It was a successful premiere for tvN’s ambitious buzz project The Lonely Shining Goblin, on several fronts: Ratings-wise, it logged a 6.9% average (9.3% real-time high), which for a cable premiere is pretty impressive. I’m less concerned with the numbers than the content, though, since I was more worried about whether the reality of the show would survive its promotional hype, and how the fantasy element would play out.
Very well, as it turns out. The show traverses past and present well, and combines a backstory that not only feels epic but looks it, too—fantasy dramas need these huge budgets and scales, because otherwise they become a whole exercise in “what could have been”—with a lighter present day that’s whimsical and romantic. It’s been a long time since Gong Yoo has been in a good drama, and I’m super relieved that this project will be a good one for him. Possibly great.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
A narrator tells the old saying of how one becomes a goblin if the soul seeps into an item stained by a person’s hand or blood.
An old, worn sword sticks out of the ground, its hilt wrapped in a bloodstained cloth. The narrator notes, “This sword that has been stained with the blood of thousands, and its owner’s blood as well—how could it not happen?”
On the hilt of the old sword is an engraving of a goblin’s face. As a butterfly lands on that hilt, images flash by onscreen: A screeching car. A woman’s hand. White expanse turning red. The narrator declares, “Only the goblin’s bride will pull out that sword. If the sword is pulled, may it return to nothing and be at peace.”
An old grocer woman (heyo, is that a wrinkly Lee El?) tells this story to a woman browsing her wares, who bursts out laughing at the line that the immortal goblin may roam the world even now. She finds that idea silly but still calls it a sad story, since the goblin has to find a bride in order to die. “The gods are mean,” she says while admiring a jade ring in granny’s stash of goods.
The granny confirms that, saying they were always mean, and selfish and jealous to boot.
The woman gets up to go with a cheery goodbye, but the granny grabs her hand and turns suddenly intense. She warns her that if she comes to a life-or-death situation, she must pray earnestly: “You never know when a soft-hearted god may be listening.” (Audiences are probably expected to recognize her as Samshin Halmeom, a kind of fairy godmother.)
1968, Paris. A well-dressed man (Gong Yoo) waits outside a building, and when a teenage boy walks out with a luggage bag and a battered face, he stops him to warn him not to leave home. “If you leave home now, you’ll live an even worse life than you have now. And you’ll never see your mother again.”
The man casually moves a planter on the steps, then advises the boy to speak up to his parents: Tell Dad to raise him well, and Mom to help. At least this way, the boy will just damage one hand and not lose his life.
The boy is suspicious but intrigued, asking if the man will take responsibility if the boy gets beaten to death. The man replies, “That’s why I broke a rib for you.”
The adoptive father storms outside screaming at the boy… and trips over the moved planter, which sends him into the street, clutching his rib. The man hands the boy a lunch, tells him to go to school, and even gives the correct answer for a math problem he’ll face later. The boy stares after him, transfixed.
Narrator: “He is water, fire, and wind, and also light and dark. And once, he was human.”
Centuries ago, we meet him again on the battlefield, as the appropriately named General KIM SHIN (shin = god). Battle rages around him and bodies fall. Clutching that goblin-etched sword, Shin stands up to face a wall of attackers without fear.
“The people called him god,” the narrator tells us, now in Shin’s voice. “Covered in blood, his eyes flashing, he struck down his enemies, a literal god of war.”
Shin flings himself into the battle, killing enemies brutally, blood flying everywhere as he and his sword cut down everything in his path. He slashes his way across the battleground and locks eyes with an enemy soldier (the general?), who’s spooked and runs. Shin jumps on horseback and charges after the man, taking him down readily.
Shin’s army is greeted with cheers from grateful citizens as they ride toward the palace gates. His second-in-command proudly announces their arrival—only to receive a hostile reception, as they are ordered to strip off their armor. It’s an insult, but Shin and his men grudgingly comply.
Then, Shin is declared a traitor—clearly a false charge, but not one he’s in a position to overturn. Guards assemble at the top of the wall and aim bows and arrows at Shin’s army.
Instead of kneeling, Shin draws his sword and demands to be let in to see the king. As soon as he advances, however, arrows fly and strike down his men, and he turns back in horror to see them lying in their own blood.
