Review | K-drama review: Mine – compelling Netflix series sees women come together and queer representation take a step forward
- Once two powerful women bury their differences and an apparent foe turns ally, viewers of the Korean drama series can but wait to see if they reach their goal
- In the end there are no big surprises despite a narrative that confusingly arcs forward, then back again. Despite some stumbles, the conclusion is satisfying
This article contains spoilers.
When we are first dropped into a story featuring many characters and their relationships, desires and secrets, we are largely at the mercy of the writers as they guide us through their world. They can share as little or as much as they want with us about these people. And, in any good story, most of those characters will experience a major change before we reach the narrative’s close.
Big swings in a character generally come as a surprise, but the extent to which a viewer will accept and be affected by those changes largely comes down to the groundwork the writers have laid on the way there, not to mention the strength of the performances.
By the show’s close, the women had banded together and achieved their goals while protecting each other, and in the process achieved the freedom to live and love as they please – something all the wealth and power of their vaunted status could ill afford them.
Mine initially presented tutor Kang Ja-kyeong (Ok Ja-yeon) as the villain, and her possessive and dangerous behaviour served as the catalyst that turned Jung Seo-hyun (Kim Seo-hyung) and Seo Hi-soo (Lee Bo-young), daughters-in-law of the family patriarch, from respectful neighbours into true allies.
Then Ja-kyeong showed her true self – as Lee Hye-jin, the birth mother of Hi-soo’s son Ha-joon (Jeong Hyun-jun) – and the true villain was revealed to be Han Ji-yong (Lee Hyun-wook), Hi-soo’s husband and Hye-jin’s former lover.
Ji-yong’s bringing Hye-jin into the Hyowon household were what first brought Hi-soo and Seo-hyun together. As the breadth of his malfeasance gradually came to light, the pair were joined by Hye-jin, and the three women bound together in solidarity against a common foe.
This group of allies solidified a little past the halfway mark of the series, and from there on in what remained to be seen was how they would exact their vengeance upon Ji-yong. Yet complicating matters was the series of flash forwards, set in the vestibule of Cadenza, the main house in the complex – where Mother Emma (Ye Soo-jung) comes upon at least one dead body.
Each new flash forward teased a little more detail, and we eventually discovered that the person lying in a pool of his own blood was Ji-yong, and that Mother Emma saw Hi-soo standing a floor above him.
With that much information we could assume that the women’s plan may have led to this bloody outcome, whether intentionally of not, and it’s at this point that the writers switched up the structure of the show.
The ticking clock in the main narrative we’d been following pegged it as being 10 days before the murder, but suddenly the bulk of the show was devoted to the aftermath and investigation of the incident. The murky flash-forward visions were rendered fact without us seeing how things reached that point. Ji-yong’s death had become a fait accompli.
The last couple of episodes presented an unusual narrative pincer movement, as the pre-murder story continued to move inexorably towards that fateful night, while the subsequent investigation shed more and more light on the events and motivations surrounding Ji-yong’s death.
What’s more, depending on which character the show focused on, as the narrative kept arcing backwards and forwards it would stop at different times in the past, or sometimes repeat itself before proceeding to something we hadn’t seen.
Though never particularly hard to follow, there wasn’t enough mystery remaining for the experimental structure to be effective. If anything it may have been a way to drag things out a bit more, as a linear narrative would have dispensed with the same information in much less screen time.
Even though the ultimate cause of Ji-yong’s death does come as a surprise, it’s not the kind that requires much of an explanation, nor is it one that any kind of sleuthing on the part of the viewer could have uncovered, unlike an Agatha Christie whodunit.
Another area where the show stumbled somewhat was with the relationship between young heir Han Soo-hyuk (Cha Hak-yeon) and maid Kim Yu-yeon (Jung Yi-seo). Though convincingly performed, it was an underwritten element of the show that never gelled with the rest of the story and in the end fizzled out.
The murder is a fitting way to bring the show to its climax, but Mine has been far more compelling as a story of women coming together in the face of adversity, and some of that power fades with the procedural acrobatics the writers opted for in the show’s final stretch.
Hi-soo, Seo-hyun and Hye-jin ultimately get what they want, and they manage to do so together, which makes for a satisfying ending. Most satisfying of all is Seo-hyun’s sense of freedom, as she finally musters the courage to open up about her sexual orientation. We leave her as she calls the woman she loves and tells her she is going to her.
We may not have got a kiss, but this was another big step forward for queer representation on Korean TV.
Mine is streaming on Netflix.