Exploring Second Lead Syndrome
It's no secret that Emergency Couple is giving me what might be my worst case of Second Lead Syndrome yet (We're talking Young Do levels here, folks. Things are bad.). In the case of Sly and Single, I feel sad for the second lead, but he doesn't have me clutching my heart and sighing at the TV or anything, either. The comparison of two very similar shows has got me wondering what it is that sparks Second Lead Syndrome (SLS) and why it is that I catch it for some dramas and I just don't care for others. There seem to be a few different factors at play in my self-diagnosis of this ailment:
What could have been...
Second leads are notoriously bad at spitting out their feelings. While the first leads are dragging women around by the arm and forcing kisses onto them, second leads are always stuck forming painstakingly cautious love declarations, only to be interrupted at the last minute by a phone or something equally infuriating. (Seriously. Stop answering the freaking phone.)
If viewers are already favoring the second lead, an interrupted love declaration is basically the worst thing a writer can do. It ensures that we will spend the rest of the show wondering what could have been if only the man spoke at a pace slightly faster than one word every thirty seconds. How can we feel satisfied that the female lead made the right choice if she didn't even know she had another option until it was too late?
|Oh, Geol Oh, if only you had overcome your girl-instigated hiccups...|
On the other hand, there is such a thing as waiting too long, and second leads who beat around the bush for a million years tend to lose my sympathy at some point. Take You're Beautiful's Shin Woo, for example. Yeah, she got interrupted by a phone call on their pseudo-date, but he could have said something a little earlier instead of just staring at her and talking in thinly veiled "stories."
Then again, if she was too stupid to figure out that the story describing her exact situation was really about her, maybe Shin Woo dodged a bullet on that one.
It takes two to tango
Mutual interest is the next big factor in second lead syndrome. Sometimes, I want to give male leads a copy of the book He's Just Not That Into You and send them on their way. I'm thrilled when they confess their feelings, but if it's obvious from the start that there's no interest from the female lead, it makes it a teensy bit easier to let the relationship die in my mind.
If the show develops the possibility of a relationship with the second male lead, though, all bets are off. I think that's what got so many Boys over Flowers fans. She was completely interested in Ji Hoo one minute, and then suddenly she's dating Jun Pyo. Why? Because he shouted about his feelings more adamantly? His family had slightly more money? It's a mystery. Add in a fortune teller announcing that Ji Hoo is her soul mate, but Jun Pyo is her husband, and you've got a herd of angry fans on your hands.
|Lesson of the day: Don't trust random island fortune tellers.|
Emergency Couple is another example. Jin Hee and Chief Gook had fantastic chemistry for most of the show, which made it that much harder to figure out why the writers wouldn't just cave to their obvious connection and kill Chang Min in a freak bench pressing accident or something. (I'm joking! Sort of.)
Variety is the spice of K-dramas
This one's a biggie. It wasn't until I watched the recycled mishmash that was Nail Shop Paris that I realized just how predictable male characters are in Dramaland (or at least the romcom segment of Dramaland). I know that we've talked a lot about female leads on this blog, but if we want complex, interesting women in our dramas, don't they also deserve complex, interesting men to date?
As it currently stands, many romantic dramas have two tropes: the chaebol lead and the supportive second lead. The male lead has two personality traits: haughty and rich. (Rich isn't even a personality trait, but that's the best we've got, so we'll take it.) As time goes on, he becomes less haughty, and he falls in love. But that's it. Beyond haughty, rich, in love, and maybe sad about daddy issues, you don't have much to work with, personality-wise.
Then you have the second male lead, who is (slightly less) rich, kind, and supportive. His main characteristic is his willingness to follow the woman around and serve her with his invisible love.
Now, I love a good old fashioned chaebol love story, but every once in a while, I wish Kdrama male characters had just a little more personality. Haughty vs. nice makes it tempting to root for the nice guy, but you have to admit that some second leads are just a teensy bit boring. How can you blame her for having no interest if he's kind of a snoozefest?
|Sorry, not sorry, Jaejoong fans. His character was like watching paint dry.|
When Kdrama writers break the mold and offer complex, intriguing second leads who break the basic mold, that's when I really can't resist. In Dating Agency: Cyrano, the main lead was doing typical male lead shenanigans, while Master was having long, heartfelt conversations with the female lead. They laughed together, cooked together, talked together, and he was secretly a gangster in disguise. It was a refreshing break from the norm, which automatically prejudiced me against her boring grandpa of the boyfriend.
Similarly, in Heirs, Young Do might have been a violent maniac, but if your only other option is another violent maniac, why not at least root for the one with multiple facial expressions and a motorcycle? (Remind me not to become a life coach for teen girls. Something tells me that I would be bad at it. Teens, don't actually date violent maniacs with motorcycles, okay?)
Whatever the reason, Second Lead Syndrome is always lurking around the corner of every romantic K-drama. As far as I can tell, the only cure is to demand a higher quality of male lead to leave their competition in the dust.