His second-in-command rages at being turned on after fighting on the hellish battlefield for the king. The gate opens and Shin heads inside alone, where a young queen and king (Kim So-hyun, Kim Min-jae) await him.
An Iago-like eunuch whispers into the king’s ear, telling him that Shin’s incredible victories have made him popular with the people, and his growing power makes a mockery of the throne.
Our narrator tells us, “He saw clearly his enemy’s sword, but he could not see the jealousy and fear of the young king, directed at him. That was the sharpest sword wielded at him, but he did not know it.”
The king orders him to stop advancing and die as a traitor to save everyone else. One more step will get everyone killed. But the queen, who looks upon Shin fondly, tells him to go: “I am fine.”
Shin starts to protest, but she cuts him off: “I know. And if this is the last, this is my fate. So go. Do not stop, and go to the king, General.”
So he continues his approach, and the king gives the order to kill everyone in the traitor’s family. An arrow flies into the queen’s chest. Ah, is she Shin’s sister?
The queen falls, and Shin doesn’t turn back, continuing forward. More members of his family are brought forward and killed before his eyes.
The treacherous eunuch orders the traitor brought down, so a guard slashes Shin across the back, forcing him on his knees.
Shin’s second-in-command runs in and screams at the king, “Do you not fear heaven?” The king smirks that heaven has never helped them, and Shin glares up at him as the order is given to behead him.
A soldier starts to strike, but Shin knocks his sword aside, telling him that’s not a job for him to do. Instead, Shin turns to his second-in-command to make a final request, and gives him his sword.
His friend sobs as he takes the sword and promises to follow him soon. He thrusts the sword into Shin’s chest, and is cut down moments later.
Still alive, Shin hears the eunuch order the traitor’s body to be unclaimed, left out for the beasts to ravage. The king leaves the courtyard without even waiting to see Shin die.
The queen lies in a pool of blood and looks at Shin in her dying moments. On her finger is the jade ring from Samshin Grandma’s stash, stained with her blood.
Per orders, Shin is left out in the field, not even dead yet. Nobody is allowed to interfere with the body, so the people who do mourn his loss cry from a distance.
The sword sticks out of his chest, and Shin lives out his last moments like that, staring up into the empty sky.
The narrator tells us, “Do not pray to anybody. The gods are not listening. At the brightest time of day, by the general’s sword that had protected him, he died.”
A man in a black suit and overcoat (Lee Dong-wook) walks into a crosswalk and is immediately hit (ah, Seoul), head-on, by a car. The car slams to a stop, its front bashed in and windshield shattered—but the man in black remains unmoved. Just standing there, upright.
The driver takes in this impossible tableau and gets nervous, but the man in black tells him simply, “You hit a wild boar.” The driver’s eyes glaze over, and the mysterious stranger literally disappears into wisps of black smoke.
When bystanders stop to help, the driver explains hitting a boar. But people scream to discover a body inside the trunk of the car—and a passing woman falls in horror, recognizing the body as her own.
The mysterious man appears before her to read the woman her death statistics. He’s the grim reaper, and he takes her to an odd tearoom and pours her a cup of tea that will make her forget her life in this world. The woman asks what happens if she doesn’t drink, and he supposes she will regret that.
Shin walks by the street outside the reaper’s tearoom, and pauses to look in the window. The two men lock eyes, and the reaper wonders, “Goblin?” Shin wonders back, “Grim reaper?”
And then we see that Shin is staring at what looks like a stone wall; the window must only be visible to otherworldly eyes.
“You’re wearing a terribly vulgar hat,” Shin says. The reaper glares, offended.
Shin carries a luggage bag into a large, airy house, where candles flicker on automatically and furniture covers fly away of their own accord. Okay, probably his accord. His magical goblin accord.
An old man greets him with the antiquated word for “milord,” happy to see him for the first time in twenty years. He’s with his grandson, YOO DEOK-HWA, who doesn’t have grandpa’s deference and says Shin doesn’t seem all that cool, to his grandfather’s horror.
The boy wonders who Shin is, and Shin replies that he will become Deok-hwa’s uncle, brother, son, then grandson. He kneels down and says it’s nice to meet, but the little boy has attitude and eyes Shin suspiciously, and grandpa apologizes for his manners.
