Hello friends, and hope you are well! I’m back with another review, this time for SKY Castle. I originally planned to binge watch this one after it finished airing, but because of the major attention the show was getting, the ratings achievements, and the fact that it was becoming clear as day that I wasn’t going to be able to avoid spoilers, I decided to get going and watch it before I saw anything I shouldn’t! I ended up watching sixteen episodes within three days and then even had time to relax before the rest of the episodes came out. Feel free to read below for my final thoughts on the incredibly successful series!
[Be Forewarned: Spoilers Below].
Stellar Cast: This cast completely outdid themselves. I’m afraid no mere words of mine could truly do them justice. The actors/actresses in adult roles in particular were impeccable across the board. This isn’t surprising considering most of them are well established and I’ve already seen many of them prove themselves time and time again in their previous works. Yum Jung Ah floored me with the raw tenacity she was able to inject into the character of Suh Jin. Yoon Se Ah displayed such gentle grace and class as the timid but resolute Seung Hye. Lee Tae Ran shined as the down to earth, yet forthright Soo Im. Oh Na Ra truly had me laughing with her quirky antics and vivaciousness as the designated town gossip, Jin Jin. Jung Joon Ho deserves an award for giving Joon Sang the best indignant face I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing on screen. Choi Won Young is always fantastic at giving off that calming, tender vibe, but he really had me feeling broken when it was time for Chi Young to shed some tears for his son. Kim Byung Chul had me cackling in between my fits of rage with perfectly arrogant expressions and gestures that made me want to punch Min Hyuk in all the places that hurt. Jo Jae Yun never fails to get me howling and he was no different here as whipped husband Yang Woo. Last, but certainly not least, Kim Seo Hyung‘s ominous portrayal of Joo Young had a commanding and regal aura that effectively drew me in. The children alike, were also commendable. In particular, Kim Bo Ra and Kim Hye Yoon were perfectly suited to their characters, Hye Na and Yeh Suh. They made the most impactful impression on me as a viewer. That’s not to say the other child actors were subpar, but since their roles were a bit less significant, they didn’t stand out to me as much as the two ladies did. Out of the entire cast, the only actor that felt a tad bit out of place for me was Kang Chan Hee as Woo Joo. Something about his presence, mannerisms, and diction exuded an awkwardness that I simply couldn’t ignore. Despite that, I still believe he was successful in emitting the friendly, easygoing vibe that was necessary for Woo Joo’s character.
Impressive Character Development: I can’t get to everyone, but I’d like to discuss a few of the characters and their progression over time. I’ll start with Joo Young. The woman was undoubtedly a monster, and yet, I found myself pitying her at various moments, most especially by episode nineteen. The curry scene shared between herself and her daughter Kay, was excruciatingly painful to watch. As tragic as it was, it unfortunately all comes back to greed and a parent’s forceful projection of their own desires onto their child. Joo Young’s crimes were a culmination of her guilt and served as mode for her to thrust her own tragedy onto “the other.” By tearing families apart through the same methods mistakenly used to destroy her own, Joo Young hoped to receive some sort of satisfaction in punishing these parents, by inflicting a version of her own misfortune upon them. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t lead to much fulfillment, if any, on her part (keenly noted by Mr. Jo). And while Joo Young seemed to be incapable of human emotion, she clearly had a soft spot for Kay, as well as Mr. Jo, whom she rescued from drug abuse. I don’t think Joo Young realized how much her daughter still mattered to her, until Kay tried to eat, unbeknownst to her, the lethal curry prepared for what was assumedly intended to be a murder-suicide. The fact that Joo Young changes her mind about this, along with the desperate embrace she shares with her child, clues us into the fact that there was still love there. Unfortunately, it came too late. Instead of reconciling their relationship and trying to live a decent life together, Joo Young wastes her life wreaking havoc upon vulnerable families, while neglecting all that she has left. Even more heart-wrenching, was Soo Im and Kay’s visit to Joo Young in jail. Joo Young was clearly caught off guard by this, and it feels good to see the two match their hands up against the cell window. Soo Im was the most sensible mother of the bunch, and was clearly there to represent “normal” amongst a group of extremists. I just want to touch briefly on the fact that she made it her mission to make sure Kay, Joo Young’s daughter, got taken care of. This was one of my favorite parts of the finale. After episode nineteen, I was so worried that Kay was going to get lost in the mix or just completely omitted from the whole wrap up. Seeing Soo Im take care of Kay so lovingly really made the finale worth the watch. Getting to see Kay smile while knowing that she had Soo Im and a new friend at the home looking after her made me feel so much better. I’m relieved that she’s not trapped in that grim, empty, and lonesome household anymore. Having Ga Eul be her new friend and supposed care giver at the home was an interesting and unexpected twist, but it seems that Ga Eul will probably be a better care taker than her own mother ever was.
