We talk a lot about the best dramas but sometimes what stands out about a show is one particular scene. One small segment that is so perfect it sticks in your mind even if the drama itself falls away.

These scenes may be intensely funny or intensely profound or not even intense at all but just small and ordinary in how revelatory they are.

While everyone will have their own favourites, I’ve chosen five that live on in my heart long after the dramas they were in have come and gone.

5. The Silent Understanding of Mothers – One Spring Night

In 2019, writer Kim Eun and P.D. Ahn Pan Seok collaborated on the drama, One Spring Night: a transparent attempt to remake their previous drama Pretty Noona Who Buys Me Food (Something in the Rain) in a way that wouldn’t make their audience want to firebomb their television sets. I may have my issues with both members of this team, but to this day I don’t think anybody is exploring the intersection of tradition and modernity in Korea the way they did. Both shows poked the pressure points between Confucianism and individualism, the family and the personal (even though One Spring Night hasn’t had the cultural staying power that Pretty Noona has).

Both One Spring Night and Pretty Noona are concerned with relationships that are transgressive but only because of certain societal pressure points where the individual meets the family or society. Both shows had relationships where the people involved were doing nothing wrong and yet were forced to fight for and justify their relationship for reasons that were arbitrary and unfair.

In One Spring Night, the female lead breaks up with her long-term boyfriend and then falls in love with a single father. This act then causes ripples outwards that disturbs the dynamics of the social pond. In the midst of this, the mothers start to move: one concerned her son and grandson are going to be used, abused and ultimately hurt by a judgmental world and the other one seeing only the social impact to her family rather than the people involved.

The two meet by accident one day and the female lead’s mother finally sees the other family as real people rather than some complication. The two women retire to a bench where one simply starts crying and the other silently comforts her. No words are spoken. It’s a perfect, quiet moment of understanding, empathy and consolation and one of the more beautiful scenes I’ve seen in a drama.

4. Noble Idiocy is Cruel – Another Oh Hae-young (Another Miss Oh)

A tale of mistaken identity, revenge, and, of course, romance, 2016’s Another Oh Hae-young begins with the eponymous Oh Hae-young being dumped by her fiancé one day before her wedding. It’s part of an angry and spiteful revenge scheme caused by another Oh Hae-young’s boyfriend confusing the two woman.

Hae-young’s fiancé is headed to jail but, instead of coming clean, he tells her that he can’t marry her because he can’t stand how she eats and can’t bear the thought of sitting across from her at the breakfast table for the rest of his life. This brutal act of what’s known as noble idiocy breaks her. Not just dumped the day before her wedding but dumped because of a personal characteristic she can’t hide and can’t control. A clear and unequivocal statement that she was inherently unlovable.

Most dramas tend to treat their male lead’s cruelty in the name of noble idiocy as stupid but well-intentioned and possibly endearing. A misguided act of love. But in episode 16 of Oh Hae-young, Hae-young herself heads to her ex’s house to confront him. What follows is one of the most cathartic and satisfying verbal smackdowns in drama history. A repudiation of the entire trope and one that still resonates today. Hae-young tells him to stop pretending he did it out of love because to do that to somebody means you never loved them. It’s something he did for his own self-preservation, not for her.

You didn’t want to burden me but you hurt me so badly? You call that love?

Oh Hae-young (A)

While most of Oh Hae-young is a vague memory, this scene will stay with me forever.

3. The Hill He Chose to Die On – I’m Not a Robot

One thing I always loved about I’m Not a Robot is that it never shies away from facing its conflict head on and is therefore full of several wonderful moments. The one that defines this 2018 romcom for me is the conversation our two leads have during the meteor shower when they air all their misapprehensions and grievances and come, she thinks, to some kind of mutual understanding.

That’s until the stoic Kim Min-kyu attempts classic noble idiocy with a melodramatic farewell as he tells her he cannot ask her to be with him when he may never be able to touch her. As he turns to leave, she stops him by essentially yelling, “Are you kidding me?”

The person who gave me the love I always yearned for was you. And so the person I missed each and every day. That was you. It’s not that I’m someone you need. I’m the one who needs you. So much. Because you’re the person I’ve been looking for all this time, that one person I’ve been waiting for.