Then Shin is struck with a look of recognition, and explains that there was a boy born in Goryeo who is Deok-hwa’s ancestor—and Deok-hwa looks just like he did. “Was he good-looking?” the boy asks.
Grandpa keeps apologizing, but Shin assures him that he’s never been let down by anybody in his family. Shin smiles, thinking of the ancestor boy, who’d visited Shin’s grave with his mourning grandfather a thousand years ago.
The Goryeo grandfather speaks to the sword as though Shin’s still alive, and introduces his grandson to take over his role in serving him, as he senses that he is nearing death. The boy asks, “Is this sword the master?”
Just then, a strange energy emits from the sword, and it rocks back and forth. A voice from the heavens declares, “The soul of your subject has saved you.” However, the god notes that Shin’s sword has been stained with the blood of thousands—and while they were his enemies, they were also the blood of the gods.
“Live alone in immortality and witness the deaths of those you love,” the god tells him. “No death will be forgotten. This is the prize I give to you, and the punishment you receive.”
Shin’s body revives, and the sword glows brightly, still embedded in his chest, as the god continues, “Only the goblin’s bride can pull out that sword. If the sword is pulled, may you return to nothingness and be at peace.”
The faithful servant and his grandson gape as Shin comes back to life, looking whole and well. Immediately, Shin sets off for unfinished business, arriving at the palace to confront the eunuch who’d twisted the king against him.
Shin sends one eunuch flying through a paper-lined wall, then summons the treacherous eunuch through the air toward him. The man recognizes him with horror as Shin chokes the life out of him.
Approaching the bed, Shin sees the wrapped body and says regretfully, “I was too late.”
When Shin returns to the little boy, his grandfather has died and the boy sobs over the grave. Dismayed, Shin kneels before the mound and says, “You must be my first punishment.”
The little boy bows and tells Shin, “I will serve you from this moment on.” Shin is filled with guilt over being blinded by his need for revenge, and asks if he still wants to serve him. The boy nods.
As they cross the sea on a ship, Shin notices the boy watching other passengers eat and hands him a ball of rice, which the boy almost takes before lying that he’s not hungry, and that Shin should eat it. Shin offers him half, but the boy speaks like a tiny adult, saying that sharing ensures that nobody is full, assuring Shin that he can work on the ship and earn scraps.
Shin tells the boy to trust him, and the boy accepts, eating hungrily. Then Shin waves his hand, entertaining the boy with the flecks of light that float into the sky.
Suddenly, a sailor grabs the boy, stomps on his rice ball, and dangles him over the side of the ship. The other men find Shin and the boy suspicious, and intend to sell Shin as a slave and let the boy drown.
The boy is thrown overboard, and the men reach for their weapons and face Shin menacingly. Wearing an ominous face, Shin asks, “Do you know what happens when humans act lower than beasts?”
The waves grow rough and Shin rises to his feet, saying, “They meet god.” The storm rages around them, and one man gasps, “It’s a g-goblin!”
The ship whirls, ropes catch around men’s feet, and a mast falls. Flames erupt around Shin’s head. The entire ship starts to tilt and sink, and men fall into the stormy sea. One man begs for mercy, and Shin says grimly, “It’s too late.”
He draws his sword, which glows with bluish-green fire, and slams it into the deck, splintering the wood and sinking the ship.
Seoul. Shin sits high above the city, hearing the sounds below, and the people’s voices.
A car hits a woman and squeals away, leaving her bleeding in the snow. It’s the same woman who had chatted with Samshin Grandma about the goblin, and she begs for help: “If there is a god, please save me.”
Shin initially ignores it, but the words ring in his ear and send him to the woman in the snow. He says it’s his rule not to interfere in the life and death of humankind, but when she sobs that she can’t die like this, he realizes that she’s not begging to save her own life.
The woman clutches her belly and begs, “Just the child…”
She goes prone, and Shin says she’s lucky to have met a weak-hearted god who doesn’t want to see anyone die tonight. He kneels down and hovers a hand over her face, and wisps of blue energy flow out. She gasps awake, alive.
