TYPE OF REVIEW : HINDSIGHT REVIEW
Moderate spoilers. Click here for the First Impression Review.
I enjoyed the first season of Disney+’s Big Bet (카지노/Casino) . I felt that the legendary Choi Min Sik delivered a masterful performance in what was a strong and intriguing story of a Cha Mu Sik, a man who came from humble beginnings in rural Korea to become an influential casino kingpin in the Philippines. The eight episodes that made up the first season followed Mu Sik as he recounted his long journey from his difficult childhood to now living comfortably with a business that brings him money and power.
The first season closed as that business and the surrounding world of crime, corruption and betrayal began to close in on him.
I hoped that this second season of eight episodes would keep up with the strong momentum of the first. And that we would see Mu Sik turn toward a more vengeful path as he deals with the people who have wronged him. The title of the series Big Bet or Casino being literal and philosophical when it comes to Mu Sik. How would the show depict Mu Sik’s gamble in life?
And that’s somewhat how this second season played out. But for some reason, the series seemed to lose a bit of its spark. The thrilling and engaging nature of the first season gave way to what felt like a much slower and more plot-driven narrative. Which would be fine if there was much of a plot to unfold.
Where the first season was a wonderful character portrait of our affable anti-hero, this second season delved into a convoluted and overly intricate web of familiar crime and corruption tropes. Alongside Mu Sik’s world beginning to collapse around him, through unfortunately contrived circumstances, was the plot thread that emerged at the end of the first season. That is investigator Oh Seung Hoon (Son Suk Ku) initially working to solve the murder cases of Koreans in the Philippines and eventually getting caught up in Mu Sik’s world.
The side-by-side plot threads move along like oil and water rather than truly intertwine. That is until the final episode that feels both rushed and unearned. On its own, a thrilling sequence that would otherwise provide a perfect climax. But in reality, merely shining a spotlight on this group of episodes’ shortcomings.
There is such a clear distance between the two seasons. Really, the series shouldn’t have been broken up into two seasons or groups of episodes in the first place. And an argument can be made that the series might have been better off with less episodes. A tighter and more fast-paced story focusing on Mu Sik’s improbable rise and eventual downfall is much more enticing on paper than what the series ended up being.
It’s hard to even take the series as a whole considering how lesser than this second season is compared to the first. And if anything, this second season weighs down the entire series by negating much of what made those first eight episodes so exciting to watch.
One of my few criticisms of that first group of episodes was the tonal whiplash. Fun, lighthearted moments with Mu Sik would abruptly cut to darker and more violent moments. Again, typical of this genre of story. But while the series had trouble balancing those two contrasting sides in the first season, it struggled even more in this second season.
And it’s a bit of a shame considering the series’ strong ensemble cast. Of course led by Choi Min Sik. And a cast featuring talented actors from both Korea and the Philippines.
When Big Bet devolved into some of the typical facets of the genre, it turned the series from being a refreshingly bold take on familiar themes into “just another one of those” in the end. The talented cast and the unique setting deserved much better material.
Maybe if the series had not been split in half, it would’ve been a different experience. But as it ended up being, the series drops the ball in such stunning fashion. That decline is even more interesting to comprehend itself rather than whatever this second season offered up in terms of story. Ultimately, Choi Min Sik’s captivating performance carried this second season of episodes. But it’s hard not to wonder whether this second season was even necessary at all.