It seems I’m capable of watching either a lot of TV shows or a lot of movies, but not both. Fall 2020 was Movie Time, specifically, Horror Movie Time, and TV definitely fell by the wayside. Winter, however, was rather the other way around.
Here is the list of TV shows I’ve been watching over the past three months:
Tale of the Nine-Tailed (Episodes 10-16)
Running Man (Random Episodes)
The Uncanny Counter
Alice in Borderland
The Expanse (Season 5)
The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty
Nancy Drew (Season 2, Episodes 1-6)
Busted (Season 3)
Infinity Train (Season 2)
L.U.C.A.: The Beginning (Episodes 1-5)
Last Week Tonight
Star Trek: Lower Decks
A quick reminder for how these work: I will bestow whatever TV shows I’ve been currently watching with my usual nonsense awards, whether they’re currently airing or not. As always, I will do my best to clearly mark these awards with spoiler warnings.
With that said, let’s begin!
FAVORITE OPENING CREDITS
(Disclaimer: There are opening credits for five episodes in the video above. If you haven’t watched the show, you’re probably safe for the first two segments; after that, you’ll start running into SPOILERS.)
I continue to be an absolute sucker for opening credits that change every week to fit a particular theme. I’ve enjoyed all the title credits for this show, although if I absolutely had to pick a favorite, well. While I loved the clever homages to, say, Bewitched and Family Ties and the like, I didn’t watch any of those shows on air; hell, Mek is the only reason I knew they were referencing Family Ties specifically. No, I’m a 90’s kid at heart, so here is where I really felt the nostalgia. (It’s the music, especially. God, I love it.) But honestly, every title opening credits sequence has been charming as hell.
Honorable Mentions: The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty; Sweet Home
Wang Zhi’s tiny gun – The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty
I’m pretty sure I cheered every time Wang Zhi shot someone with his itty bitty pistol. This tiny, covert gun suits him so well. Wang Zhi is the absolute best. Well, him and Sui Zhou, anyway. They are, collectively, THE BEST.
Honorable Mentions: Mama Cui’s deadly hairpin (The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty); Chishiya Shuntaro’s flamethrower (Alice in Borderland); Hyun-Su’s electric shock spear (Sweet Home); Han Du-Sik’s crutch-rifle (Sweet Home)
BEST DISTILLATION OF A CHARACTER
“There was a button. I pushed it.”
“Jesus Christ, that’s really how you live your life, isn’t it?” – The Expanse
Yes, Fred Johnson. I’m so sorry, but it’s true: this is exactly how Holden lives his life. *LMAO*
BEST FOOD PORN
Oh, literally every episode – The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty
No TV show in the universe* loves food as much as The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty. It’s fantastic. I desperately want a Sleuth cookbook. Would I be able to cook anything from it? Unlikely. I’d still buy the hell out of it, though. Speaking of disappointments: how has no one made a montage of all the cooking scenes on Youtube yet? It’d be like 20 minutes straight of just beautifully plated food you can’t eat. My friends, let me tell you: there is a criminal shortage of Sleuth footage and merchandise out there.
*outside of, like, actual cooking shows
COSPLAY I NEED TO SEE
MT – Infinity Train
MT’s new look in Infinity Train is great, and it’d be a lot of fun to cosplay, assuming I was the kind of dedicated nerd who’d buzz down her whole head or wear that much gray paint, which I am probably not. Still. It’d be neat to see someday, say, if I ever go to DragonCon again. Ah, I miss vacations.
Honorable Mentions: MT in the Drag Car (Infinity Train); Alan Dracula in the Drag Car (Infinity Train); A Group of Counters in their Red Tracksuits (The Uncanny Counter); Takatora Samura (Alice in Borderland)
MOST FABULOUS FASHION
Wanda’s pink and white 80’s clothes – WandaVision
Imperial Noble Consort Wan’s badass armor and majestic blue cape – The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty
Of course, all the costumes on WandaVision are absolutely fabulous, but if I could only pick one . . . I’m thinking the pink 80’s pants, floral vest, white shirt, and that gorgeous curly hair. Like, would I ever want to wear this outfit myself? No. (Except the hair. That, I would take.) But it’s just so perfect for the whole 80’s sitcom vibes. I swear, this is like watching a bizarro Full House episode where, inexplicably, Michelle Tanner magically grows up overnight. It remains uncanny, how much the Olsen sisters all look alike.
Meanwhile, The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty really has some of the most gorgeous damn clothing, but the look I’m currently obsessed with is Imperial Noble Consort Wan’s battle armor because holy shit, yes. She is so badass right here. Those shoulders. And that cape in slow-motion? My God. This is magnificence.
