Featured image of post A Deep Dive Review of Abyss

A Deep Dive Review of Abyss

A poor execution of an interesting premise.

I’ve never done a movie or TV show review. However, this show deserves it, because I had some serious gripes about it while watching it.

A Quick Synopsis

Abyss centers around two friends that die tragically in separate events and are reincarnated into new bodies that they don’t recognize. Cha Min, a rather ugly but kind heir of his family’s cosmetics empire dies from an alien passing by Earth. As compensation, he is given a magical “Abyss”, an object that grants the user to revive anybody into the form of their soul. Cha Min’s pure soul results in his revival as a tall and attractive man (as Ahn Hyo-seop). In a series of unfortunate events, his prosecutor childhood friend– Go Se-yeon – is tragically murdered in her apartment by an unknown man. Her formerly beautiful self is reincarnated into a plain and ordinary figure (Park Bo-young). They begin working together to find out who killed Se-yeon and to vindicate Min, the primary suspect in her murder.

Problems with the Show

The Setup

I’m going to loosely refer to the magical entities that give Cha Min the Abyss as aliens.

The first thing the show fails to explain is what in the world is up with the aliens that pass by the Earth. One careless alien knocks Cha Min off of a skyscraper (where he was considering committing suicide since his fianceĆ© left him…?) to his death. Min wakes up to the alien and his friend, who revived him out of pity and hands him the mystical Abyss. We have almost no idea who the aliens are, what they’re doing on Earth, why they gave Min the literal power to revive people, what the rules of the Abyss are, and what their importance is to the story. To be honest, I don’t think the writers knew either, since this plot point is never explained, and the characters essentially never appear on screen again.

This scene is clearly just a setup that drives the story forward, but we are left wondering why any of this was necessary. It sets up anticipation for the aliens to be critical to the story, but no aliens appear on screen again until the last episode, where they have the relevance of extras eating food in the background of a scene. Despite this clear writing shortcut, I was willing to gloss over the exact details of the Abyss as long as the show delivered a compelling and tight story. Unfortunately, it did not.

The Entire Premise

This show has a relatively promising start. The idea of reincarnation allows the writers to explore how your identity is shaped by your appearance and personality. Having your reincarnated self be a physical manifestation of your soul could be a clever way for a story to allow its characters to reflect on the true nature of their being. However, it appears people’s souls are static, meaning that any character’s development over the series has zero effect on their appearance. The show does not reflect on what the soul is or what is meant to represent. We learn that Min’s attractiveness is a result of his pure soul, while Se-yeon’s plainness is a result of her generic and ruthless soul. Even as the characters grow over the series (which they don’t really do anyway), nothing about their appearances changes. There’s no reason to bring the concept of soul into the mix if you’re not going to do anything interesting with it.

It doesn’t help that the show plays fast and loose with the rules. Other than Min and Se-yeon, only one character’s appearance changes significantly after being reincarnated: the primary antagonist. Oh Yeong-cheol, a skilled surgeon and psychopathic serial killer turns from a middle-aged respectable-looking doctor into a grimy and old man. Jang Hee-jin, Min’s ex-going-to-be-wife, retains the exact same figure with the exception of some freckles on her face. And her step-brother/Yeong-cheol’s son, despite being a sociopath who kidnaps his step-mother, chokes Se-yeon to death and hires a hitman, is revived in the same young and handsome body. It is never explained why they retain their former appearances and clearly, one of them shouldn’t. But hey, why not just overlook this massive inconsistency? You’re over-analyzing this trivial plot point that’s literally the basis of the show!

Everything’s Unrealistic

There are a few things that were just brushed over too easily. Obviously, they’re not going to cast an ugly actress to be a “plain character”, but I found it amusing how they consistently referred to Park Bo-young as ordinary-looking. However, I will not suspend my disbelief that people can just claim Min did plastic surgery and became way more handsome and grew like 15cm. It’s played off as some sort of joke, but it’s also taken seriously at the same time. His mom accepts it so easily that it’s just like…c’mon…

The rules are also so arbitrary. Somehow all the reincarnated bodies retain the same DNA, fingerprints, teeth, yada yada. It allows the show to confirm identities in a real way, but it’s pretty much cheating. We’re never informed as to why this is the case. It’s just too forced.