At one point while watching this drama I thought it would be impossible for me to like, let alone feel bad for, Yeh Suh. I have definitely experienced a change of heart about her. Having absolutely hated her for most of the show, I’ve come to gradually develop respect for her. While I acknowledge she was partially a victim of Joo Young, that victimhood developed out of her own greed and consistent dismissal of her mother’s warnings about the dangers of her coach. I personally don’t agree with the sentiments using her environment as justification for her crummy behavior, because that same excuse could be applied to most of the characters in this show. I don’t think she deserves big pats on the back for sacrificing her dream to save Woo Joo. That’s what she should have done from the beginning. That is the right thing to do, just as her parents apologizing to Woo Joo’s family was the right thing to do. What I can say, is that it’s certainly a hallmark moment of growth based on her character’s previous actions, and I was immensely thrilled that she (and her mother) exhibited such progress. I don’t think the two deserve a medal for taking a course of action that shouldn’t have even been a second thought. For Yeh Suh, the consequences were far less then what Woo Joo would have been forced to suffer for the rest of his life. Yeh Suh’s punishment, though horrible, was not as damning as the punishment Woo Joo would have had to face had she abandoned him. Yeh Suh’s punishment came as a consequence of her own actions. Woo Joo’s punishment would have been, not because he did anything wrong to constitute it, but out of Yeh Suh and her mother’s blatant refusal to take responsibility for a mess and tragedy that—while not entirely their fault—they still had a significant hand in. While they may not have known exactly what they were walking into, it is important to keep in mind that Yeh Suh and her mother walked hand in hand into the clutches of Kim Joo Young, after warnings from multiple parties, and (for Suh Jin) even despite knowing some of the awful deeds she was capable of. They were very much victims of their own willful ignorance, but what I appreciate is that Yeh Suh comes to own those decisions, and doesn’t harbor any grudge toward her mother. She ends up admitting her share in their mistakes, and decides to make the best of her situation rather that become bitter and take it out on those around her. Seeing the change in her personality by the end was rewarding. Watching her study with the twins, apologize to Hye Na, and have a comedic banter back and forth with her sister over food, made me realize that she did a lot of maturing over the course of the final few episodes worth noting.
Suh Jin was almost the pure embodiment of greed and ruthlessness. She would go to any means necessary if it meant getting her daughter into SNU. There were a few times where I thought she was finally going to make the right decision, but then she would revert back to her old ways. Like many of the other characters, Suh Jin is eventually forced to face all that she’s done until now. The first step was going to the police station to turn in the evidence, and from there, she continued to try and make amends for her behavior. Her past actions cannot be undone, and many of them were horrendous, especially her treatment of Hye Na, however, I really felt their sorrow when Suh Jin and Joon Sang knelt before Woo Joo and his parents to apologize. It was a very humbling moment for them to get such a sharp verbal lashing from Woo Joo of all people. Suh Jin is still a work in progress, but I thought her decision to have the family visit Hye Na’s memorial to pay their respects was valuable. That scene was very upsetting, but poignant at the same time. That’s one of the first moments they actually share as a family with their newfound outlook and revelation as to what family actually means. While it is terrible that they only come to realize this at Hye Na’s expense, it is almost as if that burden that they’ll now have to carry with them for the rest of their lives, is part of their penance and a reminder to keep them in check. Joon Sang was just…utterly shameless. His own greed for a bigwig hospital title mirrored his wife’s greed for her child’s unyielding success. Once again, I never thought I’d be feeling any sort of empathy for this man, but I did. Not until very late in the game did I finally waver, but I was increasingly appreciative with his progression. It is pretty pathetic that it takes Hye Na’s death to get him going, but as we learn about his own upbringing we soon realize that he has grown up in such a toxic household that it’s no wonder he was as selfish and arrogant as he was. I certainly don’t view it as an excuse for his behavior, but merely and explanation for where that shitty behavior has its roots. Joon Sang’s evolution was one of the most pleasing for me, perhaps because he was the last person I would have expected to have such a quick and stark turn around. I’d underestimated the affect that Hye Na’s death would have on him. Clearly, it was a huge wake up call. The scene where he is packing up at the hospital to take his leave was particularly touching. I thought the way he took time to hold each colleague and resident’s hand, while paying them some sort of comment or compliment, really showcased his transition. He was very emotional, looked each one in the eye, and transmitted this sort of energy that just really had me at a loss for words. Seeing him end on good terms, and with gratitude toward Hwang Chi Young was so satisfying. In the end, I was grateful to witness his transformation and chance at redemption.