Honorable Mentions: Ding Rong’s purple robes (The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty); Wang Zhi’s red robes with excellent popped-up villain collar (The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty); Wang Zhi’s blue and gold robes (The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty); Chen Xu’s awesome helmet (The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty); Pei Huai’s blue sleeves (The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty); Tang Fan dressed up as Mama Cui (The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty); Empress Dowager Zhou’s black dress with floral sleeves and crown (The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty); The Red Tracksuits, Sneaky Gray Tracksuits, and Upgraded Black Track Suits (The Uncanny Counters); Wanda’s wedding dress (WandaVision); Agnes’s 80’s jazzercise outfit (WandaVision); Agnes’s vest, white shirt, and amazing 80’s hair (WandaVision); Wanda’s striped 70’s dress (WandaVision); Monica’s 70’s blue vest and eyeshadow (WandaVision); Wanda, Vision, and Pietro’s “Halloween” costumes (WandaVision); The Scarlet Witch (WandaVision); Jong-Min’s blue leather jacket (Busted); The Team’s fancy party clothes, especially Park Min-Young’s suit and scarf (Busted); Yoo-Na’s bright red hair (L.U.C.A: The Beginning); Lee Rang’s jackets (Tale of the Nine-Tailed); Yoo-Ri’s short purple dress and boots (Tale of the Nine-Tailed); Jae-Suk’s hilarious “rocker” wig that looks like it’s from Wayne’s World (Running Man); Avasarala in pants! (The Expanse); Avasarala’s gorgeous outfit at the virtual memorial (The Expanse)
Kwang-Soo’s actual mullet – Running Man
Oh. Oh, no. This is so bad. I love you, Kwang-Soo, but please, please, either grow your hair out entirely or just chop it all off cause I keep daydreaming that something like this will happen on Running Man. (Or like this. The Brooklyn 9-9 squad are really dedicated to saving their friends from their every terrible aesthetic choice.)
Honorable Mentions: Kwang-Soo’s leopard print shirt, black tie, shorts, and oversized tan jacket (Busted); Wan An’s hilariously bad white wig (The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty); Baek Hyang-Hee’s initial undercover hair (The Uncanny Counter)
FAVORITE INDIVIDUAL SONG
“Side by Side” – BewhY – Sweet Home
Sweet Home has a goddamn amazing soundtrack, like nothing I’ve ever heard before. It’s a near-perfect mix of rap, electronic, and, IDK, apocalyptic choral music? Look, I’m not great at describing music genres. The point is, it’s phenomenal, and I love every bit of it . . . with one HUGE caveat, which we’ll get to in just a moment.
This was a tough category. WandaVision has a pretty great song that pops up in the seventh episode. The whole OST from Tale of the Nine-Tailed is pretty great, too. And I very nearly picked “Lost Time” (also from Sweet Home), which was used multiple times to great effect. In the end, however, I had to go with “Side by Side” by BewhY, partially because it introduced me to BewhY, but also because if I ever end up in a badass fight scene, this is the music I want playing. (Not to mention, there’s this whole crazy operatic remix of “Side by Side” in the show, too, but I don’t think it’s available anywhere else, which KILLS ME. You can hear a bit of it in this scene, but do NOT watch if you haven’t seen the show yet.)
Honorable Mentions: “Lost Time” – Gae Mi & Park Jung-Hwan (Sweet Home); Dies Irae – Cho Yoon-Jeong (Sweet Home); “Cracked” – Park Mi-Sun (Sweet Home); “What the Hell Am I” – Shoon (Sweet Home); “The Brothers” – Park Seo-Hee (Tale of the Nine-Tailed); “The Accident At Fox Hill” – Hong Dae-Sung (Tale of the Nine-Tailed); “White Pupils” – Hong Dae-Sung (Tale of the Nine-Tailed); “The Black Puppy” – Hong Dae Sung (Tale of the Nine Tailed); “The Forest of Agwi” – Hong Dae-Sung (Tale of the Nine-Tailed); “Sparrow Sparrow” – Malena Cadiz (Nancy Drew); “Late at Night” – Darren Chen, Fu Meng Bo, and Liu Yao Yuan (The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty); SPOILER REDACTED – Kristen Anderson-Lopez & Robert Lopez (WandaVision)
WORST INDIVIDUAL SONG
“Warriors” – Imagine Dragons – Sweet Home
Look, Imagine Dragons is a powerful tool. You have to use their work delicately. I am absolutely sure “Warriors” would be a great fit for some TV show, but boy, Sweet Home was not it. This song threw me out each time they used it, and they used it three times. (The last was the absolute worst because it’s, like, a Big Deal Monster Battle where several characters are in serious danger and one character is a huge badass, and this song entirely undercuts both the tension and the HELL YEAH right from the scene.) Of course, playing the same song three times is nothing for a K-drama, but seriously, Imagine Dragons is an emo hammer right to the face. That shit needs to be sparing.
FAVORITE FIGHT SCENE
Sui Zhou vs. Child Traffickers in the Woods – The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty
Ha-Na vs. Baek Hyang-Hee in the Elevator – The Uncanny Counter
I’ve watched a bunch of awesome fight scenes over the past three months. Many of them came from The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty, which is really no surprise, considering Jackie Chan was one of the producers. And Sui Zhou–who, you’ll remember, is The Best–is basically the star of each and every one of these scenes. This particular one was maybe the first to really catch my eye, although unfortunately, I don’t have the vocabulary to properly describe the choreography. But I think it’s a beautifully shot scene that gives Sui Zhou one of many opportunities to be a badass.
