Millie's Drama Review: Nevertheless
I am extremely late to the Nevertheless train, as I am posting about it now almost one and a half years after its release. But I find it to be an extremely important drama to talk about when we think about modern-day relationships as well as unhealthy relationships that women willingly seem to place themselves in. Also, for the record, my motivation to talk about this is completely unrelated from the fact that I dressed up as Park Jae Eon for Halloween this year.
Spot the butterfly tattoo?
Ok, maybe it was a little bit, but for the most part, I would say that this drama review was inspired by the increased discourse I've been seeing online as to what a "healthy relationship" looks like. I first watched the show in February of 2022, and immediately knew I had to make a commentary video about it (my 1 hour commentary video is still safely stored away in my laptop as I write this...)- for me, this drama was extremely different, breaching many of the normal rules that drama-land established. I wouldn't say it was a revolutionary drama, as many of the cliches were still present: the two main characters meeting by chance (or as some may call it, "fate"), the second lead being the female lead's childhood best friend that she miraculously reconnects with, a bunch of accidental, unplanned meetings between the female lead and male lead that if you really think about it make absolutely no sense.
But to be 100% honest, I decided to start this drama after seeing a clip of the main couple, Yu Nabi and Park Jae Eon, on The Swoon (the YouTube channel run by Netflix focused on specifically posting clips from various K-Dramas on Netflix). Quick tangent: I have a love-hate relationship with The Swoon, because although it has given me so many great watching experiences, it has also sold to me a specific moment in a drama that piques my interest and forces me to watch it; only to be disappointed because the drama itself isn't as good as that moment seemed to be in my first impression. The amount of time I've spent on dramas because of channels like The Swoon is actually horrific... so congratulations to whoever is running that channel because you have an unhealthy amount of control over how I've spent my free (and even at times not-free) time.
Anywyas, this clip that I saw on The Swoon relayed to me very clearly (and not just because the two leads were ferociously making out) that if nothing else, there would be one thing that Nevertheless did very differently than other "school" dramas: creating a realistic physical tension between the male and female lead, that served as a guiding motivation that either pulled them together or tore them apart.
Many dramas have been discredited for selling a false idea of what love is like to their audiences, many of whom are young, impressionable girls aged 16-24, who might not have had much life experience regarding love. There are dramas that seem to excuse or at worst romanticize abusive behaviors in relationships, for example kidnapping, non-consensual physical/sexual interactions, and more.
These behaviors by male leads are thankfully becoming more rare in more recent dramas, as writers have likely learned that the old model of being forced into an abusive relationship with an overly controlling, disrespectful of boundaries, downright misogynistic but hot guy” no longer resonates with modern audiences. However, this doesn’t change the fact that most relationships in dramas aren’t necessarily healthy- even the ones that might deceivingly seem so. In order for a drama to have plot after the couple realizes they like each other, they then must face some sort of obstacle, and that usually forces writers to turn a previously ok relationship into something that doesn’t feel healthy at all.
However, in Nevertheless, this normal “deterioration” of the relationship as we continue the drama is entirely flipped, as we start off with seeing all of the terrible things about Jae Eon, the male lead, from his cheating tendencies, his multiple girlfriends, his insincerity at times and his willingness to manipulate others to get what he wants. He is, in essentiality, a walking red flag.
One specific detail I'll point out that really made my blood boil was in episode two (I'm pretty sure but correct me if I'm wrong), where Jae Eon was waiting to pick up his previous girlfriend (?? still not 100% sure who Seol-a is because they didn’t develop her character at all…) at the airport, and we get a glimpse of his phone messages inbox, and all of the girls that he texts. The purpose of that scene was to show that all these women were texting him, all of them asking to hang out, all of them desiring him, but he was ignoring them, and hadn’t even read or opened their messages, because Nabi hadn’t answered his text.
However, what stood out in this scene for me was the fact that he had every girls age written next to their contact. Maybe I’m wrong and the numbers represent something else, but that’s what I was assuming, because all of the numbers were in the 20’s (around his age). This for me summed up his entire character, and how he categorizes women, almost viewing them as commodities that he can use whenever he needs. Putting labels like someone’s age around their contact to me suggests an absence of closeness. I would be hurt if my friend had my contact down as my name and my age, and I can’t even imagine how I would feel if someone that I had seen as a romantic interest, or even went on a date with put my name and my age as my contact in their phone. It’s almost like he’s just picking and choosing depending on these very few factors, on which woman he wants to like spend the night with or care about at any given time.
So, with all of that said, there is clearly no illusion about who our male lead is: he’s toxic, he’s a player, he might be a tad misogynistic. But, for me, this was better than dramas that sold us on the most perfect man in existence for the first two episodes, and from there it just kept getting worse and worse. I’m not saying that Park Jae Eon had substantial character development; I personally don’t believe that he did; but the importance is that he never sold himself as something that he isn’t. In multiple scenes, he’s openly warned Nabi of the kind of person that he is, which to me actually represents a kind of honesty that can't be found with a lot of other kdrama male leads. It was almost refreshing to see him being completely honest about the fact that he wasn’t a loyal person, rather than having to suffer through episodes where the first female lead had to watch the male lead and the second female lead do extremely questionable things together.
