TV: Sweet Home (Season 2)

Completism can be a curse. Halfway through season two of Sweet Home, most of my interest was gone, but I soldiered through nonetheless out of sheer inertia. It’s not so much that it’s significantly worse than the first season, but its change of venue and a substantial shift in focus makes it considerably less absorbing.

Sweet Home’s first stretch was a chaotic but compelling disaster epic that assembled an fun ensemble in a pressure-cooker setting: a besieged high-rise apartment complex. There, a bickering band of survivors fought to fend off a bloody, violent “monsterization plague” that rapidly turned Seoul into a deadly war zone. Just as in a good old-fashioned zombie apocalypse, individuals could become infected and turn into violent, dangerous creatures at any given moment—a dynamic that injected the situation with plenty of conflict and tension. Indeed, the show’s primary hero—Hyun-Soo (Song Kang)—spends much of the first session coming to grips with his infection. In his case, though, the transformation is only partial, making him a half-human, half-monster whose existence complicates the us-or-them dichotomy in his group. The end of season one understandly breaks the characters out of their isolated location, setting the stage for more adventures in the wider world.

Unfortunately, the new paradigm doesn’t do the show any favors. Season two opens incoherently, as a handful of survivors from the apartment complex get twisted up in a government/military operation to contain the epidemic. This introduces an army of new characters—literally and figuratively—dissipating the group dynamic that made the first season sing. This also leaves the haunted Eun-yoo (Go Min-si) as one of the few rallying, familiar faces amidst an undistinguished roster of newcomers. This includes numerous soldiers, a scientist, and other scrappy survivors who struggle to coexist in the ruins of a sports stadium—nominally, a new fortress to take the place of the old.

The bloody, violent spectacle is still entertainingly produced: action-packed, gory, full of the eye-popping CGI creatures that gave the first season such a memorable look. But since the characters are more spread out, and many of the principles have been removed and replaced by new ones not afforded the time to win us over, the action doesn’t have the same emotional resonance. When Hyun-soo, Eun-yoo, and eventually season one’s heroic standout Seo Yi-kyung (Lee Si-young) work their way back on screen, the season regains its charisma substantially, but it isn’t enough to draw numerous, incoherent narrative threads together. After a surprisingly good start, Sweet Home’s follow-up season is a major sophomore slump, sapping my enthusiasm to continue with it.

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