Why Do They Like Each Other?

If you didn’t expect Se-yeon and Min to end up liking one another, then you haven’t watched enough K-Dramas. Spoilers, they do. But we’re never really given a reason as to why. We learn very early on that Min has had the biggest crush on Se-yeon since they were in school, which makes sense. She’s very smart, independent, and literally the most beautiful girl in the school. She is literally chased down by almost every guy in the school everywhere she goes. That’s enough of a reason for him to like her. But, why does she like him back? He’s…nice to her? Other than that, we see no explicit reason as to why she’s attracted to him. The show tells us how sweet he was to her in school which leads to her developing feelings for him, even buying chocolate for him on Valentine’s Day. However, he’s dense as a brick and never understands her intentions. He asks her out multiple times over the years, and she crudely rejects him despite feeling the same way at multiple points. She wanted him to try harder…which is definitely what you tell the guy you literally like back.

I’m not even trying to say that she’s out of his league or anything. It’s just that the writers don’t really establish a compelling reason for her to fall for his personality. The show barely goes out of its way to characterize his kindness or affection towards her during their youth, so we never really get a strong reason for why they would work well together. We learn that they become close friends, but we never get to witness any developments on how he won her over, even as a friend. Over the course of the show in their new bodies, she slowly grasps how competent he is, things she should already know from being friends with him for 20 years. Their sudden kiss in episode 8 feels slightly rushed and unexpected, and I feel like there was never really a build-up toward it. I’m sure it left the fans squealing regardless.

It’s also not convincing to me that she could essentially forget about him for years until she suddenly realizes that she likes him again. From how the show portrays it, it only really seems like she falls for him because of his new appearance. If there is supposed to be any commentary valuing the inside as much as the outside, it rings hollow due to how the show characterizes Se-yeon’s behavior.

Lastly, I found it extremely cringe and immature for Min to thirst over his high school crush to the woman who he asks to be his wife (Hee-jin), regardless of whether she dated him for his money or not. Things like that can only be cute in TV shows. In real life, I would file a restraining order.

Min’s Wife Left Him?

Oh, did I forget to mention that Min was going to marry Hee-jin, a girl that Se-yeon set him up with? Yes, this is the driving point at the very beginning of the series, where we learn that Hee-jin has suddenly called off their wedding and vanished. This depresses Min to the point where he contemplates jumping off a building, which kickstarts the entire plot.

Hee-jin is a prominent character, but it feels like the writers only throw her in for plot convenience. She has quite a dark backstory, being abused as a child by her serial killer step-father, Oh Yeong-cheol. She causes a lot of problems in the plot due to her trying to protect her mother from her stepfather, which is frankly a good dilemma to introduce to the show. However, I really didn’t get much out of her character. Other than creating some obstacles Min and Se-yeon have to overcome, the writers never really try to go any deeper with her character other than her backstory. We never really get to know the extent of her relationship with Min, how her behavior was affected later in life due to her trauma, or how she grows over the course of the series. There were likely many interesting ways where they could explore the relationship between her, Min, and Se-yeon, but it feels like the writers never got around to doing so.

Initially, we learn that she only dated Min for the money (he’s the son of his family’s cosmetic empire), which is obviously a terrible thing to do. It makes it easy for Min to transition from supposedly loving her to immediately going back to his totally normal 20-year-long high school crush. As bad as she is for dating him for the money, Min is just as reprehensible for telling her that he loved her when he really didn’t. Eventually, she confesses to Min’s mother that she began to love him for who he was after being with him for some time and only chose to cancel the wedding because she didn’t want him to get involved with her abusive father. This could have be a gateway for the plot to explore her true feelings and introduce some conflict into Min and Se-yeon’s frictionless relationship. But alas, that would be too clever. Instead, her confession was essentially ignored, and Min continues to crush on Se-yeon and Hee-jin moves on without a second thought. Great.

There was no need for Hee-jin to be the woman he was going to marry. Their “love” for one another never causes any conflict between Min and Se-yeon, and Min and Hee-jin never reconcile or apologize to one another. Neither of them grows from their relationship, and they move forward in their lives as if their marriage was just some small bump in the road. In a plot already focused on solving a complex murder mystery, it’s reasonable that there is no time to explore such a complex relationship. However, this plot point somehow survived and decided to drive some more dissatisfaction in the show. And that makes me sad.