Jo Jia

It’s powerful enough that she interrupts the tragic romantic fantasy he’s trying to live out, cutting short his tortured attempt at nobility. But he responds by turning on his heel and kissing her without hesitation. Considering he is genuinely concerned that he won’t be able to touch her without it killing him, his decision to kiss her means that he’s prepared to take that risk.

Saya over at Dramabeans called this the literal hill he chose to die on. So for all those reasons – the subversion of the noble idiocy trope, the mutual emotional honesty, the image of a couple sitting down and talking through their issues like adults, and finally his decision to be with her even if it killed him. For this reason, it remains one of my favourite scenes in a drama.

2. Cut Restriction Lines – Forest of Secrets 2 (Stranger 2)

When I saw that the restriction line was down, I thought an accident might happen. But I just drove by… I could see something had gone wrong but I did nothing.

Hwang Shi-mok, Forest of Secrets 2

This scene between Hwang Shi-mok and Han Yeo-jin in episode 6 of Forest of Secrets 2 is one of my favourite scenes in a drama. The two stand together with their city as a backdrop as they discuss the cases that have caused their paths to cross again. Forest of Secrets 2 is underpinned by several visuals metaphors for justice around fog, headlights and a cut restriction line, all of which are part of the drama’s opening scene. In this moment, Shi-mok and Yeo-jin have a frustrating, almost exhausted conversation about trying to find their path through this fog. But unlike season 1 moments it’s tinged with a sense of shame at what they feel are their own personal failings.

The layers to this conversation about justice, the system and personal responsibility are delivered with a fundamental tiredness that verges on burnout. There is something harder than finding the courage to do something when you’re in a system that is working against you. That is, working out what to do at all. The paralysis that comes from not knowing what the correct course of action is, where you should make your stand, when you should draw the line.

Both characters are stuck in a system more concerned with perpetuating itself than justice and both are trying to work out if they’re being strategic or are instead quietly compromised.

It’s a beautiful and profound moment, delivered not through the dialogue, but through two exceptional actors conveying a a deep understanding and history between these old friends.

1. Intermission – Thirty But Seventeen

I think this is my intermission. I have stopped for a moment as I wait for another awesome performance. The intermission of my life. That’s why it’s okay. It’s not over. I’m just taking a break. I am only taking a short break for something even more amazing.

Woo Seo-ri

Of all the scenes in this post, this beautiful, simple and heartfelt scene from the 2018 drama Thirty But Seventeen, speaks for itself. Awakening from a 13 year coma, the newly 30-year-old Woo Seo-ri finds herself a teenager suddenly in an adult’s body, with all of her youthful potential behind her and no clear path forward in life.

Thirty But Seventeen is full of characters who are in between; transitioning between who they were and who they’re becoming. Powerful and profound at the time, this quiet moment between our two leads on the beach resonates even more now after three years of a pandemic.

As well as being a poignant moment of reflection, it’s also a moment of connection between our two leads as they contemplate their different but similar experiences. Gong Woo-jin has also had his life stalled and is waiting for time to move forward again. It’s not just a message for her but also one for him as he contemplates living again.

Later in the drama, Seo-ri calls Woo-jin her crescendo: a gradual increase in loudness and intensity. And it’s in the intersection of these two musical allusions – the intermission and the slow gradual movement towards something better – that the show positions the character development of both our leads.

And not just them, but us, as we regularly find ourselves at points in our lives when we feel as though we’re at an impasse. And never more than now. We are all just taking a break. It’s merely an intermission. But soon something even more amazing will begin.


One thought on “Intermission: Drama’s Best Scenes

  1. As I was reading through your post, I kept thinking that watching 30 but 17 after the spring of 2020 would be a very different experience and then you said it too.

    I think there is still a pursuit by some to find a way back to what was before the pause, but we can’t and shouldn’t go back because it all changed. We changed. Inflection points don’t just change our trajectory, but they can also reveal to us the systemic wrongs we were entrenched in.

    Anyways, brilliant connections here.

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