But there are also quite a number of fun fight scenes in The Uncanny Counter, too, and my favorite is probably when Ha-Na saves So-Mun and fights Hyang-Hee in the elevator. This is just a very fast-paced, cleverly shot scene where two women really get to go all out, and I enjoyed the hell out of it. Especially because Ok Ja-Yeon, who plays Hyang Hee, seems to have so much fun playing a villain. She’s really a terrific scene stealer (hence FAVORITE SCENE STEALER) and I’m hoping to see her in more things.
Honorable Mentions for Favorite Fight Scene: Sui Zhou vs. Li’s People at the prison (The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty); Sui Zhou vs. Evil Oirat Guy (The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty); So-Mun’s 1st-person fighter scene vs. Bullies (The Uncanny Counter); So-Mun spars against Ha-Na and Mo-Tak (The Uncanny Counter); So-Mun vs. Ji Chung Shin, exposing the Territory (The Uncanny Counter); Jung Jae-Heon vs. Security Guard Monster (Sweet Home); Kaina vs. Takatora Samura (Alice in Borderland)
Honorable Mentions for Favorite Scene Stealer: Im Joo-Yeon (The Uncanny Counter); The Bear (Tale of the Nine-Tailed); Kim Sae-Rom (Tale of the Nine-Tailed); Loach (The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty); Hutch (The Expanse); Bull (The Expanse); Admiral Delgado (The Expanse); Coroner Connor (Nancy Drew); Rizuna An (Alice in Borderland); Badgey (Star Trek: Lower Decks)
FAVORITE DANCE SCENE
The Counters have a brief Victory Dance in the noodle shop – The Uncanny Counter
I mean. It’s just cute. There are some things that frustrate me about this show, but I do really like some of the sweet and silly moments like this.
Honorable Mentions: Everybody’s embarrassing club dances (Running Man); Se-Chan hides the answer on his stomach and dances to EXO (Running Man)
YOU’RE KILLING ME, SMALLS
Tang Fan keeps attempting Slingshot Revenge on Duo’erla – The Sleuth of Ming Dynasty
This is just one itty bitty subplot in a single episode of a 48-episode show, and it mostly exists to give Tang Fan something to do while Sui Zhou gets himself in trouble, but still . . . GAH. Sometimes, I’m absolutely on board with Tang Fan’s immaturity, like, the intensity of his sulking when he doesn’t get his food? Totally, I can respect that. But other times it seriously frustrates me, and while this particular subplot isn’t actually all that bad, it is aiming for funny, and–for me–mostly just landing at cringeworthy instead. Especially because it . . . just . . . keeps . . . GOING. Like, accept your loss, sir. You are embarrassing yourself. And me.
LEAST FAVORITE SUBPLOT
Naomi and Filip – The Expanse
The Expanse is a fantastic show, and there’s a lot about this latest season that I really liked. However–and I know this puts me in the minority here- I really couldn’t stand Naomi’s storyline until, IDK, maybe Episode 7? Cause the thing is, it’s not that I don’t get her motivations, and the basic arc of Naomi trying to get through to her son, while Marco tries to keep Filip at his evil side, sure, that’s all fine.
But I really disliked the execution of this, mostly because it felt like Naomi wept for half a season while saying shit like “I know you” and “you’re not like him” over and over and over again. And look, this is not me saying Strong Women Don’t Cry or any other nonsense. This is about giving one of your most complex and super competent lead female characters little to do except repeat the same terrible arguments for, what, five episodes, all because . . . she’s a mom? There were so many ways Naomi could’ve tried to strategize or manipulate or breakthrough to her kid that would’ve felt both true to her character and interesting to watch; instead, this whole subplot felt weepy and drawn out, and honestly kept reminding me of how dull Claire on LOST became once she had her baby. This isn’t an acting complaint, mind; Dominique Tipper did some fine work this season, like she always does. And I did genuinely like the resolution of this storyline. Unfortunately, I was ready for it to conclude well before it actually did.
FAVORITE NEW PLAYER
Monica Rambeau – WandaVision
Okay, fine, technically we’ve met Monica Rambeau before, but she was only a bit part in one movie and also, like, seven, so . . . fuck it. This is grown-up Monica, and she is wonderful. I love how competent she is. I love her scenes with Darcy and Jimmy Woo. I even kinda love her tragic Snap Back backstory (I refuse to refer to it as the Blip) because, hey, Angst Fan gonna Angst Fan. I’m really excited to see what Marvel does next with her character, too–which is refreshing, honestly, because prior to watching this show, I’ve definitely been feeling the Marvel fatigue.
Honorable Mentions: Alan Dracula (Infinity Train); Jesse (Infinity Train); Bull (The Expanse); Admiral Delgado (The Expanse)
FAVORITE PARENT & CHILD DYNAMIC
Nancy and her Two Dads – Nancy Drew
I didn’t know I needed a Carson Drew and Ryan Hudson team-up, but holy shit, yes, I did. I’d watch a whole episode of nothing but Scott Wolf and Riley Smith playing off each other: 90% petty bickering, 10% reluctantly giving each other advice on how to be a better parent. Nancy’s dynamic with both Carson and Ryan is genuinely interesting, too, and if the show can keep from veering into humorless melodrama, I’m looking forward to seeing how her relationship changes and grows with them both.