I am completely unaware of my ex-girlfriend’s personality

Another plot point that bothered me a lot revolves around police detective Park Dong-cheol and his ex-girlfriend Lee Mi-do. Oh wait, but Se-yeon’s reincarnated self looks exactly like Mi-do! And Se-yeon is looking to get critical information about the investigation into her death and Dong-cheol is a detective…how about she pretends to be Mi-do?! Brilliant! Despite it obviously being ridiculous that two characters would look identical, this isn’t even the worst idea for a plot point. We could expect that Se-yeon plays with Dong-cheol’s feelings for a little bit in order to extract some information about her case until she gets caught impersonating his ex-girlfriend. Instead, he never figures out that this clone of his girlfriend has a completely different personality and knows absolutely nothing about their relationship is not his ex-girlfriend. Up until the point where Min and Se-yeon explicitly tell him that they lied to him, he brings them along on sensitive investigations and allows them to take the reigns on the case at multiple points. Not only is it definitely illegal and easy for them to get caught, they chase down suspects with no legal authority or consequences. I’m able to suspend my disbelief a little bit to go along with a story, but not this much. I get how the butterflies in your tummy can get you to do stupid things, but man, Dong-cheol is essentially begging to get his badge revoked and his ass thrown in jail.

Also, the real Mi-do and Dong-cheol end up getting back together, which makes us question why they even broke up in the first place. But, I guess people are really weird in real life, too.

What the F*ck Happened to Hee-jin’s Mom?

Hee-jin’s mom surprisingly drives a lot of the plot. Due to years of abuse and torment by Yeong-cheol, her mom has essentially gone insane and needs to be taken care of at all times. Yeong-cheol threatens Hee-jin using her mother (and his wife), hiding her in remote locations in order to scare Hee-jin into submission. We learn a lot about Hee-jin’s family dynamic: her abusive father, her protective mother, and her rebellious brother who got beaten and brainwashed by her father. We grow to somewhat care for Hee-jin and her mother, as their relationship drives at least 50% of the conflict in the show. After multiple episodes of chasing down Yeong-cheol and saving Hee-jin’s mother, she is captured once again by Ji-wook, Hee-jin’s stepbrother. In a pure fit of rage, Ji-wook kills his stepmother and disposes her body into the ocean, taunting Min that he can’t revive her with the Abyss without her body.

And…that’s it. Hee-jin’s mother never comes back up again. There’s no search for her body and no discussion of reviving her with the Abyss. Hee-jin’s despair only lasts for a short while and we see no passion for her to retrieve her mother’s body. Her mother was her only motivation throughout the entire series. And to see such an abrupt and unexplained end to her mother was just bizarre. I really wondered if the producers just forgot that her mother existed. Poor Hee-jin, I hope they gave you some closure behind the scenes.

Chekhov’s Gun: The Abyss

As per masterclass.com,

Chekhov’s Gun is a principle in storytelling that suggests that details within a story or play will contribute to the overall narrative. This encourages writers to not make false promises in their narrative by including extemporaneous details that will not ultimately pay off by the last act, chapter, or conclusion.

How does Abyss violate this principle? It’s because of the Abyss (the magical object). It violates Chekhov’s Gun by failing to deliver the promise of Oh Yeong-cheol using the Abyss for his super mega evil plan. Kind of.

When Cha Min dies for a second time, Yeong-cheol becomes the temporary owner of the Abyss because he was the first person that Min revived after becoming its owner (on accident before he knew its capabilities). Over the course of a few episodes, Yeong-cheol accidentally revives a person (who retains her appearance, because f*ck you) and learns of its power. We get to witness his evil laughs over his machinations with his newfound power. He conjures up a plan so devious it will allow him and his family to essentially rule the world. Kind of.

