Okay Athena. I tried. Really, I did. Even when people slagged you off and called your main character an idiot, I persevered in the hope that you would somehow turn a corner and become awesome.
Alas, that was not to be. *Spoilers ahead*
You might be inclined to think that I hate you, Athena. I don’t. On the contrary, I thought that you were beautifully shot and that you had some of the hottest insurgents around in the form of Son Hyuk and his cronies. Oh, and Jae-hee’s and Hye-in’s outfits were killer.
Unfortunately, all these things can’t make up for the fact that you put me to sleep.
I stand by everything I said about the first two episodes, Athena. You started off promisingly enough – I loved how Son Hyuk and Hye-in single-handedly decimated Professor Kwon’s team in the first episode and while many complained about Jung-woo’s dream sequence in episode 2, I thought it was an example of how good you could have been.
But it soon became apparent as time went on that you, Athena, were a soap opera entertaining delusions of being a spy drama. Despite all the talk about nuclear weapons, North Korean spies and terrorists, you were in reality just another show about a woman torn between two ridiculously good-looking men.
It wouldn’t have been a problem if you hadn’t been in denial about it. But no, you kept adding layer upon convoluted layer of double-agent and North Korean schemes hoping that they would make all the difference. Sure there were moments when you had me in suspense but those became a rarity as time went on. This was due to a) Lee Jung-woo, b) problematic character development (especially in the second half) and c) a nosedive into WTF-ville circa episode 12. Allow me to elaborate.
Lee Jung-woo: Definitely not your next action hero
I get that the scriptwriter wanted to give audiences a lead character they could relate to – an ordinary guy who happens to be an elite agent, someone who is as fallible as the next person. The thing is that when you are an agent in a top-secret organization such as the CIA, Mi6 or NTS you are expected to be the best of the best. There’s no room for average joes in these kinds of places. And this was my problem with Lee Jung-woo. Throughout the show, I had a hard time believing that his character was an elite agent because he was such a non-entity. Nothing he did made him stand out from any of the other agents. When you watch a James Bond or a Bourne movie, there is never any question about who the hero is because he is head and shoulders above everyone else in the organisation. Not so with JWS’s character. His gullibility alone should have disqualified him from the NTS. Don’t they teach people how to perform a background check in cadet school? To tell you the truth, I had to google his name when I started writing this because I couldn’t remember it. That’s how little I thought of him.
Why does everything have to be about love?
I hated that the romance between Hye-in and Jung-woo became such a dominant part of the storyline. I don’t have anything against love stories and I think if it had been a simmering attraction, it would have added to the tension of the plot by keeping viewers guessing what her real feelings were. For me, the love story didn’t make sense given Hye-in’s circumstances. She’s a woman who’s had to lock her feelings up in cold storage because of the nature of her job, which entails assuming different guises and killing people among other things. In addition, given that she joined Son Hyuk’s little cadre so late in the game, I’m assuming that she had to undergo some hardcore physical and psychological training as well. We’re not talking about your neighbourhood tennis club. We’re talking about a terrorist organisation with its own rules and philosophy. Joining such a group isn’t a decision that you undertake lightly, which is why I wasn’t convinced by the way the writers had her become a member of Athena. Really? She joined a terrorist group because she wanted to be with Son Hyuk? What kind of a lame-assed reason is that? I understand that she loves/feels indebted to him because he saved her life/is the only person she can call family but isn’t there some other way she can show her gratitude? Doesn’t she have a life of her own? *headdesk*
Character assassination – it’s everywhere
This is a drama where I find myself caring less about the characters the more I know about them. My biggest problem, if you haven’t guessed by now, is with the way Hye-in’s character was drawn. Some viewers thought she looked too “innocent” to be a ruthless killer but I didn’t have a problem with her appearance. Pop culture is littered with baby-faced killers and if anything, having a youthful or “innocent” appearance is actually an asset because people tend, much to their own detriment, to underestimate these killers’ abilities. Anyway, Hye-in was badass and cool in the first few episodes and the ambiguity surrounding her character made you question her motivations and view of the world. Sadly things took a nosedive around the middle when the writers decided to have her fall in love with Jung-woo and become a wishy-washy cliché. Urgh.
