Ever since it aired in South Korea, Snowdrop was stuck in a whirlwind of controversy. The show received brickbats for its revisionist stance on history and a petition to cancel the drama gathered over 30,0000 signatures. Nevertheless, the show continued to air, despite plummeting ratings in the home country. However, internationally, the show survived, as most of the audience were not aware of the sensitive history.
The Snowdrop finale dropped today on Disney Plus Hotstar, after what seems like an eternity. Without the troubling historical subtext, the show collapses under the weight of its own parallel storylines, which are all within a hostage situation. As we saw from the first episode, Jisoo’s Young-ro, a young student, falls madly in love with Jung Hae-in’s seemingly stoic Soo-ho, another student apparently, but he vanishes after the first few meetings. She is shocked to discover him in a bloodied state in her dormitory months later. Under the impression that he is a student who has been injured in the current protests, she hides him in her dorm. For around three episodes, the two share sweet-ish moments as they get to know each other—all until Soo-ho’s identity as a North Korean spy is revealed. From then on, the show gets entangled in a messy hostage drama and that’s how it stays.
Stockholm syndrome and bland romance for fan-service
Along with fellow spies, Soo-ho takes the panicked girls, including Young-ro hostage. He holds Young-ro at gunpoint several times and later we’re expected to believe that he was a little conflicted about doing so. ‘A little’ being the operative phrase, because even Jung Hae-in, who has a sprawling body of work behind him, seems to lose interest in the story and looks rather blank, on many occasions. It’s rather ironic for the star who had pulled off a superior performance in DP where he played a military officer catching deserters, but now is unable to delve freely into the character of a soldier and portray his inner conflicts. Jisoo struggles to work with the inconsistently written character of Young-ro, who just comes off as plain annoying at times.
It’s hard to be convinced about their ill-fated romance, partly because the dynamics just seem so unhealthy. Young-ro oscillates between loving and hating Soo-ho, even though she has suffered a lot of trauma at his hands and has actually seen up close, that he almost borders on cold cruelty—but of course that doesn’t matter, we’re expected to accept that he’s the good guy who didn’t have a choice. The spies are practically inhuman to the women they’ve kept imprisoned in their own dormitory. Clearly, violence to women must be used as a plot device.
After Soo-ho realises that he is just a pawn in the upcoming elections, he decides to help out the hostages. Yes, that’s the only reason that comes across for this change of heart. In the middle of all this, romance is forced into the story again, as he manages to hear Young-ro’s recorded confessions spelling out her emotions for him (Dil Toh Paagal Hai flashback here). They exchange a few mellow moments, some coffee, and a kiss—all of which seemed like a deliberate rush to appease fans. I really wanted to feel emotional in the last scene where Soo-ho sacrifices himself for Young-ro and confesses his love for her as he is dying, but it just felt so entirely contrived, that it would have been better had he said nothing at all. Maybe it would have been more emotional if both the characters had died tragically? Perhaps not even then, because the story was already so confusing and distorted by the finale with badly-written characters, we would probably just be relieved the show’s over.
Baffling sub-plots and even more baffling characters
In the middle of all the hysterical tension of the hostage drama, there is time for other sub-plots and character backstories that have really no place in the show. It’s almost dizzying at one point, especially in the case of Jung Yoo-jin’s Jang Han-na, a ruthless and strong agent herself—and yet, her personality is reduced to just being soppy for Kang-moo. Regardless of the chaos ensuing around them, Han-na strives to prove her love for Kang-moo in scenes that seem so misplaced, it almost feels like that it was shot in a different drama. Ironically, it’s only Jang Seung-jo’s Kang Moo has an ounce of nuance in him—it is revealed that he was once an ANSP officer, and after he realized the horrors of the organization and what they do to people, he turned away from this life.
Apart from this love story, there’s also Yoon In-na’s Kang Chung-ya who has been holding the candle for Soo-ho for ages and their earnest discussions and backstory that just seem to drag out the story further. There’s also the trials and tribulations of Ms Pi, the dorm manager thrown in the middle. Did we need all of this?
Snowdrop attempts to portray all the twists and turns that you would expect in a nail-biting hostage drama, but fails miserably. The motivations of both sides are confusing, packed with stories that have no bearing on the actual premise and even the romance isn’t absorbing enough to keep you glued to the show.
It’s just a soggy mess by the time finale rolls in, and it seems even Jung Hae-in would rather die than continue the story.