Let me talk to you about my favorite unsung K-drama heroes: the second leads. They’re the supporting characters that play second fiddle to the protagonists and fill up the B-plot.
Second leads aren’t the villains; they’re usually neutral, neither good nor bad. (Of course, that’s not always the case. Some have stepped in as the antagonist before getting their own redemption arc, usually after the show’s real antagonist comes in.) In terms of romantic triads, the second leads are the guys in a love triangle that don’t get picked.
But you know what’s unfair? These characters often steal the show, but just as often also end up with nothing by the finale, with them not getting the girl or achieving their dreams. Sure, it’s great when they’re given better character development compared to the leads (don’t @ me, this is just my opinion), but it’d be nice for them to have happy endings, too.
Unfortunately, the second leads often become fodder for plot points and themes that the writers are too scared to explore with the primary lead. (Shots fired.) Want to backdoor in a tragic love story while keeping the main couple intact? Make the second leads fall in love and then kill off one of them.
That’s exactly what happened to Seo Dan and Gu Seung-jun of “Crash Landing On You.” While Dan was blindly chasing after the nonexistent love of her fiancé, Seung-jun was so blinded by his desire for revenge towards Yoon Se-ri’s family that he scammed a lot of people, including Yoon Se-ri’s brother. But once they met each other, they fell in love. The growing love they had for each other ultimately became a catalyst for their character development.
But what did the writer-nim do to their love? Ended it by killing off Seung-jun. Although we do see Dan getting her life together after Seung-jun’s death, how her story ended pales in comparison to Yoon Se-ri and Ri Jeong-hyeok’s.
Not convinced that second leads are pushed aside? Let’s look at “Doctors” (a.k.a. “Doctor Crush”). Although we did see one second lead eventually finding love despite approximately a decade of having unrequited love for two men, the other second lead Jung Yoon-do ended up alone in the end.
Of course, we can’t forget that he was one of Jin Seo-woo’s unrequited loves (who treated her badly, might I add), but he eventually learned to be less arrogant and be appreciative of those around him. And while he was a shitty person before, I don’t think he deserved a loveless ending.
Don’t get me wrong, not all K-dramas give second leads a bad ending. We can’t forget the iconic love of Yoon Myeong-joo and Seo Dae-young of “Descendants of the Sun,” which teaches us that love knows no social status. But you have to admit, there are far too many instances when K-drama writers have done second leads dirty, and people, I am mad. (I haven’t watched “Start Up” yet in protest because there’s talk about it doing the same.)
Hopefully writer-nims see our pleas and concern about giving justice to the second lead characters who deserve their own damn happy endings. Can I get an amen?