The eleventh episode of Sandglass was what I thought was the nadir of the show. It barely moved forward at all and we were left with watching Taesu basically be put through a kind of torture for the whole of an episode. And then at the end, his idiocy keeps him in the prison camp. So I thought we'd finally be able to move forward on that painfully dull bit of story, but episode twelve does no such thing. It's fortunate that Sandglass at least decides to move forward in the stories of Useok and Hyerin, both of whom are vastly more interesting characters than the imbecile known as Taesu and even Jongdo is somehow starting to be more interesting than Taesu. Unfortunately, the amount of time we spend with the more interesting characters and their situations is a fraction of how much time we spend with Taesu in what's essentially a repeat of the previous episode.
So at the end of the last episode, Taesu ruins his chance of getting out of the purification camp that Useok helped set up for him because of his stupid gangster pride. In this episode Taesu works with his fellow gangster inmate Jeong Injae (Song Geumsik) and his boss No Jumyeong (Hyeon Gilsu) to plan an escape and that actually takes up most of the episode. That's unfortunate because it's essentially a repetition of the latter part of Gwangju and the eleventh episode as Taesu tries to escape a bad situation with some people he's close to and loses everyone in process. But unlike the Gwangju arc, Taesu doesn't even get away this time because he's a gigantic moron when it comes to avoiding military personnel.
All this amounts to exactly nothing of consequence happening with Taesu's story, including zero character development and we're not even introduced to something new like the past episode's exposing the existence of the purification camps. He's right back where he started with nothing learned and no progress. And that made for some extremely frustrating viewing, especially because the normally thickheaded Taesu never seems to learn anything, which pretty much makes him an unlikable and annoying protagonist. If the whole episode were all Taesu then I would have thought this one of the worst episodes of the series, ranking near the bottom of Korean drama episodes I'd ever seen.
However, the episode is kept from fully sinking thanks to Useok and Hyerin, however short their time on screen. We finally rejoin Useok and he returns home on temporary military leave as his father falls ill. Useok's time in Gwangju remains heavy on him and because of the wrongs he committed under the employ of the military he's decided to quit pursuing a career as a prosecutor or judge, which deeply disappoints his family, especially his father, who has long dreamed of Useok becoming a judge or a prosecutor. At the end of Useok's segment, we encounter another Korean drama cliche as Useok's father succumbs to liver cancer. And as much as I find the whole dying of the parent or grandparent to push characters to do as they wish, at least we see a good amount of internal struggle with Useok and see the reason for which he will eventually go back to pass the bar. Yes, I'm pretty sure that's where this show is going to go as it's certainly not a subtle show.
As for Hyerin, we get to spend even less time with her, but she probably gets the most substantial plot movement as she deals with her father to get Taesu out on the condition that she won't see him anymore and start working for him. Granted, she also spends a boring few minutes pining after Taesu and trying to get access to the labor camp that Taesu was assigned to, but I suppose when an episode is this bad, I have to hold onto the few things I can appreciate.
Finally, even Jongdo has a brief moment where he gets an upgrade working for President Yun while getting fed advice to aim higher rather than stay loyal, which at least means that he'll be the ambitious villain I originally thought he was going to be. I'm curious to see how much of his original, if poorly displayed, loyalty to Taesu that he'll keep once Taesu eventually returns from prison (hopefully next episode).
Both Hyerin and Useok show promise in the directions that their characters might take. And while Jongdo is still poorly developed, at least even his story this episode moves forward and sets up future episodes. The big problem is that we don't spend enough time with the more interesting characters and situations and instead spend most of it with the dolt of a protagonist watching what's essentially a fusion rehash of previous episodes that has literally no impact in the plot or Taesu as a character. And that pretty much sinks the episode, kept only from being intolerable by maintaining development in the other leads. This series really needs to redeem itself in a big Gwangju Uprising level way again, because I can only take so much of this drudgery without becoming utterly prejudiced. 5/10