Ultimately, we learn that his master plan was to kill himself and his family so they could be reincarnated and start their lives fresh. Having had his appearance change since the first time he died, he assumed that he would gain access to a new body if he died again and revived himself. Foolish man, for he did not realize that the Abyss reincarnates you as your soul, so you retain your appearance if you die again. Of course, he should surprised. I mean, nobody told him. His assumption even makes sense, if you ignore all the rules (or lack thereof) about the Abyss reincarnating you as the appearance of your soul. However, it was a real letdown. Was this really his master plan? I expected Yeong-cheol to devise some creative method of using the Abyss to do some evil. But the whole time, he was essentially just ignorant, painting the entire storyline as a joke. It’s not even that the show violates Chekhov’s Gun. It takes out the gun and turns it into a fairy wand. The urgency of the scene fell apart almost instantly.

I guess that’s what you get when your devious evil object is literally a magical orb that revives people. Its nature is just too friendly for even a serial killer to make it seem dangerous. It’s like having smiley faces and Kirby stickers all over the knife you plan to use to stab someone. But, even so, it could have been invigorating to see him try to revive one of his past evil accomplices or even someone very powerful or dangerous in history. Instead, his plan falls flat on the floor and so did my expectations for the rest of the show. Yeong-cheol has been shown to be a clever and manipulative killer, one I took seriously. But, after this, I kind of lost any respect for his character.

You Could Have Been So Much More, Ji-wook

The secondary antagonist is Seo Ji-wook, Hee-jin’s step-brother, Yeong-cheol’s son, and a prosecutor that worked with Go Se-yeon. He is disguised as chief judge Seo Cheon-shik son, under the deal with the chief who supposedly murdered his son. He was born as Oh Tae-jin, living with Yeong-cheol, Se-yeon, and his stepmother as a child. Early on, we get to see the abuse he suffered from his father. Tae-jin tried retaliating against him to no avail but was always disciplined and beaten instead. He tried protecting his sister and mother, but his incessant failures made him weak and hopeless, eventually adopting his father’s cruel behavior as a necessary measure. He is a tragically flawed character, and his trauma has embedded itself into his psyche, causing him to mirror his father in the worst of ways. But, we also see his defiance and his internal struggle to battle against the evil within him. We can clearly see that there is some good in him with his hesitance to help his father. We also realize that his helping his father out with murders is a clear case of attachment and his inability to understand any other kind of reality.

There is a lot to unpack in his character. He’s calm, decisive, and intimidating. He’s capable of a lot of evil and can easily be led astray. But, I expected there to be some kind of character arc. Regardless of whether he makes a noble sacrifice at the end for the greater good or remains a villain to the very end, I was hoping to get a grasp on his motives, relatability, or trauma. However, we get none of this. Tae-jin’s character is all over the place. He doesn’t always know who to help and ends up stabbing his father and sister in the back. It makes sense that he cannot determine his loyalty, but we don’t get to experience the turmoil that he is under. We never really understand why he does the things he does. He hates his father but also helps him constantly. He helps his sister out in one scene and stabs her in the back in the next scene. But, we don’t learn what he gets out of this. He obviously doesn’t care about his father’s greater goal. He doesn’t express enough motivation for me to believe that revenge is his driving factor, since nobody other than his father really did anything to him.

There’s a lot of room to make us empathize with his character. He is haunted by his past. Other than the flashbacks, we don’t much of a grasp of how that drives him now other than his subconcious attachment to his father. He never thinks deeper about what he is even doing or what he is doing any of this for. He just becomes a muddled character who does what is necessary in the given moment, but there is no overarching string that ties his storyline together. It’s such a shame because there is so much that could be done with a flawed character like this. He could be a relatable villain with motivations that make sense but are terribly misguided, or a villain that does the right thing in the end. Instead, he ends up as the villain once he kills Yeong-cheol (which does make sense), but not a relatable one that the audience can be empathetic towrads. He just becomes a generic villain that’s a villain for the sake of being a villain, the likes that we’ve seen in Thanos and Kylo Ren. All the depth in his character vanishes in the last few episodes, where he tries to kill Min and Se-yeon with no driving backbone. He gets in a fistfight after failing to shoot Min and gets taken down by the police in a comical fashion. He didn’t even end up doing anything super evil other than buying a gun illegally, and he doesn’t even do anything with it but accidentally shoot Se-yeon. Tae-jin could have been so much more.

