I’ve been hooked on School 2015 since episode 1 with its mystery plotline and compelling characters. I was so excited for it to be the next great drama, one that I could put on my top list, but having just finished the finale, I can’t help but ask, “What are you, School 2015?” By episode 13, I fell completely off the bandwagon, and for a drama that’s supposed to explore identity in the tumultuous teenage years, I feel like the drama struggled to find its own identity.
What drew me to the drama in the beginning were the relationships, the characters, and of course, the mystery behind Go Eun-byul and her disappearance. I loved Han Yi-ahn’s unwavering faithfulness toward his long-time friend, Gong Tae-kwang’s kookiness, and Lee Eun-bi’s careful rediscovery of her confidence under the guise of sister’s name. I liked how there was a separation between the relationship/friendships with the boys, the Jung Soo-in/Eun-byul’s disappearance mystery, and the fight against Kang So-young’s bullying. But as the mystery began to draw to a close, the characters started to flatten out. Han Yi-ahn became this broody mess. Kang So-young stayed around for way too long and the drama with her character felt like it was dragged out way too long, with no real depth to any of it. Even the Soo-in mystery felt anti-climactic when compared to all the build-up of the earlier episodes. The only characters who weren’t steamrolled by the script were Eun-bi and Tae-kwang, and thank goodness for that.
Needless to say, how the love lines worked out definitely played into my opinion of the latter few episodes of the show. I was never a hardcore Tae-kwang and Eun-bi shipper, though once Yi-ahn became a broody mess and Eun-byul reappeared on the scene, I definitely started to lean that way. To me, Yi-ahn suddenly not feeling anything for Eun-byul anymore and instead liking Eun-bi just seems unrealistic and forced. Quite frankly, I would’ve liked it better if there were no couples in the end. I would’ve liked it better if many things were different with the ending. As a whole, the finale felt like it was forcing too many things together, trying to draw the narration back to the original idea of school and identity for the last 20 minutes, but failed to be convincing.
I would’ve liked to see less focus on the romantic relationships and more focus on the individual characters. In the end, the attempts to redeem Yi-ahn (showing his struggle to recover and ultimate success, and pairing him back up with Eun-bi after he finally realizes his feeling and accepts her) and So-young (showing her struggle at home with her parents) seemed like afterthoughts and were very half-heartedly done.
All in all, School 2015 had a great beginning, but seemed to collapse once the Soo-in mystery was resolved. Once the focus shifted away from the earlier mini-arcs relating to actual school problems (the girl who stole in the first few episodes, Min-joon’s struggles with pressure from his mother), it seemed as if the writers didn’t know where to go from there and decided to drag out this whole So-young thing instead, then realized that they were at the last episode and hurriedly tried to wrap everything up in the last 30 minutes.
Kim So-hyun is a very talented actress and carried the show with her performance. Yook Sun-jae also had some great moments as Gong Tae-kwang. It’s a shame that such a strong start was ultimately undermined by the writing and direction the plot and characters took.