There’s something incredible to be said of a show that doesn’t fall prey to the inevitable slump in pace that most K-Dramas struggle with, in the episodes leading up to the finale. The engaging writing was always Extraordinary Attorney Woo’s biggest strength and it truly is a relief that the show, which concluded exactly a week ago, retained much of this in its latter episodes.
Challenging cases continue to come into hotshot law firm Hanbada, where rookie attorney Woo Young-Woo (Park Eun-Bin), who has autism spectrum disorder, is slowly but surely settling in. As she delves deeper into work, there’s also a budding romance with her colleague Lee Jun-Ho (Kang Tae-Oh), and a big family secret involving her birth mother that some others seem to have a lot of vested interest in.
As the show progresses, the cases that Young-Woo handles prove to be an eye-opener in many ways to a world that is frustratingly imbalanced and often complicated. In probably the most powerful and hard-hitting episode of the show, Young-Woo has to defend a man who is accused of taking advantage of a woman with a disability. The case hits close to home for her and the trajectory of her personal life, as she is just getting into a romantic relationship. There is a lot to unpack here, especially the assumptions and prejudice that the world looks at relationships like this, while completely ignoring the agency of the person involved. Another case proves to be a stark reminder of how sexist workplace policies can go against women, and Young-Woo is forced to defend a large corporation that has laid off several female employees.
Eun-Bin aces all of this; she plays Young-Woo with a consistent sincerity, never going over the top, or making a caricature out of the character. Director Yoo In-Shik and writer Moon Ji-Won need to be applauded for this vision, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Eun-Bin sweeps all the awards for her performance.
Extraordinary Attorney Woo
Where the show also wins is how writer Moon Ji-Won ensures all of this is handled with sensitivity and empathy. Young-Woo, thankfully, isn’t infallible. There are several instances where she fumbles, and is torn between wanting to do the right thing and remaining true to her role as an attorney. There’s also the added workplace conflict involving scheming colleague Kwon Min-Woo (Joo Jong-Hyuk) and a particularly insensitive and blustering senior attorney she’s forced to work under for a bit.
Her friends and cheerleaders however, including Jun-Ho, fellow attorney Choi Soo-Yeon (Ha Yoon-Kyung), and friend Dong Geu-Rami (Joo Hyun Young), continue to rally beside her. Jun-Ho, in particular, continues to border on annoyingly perfect. Be it him going through her list of dates, or casually telling her he’s aware of what to do if she has a panic attack and offering to be her personal ‘hug chair’, Jun-Ho is so much more than his looks and charm. In him, we get a considerate, empathetic ray of sunshine that is such a welcome change from the usual grumpy Chaebols (wealthy men) that K-dramas can’t seem to get enough of.
With even the slightest inkling of a conflict done away with early on into the show, it is Young-Woo’s bond with her boss Jung Myeong-seok (Kang Ki-young) that makes for some of the most wholesome, and yet laugh-out-loud moments in the show. Watch out for the scene where he desperately tries not to look angry when he speaks to her and hurriedly rearranges his face, or the one where a panicked Young-Woo runs to see him before he gets wheeled into surgery!
Probably, the only misstep for a show that otherwise comes across as very nuanced, is how it handle tshe story arc with Young-Woo’s birth mother Tae Su-Mi (Jin Kyung). She is portrayed to be an unnecessary villain, all because of her choice in not wanting to have a baby as a young law student. Young-Woo’s father, as a result, turns out to be the more caring and responsible parent in comparison to an ambitious woman who puts a thriving career first. There’s also a rather hurried redemption of sorts that the show attempts for scheming attorney Min-Woo, but here’s hoping it addresses both these plot lines better in a probable second season.
Extraordinary Attorney Woo has spawned several discussions about its portrayal of autism, and has come in for some well-deserved praise for the stellar writing and immensely-likeable characters. The experience of watching the season one finale leaves one with a feeling best described by Young-Woo herself: a sense of fulfilment.
Extraordinary Attorney Woo is currently streaming on Netflix