TYPE OF REVIEW : HINDSIGHT REVIEW
LOTS of spoilers.
Taxi Driver was my favorite drama series of 2021. It was such an exciting and fun television experience, mixing adrenaline-fueled action, lighthearted humor and vicarious satisfaction. Watching the Rainbow Taxi team’s unique brand of vigilante justice and their sincerity in helping the powerless was just amazing. So when a season two was confirmed, it was more than welcome news.
Now that season 2 of the blockbuster SBS series Taxi Driver has come and gone, I can still describe it in the same way. Even if I might have some regrets and disappointments from this season.
To start, let’s do a mini-recap of these final two episodes.
And first, let’s talk about our two guest stars. Kim So Yeon as the original Taxi Driver was deus ex machina in the best way possible. She was definitely badass in her short appearance. And moving forward, I would love to see a prequel of Taxi Driver with her in the driver’s seat. Basically, Rainbow Taxi’s origin story. I think that has amazing potential. And could help bridge the gap between seasons of the Taxi Driver we already know and love.
Meanwhile, Moon Chae Won’s appearance at the end hopefully means we will see her in a season 3. Other than of course having the Gang taking care of the military rape case, we get to learn more about Do Ki’s past in the military. What is their relationship? What might have happened between them to result in such a cold response from our hero?
Hopefully that will be a major part of season 3. And having her back and focusing on Do Ki’s past would definitely address some of the concerns I have after this season. (More on that later.)
But for this endgame. Honestly, it just felt like another case of the week. The endgame feeling was a bit light, even as they finally fleshed out On Ha Joon’s character.
Ha Joon, on the orders of the Bishop, finally set their ultimate plan against our Rainbow Taxi friends in motion. Attempting to catch them in their elaborate trap by framing an innocent man and taking advantage of the Rainbow Taxi’s virtuous mission, the perfect plan ended up being a little bit too perfect. And of course, the Gang was able to figure things out just in time to avoid getting into any serious trouble.
The critical piece in these final two episodes was Mr. Jang’s digging into Ha Joon’s past. Because without that piece of the puzzle, this “case” would have just fallen completely flat. Especially as a season endgame.
I guess, I can’t really talk about the finale without relating it to the rest of the season. So here goes.
Something just felt a bit off this season. It started out by picking up right where season one left off. But as the season progressed, things just felt a bit different.
With season one of Taxi Driver, everyone on the team had personal stakes in some of the cases they handled. With those raised stakes, there’s obviously much more emotion and even danger in the missions Do Ki and the team have to execute with precision. In turn, we also get to meet them for the first time. So there is a mystery in the getting to know you aspect of the story.
In this season, I kind of felt a bit of a disconnect with most of the cases they handled. I still think the closest the season came to its first season feels was with the case of the grandmother who was swindled out of her money. It was the kind of down-to-earth, humble story that the team did best. They always looked out of the little people. Those who may have lost all hope against seemingly invincible human evil.
Our Rainbow Taxi friends would help the nice grandmother and other clients through the season with their usual skill, talents and fun energy. But a few times this season, the series swerved a bit more toward a typical crime procedural. Rather than maintaining their unique and refreshing approach to the genre.
Of course, Taxi Driver is a procedural as well simply because they too have cases of the week. But with season one, the series took a more character-driven approach. And that applies to both our Rainbow Taxi friends and the people they were helping in each episode.
I guess some of the tepid feelings I have might be attributed to the kinda-sorta season-long arc. Now, there is no question Shin Jae Ha is an amazing actor. And he has definitely introduced himself to many new fans with his great performance here and in the recently concluded Crash Course in Romance. But his character of Ha Joon was sort of mishandled. The series actually laid out quite a steady foundation for him. Especially as it moved toward the revelation of his ulterior motives.
But after that revelation, the series didn’t maintain the good character pacing for him that they had done in the first couple of episodes. Instead of a wonderfully emotional climax for his character and his relationship with our Rainbow Taxi friends, it felt more like a rushed addendum to the underwhelming endgame. There is certainly a lot of untapped potential with what the series could (and should?) have done with Ha Joon and the Rainbow Taxi Gang.
Instead, the endgame felt more like a recycle of a story they had already done earlier in the season. And instead of it all tying in to some larger conspiracy, it just felt more like it was been there, done that.
I think one other perfect example is having Do Ki’s “death” cliffhanger two weeks in a row. We obviously know he isn’t going to die. Especially not in the middle of the season. But his two near-death experiences were merely waved away instead of serving as potential character or plot development.
Another thing that may have contributed to the season’s more procedural-feel is that because we are already friends with the Rainbow Taxi crew and they are already pretty much established, there wasn’t really much to add for them as characters. So the season was less about learning more about our friends and more toward the cases they took on every week.
Sure we still got plenty of fun shenanigans from them. Lots of cool new disguises and new toys and gadgets and taxi upgrades. But the focus away from the Gang themselves maybe added to the weaker connection.
I think one tweak that could’ve changed that would’ve been to build up Ha Joon’s relationship with them instead. Have him actually be integrated more into the team. Have him learn about each of them personally so there is still that essence of meeting the Gang, even if we, the audience already know them.
The show had Ha Joon mention his “feud” with Do Ki. Yet, the show didn’t really establish that “feud” until last week. It was a one-sided feud, I guess. And it wasn’t even a cat and mouse game-type of deal since the Gang had no idea Ha Joon was even a suspicious person.
By leaning into developing Ha Joon more as the main villain and having him more directly antagonizing the Gang, especially towards the end, would have gone a long way.
This would also help take care of giving Ha Joon a stronger story leading up to what we saw in this final week. Which really should’ve been much more of the season endgame than it was.
The season should have been all about Ha Joon (even if he’s just the Bishop’s underling) antagonizing the Gang while slowly peeling back the layers of his past. The short montage of Ha Joon regretting not embracing his potential new family felt far too hollow than it should’ve been. Shin Jae Ha and the rest of the cast made that couple of seconds still have some meaning. But otherwise, it really just felt like something added at the last minute.
Unlike season one, this season seemed to lack a cohesiveness that helped to tie everything together. Things weren’t as seamless as they could have been. Connections between the cases and the endgame were loose at best. And the character-focused narrative of season one gave way to more plot-driven and less personal stories this time around.
Like I’ve mentioned in my mini-recaps in recent weeks, I hesitate to say anything negative about Taxi Driver because I truly do love it so much.
But I think because I love it so much, I feel maybe more protective of it. That is, I want to see it at its best. I still enjoy and have fun with the show. It was definitely still a fun, wild ride this season. But I know that it is capable of so much more. And they’ve proven that in season one and at points in season two.
There is definitely a lot of potential for future seasons. And as of this posting, SBS has confirmed it has ordered season three. But I think the series definitely needs to add a bit more of the touches that made season one so special. Instead of becoming just “another one of those,” Taxi Driver‘s unique premise really should offer it more opportunity to be much more refreshing. And the biggest part of that is the connection we have to our Rainbow Taxi friends. And in turn, the personal connections they make and the hope they provide to the clients who give them a call. Which ultimately is what will keep anyone coming back for more Taxi Driver, even if it had its faults in this run.
So other than for Madame Lim’s sake, here’s hoping Taxi Driver can only get even better in the future. And that it is just as wonderfully fun and exciting as it has already proven itself to be.