I have watched five episodes of Athena. I could have easily managed more, if my pesky work schedule hadn’t cut into my k-drama watching time. And I haven’t slit my wrists yet. How can this be, when I’m not a big fan of shoot-em-up so-called spy thrillers and couldn’t get past even one episode of Iris? I have discovered the key to enjoying Athena in all its glory, and the key is in grasping a paradigm-shifting truth about the show.
This show, you see, is not set on Planet Earth at all. But rather, on Planet Athena. Planet Athena may look a lot like Planet Earth, but do not be deceived. Beneath the surface, Planet Athena is light-years away from Planet Earth.
As a service to humankind, I’m issuing this Idiot’s Guide to Planet Athena. With this Guide, you too can navigate Planet Athena untroubled by puzzlement or headdesking.
On Planet Earth, violence and warfare are last resort and attended by much hand-wringing and shifty-eyed finger-pointing. Power is played out in the conference rooms of state’s capitals, and intelligence agents sit in front of computers, think a lot, and write reports. Successful field agents are not noticed, would never be so crass as to hit the news, and frequently have long successful careers without ever having pulled a gun.
Athenians think that this is all rather quaint, if not downright wimpy. On Planet Athena, no international altercation can’t be solved by brute force, preferably in a hail of bullets. Care and restraint is disdained, international diplomacy scorned. Spies shoot first, and then think later (maybe). Torture and physical intimidation are commonplace. This is all perfectly acceptable, and indeed quite the done thing. The bigger the bang, the better everyone is pleased. Property owners understand that their tenants may at any time blow up their buildings. Villagers accept that their villages may be taken over by weapon-wielding thugs at any time. Hotels clear up dead bodies as a matter of course. There could be a long, hard, loud and fatal brawl in a gentlemen’s washroom and no one would bother to call the police (and in fact hotels are so used to this occurrence they fill their men’s washrooms with nice breakable plaster). It’s all part of life on Planet Athena. Planet Earth had the Visigoths and the Mongols. Planet Athena has international spies.
In fact, as herds of antelope on the savannas of Africa have learned to flee preying lions, so civilian Athenians have developed a sixth sense for knowing when international spies have arrived on the scene and will quickly disappear leaving buildings, streets and whole towns unpopulated for international spies to do their thing in.
And the more gratuitous the violence, the better. Kicking an opponent is so dull; much better leap dramatically into the air and drive a knee into his chest. Why fire one bullet when firing three is so much more fun? And, always send in the squads of black SUVs and truckloads of machine-gun wielding special police, at every opportunity, the more the merrier.
International spying on Planet Athena is all about hair-trigger reaction and fire-power. Athenians scoff at careful planning or thinking about consequences. Why bother, when it’s so much more simple and gratifying to kidnap or murder? Forget plot, forget intrigue. Don’t even think about subtlety. It’s all about the big gun, the hard fist and the speeding car. This relentless violence may feel stupefying to some of us more sensitive Earthlings, and one may jump to the conclusion that Athenian behaviour is mindless. But in the spirit of inter-planetary tolerance and galactic peace, I urge you to embrace Athenians as just different. You might even learn to appreciate the seemingly gratuitous violence; think of it as a ballet, and the spectacle takes on a dream-like quality.
On Planet Athena, international spying is an exclusive and highly lucrative profession. Spies live well, dress impeccably, and court each other with showers of gems. Nothing like the paltry civil servant pay-checks that intelligence agents on Planet Earth are obliged to be content with.
They live in prime property…
And spend their days luxuriating on yachts in the Mediterranean…
They rendezvous at the planet’s exotic hot-spots…
And hold meetings on plush golf courses.
Since Planet Athena is ruled by force and spy agencies specialise in violence, spy agencies are powerful and rich. Nothing so mundane as bricks and mortar for intelligence agencies on Planet Athena.
Athenian intelligence agents are housed in state-of-the-art floating steel and glass structures, crammed with whiz-bang technology.
Athenian spy masters are like Earth drug lords. They get conveyed from place to place by helicopter and convoys of gleaming black limousines.