By the time the grim reaper makes his way to the pool of blood, he finds no body. He checks his death cards: a 27-year-old woman and an unnamed unborn.
A short while later, the revived woman gives birth to a girl. She doesn’t see the crowd of ghosts hovering outside her window, whispering, “The goblin’s bride.”
Eight years later in a seaside town, the baby is now a young girl, JI EUN-TAK, with a birthmark on her neck. The girl asks for a birthday cake this year to wish on, and Mom happily agrees. But her eyes turn sad when Eun-tak spots a puppy on the beach and pets it—because to her eyes, there is no puppy. Eun-tak is petting empty air.
Later when Eun-tak comes home from school, her mother has a birthday cake waiting. Eun-tak chatters as she lights the candles, but then sees something and freezes. She starts to cry, saying, “It’s not you. It’s not really Mom, it’s Mom’s spirit.”
Mom says, “You really do see everything. I’d hoped you didn’t.” Eun-tak asks if her mother is dead, and Mom nods.
Mom has only just died, and she tells Eun-tak what to expect when the hospital calls to let her know. She tells her to stay warm, and to never meet ghosts’ eyes in the future.
Eun-tak apologizes for seeing ghosts, “But because I can see those things, I can see you like this.” Mom senses her time running out and tells Eun-tak she loves her. They exchange tearful goodbyes, and then Mom’s spirit fades away.
When the hospital call comes, Eun-tak bundles up in Mom’s big red scarf to head out, and tells her cake that she won’t make any wishes: “Nobody listens anyway. Who would I wish to?”
Mom’s spirit visits Samshin Grandma to ask her to check in on Eun-tak from time to time. Grandma grumps that Mom should have died with the girl in the past, instead of living on. Mom protests that Grandma was the one who told her to wish to the gods, then thanks her and says goodbye.
Eun-tak steps outside and talks to the man standing there, and only realizes her mistake when Reaper asks curiously, “You see me?” She tries to pretend she didn’t, but the Reaper makes the connection, guessing that she was the one who wasn’t meant to be born.
Before Reaper can claim her, Samshin Grandma appears to tell Reaper to leave her alone. Reaper calls it obstruction of justice and is intent on rectifying the old error, but Grandma points out that the child marked for death had no name, but this child has one. She demands a death card with this girl’s name on it.
Reaper grimaces, since that’ll be a bureaucratic hassle. But Granny refuses to back down, so he grits his teeth and tells Eun-tak he’ll be seeing her again.
Granny tells Eun-tak to move away quickly, so that Reaper won’t be able to find her. She also tells her to go with the “one male, two females” who will show up at the funeral.
Eun-tak asks why Granny is helping her, and Granny replies, “I was happy when you came into existence.” She gives her a head of cabbage as a birthday present and leaves.
As Granny walks along the bridge, she crosses paths with a schoolboy. We transition to ten years later, and Granny transforms into a beautiful woman, and the schoolboy becomes twentysomething Deok-hwa (Yook Sung-jae).
Young Granny catches Deok-hwa’s eye, and he asks her out for a drink.
At home, Shin idly flips through a book while, on speakerphone, panicked-sounding “nephew” Deok-hwa begs him to pick up, because his credit card suddenly stopped working, and the unfriendly men at the bar aren’t very pleased about it. Shin doesn’t seem inclined to help.
In a high school lunchroom, 19-year-old Eun-tak eats by herself while her classmates whisper about her having no friends and how scary it is that she supposedly sees ghosts. Eun-tak ignores them, just as she ignores the ghost who pesters her on her walk home, calling her Goblin’s Bride.
Eun-tak does a successful job of pretending not to see her, but the ghost doesn’t like being ignored and screams in her face, forcing a response. The ghost smirks triumphantly… but when she sees something in the distance, she apologizes to Eun-tak and scampers off, saying how “it” was true after all.
It’s Shin, walking down the street in her direction, and they lock eyes for a long moment as they pass. Images flash through Shin’s mind, and he stares with something akin to recognition.
Eun-tak continues on, and Shin turns back for another look.
