Sunday, June 25, 2017

[First Impression] Circle

I see a ship in the harbour. I can and shall obey
But if it wasn't for your misfortune, I'd be a heavenly person today
And I thought I was mistaken, and I thought I heard you speak
Tell me, how do I feel? Tell me now, how should I feel?
(New Order, Blue Monday)*

A good science fiction is a really difficult genre, both in literature and in moving pictures. It's not enough to mix few weird ideas, add blinking lights and Deus-ex-machina solutions. A good sci-fi has its own mythology, its own air, its own laws within which it operates. And after a recent slump in TV science-fiction, past few years are marked by the genre's revival (most notably 12 Monkeys, The Expanse and Stranger Things) with fresh approach and new ideas. And Korean TV wasn't that kind of a medium for sci-fi, so this is even more satisfying.
Sci-fi feeds on both fear and hope, those are two main motors of countless stories. And fear and hope are two rails of the same tracks carrying the train of characters' fates.

Circle so far has a well outlined structure and seems to be a detailed show. It operates within three timelines: 2007, 2017 and 2037. To some extant it borrows on Aldous Huxley's Brave New World but does it with style and not too much. The idea of a Smart Earth, however, is not that far from the reality, since Korea has Smart City (Songdo International Business District). Look at the pictures on the website I provided, and maybe some buildings will seem similar?
Smart Earth is an island, removed from the problems of the general population troubled with polluted air, shortage of sun, water and resources (kids in kindergarten on Normal Earth draw brown sky). It is a paradise that boasts 5000 days without a crime (around 13,69863013 years, I checked). Meaning the paradise started around 2023, so we have 6 years waiting to fill the void - what happened and how it happened to trigger the exodus to Smart Earth? How the planning system worked - who got in and who was left out in the rubble of a Korea? How Human B system was born? What was that pic of Woojin shown right before Ep 5 ended? However, the action in 2037 is triggered exactly because of the crime - a murder. A murder linking cold cases from the past.

Part 2: Brave New World
 And then we have the past, first 2007 when two boys witnessed something that irrevocably thwarted their lives - an alien, coming in a wreeecking ball of light. It's most likely a nod to Orwell's War of the Worlds, where invaders came through the lightning. And then we have 2017 when both twins, Beom-gyun and Woojin disappeared - that would be a second cold case for the detective. And one yet - the wave of suicides at the University. Universe operates in triads, it might seem. Or so it was in Rama cycle of Arthur C. Clarke. 
For now it is obvious that Human B is a brainchild of Woojin - it was his desire to be able to forget the traumatic experiences, which he wanted to make real for his brother, traumatized by things that happened in their childhood. And now we also know that the detective Junhyeok we met at the beginning of the action is Beomgyun who has lost his memories and the process of their retrieval is painful and draining emotionally. But do we really? How sure we can be that Beomgyun is really Beomgyun? In a reality where hacking the memory chips, storing memories, wiping them out and watching them by a third party is a reality, how sure can we be that the memories we are experiencing are our own? And what exactly the memories do? Are we still ourselves even without memories? If, lets say, my memories were transferred to someone else would that person become me? 
And there is also one more point to make - double memories. In Fringe, during the collusion of two universes, the memories of every version of "us" become jumbled in one mind. Because of the Pauli's restriction, two things cannot occupy the same timespace - so the moment when one person's mind got suddenly flooded by memories of somebody else, yet virtually the same - their minds couldn't take it and those people went insane. What if a similar thing happens here? What if one person carries two sets of memories? What happens to the person?
I'm starting Avaaz petition, Kickstarter campaign, whatever I have to do to kill this guy.

The details are well planned and every chip falls exactly where it should. It's not only sci-fi on the superficial level, but the creators constructed a whole world, giving much attention to details. So we not only have futuristic clothes on Smart Earth that resemble the uniforms of Equilibrium, being devoid of any personal touch, but also technology, way of life and, while we're at it, a new way for license plates. The tvN dramas always had filters, but here their use is much appreciated - the cold, steel blue shades of Smart Earth with all its high-end technology that reminds surgical tools, dusty sepia for Normal Earth ravaged by dust, gouache colors for 2017...
Also, one more thing - the "phone call" in 2037. All it takes is a pair of glasses to be transported to some kind of a third space, an augmented reality no man's land. A space similar to the one Neo and Morpheus landed. And dangerous - because the participants of such call cannot tell where their partner is. Someone might stand behind a person with a gun to their head. They could be practically anywhere without any way to tell. During a phonecall now - the background is still audible (I watch crime shows, true). Somehow the call in 2037 is making me nervous. Which also is a plus for Circle.
This series is close to being genius.

I am only after 5 episodes, so I can't say much more except for this: so far it's a breath of a fresh air in Kdramaland. The fact it's a dystopian science-fiction doesn't hurt either. Neither is Yeo Jingu over whom this nuna feels no more shame.
I have much more questions and I'll be writing about this drama some more. Because it is also a classic tale of a taboo, and its breaking. It's also a classic tale of the Other.

* source: my own CD. Granted, this song is about what Ian Curtis has done, but somehow lyrics to this song always reminded me of some other, dystopian society. It can be seen like this - if we remove the context. And since the Author is dead, as Barthes wants it, sorry Bernard, we're disregarding the background.