They are also omnipotent and omniscient, with power to hijack any building’s closed-circuit televisions, and the means to track down any Athenian or any vehicle anywhere on the planet by way of super-alienish global-positioning technology.
At the same time, for all their steeliness and hard-headedness, Athenian intelligence agents have some charmingly childish quirks. For instance, they love to cute-date.
Planet Athena boasts a high incidence of impossibly beautiful people. So stop rolling your eyes and snarking about South Korea having the best plastic surgeons on the planet. Because that is Planet Earth. This, is Planet Athena. Don’t wonder, just enjoy.
And the Korean
On Planet Athena, all important spy agencies are headed by Koreans. Non-Korean staff speak Korean, naturally. Ours not to reason why. What do you expect from an alien planet? Strange alien-ish things happen on alien planets, that’s just the way of it.
The Male of the Species
On Planet Athena, men are real men. Even when they are murdering English (usually a turn-off on Planet Earth where Konglish is not cool), they are still sexy as all heck. And have big, er, guns.
The Female of the Species
On Planet Earth, no woman can hope to be taken seriously as a professional if she prances around the office in a mini-skirt. But on Planet Athena, it is understood that the role of women is to look beautiful and alluring so this is quite acceptable. I realize that this is jarring for Professional Female Earthlings to behold, but I would remind them that this is a different planet.
The Mating Ritual
On Planet Athena, men fall instantly and hopelessly in love with beautiful female bodies and faces, regardless of whether said bodies or faces are attached to any brains or personality.
On Planet Earth, men fall instantly and hopelessly… Oh. Wait. Never mind.
Back to Planet Athena: All a girl needs to have a boy eating out of her hands is to be skilled in violence. Puny Earth Boy would balk at a girlfriend who kills people in cold blood. Athenians are quite a different species altogether; they just eat up violent shitz.
Sense of humour can be a tricky thing. Take the side-kick Kim Gi Soo, whom I feel sure the show intends to be the comic factor, but whose slapstick antics I find deadeningly unfunny. Now, I know that Kim Min Jong is a fine actor. So how is it that I find him so annoying? I need to remember that we have space-warped to Planet Athena, where violence has evolved at a much faster pace than sense of humour, hence we have to make allowances for humour being at a primitive state of development.
Sense of humour is not the only thing that is under-evolved on Planet Athena.
On Planet Earth, a top secret spy would be phenomenally stupid to blow his cover by showing off his sharp-shooting skills at the local fun-fair. On Planet Athena, not only is this not considered stupid, it actually impresses the ladies, and no onlooker thinks to wonder at this man’s remarkable skill with a gun.
Spies bust into the premises of private citizens without bothering to clarify with their partners who they are busting and why. Government agents routinely flout protocol and lines of command, encouraged by a tolerance of violent means and a widespread disregard for long-term consequences.
Investigative journalists are violently murdered and no one thinks to suspect whoever they are investigating. And, well, the investigative journalists themselves are somewhat lacking in common sensical self-preservation. Evil-doers strew about obvious symbols of their secret nefarious intentions and obvious clues that lead to their contacts.
Top intelligence agents have no idea who or where the offspring of their country’s most powerful leaders are. Our hero, Agent Lee Jung Woo (the gorgeous Jung Woo Sung) is particularly slow on the up-take, even by Athenian standards, and takes quite a while to connect the dots even when the photographic evidence is literally in his hands. (But fear not, he more than makes up for this by having sheer good luck and an ability to be in the right place at the right time that is out of this world.)
Yup, you may think that all this is kinda dumb. But try to be broad-minded, and accept that there just aren’t enough grey cells to go round on Planet Athena, and that’s nobody’s fault. Try not to think too hard. Just sit back and relax and enjoy the eye-candy, the action, and the photogenic locations.
Finally, if you think I’m just having a bit of fun with you with this whole alien stuff, just take a close look at all the blood that is copiously splattered in Episode 5. Is it blood-red? No, it is not. It’s a sort of grape-juice red. See? Aliens.
I hope you find this Idiot’s Guide helpful. Our galaxy is amazing and immense, and there is room for all planetary species, at all stages of evolution, to co-exist in harmony! Let us embrace with gladness our beautiful Athenian cousins!