Plot Armor to the Max

There has to be some catch to using the Abyss, right? Good, there is. It’s not much, but at least it’s there. Min finds out that once he has used the Abyss for the final revival, he will vanish along with the Abyss. When Ji-wook/Tae-jin accidentally shoots Se-yeon in the penultimate episode (which was very dumb, by the way), he is faced with the dilemma of using it on her with the price of vanishing for eternity. And he does, as he should. She sheds tears after the death of her friend as we see him appearing in the middle of a forest, behind a veil where he cannot interact with reality. Supposedly, he can move on to the afterlife, but he chooses to try to get back to Se-yeon, undergoing a lot of “pain”. We have no idea what the “pain” is, but he supposedly suffers from it. After an arbitrary amount of time, he runs into a very unimportant background character that appeared in one episode, who gives him another Abyss that allows him to return to the real world. For what sacrifice? Seemingly none. He just gets to return. No questions asked.

Like, what? There was literally no urgency or impact of his death if he could just return to Earth because of the background character Joe McSchmo who gave him another Abyss. What stakes were there in the final moments if you’re just going to retcon the show so McMin can spend the rest of his life with Park Bo-young? It’s goofy, tacky, and rushed. He undergoes no trial or adversity. He just gets to return back to life without any problems. That’s lazy writing. Even if he were to return this way, I feel like there should have been some explanation as to why he was given the Abyss in the first place or why he deserves to live again. But, we’re just left in the dark with some contrived heart-warming cozy flowery explanation by some pseudo-background character who has supposedly been observing Min this whole time. We don’t know what he is. We still don’t know who the aliens are. If you’re still wondering what’s going on, screw you.

Back to the Premise: A Discussion of Beauty and Soul

If the concept of reincarnation wasn’t meant for the writers to explore identity, it could have at least been an exploration of how attractiveness affects how people are treated in life. With the attractiveness of the two characters reversing completely at the very start, I was hoping that the writers could provide some clever commentary on how beauty affects the individual, as well as how to look past the outside and explore what is on the inside. However, the show doesn’t have anything meaningful to say about it. The new identities only serve to drive the plot in weak and contrived ways, where the reversal in attractiveness is barely necessary to the story at all. It doesn’t even need to be plot-critical as long as there is a message within the story somewhere, but the show fails to deliver on that front as well.

It would have been somewhat meaningful if Se-yeon was able to return to her old beautiful self once she had grown as a character, whose soul is now worthy of being beautiful. This might be a bit tacky, but at least it would deliver on the idea that your body is a reflection of your soul. It can show the audience that even if you cannot fix your outside to look like Jungkook, you can at least work on your inside. Alternatively, Min and Se-yeon could have somehow returned to their old bodies, which would demonstrate that their love for each other transcends their physical characteristics. But, they just remain their reincarnated selves and live the rest of their lives happily. Pish posh.

Is There Nothing Good?

Obviously, this is not the case. The fact that I even finished the show means I was at least invested to see it through to the end. The disappointment in each episode was small, but large enough that it could accumulate over the course of the series to end up overwhelming the good things about the show. But, I still think the premise is very interesting and very fun to think about.

Here is a short list of things I did enjoy:

  • Ahn Hyo-seop: he’s very handsome.
  • Dong-cheol, the police detective. He was a lot of fun and everything he did made a lot of sense (other than not recognizing someone posing as his ex). He was a very pure character and entertaining to watch. Lee Si-eon gives a very convincing portrayal of the character.
  • Lee Sung-jae as Oh Yeong-cheol and Kwon Soo-hyun as Oh Tae-jin. Both characters were kind of terrifying in their own right. Yeong-cheol was convincingly creepy and talked in a very calm and psychopathic way. Soo-hyun commanded every scene, where his dark facial expressions really conveyed his ominous intentions.
  • Couply moments. Park Bo-young and Ahn Hyo-seop were very cute in this show. I enjoyed it. However, I feel like none of their cute scenes didn’t really belong in this drama. Having the mood flip-flop so fast just made it seem like I was watching two different shows at the same time.
  • Fallin’ by Kim Feel. One of the soundtracks throughout the show. I like this song a lot.

Do I watch it?

Well, you really shouldn’t if you read this entire piece because I literally spoiled the whole show for you. But, to be perfectly honest, I feel like there are a lot of better shows to watch. But, if you are looking to have an easy watch and you like the main cast, feel free to give it a chance. Watching a bad show is sometimes better than watching a mediocre one.