In Nevertheless, the palpable attraction between main leads Han So Hee and Song Kang is almost too intense, like an aesthetically pleasing trainwreck that makes you never want to stop watching.
Most Korean dramas have a push and pull aspect when it comes to the romantic aspect: Will they or won’t they? In many cases, it takes a few episodes to establish the characters and the plot, before the kissing happens. Not so with Nevertheless: by the midpoint of the first episode, you, as the viewer, already know where this is headed.
The charged electricity comes down to the actors, particularly Han So-hee. Always very good as your non-typical second lead (100 Days My Prince and The World of the Married attest to this), this is her first turn as a lead character. She is beautiful, sometimes unearthly so. Song Kang is an able lead character, although to be honest, for me, it’s her that I end up watching.
Episode 1: First Meeting
In the first episode, Yoo Na-bi (Han So-hee) has gone through the wringer by the time she meets Park Jae-un (Song Kang). An art student, she finds out that her fellow artist boyfriend has humiliated her by depicting their most intimate moment for everyone to see in his art. They break up. She tries to focus on her art, wants to earn a fellowship in Paris, but after her heartbreak, it feels impossible.
Enter Jae-un. They meet at a bar, where Na-bi is trying to drown her sorrows. He walks in, and the camera only shows us his back, but the whole bar stops in silence. The attraction is immediate, an instant undercurrent between them that we all feel and can relate to (both us, and the patrons in the scene).
The intense, close-up shots, the intimate touching… it’s effective because we’ve all been there. We’ve felt vulnerable and all of a sudden it seems like there’s someone who can either make us more vulnerable or make our lives even better. You have to make the choice: be prudent, or take the jump. Of course, we know Na-bi is going to take the jump.
Episode 2: She’s Dreaming
Na-bi has it bad. At this point, she’s falling deeply for him, despite her protestations to herself. Each time he touches her, she swoons. We all swoon. But Na-bi, like all of us, feels like this might be too good to be true. She veers between nearly falling over near Jae-un, and trying to stay away. She then has a dream. Yes, that kind of dream. I can’t believe I’m watching a Korean drama!
Episode 2: The Gates of Hell
In the same episode, Na-bi goes out drinking with her friends, because she knows Jae-un’s gonna be there. He turns up and immediately makes out with someone else. When Na-bi leaves, he follows her out and tells her she’s the one he wanted to kiss.
At this point, our girl needs to run, but she doesn’t. She rubs the lipstick off his mouth, makes him apologize, and kisses him.
What makes this drama so discomfiting, and yet so watchable, is that we all see the warning flags. Song Kang is toying with her, but he also looks like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. He’s all sweet, and easy charm, that it has you feeling like maybe…this will have a good ending?
Again. So relatable. We’ve all known what it feels like to hope against hope that what we’re experiencing will end with happiness and the knowledge we made the right choice, but we’re never quite sure, and the danger is what makes it fun (until it hurts).
Episode 3: They’re in bed already???
You read that right. Episode 3!
Now, I didn’t think they actually would end up together so soon. After the kiss, Na-bi realizes there are warning signs, that she doesn’t truly know Jae-un, and that things are moving too fast. She pulls away and deletes his number.
He slows down his pursuit of her. We meet Kim Eun-han (Lee Jung-ha), who is sweet and tells her straight up not to be fooled by Jae-un’s charming wiles. Just as we think, “ah this is the sweet, puppy-ish second lead that is the safer option for her!” he then shows up in the next scene with another girl. Poor Na-bi.
There’s a metaphor with butterflies: Jae-un keeps them in an apartment but wants to let them go. In conversation with mysterious newcomer Yoon Seol-ah (Lee Yeol-um), she tells him that Na-bi is his new butterfly. Does this mean she’s fragile and easily within his grasp? Please don’t rip her apart!
By the end of this episode, she is in his grasp. She gets ill, so he breaks into her apartment (oh no) but does it legally, at least, by calling 119 (the Korean 911). He helps nurse her sickness. This makes her think he is good for her, and they immediately sleep together.
No Korean drama has ever been set in the time of COVID-19 because if it did nothing that happens in this drama would be happening. But that wouldn’t be entertaining, train-wreck television.
Episode 4: The Day After
After the sex, the next day Na-bi realizes that Jae-un might not truly be interested in anything serious. They still have more sex, but she notes that they’re not getting to know each other. Jae-un remains closed off, as closed off as one can be when you’re practically sharing everything with them. In all his actions, he does seem like he truly cares for her, but unless one of them breaks, we won’t truly know.
On Na-bi’s birthday, we meet her mother (another piece of work). She cuts short their plans together and runs into Jae-un. They kiss a lot in the kitchen and the whole plan of making her birthday soup gets cut short when he receives a call from someone else.
We then meet childhood friend Yang Do-hyuk (Chae Jeong-hyeop). This one seems like the actual, true, puppy-dog second lead who is much better for Na-bi), but whom we know she won’t pick, because, despite the accelerated bed scene, this is still, after all, a Korean drama (can you tell I’m still not over Start-Up?). They even have the backstory. Childhood friends! He had a crush on her! He makes her the soup Jae-un failed to make. Pick him, Na-bi!
As I am a working woman, I, unfortunately, have no time to binge-watch Korean dramas, so I had to stop here before finally writing the article. But I will revisit this article, and update it to continue as the show goes on. I remain compelled by the intensity between our two leads, even if I know Na-bi is in for a load of heartbreak. It’s always easier to watch when it isn’t happening to you.