Imitation season 1, episode 1 recap – a career change fallen idol

May 9, 2021
Jonathon Wilson 0
K-Drama, Weekly TV
3.5

Summary

Imitation exists at the intersection of two forms of superstardom and lays the groundwork for a perhaps unhealthy relationship at its core.

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3.5

Summary

Imitation exists at the intersection of two forms of superstardom and lays the groundwork for a perhaps unhealthy relationship at its core.

This recap of Imitation season 1, episode 1 contains spoilers.


Anyone who has read my review of, say, that Blackpink documentary on Netflix, will know how I feel about so-called idol culture – a thoroughly demented and dangerous industry designed to predate on and suck the life out of naïve young talents. The thing I like most about Imitation, a new k-drama blessedly only airing one episode a week, is that it seems to agree with me. Its depiction of the K-pop industry is mostly scathing, and at its core, it’s concerned with a perhaps unhealthy obsession of a young girl, Lee Ma-Ha (Jung Ji-So), with uber-popular heartthrob sensation Kwon Ryeok (Lee Jun-Young).

Imitation episode 1 suggests a few possibilities to explain its title. Ma-Ha imitates popular singer Ri-Ma (Park Ji-Yeon), whom she looks a bit like, but she’s also largely emulating Ryeok’s career path, from k-pop idol to k-drama star. This new show exists at the intersection of those two cutthroat industries and is very much a meditation on fame, ambition, and the consequences of both, and it’s backed by lavish production sure to please fans of Korea’s entertainment industry.

But is it any good beyond that superficial crowd-pleasing level? It’s a little early to tell. Ryeok, who begins the show as a member of the popular group Shax and later transitions to being a celebrated actor, doesn’t have much of a personality yet; he’s depicted as being a careerist, but beyond being handsome and talented there’s little to him. Ma-Ha is similar. We know she’s obsessively driven to succeed in the music industry, dropping out of school to take an all-or-nothing shot at doing so. But beyond that? Unclear.

The dark undercurrent of Imitation season 1, episode 1, emphasized through the disappearance of Shax member Eun-Jo and the death of a girl named Annie, whom Ma-Ha replaces as the third member of a girl group called Omega-3, is obviously intended to highlight the dangers of an industry powered by obsession that reduces human beings to valuable commodities until their usefulness has expired. Nobody mourns Annie, really.

Her death, though, has unforeseen knock-on effects. Three years later, and La Ri Ma has risen to fame on the back of replacing Omega-3 once news of Annie’s death leaked in the media and the band was swept aside to avoid bad PR. Ma-Ha is making a career as an imitator and trying to break into the drama scene, where she’s to play an extra in a historical drama fronted by a flourishing Ryeok. The episode has already employed various tricks to play up a connection between these two all throughout the episode; Omega-3 hovering outside the Shax dressing room, Shax watching Ma-Ha perform as an imitator, etc. The clear turning point is Ma-Ha rehearsing her lines for a big action scene and catching Ryeok doing the same, dopily throwing his sword into a nearby pond while practicing. (This is one of a couple of moments of effective humor – Shax trying to explain a food fight earlier on was another). Ma-Ha ends up bodging the scene, but that only seems to make Ryeok take notice of her, something that the epilogue reveals has been an intention of hers for a long time. In that flashback, we see her asking Ryeok, not quite famous then, to teach her to dance – a request he rather impolitely declines.

So, what’s going on here, exactly? Is this a love story? A cautionary tale? A skewering of the intersecting k-pop and k-drama industries? Again, it’s far too difficult to tell. But Imitation episode 1 lays some promising groundwork for any or perhaps all of those things, and given the subject matter, it’ll no doubt be popular. Popular on what merits, though, still remains to be seen.

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