Ambition and its many friends – a Netflix review of The Politician and Sky Castle

How far would you go to get what you want?

That seemed to be the main underlying theme in the two most recent shows I have been watching on Netflix. South Korean drama Sky Castle and the camp American drama The Politician, produced by the makers of Glee.

The cast of Sky Castle

Sky Castle revolves around a neighbourhood of rich families based in Seoul who are obsessed with their children’s academic success – often resorting to immoral means to ensure it. The drama’s main focus revolves around mother and housewife Han Seo-jin. She has an incredibly bright older daughter- Yeo-seo, who she is determined to get into medical school at all costs. The other mums are an extension of this cross generational desire to live their greed and ambitions through their children; often at the expense of the children’s own dreams and ambitions. For example, take lecturer of law, Professor Cha who puts his teenage sons through misery in order to make sure they climb the political ladder – a dream of his he himself never got to fulfil. His is the typical case of a parent living their unachieved ambitions through their children, and unapologetically so. But we also see, as with all the families, that their children’s good grades not only increase their personal fulfilment, its also a social currency; something they can brag about to friends and increase their social status with. And in a neighbourhood like Sky Castle, where appearances are important, this is everything.

Fancy celebration dinner at the start of the drama

The drama starts of with a suicide of one of the housewives in the neighboured which reveals to the other families that the pristine nature of her family was not all it appeared to be. However, it takes another tragedy and a case of injustice later on in the series for characters to properly re-evaluate their ways and change.

The stand out character for me by far was Kim Seo Hyung. A college tutor who works with students to get them into Korea’s top medical school. Seo Hyung sometimes resorts to questionable means, something foreshadowed in the scene when she is hired by Seo-jin and asks her if she’s willing for bad events to befall upon her family at the expense of her dream of her daughter getting into medical school being achieved. She proved to be a character I wasn’t initially sure how to place – was she good or bad? You originally only get your main information about her through hearsay but as more is revealed later, a more complex character is painted. Although the truth wasn’t pretty it definitely made her more of an intriguing character; I’m happy she was a fully fleshed character as opposed to a shallow supporting character as I first expected.

Overall, this drama is a straight 10/10 – I am often hesitant to give such a high rating but the outstanding acting, plot twists and complex characters easily make this one of the most striking K-dramas I have watched in a while.

Payton standing where he shines best – on stage

Ambition takes centre stage in season two of The Politician too. Cue Payton Hobart, a charismatic and driven individual who in the first season invests his all into trying to win the election for president of the student body in his high school. In season 2 that desire has now transferred to running a campaign for the New York state senate seat. He is running against current senator, 60 something year old Dede Standish who for her entire time in the seat has run unopposed. Lots of questions are raised during the course of the season; the genuinity of politicians for the causes they support is a massive one. Payton is running a campaign focused on climate change and making a difference. However, does he passionately care about it or is he just using the topic because he knows it will win him the audience of young voters?

There is evidence that he has matured in this season but when he faces a moral dilemma with legal consequences near the end of the season he wonders; should I listen to my ambition (which says win at all costs) or my principles (which say follow the rules and don’t play dirty.) For most people principles would eventually win but, and as you’ll find out if you watch the show, Payton is not most people so its interesting to watch the moral struggle. It’s also worth adding that Dede Standish and her political advisor, Hadassah Gold (Judith Light and Bette Midler) are refreshing portrayals of independent, ambition older women – something you rarely see in modern dramas (minus Grace and Frankie) since most women in this age category are sadly designated to be cast as mothers and grandmas.

Payton’s campaign team; James, Alice (also his girlfriend) and McAfee

I would give this season 8/10 it was juicy and satisfying – especially the ending. However, the show doesn’t offer anyone for you to love to root for – pretty much all the characters are various degrees of unlikable. Luckily, this doesn’t stop the show itself being likeable so I would still recommend it.

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My other recent watches:

Films – Booksmart, I am Not Your Negro, Room and Fruitvale Station

Shows – Medical Police (Netflix), Parks & Recreation (which I am falling in love with) and Married to Medicine (Prime).

Have you watched any of the shows mentioned or do you have any recommendations of your own? Comment below and let me know 🙂

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