(Also. I wouldn’t say that I ship Carson/Ryan, exactly, but I’m . . . not disinterested, either. Is this weird? Am I totally alone in this?)
Honorable Mentions: Nick & Nick’s Mom (Nancy Drew); Ace and Captain Thom (Nancy Drew); The Emperor, Noble Consort & Wang Zhi (The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty); Beckett Mariner & Beckett’s Mom (Star Trek: Lower Decks)
MOST IMPROVED CHARACTER
Wanda & Vision – WandaVision
Yes, I’m counting them both here. My house, my rules, my coffee, etc.
TBH, I didn’t really plan to watch this show. The trailer did spark my interest because it looked so delightfully weird, but I’ve always found both Wanda and Vision intensely boring in the Marvel movies and wasn’t particularly excited for a whole show about their rushed, mostly offscreen, and ultimately tragic romance. But I checked it out for Mek, and I’m grateful that I did because this one is pretty great. It really gives both Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen time to showcase their considerable acting skills and breathe some actual life into these characters. (Especially Olsen; she is fantastic here, and I’m already hoping for the Emmy nod she’s unlikely to get.) I even care a little about their relationship now! Enough that they also win FAVORITE CANON SHIP–although, admittedly, there weren’t a lot of contenders this winter.
Honorable Mention for Most Improved Character: Clarissa Mao (The Expanse)
Honorable Mention for Favorite Canon Ship: The Emperor/Imperial Noble Consort Wan (The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty)
Dong’er – The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty
Alan Dracula – Infinity Train
Dong’er is just the best. I know I already said that about Wang Zhi and Sui Zhou, but, well. Dong’er is the best, too, okay? Honestly, I love pretty much all of the characters, main and supporting, with the notable exception of Tang Fan who *ducks* is still just okay for me. But you couldn’t ask for a better sidekick than Dong’er, who is an actual genius with a ridiculously good memory and who kicks everyone’s ass at Go. No one would ever get anything done without Dong’er. Also? She’s just kind of adorable.
Still. Alan Dracula is, well. ALAN DRACULA. He’s a deer with an incredibly wide variety of magical powers, and his primary interests are helping his friends and, less helpfully, chewing on stuff. You might have trouble getting his attention if there is yummy grass around to eat, but OTOH, you’ve got an essentially omnipotent deer friend. Obviously, the pros outweigh the cons.
Honorable Mentions: Sin-Ju (Tale of the Nine-Tailed); Yoo-Ri (Tale of the Nine-Tailed)
Official Wan – The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty
Ugh, this guy. Someone really needs to punch him right in the smarmy face. Obviously, I volunteer as tribute.
Honorable Mentions: Aguni (Alice in Borderland); The Hatter (Alice in Borderland); Kim Seok-Hyun (Sweet Home); Director Hayward (WandaVision)
MOST WELCOME RETURN
I’ve been waiting for Busted, Season 3 to return since the end of 2019, so I was extremely pleased to see it finally drop on Netflix–and then super bummed to realize that this would the show’s final season. (Which is why it wins MOST PAINFUL CANCELLATION.) Busted is just good silly fun with detectives and games and absurdity, and I will dearly miss it.
Thankfully, Nancy Drew isn’t going anywhere just yet, I hope. This show is also quite delightfully silly, in admittedly different ways. Season One ended pretty well, considering that it had to halt production due to COVID-19, and I was happy to see A) our heroes again, and B) the resolution of the Big Death Vision cliffhanger. I do so enjoy this charming supernatural detective show. Three cheers for ghostly shenanigans!
MOST DISAPPOINTING NEW SHOW
L.U.C.A.: The Beginning
Well, don’t think I’m gonna finish this one. The premiere was enjoyable enough: I’m always here for evil experiments, kids with superpowers, fun female leads, and Kim Sang-Ho. But honestly, I just got bored. Our lead hero dude doesn’t interest me much. I do like our lead heroine, but I feel like I just saw this backstory in Tale of the Nine-Tailed. I found Episodes 2, 3, and 4 pretty repetitive, and there’s a limit to how many times I can watch a (possibly redemptive) villain nearly get electrocuted before I start thinking he just has really poor planning skills. Mostly, I was watching for Kim Sang-Ho, and sadly, he just wasn’t enough, not when I have so many other shows on the To-Do list.
Honorable Mention: The Uncanny Counter
FAVORITE NEW SHOW
Alice in Borderland
The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty
Star Trek: Lower Decks
Yep. I’m back on my five-way-tie bullshit again. House, rules, coffee, deal with it.