At home, Shin’s grandpa servant presents him with travel papers for his trip abroad. The rules aren’t explicitly given but it sounds like we’re in a transition period, and Shin comes in twenty-year intervals. Grandpa notes that Deok-hwa is now 25, and will be here to serve Shin when he returns. He also notes a little sadly that if Shin leaves now, he probably won’t see him again in his lifetime. Shin thanks him “for every moment.”
Deok-hwa bursts in, still sputtering about his canceled credit cards, complaining to Grandpa that it’s no good being a chaebol if he’s going to cut him off like this. Then Deok-hwa notices the travel documents and asks if Shin is going away to search for his bride. Shin ignores the questioning, and sighs at the idea that Deok-hwa will be serving him when he comes back.
Eun-tak wakes up early and gets breakfast going for the “one man, two women” she lives with: her grouchy aunt and two spiteful cousins, who complain that Eun-tak cooked seaweed soup on her own birthday. Aunt orders her to produce her bankbook today, and when Eun-tak insists that she doesn’t have a secret account, Aunt throws her rice bowl at Eun-tak’s head, saying that the insurance money from Mom’s death has to be somewhere.
Eun-tak swallows her tears and retorts that Aunt was the one who sucked everything dry, including their old house deposit. Her female cousin mutters about Eun-tak seeing ghosts, and Eun-tak gets in one dig by saying there’s a ghost stuck to her cousin’s back.
Later, she sits alone with a birthday cake by the shore, looking out at the water.
Shin sits out in a sunny field of flowers, and thinks back to a previous conversation with servant-grandpa, who’d asked if he was leaving alone again. Shin had sighed that no woman was able to see his sword. The old man had called it human greed to wish for the bride to appear whenever the sword brought pain, and to then also wish at other times that nobody would know about it.
Shin had smiled at him, saying that for tonight he was happy: “You are still with me, the liquor is plentiful, and for tonight at least, I want to be alive.” They clink glasses.
So now, as Shin plucks a handful of flowers and paces in the field, Eun-tak lights her birthday cake. She’d vowed at the age of nine not to make wishes, but is breaking that now because her situation is so urgent. She closes her eyes and prays: “Help me get a part-time job and do something about Aunt’s family and please let me get a boyfriend. Please!”
That please rings in Shin’s ear from miles away, as does her plea for a solution to her miserable living situation. Then Eun-tak opens her eyes and wonders what she’s doing, and whom she’s praying to, as though god even exists.
The skies rumble and the wind picks up, and Eun-tak quickly blows out her candles—and somehow, the wisps of smoke appear in Shin’s hand. Eun-tak yells indignantly at the skies, asking if it’s going to rain on top of everything else.
Suddenly, Shin’s voice calls out, “Is it you?”
He’s standing there by the sea with her, and asks if she’s the one who called him here, and how she managed it. Confused, she says she didn’t call him, but he instructs her to think about what she did to make it happen.
Eun-tak informs him that it isn’t that she called him, “It’s just that I see you. Because I met your eye by accident in the street the last time. That’s you, right?”
She explains that he’s a ghost, and she sees ghosts. He denies it and asks what her deal is, pointing out that she doesn’t see any of the normal things she should see—things like her future.
“I must not have a future,” she replies. She continues to talk as though he’s a ghost, instructing him to choose the good place (afterlife) and to not wander around too long, which isn’t good for him.
Noting the flowers he’s holding, she asks to have them, saying they don’t suit him. He identifies them as buckwheat flowers, and when she wonders what their meaning is, he replies, “Lovers.”
Recalling that she’d been crying, Shin asks which of her wishes (job, aunt’s family, boyfriend) prompted the tears. She’s startled that he knows about the wishes, and he replies that he sometimes grants wishes.
Eun-tak asks if he’s a wish-granting genie and wheedles for some money. Instead, he gives her the advice to say goodbye to her family, and work hard at her chicken shop job, which she’ll be getting soon. He vanishes into smoke, and Eun-tak calls after him, “Hey! What about my boyfriend?”
When Shin returns home, he’s startled to find the reaper there, and asks what he’s doing in his home. Reaper says in surprise, “You live here?”
That’s when Deok-hwa appears and explains that this house goes empty for twenty years at a time, which amounts to a lot of missed rent opportunities. Ha, Deok-hwa’s such a scammer-in-the-making. Shin indicates Reaper and asks, “Do you even know what that thing is?” Deok-hwa chides him for being rude to their new renter and says he runs a teashop.
