The first season of Love Alarm (좋아하면 울리는) was one of the very first Korean dramas I watched last year at the start of stay at home/lockdown orders. I thought those first eight episodes were wonderful. And I pointed to charming, likeable characters, an engaging plot with potential for deep discussion, a love triangle you are invested in and relationships you care about.
I thought that first season laid a strong foundation for “an even more engaging season 2.” And was looking forward to jumping right back in after the premiere date was finally announced.
So color me surprised that these six season 2 episodes had almost none of the things I enjoyed and liked from the first season. Even worse, this 2nd season pretty much did away with almost all of the positives of that 1st season in exchange for some strange, half-baked attempt at romantic melodrama. But really failing in the process in ways I never would have expected.
Rough Road to a Good Destination?
It’s hard to say such negative things about a series that had been cute, charming fun. But it is really hard to understand how the series could be so different between the two seasons.
Now, full disclosure, I was Team Hye Young from the start. I just preferred him to Sun Oh even though I acknowledged that he was very much a viable option for our main heroine Kim Jojo. In fact, having both Hye Young and Sun Oh be viable options for Jojo is a good thing. You want both to be deserving of Jojo’s heart. That’s what gets you invested in the story and engaged with every emotional twist and turn.
So while I was definitely happy to see Hye Young get the nod in the end, I can still believe the show did Sun Oh dirty. And pretty inexplicably as well. How and why would they take a well-developed character in season 1 and reduce him to being a miserable, hollow shell in season 2? There was really no reason for him to have become this way. At least, based on what we saw and were told in-series.
I should’ve expected something was off when the first couple of minutes of this 2nd season didn’t pick up from the season 1 cliffhanger. They instead plopped us in some random time after the events of the season finale.
Season 1’s cliffhanger had Jojo standing in the middle of Hye Young and Sun Oh’s love circles. The question being “Who is Jojo going to choose?” It came after an episode that had all three characters reflecting on their time together, laying the groundwork for whatever decision would be made.
But at the start of season 2, it would appear she has already chosen Hye Young. One of the very first scenes this season is them taking sweet photos together with a film camera. But also of Jojo quite dramatically backing away from Hye Young’s kiss.
The first we see of Sun Oh is him seemingly miserable and sullen while being attached to public girlfriend Yuk Jo who he obviously has zero feelings for.
There’s no problem with a time jump between seasons. But it’s almost like we missed a huge chuck of the story which we end up never getting to actually see.
When it comes to Jojo’s love life, there really didn’t seem to be any doubt that she would choose Hye Young in the end. That or she would choose neither and instead choose to be alone. (Which, judging from the way Jojo carried herself, would have been a viable option.)
Hye Young seemed to be “the one” right from the start. Yet Jojo, for some reason, couldn’t fully accept her feelings for him. And at some points, almost seemed like she was leading him on just because he’s such a nice guy and she didn’t want to hurt him. All because she was still harboring feelings for the guy she kissed in the very first episode of the series. Awkward!
Character Driven It Is Not
The majority of these six episodes consisted of three things:
1. Hye Young patiently waiting for Jojo to ring his Love Alarm/love him fully while doing everything a boyfriend would do for a girlfriend.
2. Sun Ho sulking about why Jojo didn’t choose him and lashing out at her for not admitting she actually likes him and not Hye Young.
3. Jojo being inexplicably wishy-washy and gloomy. (My parents, who were watching with me, literally said “I haven’t seen her smile once yet.”)
We learn in the middle of the final episode (though not the final or even penultimate acts of the finale) that Jojo’s reluctance to fall in love with her whole heart is because of the trauma and guilt she still holds from what happened with her parents as a child. (A plot point that was completely ignored for five hours before getting pulled out of nowhere in the finale.)
Jojo, somehow, comes to terms with her past while running in a scenic Jeju Island marathon and as soon as she sees Hye Young at the finish line, she’s ready to fully embrace him as “the one.”
Um… okay. With a conclusion like that, you’d think this was essentially a six-hour therapy session for Jojo. But when they only bring up her tragic past in the middle of the final episode, you can’t really say that.
The season started with a premise that Jojo has essentially decided to give Hye Young a shot. She might love him, she might not. But she’ll find out along the way. And Hye Young is more than content to give her the time to figure her feelings out. He says late in the season that whatever her decision may be, he’ll accept it because it will have been her choice. Until then, he’ll be there for her.
We never really see why Jojo is moping about. One of the subplots is her trying to find Love Alarm developer Duk Gu (who we last saw jump out of a freaking window in the first season) so he can have him remove the shield from her app. We have to assume it’s so she can ring someone’s alarm.
But this is part of the big narrative problem. One of the series’ main themes is looking at how relationships would be different without Love Alarm or really most of today’s technology. Did people like Jojo depend solely on what an algorithm told them?
Instead of Jojo continuing to rely on the app, why not have her figuring things out on her own? Why is she so eager to have an app validate her feelings for her?
There’s a throwaway conversation in the final episode that I think aimed to explain that while Jojo was in love with Sun Ho back in high school, the one in her heart today is Hye Young. A separate conversation then pointed out that if it wasn’t for Love Alarm, it would’ve been Hye Young all along.
Okay. But it would’ve been nice to have seen those things actually play out instead of being told those things in the waning moments of the series.
Again, a Team Hye Young member like myself can still feel Sun Oh was treated horribly. We have no idea why he held on to his feelings for Jojo all these years to the point that he essentially berates her for not admitting he is who she wants. He comes across as sad and pathetic. And that’s absolutely a shame considering how well his character developed and grew during the first season.