If you like Battle Royale, Cube, and/or escape room horror, there’s a more than decent chance that you’ll like Alice in Borderland. This Japanese SF show is emotional, violent, and intense AF, and I’m really looking forward to watching Season 2. Be warned: there are some pretty shocking developments, which I can’t discuss without spoilers, of course. But like. Steel your heart, or whatever.
Also emotional, violent, and intense AF: Korean action-horror drama Sweet Home. Some of the special effects are, yeah, not the best. Doesn’t matter, though: the cast is top-notch, playing a pretty wide variety of interesting characters. Highlights include the amazing OST, the badass monster battles, and some seriously awesome moments of body horror. (Hence: BEST BODY HORROR.) Please, please, Netflix, give me a Season 2. Don’t leave me hanging like this, I beg of you.
I’ve already talked a little about the amazing fight scenes and healthy appreciation for food in The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty. What I’d also like to mention is just how funny and warm this show can be. I have Big Feels for several of the characters and their relationships to one another: the awesome dynamic between Wang Zhi and Dong’er, not to mention Dong’er and Tang Fan and Sui Zhou together. (I wish I could ship Tang Fan/Sui Zhou, but I have to admit: this ship does very little for me.) If you like a little domesticity and/or emotional HC in your action, this might be the show for you.
Then we have my FAVORITE SUPERHERO OR SUPERHERO ADJACENT SHOW, WandaVision, which is just so damn clever. It’s a lot of things at once: a character study, a thoughtful look at trauma and grief, a loving deconstruction of sitcoms and television history, etc. The whole cast is, again, fantastic, but Elizabeth Olsen, Kathryn Hahn, and Teyonah Parris are probably the standouts for me. I really hope Marvel continues pushing the envelope with sharp and creative shows like this.
Finally, Star Trek: Lower Decks. I hesitated on this one for a while, worried that it would be a Trek parody by and for people who didn’t care about Trek, which didn’t exactly appeal. However, I found Lower Decks to be utterly delightful and very clearly created by actual TOS and TNG nerds. There are tons of clever homages and in-jokes in this show, and while I think non-Trekkies might enjoy it too, this one really feels like it’s aimed at actual Star Trek fans. Which was nice. I laughed a lot watching Lower Decks. It’s like comfort food for the space opera soul.
A LIST OF SOME FAVORITE PLATONIC FRIENDSHIPS AND/OR DYNAMIC DUOS
Lee Rang and Yoo-Ri – Tale of the Nine-Tailed
Lee Rang and Ji-A – Tale of the Nine-Tailed
So Mun, Joo-Yeon, and Woong-Min – The Uncanny Counter
Tang Fan and Pei Huai – The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty
Wang Zhi and Ding Rong – The Sleuth of The Ming Dynasty
Ahn Gil-Seop and Park Yu-Ri – Sweet Home
Yoon Ji-Su and Jung Jae-Hoon – Sweet Home
Avasarala and Admiral Delgado – The Expanse
Avasarala and Amos – The Expanse
Mariner and Boimler – Star Trek: Lower Decks
Tendi and Rutherford – Star Trek: Lower Decks
The Drew Crew – Nancy Drew
Ace and Carson – Nancy Drew
Okay, I don’t have the energy to pick a favorite dynamic here and/or time to analyze the shit out of it. This thing is already like 6000 words long, or something equally ridiculous. But I also just couldn’t not mention these fantastic characters, so . . . yeah. Here are some of my favorite pairings that I don’t think I’ve mentioned yet, noted for a variety of reasons (sweetness, non-romantic chemistry, hilarity, etc.)
FAVORITE INDIVIDUAL EPISODE (PER SHOW)
Tale of the Nine-Tailed: Episode 15
Running Man: Eliminating Intruders: The Secret of the Traditional Village
The Uncanny Counter: Episode 9
Alice in Borderland: Episode 3
The Expanse: Gaugamela
Sweet Home: Episode 8
The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty: Episode 35
WandaVision: On A Very Special Episode
Nancy Drew: The Drowned Woman
Busted: The Missing Body
Infinity Train: The Number Car
L.U.C.A.: The Beginning: Episode 1
Last Week Tonight: Episode 210
Star Trek: Lower Decks: Terminal Provocations
Honorable Mentions: Episodes 10, 11 (Tale of the Nine-Tailed); Unknown Face Race: Hey, You Also Know, Running Man: Sweet Home, Idol Vs. Running Man: Center Style, Uneasy Sisters: My Little Older Brother (Running Man); Episodes 1, 2 (The Uncanny Counter); Episodes 1, 7, 8 (Alice in Borderland); Hard Vacuum, Winnipesaukee, Nemesis Games (The Expanse); Episodes 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 (Sweet Home); Episodes 2, 9, 10, 13, 18, 29 (The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty); We Interrupt This Program, Breaking The Fourth Wall, Previously On (WandaVision); The Reunion of Lost Souls, The Riddle of the Broken Doll (Nancy Drew); I Just Died, The Ghost Client: The Case of the Imposter Detectives, The Scale of Destiny; Hostage, The Live (Busted); Episode 212 (Last Week Tonight); Temporal Edict, Second Contact, Cupid’s Errant Arrow, Veritas, No Small Parts (Star Trek: Lower Decks)
Time to finally move on to the SPOILER SECTION. Tread carefully, my friends.