Deok-hwa tries to make off with the rent by saying that he hasn’t received payment yet, though Reaper contradicts him, saying he’s already paid. Deok-hwa slinks away quietly.
Shin tells Reaper to take back his money, but Reaper holds up the signed contract. Shin sets it on fire. Reaper says it’s a copy and the original is at the realtor’s.
They exchange retorts until Reaper points out that Shin knows what a reaper contract entails, and that he’s entitled to take away his buddy Deok-hwa. Conceding, Shin tells Reaper to pick a room and consider this his house. Reaper: “This is my house.” Shin: “It’s mine.”
Dinner continues the animosity between them: They sit at opposite ends, and Reaper picks at his vegetables while Shin cuts into a steak. They bicker some more, and Reaper sends a pepper shaker flying into Shin’s water glass, calling it a mistake. Shin sends red pepper flakes spilling into Reaper’s dinner—another mistake.
Bolstered by Shin’s prediction, Eun-tak goes from restaurant to restaurant applying for jobs. She gets roundly turned down from shop after shop and grumbles at Shin’s words.
A passing man tosses a cigarette into a trash can, and Eun-tak jumps up to put out the fire that starts. Shin suddenly appears to say she called him again, and she just as strenuously insists she didn’t. She asks him what his exact classification of supernatural being he is, and complains that he got her hopes up about this supposed chicken shop job she’s meant to get.
Shin insists she did something to call him, and that it’s never happened before. That makes her stop to wonder why. She tells him to describe everything about her, and he rattles off details: “Uniform. Pretty.” (She smiles.) “The uniform is pretty.”
She asks if he sees wings, calling herself a fairy, like Tinkerbell. Shin practically rolls his eyes and vanishes into smoke.
Then as Eun-tak sits in a church service, something gives her an idea and she tests it out afterward. Lighting a candle, she blows it out and waits.
Around the corner, Shin appears. She exclaims that she’s figured out how she called him, while he chides, “Still, don’t you think it’s not quite right to call me here?”
He explains that he can’t vanish in the church (“Consider it a type of DMZ”) and starts walking out, while she pesters him about her three wishes, none of which have worked out. He says the job will happen soon, but she cuts him off to say she wants the boyfriend wish instead. Shin: “Then you put in some effort!” Haha.
Later, Eun-tak tests out her theory using a candle-blowing app on her phone, then lights up when Shin shows up, right on cue.
Annoyed that she was just testing it out, he turns to go, and Eun-tak grabs his arm—and suddenly, it lights up with wispy blue-green smoke, like the kind that enveloped his sword. She lets go, saying, “It’s so hot! I thought it would be cold because it was bluish.”
He reminds her that blue actually indicates the hottest heat, and she pesters him to just give her money instead of the wish. Shin’s eager to get going, having a memorial service to attend, but she pesters him so much that he tells her to hurry and say her piece.
Eun-tak asks him not to misunderstand before launching into her explanation: She thought he was a reaper at first, but a reaper would have taken her away. Then she thought he was a ghost, but he has a shadow. Thinking it over, she concluded that he was a goblin.
He doesn’t react, and just asks again what her deal is. “It’s a little weird to say it myself,” Eun-tak replies, “but I’m the goblin’s bride.” She thinks the birthmark on her neck is why ghosts say she’s the goblin’s bride.
She shows him the mark, and Shin thinks back to the night he saved her mother and makes the connection. He tells her to prove she’s the goblin’s bride, and she asks how. He tells her to describe him, giving her no other clues, so she sizes him up and goes with: tall, expensive clothes, thirtysomething.
He replies that if that’s all she sees, she’s not the goblin’s bride, and is useless to the goblin. While it’s too bad she can see ghosts, he says that it’s a side effect of breaking the rules, so she should live gratefully.
Eun-tak gets upset to be told she’s useless, asking who he is to determine her value. He reminds her of her birthday wish to improve her life by as little as a penny’s worth, and calls himself someone who worries about a penny’s worth about her miserable life. “Live in reality,” he advises, since she’s not the goblin’s bride.
