It’s so interesting a concept to modernize and distort the Alice in Wonderland tale. The story itself is about a dream a little girl fell into and the dreamworld that astonished her. There are so many film versions of this classic tale, and to tell you the truth, like Se Kyung and Tommy, I don’t actually know how the story ended. Alice wakes up, but what of her dream and her encounters?
Cheongdamdong Alice stayed true to its Alice in Wonderland backbone and the ending was beautifully done. Some may say the writer overdid the fairy tale tie in, but I really liked it. It made us question the boundaries between dream and reality and whether what we live can be bridged by both these consciousnesses. While Se Kyung began the tale as Alice, wanting to find a white rabbit to bring her into Wonderland, she later realized, after all her adventures, that this Wonderland was but a dream and people wake up from dreams. Her dejected attitude mirrored that of all of us forced to wake up from a fantasy, and it left me wondering how Alice had felt when she woke up from her nap. Apparently there’s a version [in South Korea?] that had an epilogue with Alice’s sister relaying that life can be lived as a mixture of reality and livid fantasy, and thus, Se Kyung marries Seung Jo and continues to live in her semi-dreamworld. So that was how it all ended at face value, but what stuck out to me was the dreaming that Seung Jo did throughout the episode. It almost hints to us that perhaps Se Kyung was not Alice after all, but rather Seung Jo was our resident lucid dreamer taking the audience on a whirlwind adventure. Perhaps the Wonderland was not Cheongdamdong, but true love as projected by Seung Jo, and he had to slowly learn its trials, run through the caterpillar forests and battle against the Red Queen. I don’t know, but I’m glad I’m not the only one wondering what happens after an epic dream like that.
That being said, this ending was completely disjointed from the middle episodes. Everything from episodes 7 to 14 (maybe even 15) made no sense. We spent half the series trying to hide this “secret” from a man that we all thought had PTSD, and out of nowhere, just because he said he’s okay in episode 15, we all accept it and move on. There were so many storylines that were just dropped and not addressed further. Like, what of Se Kyung’s father’s bakery or his 1 year contract with Seung Jo’s father? It was as if the writer only had enough material for the first six episodes and needed fillers before s/he gave us this ending.
Conceptually, this drama was fresh and original, but it pains me to see it not reach even half its potential. There were so many trajectories that the story could have taken, so many issues to explore regarding the trials between the rich and the poor, and yet, poof, nothing. We began the series with such a hard hitting message about the professional suppression of the poor by the rich and a middle class woman wanting to change her path in life, and yet, we didn’t get to explore her professional development at all. Se Kyung was never looking for a white knight. All she wanted was access, and we all know Seung Jo did little protecting anyways, so I’m confused as to where that story line came from. I wanted the tale to take on a spin, and I wanted to see an unabashed woman, pushed to the edge, take action, and yet I got 7 episodes of crying and typical drama filler. AND goodness, I was upset with how one-dimensional Yoon Joo’s husband was, and his lack of romantic love for his wife, because seriously, if you didn’t even at least like her, why the hell did you put a ring on it.
The beginning was so good, and the concept is so golden, it pains me for it all to end unexplored, so here is how I would have wanted the story to run…
At the end of episode 6, we were at the pojangmacha where Se Kyung and Seung Jo almost kissed. They both obviously knew they liked each other, but it doesn’t make any sense that Seung Jo would acknowledge it so quickly and so willingly. Considering how he was dumped the last time, AND seeing how he was trying to heal, it would be more sensible that he would be the one holding out. We should spend some time exploring the rich/poor issue and how Seung Jo believed that hard work can take you anywhere. If he had discovered that his father had bought his painting in the middle of the series, their father-son relationship healing can take on a more gradual and realistic progression. Se Kyung would be there to help him as well, but incognito. She wouldn’t know about Seung Jo’s millionaire status because she needs some character development too. She can keep working as his pretend stylist while helping him out with his emotional development. She’ll try to avoid her feelings in the name of “going black,” but she’ll just like him more and more.