Madam Yoon was probably my least favorite character in the whole show. I had absolutely no faith that she would make any kind of change. I was shocked to see her giving Suh Jin that sushi and even more shook when she showed up at Hye Na’s memorial with a flower. She may have been the root of all evil within the Kang family, but at least she ended on a more tolerable note than she started with. Like Professor Cha, she’s going to need to do a lot more progressing, but at least it’s a start. Hye Na also modeled some unruly behavior, moreso pettiness than anything else once she decided she wanted to get her revenge. Hye Na wasn’t perfect and clearly engaged in behaviors she shouldn’t have, but I can understand where that bitterness and vengefulness came from. Suh Jin treated her abominably for a child who has just lost her mother and had nowhere to go. As Joo Young (of all people) points out, Hye Na’s inward desire and longing to be accepted and loved by her father, or anyone at that, manifested itself in outward aggression toward Yeh Suh. Though tutoring Ye Bin became part of her revenge plan, it was quite clear that she actually loved Ye Bin, who would appear in her little imagined vignettes of what the family could have been like if Joon Sang had accepted her as his daughter. What’s so unfortunate about Hye Na, is that her life has to be sacrificed in order for all of these other people to realize the outrageousness of their destructive behavior. After her death, once we reach the finale, everyone (for the most part) seems to be starting anew. Hye Na never gets that chance.
Seung Hye was my favorite SKY Castle mom. Woo Joo’s mother was obviously the most down to earth and nurturing, but I have a soft spot for Seung Hye, because she really blossoms after being trapped in such a stifling environment for so long. She’s the only mother out of the original three moms that never yells at her children or harps on them to study harder. Even when she’s justifiably angry at Se Ri for lying and frivolously spending their tuition money on other things, Seung Hye can’t bring herself to sell her daughter out, even after Se Ri lies right to her face. Some might think she should have spoken up for her children more and sooner when it came to her husband, but she showcased a lot of growth and efforts to do so, and it’s a lot harder than it looks when you’re living with a manipulative aggressor like Professor Cha. I love how she is the first mom to form a bond with Soo Im, and how Soo Im repays that kindness back by providing Seung Hye with the encouragement and confidence boost she needed in order to enact change and regain some control over her life for the safety and happiness of herself and her children. Seung Hye used very fair, and humorous tactics to knock some sense into her husband. She exhibits so much patience, even when he demeans and degrades her. Ultimately, she showcased immense bravery and independence in order to protect her children, and I’m so glad it paid off. Cha Min Hyuk was an arrogant prick that I absolutely couldn’t stand. Despite that, I really kept holding out hope for him to turn his life around. Just when I thought it was all over for him, he finally caved and began taking small steps toward becoming a better father and husband. I was so relieved to see this, because as obnoxious and abhorrent as he was, some part of me was dying to see him wake up and recognize the gift of family that he had before it was too late. It may have been very last minute, but it was rewarding to see him give in. The little vignettes of him starting to share fun moments with his children was so rewarding. I had been pretty shocked by the way Se Ri had acted throughout the show, but seeing her take responsibility for her actions by earning money to start paying back her parents for the money she erroneously squandered was liberating. My favorite scene was watching father and daughter cooking, dancing, and listening to music together. Professor Cha may have a long way to go, but I’m thankful he decided to get on the train before it left the tracks. Finally, the fact that Seung Hye still had room to consider the difficulties and loneliness Professor Cha might have faced in her absence spoke to her grace and compassion.
Soo Chang and Young Jae were a pair I never expected to reunite. At first, I didn’t think I’d be able to get over Soo Chang’s abusive ways. However, the beautiful moment shared between father and son in episode thirteen really moved me. Both of them had regrets, but were clearly sorry for everything that happened. The time they spent away from each other allowed them to put things into perspective, and cope with the loss privately on their own terms. Soo Chang patiently waits for Young Jae, and it’s amazing to see Young Jae arrive at the cabin once he’s ready to start anew with his father. It was heartrending to see them reconciling with newfound love and appreciation for each other after reflecting on the tragedy and returning with an understanding of how each side may have felt. Their long, warm, and tear-jerking embrace tells all. Soo Chang’s character really goes through a significant growth spurt, as he ends up being a catalyst to Joon Sang’s evolution, and is shown in the final episode having rekindled a new and much more affectionate relationship with his son. While it is a shame that they had to go through such horrific means to achieve this, their end result is still satisfying.