For example, in the classic drama Mischievous Kiss, which has had a remake in literally every single East Asian country (I personally watched the Taiwanese version), the male lead literally allows and encourages other women to flirt with him, and even almost gets married to another woman (he claims he’s oblivious to her intentions until the actual proposal) all while he’s dating the female lead. Yet we’re still supposed to believe that he only loves the female lead and he’s doing the simply because it was secure better prospects for his company. This type of unsaid disloyalty in my opinion, is far worse and more painful to watch than the open toxicity of Park Jae Eon. That is my personal opinion on his behavior, although I am in no way excusing it or agreeing with it. I simply think that it’s a more realistic example of how someone who is a player in real life would act.
While I personally wasn't a fan of the overall pacing that this drama had, I will say that I think it's more realistic. The first two episodes were by far my favorite, as they were fast-paced and moved the viewer along without any pauses in tension or boring parts whatsoever. The tension during the first meeting between Nabi and Jae Eon? Perfect. The tension between them when they met again bychance with all of their friends? Perfect. The tension between them when they all went to Nabi's house for a sleepovere? Perfect. Everything was going super smoothly, and although it was revealed partially that Jae Eon wasn't a good person, I was interested to see where Nabi would go.
But that's the issue: Nabi didn't go anywhere. The next five or six episodes were spent without much plot, focusing mainly on Nabi deeply reflecting upon whether or not to date Jae Eon, as well as the two of them growing apart and then coming back together. This vicious cycle repeated over and over as Nabi battled her inner doubts and worries, and the warnings of all her friends telling her that Jae Eon wasn't a good person. I'm usually someone who likes to blow through a drama as fast as I can, because I don't like to wait to find out what happens. However, since these episodes moved so slowly, I was able to actually pace myself (which is a good and bad thing, I guess) and didn't feel the pressure to watch them back-to-back because I had a pretty good idea of what would happen next.
Another detail that I personally didn't particularly enjoy was the way they demonstrated that Park Jae Eon was a "player." I feel like we only had scenes between him and one other girl outside of Nabi, which was his ex-girlfriend. That doesn't sell the "player" image to me- I'd like to see and understand how he lives his lifestyle as a male manipulator, so that way I can evaluate for myself whether he's actually made substantial progress by the end of the drama. As far as I can see as a viewer, he only had one other girl outside of Nabi, which was Seol-a, his previous girl. That simply doesn't sell me on his whole "playboy" personality, and therefore the ending where he was supposed to have ended his frivolous lifestyle to be with Nabi doesn't really feel like a pay-off.
Also, if he's supposed to be a player why is he so bad at talking to Nabi? Although I think Song Kang nailed the charisma, his character's actual lines and behaviors weren't at all realistic to me. For example, he would always laugh at everything Nabi said. She'd state the obvious, like "oh look how big this T-shirt is" or "the sky is so blue today" and then he would just laugh. Is that supposed to be funny? I mean having someone find you funny even when you're not trying to be could cause serious issues. While being unintentionally funny is great, in the later episodes of the drama Nabi literally asks Jae Eon to back off and he would laugh or smile at her. That's extremely problematic, as it suggests that the two cannot communicate at all.
I will admit, the angry me came to the conclusion at first that this drama's message was simply: "as long as you're good looking, it doesn't matter how toxic you are, we as girls should always choose you." But upon deeper reflection and pondering as to what a healthy relationship looks like, I've come to realize that perhaps Nabi did make the right choice. Potato Boy, the endearing fan name for the second lead Yang Do Hyeok, loved Nabi so much, but was Nabi able to give back that same amount of love? I don't think so. On the other hand, both her and Jae Eon are people trying to recover from something: she is trying to recover from her previous relationship that was also her first love, after he cheated on her. Jae Eon is (sort of) trying to escape his own toxic behavior and his casual relationships with multiple women in order to start his first actual serious relationship.
In that way, they are sort of perfect for each other, because they understand where they're at, see each other's flaws and issues, and have learned to accommodate to them. So I guess what I'd say this drama has to say about relationships is that "sometimes it's not who loves you more, but who's right for you at this moment."
Some of you might counter this claim by suggesting that Jae Eon is unhealthy for Nabi, as he's likely to cheat again and she is going to be overly attached to him like she was to her first boyfriend. However, while I agree that Jae Eon would probably cheat again, I don't think Nabi would stay with him and be okay with it. For me, this drama seems to be a charting of Nabi's growth rather than Jae Eon's, as she starts out in the first few episodes constantly thinking and speculating about Jae Eon, to the point where it's almost detrimental and unhealthy for her. But by the last few episodes, when she ultimately realizes her feelings for him, she is able to also exercise control over them, and rather than her emotions leading her to fall for him, she chooses out of her free will to fall for him. This is shown through her choosing to stay behind and wait for him to come to the art exhibit, rather than for example accidentally meeting him and then making up. It is her clearly her choice to date him again, not his.
All in all, I will say that while this drama doesn't have the best reputation, it's one of my personal favorites. It is rooted in a more realistic world than most dramas, and deals with a romance that doesn't look picture-perfect (although the actors themselves are another story - Han So Hee and Song Kang unbeatable visuals team!!). It forces us to reconsider how we ourselves view romance, and how separated relationships in real life are from those that we see in dramas.
Happy Halloween, and I write this