We’re beginning with some softball spoilers, but consider this your last chance to look away!
FAVORITE SINGLE-EPISODE GUEST SPOT
Song Ji-Hyo – Busted
I haven’t watched any of Ji-Hyo’s dramas yet, so I was particularly delighted to see this cameo outside of Running Man. Especially since she kept slapping Kwang-Soo–who, very characteristically, quickly attacked her back. Ji-Hyo’s in this episode for all of three minutes, but she’s very funny, and there’s something particularly amusing about watching her “meet” two of these guys that she’s been working with for literally a decade. I just found it all very silly, chaotic, and charming, which is Busted in a nutshell.
Honorable Mentions: Jonathan Frakes (Star Trek: Lower Decks); Marina Sirits (Star Trek: Lower Decks); John de Lancie (Star Trek: Lower Decks); Kate Mulgrew (Infinity Train); Frankie Faison (The Expanse)
Kim Soo-Oh – Tale of the Nine-Tailed
It’s not just that he’s a small precocious child. It’s that he is, FFS, a reincarnated puppy. Literally. Come on, that’s just playing dirty.
Honorable Mentions: Im Joo-Yeon (The Uncanny Counter); Dong’er (The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty); Tendi’s “dog” (Star Trek: Lower Decks)
SUPPORTING CHARACTER WHO MOST DESERVES A SHOUTOUT
Like, half the residents of the Green Roof Apartments – Sweet Home
Jimmy Woo – WandaVision
Kuina – Alice in Borderland
Yep, this is me, giving up again. Look, Sweet Home has a ton of amazing supporting characters, and I’m rapidly losing steam here. (I don’t write these things in order, so just picture the whole “it’s been 84 years” Titanic GIF.) I simply do not have the willpower to decide between dispassionate Eun-Hyuk, rocker girl Ji-Su, Christian sword-fighterJae-Hoon, charming old guy Gil-Seop, understated and wonderful Yu-Ri, and amazing weapon-forger Du-Sik. They are all being counted together!
Meanwhile, Jimmy Woo is just as delightful in WandaVision as he was in Ant-Man and the Wasp. I find him so very interesting because he’s incredibly funny, but the humor never comes from expected places, like, Woo’s a super earnest dork, but he’s also competent and not afraid to (very politely) speak up when the Director is being a dick again. The joke is never that Agent Woo is pathetic, and I feel like that’s atypical somehow. Maybe it shouldn’t surprise me, considering Coulson and all? Still. Basically, Randall Park is adorable here, and I hope to see Agent Jimmy Woo a lot more.
Finally, we have Kuina in Alice in Borderland, who’s considerably more interesting than I initially expected her to be. Kuina is a trans woman, although we don’t know that for a while. She’s also a total badass, and I LOVE watching her take down Takatora Samura, like, that whole moment she steps backwards on the glass? Damn. I’m so relieved that she survives the season finale. I also like the flashback scene when she meets her mom again post-transition. I know trans rep in film and television has, historically, not been great (though I admit, I know virtually nothing about LGBTQ+ rep in Japanese media), and I do wish that Kuina was being played by a trans woman, rather than a cis one. Still, I was relieved that her gender identity is never really part of the mystery, nor ever used to imply that she’s dishonest, suspicious, or predatory in anyway. It feels less like a Shocking Plot Twist than something we just didn’t know about her yet, and I was happy about that. I can’t wait to see her again in Season 2.
Honorable Mentions: Taluipa (Tale of the Nine-Tailed); Pei Huai (The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty); Mae Ok (The Uncanny Counter)
CHARACTER WHO REALLY NEEDS TO JUST DIE ALREADY
Marco Inaros – The Expanse
Ugh. This guy? Still? STILL? Come on, he already won this award LAST YEAR. Please kill him off already, please, I am begging you.
Agnes/Agatha – WandaVision
Originally, I thought I’d be giving this one to Imoogi from Tale of the Nine-Tailed, because I like the idea of a villain who splits into two bodies, with similar end goals but different personal desires. And Lee Tae-Ri and Jo Bo-Ah both did a great job with their respective aspects of the same character.
Still, once we officially got the Agatha Harkness reveal, well. Kathryn Hahn has just been such a delight all season, and now that we know she’s (literally) been working behind the scenes all along? Oh, oh, I just love her so much.
Honorable Mentions: Imoogi (Tale of the Nine-Tailed); Ji Chung-Shin (The Uncanny Counter); Baek Hyang Hee (The Uncanny Counter); Agent Mace and Agent Sieve (Infinity Train)
Shin Myeong-Hwi – The Uncanny Counter
As a corrupt mayor who secretly murdered someone, this dude is fine. But as the Big Bad, I find him pretty underwhelming. It’s not that the previous Big Bad, Ji Chung-Shin, was a super complex character? But I still found him to be a much more compelling villain, either because of the acting, his backstory, or both. I was really bummed when they killed Chung-Shin off in favor of new Big Bad Mayor Shin. I don’t think this is the only reason The Uncanny Counter started to fall apart for me, but I do think it’s a considerable factor.