Gripping Storyline with Compelling Themes: SKY Castle’s narrative was thoughtful, original, and unique. On paper, the plot did not pique my interest, but as the story developed, it became increasingly easy to invest in the characters and their plights. This was much more than a story about the wealthy living in big mansions and attending top schools; this was a story about family. It took most of our characters a long and arduous journey of self-growth to figure out just exactly what being a good family member entailed. Most of these characters had to experience tragedy in order to wake up and face the reality of what their noxious behavior had produced. For many, the realization came too late, and at a costly price. Various topics under this umbrella were fleshed out, such as what makes a good parent, what makes a good child, does success equal happiness, how does one define success, should a parent project their dreams onto their child, is it greedy to help your child advance at the expense of another, is redemption achievable after a certain point, and so forth. I like that the story seemed to encompass a blend of multiple genres. It was dramatic, it was tragic, it was mysterious, and it was full of thrills and suspense. What began as a seemingly simple story about students trying to achieve the near impossible under suffocating conditions, turned into something much greater. The amount of depth and backstory embedded into the narrative was remarkable. So too was the show’s ability to evoke a sense of pity for even the most despicable of characters.
Thoughtful OST: The instrumentals used in this drama were subtle but effective. I was glad there was minimal use of vocal tracks, and the few vocal tracks they did use didn’t overpower any of the important scenes, but rather, complemented the mood of each particular situation well. I liked the array of tracks from melancholic to humorous. The song played during some of the more farcical scenes (especially the hospital showdowns between Joon Sang and Chi Young), was pretty amusing. The soft piano tracks and hushed pieces used to accompany sorrowful scenes were favorable. Some of my favorite tracks included: “We All Lie,” “Le jardin féerique from Ma mère l`Oye,” “Endless Night,” “It Has To be You,” “Butterfly,” “We All Lie (slow ver.),” and “Kim Ju Young.”
Repetition & Pacing Issues: As I mentioned above, this show was indeed captivating and binge-friendly. I was able to finish sixteen episodes within three days. As riveting as most of it was, I must admit there were a plethora of scenes that felt like recycled versions of scenes from previous episodes. Sometimes it got a bit tiresome to hear some of the same old dialogue play out over and over again. The episodes ran a little long at times, and I think some of the dry spells came from these draggy replays that they somehow felt were necessary. I think a number of little conversations that didn’t add much to the story or the humor department could have been edited out. That aside, there were also some pacing issues. Some episodes flew by, while others became a tad mundane by the halfway mark. I think cutting down the run time and evening out some of the plot twists among the episodes could have potentially resolved this problem.
A Few Loose Ends: One of the only problems I had with the ending was the absence of closure regarding Hye Na’s death. After the whole rigmarole about her supposed murder, they never explicitly state who the murderer was. I was surprised, I’ll give them that, but it wasn’t the good kind of surprised. I would have preferred a clearer depiction of what really happened on that night. The reason Woo Joo was indicted in the first place was because they had evidence that someone wearing a bright red sweatshirt was also on the balcony that night at the time of the murder. I found out through twitter that the real murderer was in fact, In Gyu, the guard. It makes sense after looking back on a few scenes where he receives money from Joo Young and lashes out at her on the prison bus, but the ending credits of episode 20, where he lurks around in a red sweatshirt on the night of the murder, solidify that. It seems she hired him to do the dirty work. That makes the ending both impressive and unimpressive for me, because while I appreciate the sort of ambiguity and puzzle piecing that viewers had to engage in up to the very end, I guess I didn’t want such an important component to be left up in the air enough that the audience couldn’t come to a proper consensus. Some people are still under the impression that Hye Na committed suicide. It’s almost like they brushed it under the rug in order to place focus on their happy ending. It felt a bit out of place. Even the assemblage of flashbacks and details they put together in the final episode to provide some insight as to Hye Na’s feelings that night, didn’t feel adequate enough to clarify what truly happened. Other than that, I was a bit baffled by the whole Woo Joo drops out months before graduation debacle…I found it pretty melodramatic and it felt a lot like beating a dead horse. By that point, viewers are more than well aware that grades are not everything and that pursuit of happiness is more valuable to the human soul than pursuit of success. He easily could have put his travels on hold for a few more months, but they clearly wanted to drive the point home, as evidenced by the scene with the entire class throwing papers in the air. Once again, I get the symbolism of it all, but I have to agree with some of the netizens; it was a bit cheesy.
SKY Castle was fresh and unexpected. I was completely immersed in the story and found it to be a gratifying experience. It’s not the type of show I would typically seek out to watch, but with a star studded cast that felt tailor-made for their characters, there was no way I could pass up the opportunity. It’s certainly not a show I would re-visit for a second watch, as it is quite emotionally taxing at certain moments, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Some works are only meant to be watched once, and I think for me, this is one of them. While I had a few minor complaints, the show’s various twists and turns, touching moments, and passionate performances more than made up for its foibles, and solidified it as a stand out among the rest of the dramas that have aired this year. If you’re looking for a show with intrigue, mystery, and impressive writing, I recommend giving SKY Castle a try. It will be well worth your time.
Did you watch SKY Castle? What did you think of the drama? If you haven’t already, you can check out the preview for it here.