I feel sorry for the cast of Athena because many of them are fine performers who were let down by a ridiculous script. Cha Seung-won owned the screen as Son Hyuk from the get-go but even he was no match for the straightjacket that they put on his character towards the end of the drama. Without giving too much away, let’s just say he went from a Machiavellian badass to a girl-obsessed desperado in the last few episodes. Yes, tragic is right.
Bonus: Post-drama awards
These awards are unlikely to see the light of day at SBS’s end-of-year drama ceremony but still, I think credit should be given where it’s due.
Most Unconvincing Action Hero: If Michelle Yeoh hadn’t gushed over Jung Woo-sung and Athena was my first K-drama, I’d probably never want to watch him in another movie/drama ever again. Exactly how was Lee Jung-woo a better agent than a rookie like Kim Joon-ho? Was he smarter, faster, more kickass? Er…no. <spoiler> You have no idea how annoyed I was when Hye-in foiled Son Hyuk’s plan to shoot him. </end of spoiler>
The ‘He’s-Just-Not-That-Into-You’ Award: Step right up, Jae-hee. Listen, it might sound strange but Lee Jung-woo is not the only man in the world. Yes, he may have been the love of your life but that was three years ago. Seriously, move on already! You could have shown him what an idiot he was for letting you go but noooo…*headdesk*
Longest Ping Pong Match Ever: Episodes 1-9, which can be summarised as follows: Team Athena tries to kidnap Professor Kim – Professor Kim is kidnapped – Team NTS rescues him *rinsewashrepeat*. Of course, instead of a ball, you have the unluckiest nuclear scientist in the world, and instead of paddles, the players use guns.
Athena would have benefited from being a 16-parter instead of a 20-episode series. A lot of time was wasted on the whole “find-Professor-Kim” arc. Just get on with the drama and shoot the crap out of each other already, please.
The You-Should-Have-Stayed-Retired Award: Professor Kwon, what happened to the showdown you were supposed to have with Son Hyuk? At the end of the first two episodes, I thought you were going to be all “Vengeance is mine. I will repay.” Instead, all you did was sit behind a desk, think and look important. Seriously, you came out of retirement just for this?
Most Pointless Cameo: BoA. Apart from pulling in idol fans, exactly what other purpose did she serve in this drama? It makes me wonder whether SM Entertainment paid for a part of the production costs because so many of their people were involved in Athena. It also makes me wonder if the producers actually know who their target audience is. Are they targeting fans of the spy/action drama genre or are they simply bringing in idols to boost the show’s ratings? I have no problems with BoA appearing in Athena. I just wish she had played a more integral role than that of a bratty pop diva.
Runner-up: Changmin. Someone enlighten me, why does Athena need to bring in a genius bomb expert this late in the game? More to the point, why Changmin? Is it because SM Entertainment feels that he has too much free time on his hands? Here’s a thought: Instead of casting an idol, how about swapping your writer for a better one?
Best kickass Sequence: Son Hyuk vs Fighter Dude in white (Episode 1). I only wish the rest of the drama had been able to keep up the momentum.
The *Headdesk* Award: Jae-hee, Jae-hee, Jae-hee. It’s obvious your Cosmo subscription didn’t come with the article “How to Break a Toxic Love Pattern” because which part of you thought this was going to end well?
Should’ve-Picked-Another-Career Award: This is a joint tie between Jung-woo and Jae-hee. Watching Athena makes you wonder how these two managed to become agents when they keep letting their emotions get the better of them. And given their history together, I would have thought that NTS would have known better than to allow these two to work together (or that Jae-hee’s father would have stepped in and requested that his daughter be transferred to another department.)
Most WTF rumour: There’s going to be a sequel to Athena. WHY?