Honorable Mentions: Lee Son (L.U.C.A.: The Beginning)
FAVORITE BADASS MOMENT
Hyun-Su fully transforms into a spiky-one-armed monster-angel thing – Sweet Home
Wang Zhi, Sui Zhou, Jia Kui, and Mama Cui attack – The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty
The Empress Dowager backs Imperial Noble Consort Wan and her awesome lady guard – The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty
Starting with Sweet Home: holy Jesus, this scene is epic, from the transformation itself, to that apocalyptic operatic “Side by Side” remix I linked to before, to the Bad Guy enthusiastically clapping for Hyun-Su with, like, genuine tears in his eyes. Hyun-Su seems to kill our proud papa Bad Guy here, and it’s GREAT; unfortunately, the death doesn’t take. Still, it’s a fantastic moment. I was SO into this scene.
Meanwhile, Sleuth wins with two different scenes. The first is when our heroes take out the bad guys in the Joyous Brothel in about five seconds flat. This starts with Wang Zhi killing the leader with that wonderful tiny gun of his, then Sui Zhou taking out another dude, saving Wang Zhi’s life. Then Mama Cui saves Sui Zhou’s life when she pulls out her hairpin and stabs the shit out of a third guy, and finally Jia Kui takes out the last dude before he can cut down Sui Zhou or Wang Zhi. And I forgot to mention that this is all less than a minute after Ding Rong literally mic drops a flaming torch just outside the brothel, which is also unspeakably badass. I have rewatched this scene a LOT.
Still, the moment when the Empress Dowager (who has, until this point, been Imperial Noble Consort Wan’s bitter enemy) more or less threatens to cut a bitch with her son’s sword if the bad guys don’t stand aside immediately and get out of Noble Consort Wan’s way? People. I literally cheered. I am always, always here for badass ladies sticking up for each other, maybe even especially when they actually can’t stand one another. This moment was fantastic.
Honorable Mention: Sui Zhou protects Tang Fan at the jail (The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty); Seo Yi Kyung takes out Protein Monster (Sweet Home); Ha Na beats up the bullies (The Uncanny Counter); Mo-Tak beats up the bullies (The Uncanny Counter); Mae-Ok knocks Bad Guy out of the noodle restaurant and then slaps him around (The Uncanny Counter); Drummer pulls her gun and fires on her own ships (The Expanse)
Everyone keeps splitting up for no goddamn reason – Tale of the Nine-Tailed
Tang Fan doesn’t tell anyone the bombs are a decoy – The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty
I struggled with the second half of Tale of the Nine-Tailed, and one of the primary reasons is that everyone keeps making idiotic choices for the sake of plot complications, which drove me mad. When your Big Bad is as powerful as Imoogi, who can fuck with your memories and brainwash you into doing pretty much anything, you do not keep splitting up; you find a safe house and stick together until you can figure out your next move. Especially after you know he’s already brainwashed at least one of your team before. You don’t leave vulnerable parents and small children by themselves. You don’t leave the human sidekicks alone at their job where, FFS, the Imoogi was literally an intern. People. I was screaming at my television.
Meanwhile, Tang Fan may be a genius detective, but wow, does he come up with some really bad plans. Like, I’m honestly surprised he ever gets to decide anything ever again; that’s how many bad ideas he has. I think the one that annoys me the most is when Tang Fan stays behind at the jail, having realized the bombs around the city are all decoys, but for Christ knows what reason doesn’t tell anybody. And while this leads to one of my favorite badass Sui Zhou moments, it also gets a whole bunch of people killed, including–ultimately–Wang Xian and Princess Gu An, since they probably wouldn’t have escaped if Tang Fan had just said something. For the life of me, I still don’t quite understand what he was thinking. If everyone had been in on a trap that just didn’t work, I’d totally get it, but this is just . . . really stupid?
Honorable Mentions: Tang Fan decides they should publicly fake an execution order for Wang Xian (The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty); Tang Fan leads the bad guy straight to the bombs (The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty); Tang Fan doesn’t tell anyone the truth about Qing Ge, which nearly ruins everything (The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty); The guys split up to explore after nearly everyone in the whole city has vanished (Alice in Borderland)
GRAND PRIZE FOR SURVIVAL
Naomi – The Expanse
Look, a lot of characters really deserve this award. Obviously, everyone who’s still alive in Alice in Borderland, not to mention everyone who actually made it out of Green Roof Apartments in Sweet Home. Still, watching Naomi struggle to breathe for, like, multiple episodes, I mean, Jesus. Spacing herself was only the beginning of this nightmare. She barely survived that before almost immediately suffering even more oxygen deprivation again . . . and again . . . and again, desperately trying to find a way to warn her friends before they get themselves blown up, and her, too. Finally, finally, Naomi has to essentially space herself once more, only this time, she does have a suit . . . it just doesn’t have oxygen. People. My fucking lungs hurt, watching this.