It would have helped to have seen just how Jojo decided to give Hye Young a chance and perhaps let Sun Oh down. It didn’t have to be at the beginning of the series. But ultimately, we never got anything. Based on what we did get, Sun Oh’s behavior could be justified by assuming Jojo just upped and left him. Ignored him all this time. I doubt that’s what happened. But that’s how it came across. And it certainly doesn’t paint Jojo is a good light at all if that were the case.
Add that to how Hye Young patiently waits for Jojo, even when she isn’t all that receptive of his feelings or even when she might do something that others would take as hurtful. All this reflects very poorly on her.
And to pour salt in the wound, they end up having Sun Oh “settle” for his fake girlfriend Yuk Jo. And yes, it’s absolutely fake since not a single moment did he ever think of her more than someone to try and distract him from Jojo. (In addition to her being a completely flat, shallow character as well.) That he had to go back to her and settle for her after the finality he got with Jojo really just was the final stake in his character’s assassination.
As much as the love triangle in season 1 was refreshing and engaging, it is shallow and sort of confusing this season. Season 2 came across as a poor attempt at romantic melodrama rather than the sort of ethereal, dreamlike first season.
This or That
The most egregious misstep this season though has to be the way they completely dismantled Hye Young and Sun Oh’s relationship. Arguably one of the best stories of the first season was the “bromance” between the childhood friends. They really were like brothers. We saw and we felt that bond they had with each other. It was just as well-developed, if not more so, as either of their relationships with Jojo.
Obviously, fighting over the same girl will put a strain on that relationship. But we get absolutely zero closure for them. One fist fight and one short conversation late in the series. And ending on the fact that Sun Oh will forever feel hurt by Hye Young? I have no problem with bittersweet endings. But when everything else feels so off, it’s disappointing to see one of the best stories from the first season get “resolved” in this way. It was a throwaway line in the final moments of the series. And their story deserved much more than that.
Which is why it is so inexplicable how these six episodes devoted so much screentime to Jojo’s selfish, egotistic cousin Gul Mi, who surprisingly experienced zero character development or growth at all. She actually ends up being rewarded for her poor behavior in the end by the guy who jumped out a window partly because of her treatment of him.
It’s unbelievable. For all that time devoted to her, she should at least get punished for being a jerk. If not, redeem her in some way. Her yelling at cops wanting to question Jojo is not character redemption.
Gul Mi and Yuk Jo’s screentime was absolutely not warranted this season. Especially when people who actually relate to the main story of the series (such as Duk Gu and Brian Chon, who presents himself as the developer of Love Alarm) are merely given throwaway lines instead of substantive material that could have carried the series much more.
(Those throwaway lines include Duk Gu revealing he and Brian Chon are brothers in the final moments of the series. Oh boy.)
The odd choice of focus for much of these six episodes lend to the idea of how sloppy this season really was. The misguided narrative decisions affected both the main characters and the overall story. And it’s hard to understand how or why those decisions were made.
Shallow End of the Pool
Another disappointment is the series never actually staying in the deep end. That is, abandoning some of season 1’s emotional depth that actually helped set it apart from other series and provided a foundation for deeper discussion in season 2.
Most of the heavier themes introduced in season 1 were never tackled in any significant way here. Particularly mental health and the effect of technology on our lives.
One of the first season finale’s biggest moments involved people protesting the app at the launch of the 2.0 version. Especially after the horrific mass suicide of people hurt by the emotional and mental effects of the app.
One of the random subplots this season is that one of the survivors of that mass suicide becomes obsessed with Jojo’s anonymous Instagram drawings that have been seen as prophecies or worse, orders to her followers to carry out criminal acts.
The way the first season had led up to the final episode, the “lesson” to be had was really to follow the heart beating in your chest and not the heart that pulsates on your phone’s screen.
Season 2 would have been the perfect opportunity to have Jojo, Hye Young and Sun Oh prove that they don’t need any kind of app to determine their true feelings.
For Hye Young, the app might not have been that much of a factor for his patience. Even though Jojo finally ringing his alarm (via the spear) was a big moment for him, it wasn’t the driver of his feelings for her.
For Jojo and Sun Oh, the app remained everything. Especially for Jojo and her quest to remove her app’s shield. She couldn’t fully love unless she got affirmation from the algorithm. And Sun Oh couldn’t believe she loves someone else because the app told them otherwise.
Again, that really diminishes their characters in a way I don’t think the show really intended.
And also again, the very real negatives of Love Alarm are never addressed until the final episode. And only in passing and never in any significant, meaningful way.
Two Different Shows
I want to make very clear that I am happy Hye Young “won” in the end. If I were Jojo, I’d choose him too. But my issue with this 2nd season is everything else. And everything else this season might have even pushed me to root for an ending where Jojo chooses neither Hye Young or Sun Oh and everyone just ends up alone and miserable. Thanks Love Alarm!
But there is such a disconnect between the two seasons in both style and substance.
Narratively, there was a lack of resolution. None of the series’ biggest mysteries and conflicts were even addressed until the last episode. And not even in any meaningful way. The endless loop of Hye Young’s noble patience, Jojo’s baseless inner-conflict and Sun Oh’s denial aren’t really the most engaging use of five hours of television.
The potential was there for Love Alarm 2 to go even deeper than season 1. The idea of technology’s effects on our lives and how people have really lost even the most basic of human interaction; all of that as there for the series to run with here after the first season. And they just dropped the ball. All while dismantling the characters that had been so well-written and well-developed in season 1.
In the end, the two season split wasn’t warranted. The entire story could’ve been told in one 12 or 16 episode season. And in a much better and more succinct narrative.
Visually, the second season also felt lesser than compared to the first season where it was one of the series’ best aspects.
It’s been easy to perhaps blame COVID for any kind of shortcomings productions have had in 2020. And perhaps it did have an effect on Love Alarm 2. But it’s hard to excuse the fact that so much positive potential was abandoned for, well, whatever this 2nd season was.