Seung Jo will be battling his world views on hard work and prosperity, and Se Kyung will tell him otherwise, show him otherwise. SJ will tell her that he’s a runaway Chaebol heir with no fortune but debt and this skewed view of the world. They’ll learn to trust each other, and Se Kyung will show him the cafe that Tommy frequents and tell him about In Chan (because SJ would ask). SK, with her experience as the stylist of the CEO of Artemis on her resume, will get a new designer job, and she’ll grow to become really good at her craft. SJ will recommend her, and SK will learn that maybe, just maybe, hard work does pay off a little bit (because really, it’s half and half, connections and hard work). She’s not completely over her “going black” quest, and she’ll score a super rich CEO and go past chapter 4 of Yoon Joo’s diary, (all of this by episode 9, because come on, there’s really not that much story).
She’ll tell SJ, and SJ will be jealous, but can’t do anything. He’ll struggle with his demons, reconcile with his father, and SK will face her potential in-laws. Her snotty potential in-laws will give her a hard time. Her relationship with the CEO is business, pretty much like Yoon Joo and her husband’s, and SK does research before every date to impress the rich man. She’ll hide her family and her background from the guy, admitting only that she went to a top university and decided not to study abroad because she believes domestic fare is more patriotic and will be trendy soon; and here we get to explore her relationship with her family. (I never got the feeling that SK ever appreciated her wonderful family. In my version, she would.) She’ll feel exhausted and use SJ as her confidant, glancing longingly at him, explaining to him that love can’t feed even kittens, and drunkenly tell SJ that she’s fallen for him and can’t love her CEO (Episode 12).
Yoon Joo will be there with SK, coaching her but reminding her again and again that love is but an obstacle in this game and not a co-inhabitant in their version of Cheongdamdong. Tommy will be amazed at SK’s skills and ask to collaborate with her. Tommy will try to set In Hwa up with SJ as per the original. SJ will refuse to marry In Hwa, therefore having another falling out with his father. Cha Il Nam will then begin to notice that his inability to take his son’s feelings into consideration keeps driving them apart. In Hwa’s family will find out about Yoon Joo and SJ through this matchmaking and blame everything on her. Yoon Joo’s husband will kick her out unless Yoon Joo uses her connections with SJ to grab a business deal. She’ll leave gracefully like she did in episode 16, having understood that her time in Cheongdamdong is over. Meanwhile, SJ will tell SK his real identity, and she’s the one who then refuses to see him having been lied to. Yoon Joo meets with SK, and she gets to be the one that says that the Wonderland was but a dream. This conversation gets SK thinking, and while she’s having dinner with her CEO, she reaches an epiphany and breaks up with the rich man. Commence looking for SJ (Episode 13).
SK looks for SJ, but SJ had shut off his phone to avoid his father’s calls. SK goes to the art gallery to look at the painting that SJ drew (the one his father bought). The painting’s gonna somewhat look like the path Alice took in Wonderland. She starts tearing saying the end of the path in the painting isn’t real, but it’s what’s standing in front of it that is (Dude, super deep, I totally just thought of it). She has this deep conversation with SJ’s father who also happens to be at the art gallery after having been rejected by his son, and they both just linger there. SK starts to tell him that when Alice left her home to go down the rabbit hole, she never looked back, and she kept becoming smaller and smaller to get through Wonderland, but really, what she needed to do, and what she did at the end, was grow bigger, and go back home. They both reach epiphanies, and totally have a bonding moment (Episode 15).
SK will find SJ in the airport trying to leave the country because he feels dejected having lost 1) his rekindled relationship with his father and 2) SK because he couldn’t learn how to trust people. SK will pull him out of the line… and the rest is history. We’ll spend the remaining time tying it all together with OTP cuteness. (I never understood why the last two episodes can’t be just filled with happy.)
(…Pictures are work in progress)