Lee Rang – Tale of the Nine-Tailed
In any other season, this award would’ve gone to someone from Sweet Home, as the list of candidates is, ah, lengthy. Still, no one’s death made me bawl quite so much as Lee Rang in Tale of the Nine-Tailed. I can’t pretend it’s a shock, really–dude seems tailor made for a sacrificial, redemptive death–but damn it, I liked him so much! By all rights, I liked him too much, considering, you know. A cute face and a tragic backstory really doesn’t make up for mass murder, etc. But, well. I’m weak, I guess. Kim Bum was so good here, and some of these scenes are just devastating: his family trying and failing to reach him in time to say goodbye, the videos with him and Lee Yeon, etc. It just all really good stuff. So. Many. Tears.
Honorable Mentions for Jimmy, NOOOOO!: Karube (Alice in Borderland); Lee Eun Hyuk (Sweet Home); Jung Jae-Heon (Sweet Home); Ahn Sun-Young (Sweet Home); Park Yu-Ri (Sweet Home); Han Du-Sik (Sweet Home); Ahn Gil-Seop (Sweet Home); Kim Jung-Young (The Uncanny Counter); Duo’erla (The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty); George (Nancy Drew); Billy (WandaVision); Tommy (WandaVision)
Karube, Chota, and Saori – Alice in Borderland
Holy shit, I don’t think anyone saw this coming, like, Alice in Borderland made it very clear in Episode 3 that they weren’t here to fuck around. I figured Chota might go out early, sure, but I definitely assumed Karube would make it to the finale, at least. I think I even said something like, “Well, let’s see how our heroes find their way out of this one, cause like, they’re not gonna kill 3 of their 5 main characters off in the third episode.”
Reader, they absolutely killed 3 of their 5 main characters off in the third episode. It’s emotional as fuck, too, violent and stunning and goddamn mean–but not mean in a cheap way? Which is important. This moment sets the tone and the stakes of the show brilliantly, and frankly, it’s just a really good scene. (It also, not surprisingly, wins BEST HOLY SHIT MOMENT.)
Honorable Mentions for Best Death: Han Du-Sik (Sweet Home); Agent Mace (Infinity Train); Agent Sieve (Infinity Train); Cyn (The Expanse); George (Nancy Drew); The thief that Mama Cui stabs to shit with her hairpin (The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty); Billy (WandaVision); Tommy (WandaVision); Vision (WandaVision)
Honorable Mentions for Best Holy Shit Moment: The Counters drop waste water all over the mayor on live TV (The Uncanny Counter); Taluipa is turned to stone (Tale of the Nine-Tailed); Almost the entire Yu family is massacred (The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty)
Lee Eun-Hyuk – Sweet Home
Duo’erla – The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty
Kim Jeong-Yeong – The Uncanny Counter
None of these deaths are the worst I’ve ever seen, but they each did something that frustrated me, and I like to talk out my frustrations, so. In Sweet Home’s case, I actually love the last exchange between Lee Eun-Hyuk and his sister, like, it’s beautifully done. But I can’t give you a clear reason on why he chooses to stay behind: is it cause he doesn’t wanna transform, or cause he’s following his own “monsters get locked up” rule, or cause he thinks he’ll endanger the group if he goes along? I’ve seen all these theories floated, and they all could work, but without a more explicit motivation given–even just a brief line–it comes across to me like he’s deciding to die cause, you know, Drama. And to be fair, we all have different ideas about how much we want explained to us . . . but when it comes to characters choosing to die, I think I need a bit more, so that their choices feel like their own, and not cheap manipulations on the writer’s part.
Duo’erla’s death, also, strikes me as kinda needless. It’s cool that she saves Tang Fan, but then she just . . . stays behind to blow up with Alasi? I know she loves the guy, but is it really “better to explode with you than live without you” love? That doesn’t quite feel earned to me. I guess it’s possible that she tries to save Alasi, too, as we don’t actually see her very last moments. But I must admit, that’s not how the scene read to me at all. Which is too bad, actually, cause while Duo’erla’s death would be sad no matter what, I think I’d be okay with it if we saw her A) try to escape herself and run out of time, or B) die while trying to push Alasi out of the carriage, too. As is, Duo’erla’s death feels a little cheap to me. Like she didn’t die for her own reasons, but to give Tang Fan man pain.
Finally, when it comes to Kim Jeong-Yeong, again, the problem is not that she dies, exactly. She discovers Too Much while doing her job, and the bad guys kill her. I buy that. And the moment when Mo-Tak finds her body is honestly pretty wrenching stuff, like, it really stuck with me. However, killing her off immediately after Mo-Tak remembers they were engaged is a little ugh for my tastes, and worse, he’s like super upset about it for, IDK, maybe an episode or two, tops? And then everyone kinda just forgets about her, which is bullshit. It’s one thing to be killed for a dude’s ongoing emotional arc; it’s a whole other thing to be killed for a dude’s Sad Face of the Week. Nope, absolutely not, hard pass.
Honorable Mentions: Wang Xian and Princess Gu An (The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty)
And hey, I think that’s finally it! See you for more, hopefully, in another three months!