She follows him out the door angrily to have her say, and then they both look around in shock because suddenly, she’s in a different country. He’s stunned that she could use the same door-portal that he did, landing them in Canada.
Eun-tak takes in her surroundings and the extent of his powers, then declares that she has come to a decision: “I’ll marry you! I think you are a goblin. I love you.”
She beams at him, while he stares back blankly.
Overall, I thought the first episode was strong and stirring, once I got past the needlessly long running time that crammed two episodes’ worth of material into one blockbuster premiere. More story certainly isn’t bad, and I enjoyed having the couple interacting with each other rather than merely meeting, but it really did feel like the producers intended the episode to end at the hour mark (when the goblin meets his bride), and then just tacked on the next episode to fill out the 90 minutes. So it actually felt like the episode slowed in the second hour, because things had arrived at a natural climactic point, and then just kept going past it.
That aside, it was an impressive start, and the high production values and gravitas of the sageuk backstory lent the story a very effective sense of tragic, cursed sadness. (And the sageuk portions being filmed in widescreen probably adds to its epic, cinematic quality.) It’s quite an interesting plot setup, and I think we might want to brace ourselves for tears down the line, because, as Eun-tak’s mother noted, the goblin’s predicament is romantic and sad, needing to find a human bride in order to die. Death isn’t just a possibility but his entire goal.
The gods were certainly cruel when they leveled their punishment on him, and I like this drama’s interpretation of deities as the stuff of Greek mythology—they’re powerful, but indifferent and jealous and capricious. I find it oddly satisfying, in a vengeful sort of way, whenever a human says there’s no point to prayer because the gods don’t bother listening, and knowing they’re right. I suppose you can find that kind of thinking angry or nihilistic, but trust Shin to take the positive approach in treating it as a reminder to live your reality on your own, instead of expecting anything from the heavens.
I’m impressed, really, that Shin isn’t more angry or indignant about his lot, because the entirety of it is unfair and harsh: As a human, he did nothing wrong, and was hated for being exceptional at his duty, and for that he is cursed with eternal mourning. The punishment is particularly effective because Shin is loyal and loving, and seems to take every death very hard. I wouldn’t blame the guy for choosing to go after revenge as the first thing he did post-revival, but he was quite torn up about being blinded by that need while the faithful grandfather died. (I’m hoping the little boy survived and will reappear, and will cling to the idea that Deok-hwa’s lineage had to continue from him.) I’m sure there are more people for whom this curse would be more of a boon—just as long as you’re not too sad about the people you outlive!—but Shin says little and feels deeply, and it lends him tremendous pathos.
There’s nothing that guarantees a sad ending, necessarily, since the writer can always find a different resolution to the setup than having Shin fulfill the curse and disappear. But the prospect of him dying will always hover in my mind, and it lends a bittersweet shine to everything, doesn’t it?
Speaking of the writer, she was the greatest source of my wariness, because [insert track record], but I do think she does better when there’s a fantasy or genre element to her story, rather than a simple romance, because I often want more substance to the bantering and glib interplay. She hasn’t done fantasy in a while, and Secret Garden was fantasy-lite, so I’m very curious to see how deeply she’ll take us into this mythology, and how much worldbuilding we’re in for. I hope lots, because already I find the rules fascinating and want to see how the pieces fit together, both for the goblin and the reaper. I want a lot more out of this drama than romance, which could even be secondary and still work, given that the goblin’s trajectory is so moving on its own.
The goblin-reaper tension is shaping up to be quite entertaining, but I like that there’s more to it than simple grudging roommates or bromance. If the goblin’s bride is the reaper’s lost quarry, their whole relationship puts everything in peril, and I look forward to seeing how each party reacts once the identities are made known.
The story definitely lightened up and brought in the humor once the couple met, so I’m not sure how much of the show will turn to rom-com, but I hope it retains that sense of melancholy and wistfulness, which is the thing that grips my emotions the most. I think Kim Go-eun is a great actress, but her chipper moments sort of rang false at times, and the character kind of seemed a bit all over the place, emotionally. I’m hoping it’s more of a character thing than an acting thing—perhaps the character is forcing cheer to cover up her despair, which works for me. I’ll go with that for now.