By Sarah Musnicky
When the first season of SWEET HOME hit Netflix during the pandemic, it was just the quarantine-related infection genre fix I needed to distract me, ironically, from the real world. Featuring unique monster designs, relatable characters, and jumpstarting an important discussion around mental health, SWEET HOME Season 1 hooked audiences worldwide. Now, with SWEET HOME Season 2 playing on Netflix, Studio Dragon goes off book, pushing the series beyond the world webtoon conceptualized by writer Kim Carnby and illustrator Hwang Young-chan.
Taking place almost immediately where we left off in Season 1, the first three episodes of SWEET HOME Season 2 have a frenetic, high-paced energy that encapsulates the feeling we were left with in 2020. The remaining survivors of the Green Home apartments split up, with Cha Hyun-su (Song Kang) being kidnapped by a newly possessed Pyeon Sang-wook on the way to the military compound for experimentation. The two continue to butt heads regarding their beliefs surrounding humanity and the intent behind the monster experiments, creating an interesting dichotomy. But this gets cut abruptly short early in the season.
This hard stop on storylines carries over into our group of survivors who have managed to be herded like cattle over to processing by remaining military members. Lee Eun-yoo (Go Min-Si) is going through it. We see her trying to process her emotions after the presumed death of her brother, Eun-hyuk. With things rapidly changing around the survivors, with monsters and military soldiers threatening their safety, she can’t think of much else except just getting through each hour. For the remaining survivors of Green Home, it is unfortunate that their stories end abruptly in this section.
Former firefighter Seo Yi-Kyung (Lee Si-young) is a lone wolf, trying to track down Hyun-su and Sang-wook with ulterior motives of her own. She’s determined to find her fiancé, who is a victim of experimentation by the Korean government. What she discovers and what happens afterward serve as a shoe-horned convenience (i.e., rapid pregnancy trope), but as we move later in the season, her storyline touches upon the concerns of motherhood, particularly in a world where dark emotions can trigger the monsterization transformation.
The first three episodes of SWEET HOME Season 2 should have been placed at the end of last season. From episode 4 onward, there is a shift in tone and feel that feels better suited to the start of a new season. Introduced to a whole new ensemble of characters, with a handful of remaining familiar faces, the time we spend with these characters feels much shorter, resulting in less time to really get to know them. However, what the newly introduced cast manages to do with their shorter time is well-used, giving us a clear idea of who each one is.
Of notice in SWEET HOME Season 2 are the soldiers who take charge of the remaining survivors and Dr. Lim (Oh Jung-se). Actor Oh Jung-se crafts a crazed doctor who has no problem experimenting on anyone who can further advance his knowledge of the monsters plaguing the world. While the character sometimes does read more one-note due to how little we know of him, Jung-se manages to create someone unhinged and uncaring in the process.
As for our soldiers, we get to see a range of soldiers at different stages of their careers and headspace. Sergeant Tak In-hwan (Yu Oh-seong) is frequently vilified for his decisions by his own subordinates and would be best described as someone doing the best they can. Over the course of SWEET HOME Season 2, we watch as the pressure slowly chips away at his psyche, with the potential to unleash a whole other hell on the survivors. As his foil, we see his second-in-command Kim Young-hoo (Kim My-yeol) constantly hold the Sergeant accountable, but when it comes time for him to step up, soon learns the hard way how difficult it is to hold the mantle the Sergeant has been carrying the entire time.
As the more innocent soldier, Jung Jin-young’s Park Chan-young shows us what could be in a soldier. He’s not beaten down by cynicism yet, so he maintains a kindness and curiosity that seems fleeting amidst the group of survivors. However, this leads him into making incredibly dumb decisions, especially in pursuit of the person he’s crushing on. As far as arcs go, his remains incomplete, but that’s a note that can be applied to the entirety of this season.
SWEET HOME Season 2 is strangely paced, with even baffling tone and storytelling decisions. Since the series is now completely off-book from the webtoon, Director Lee Eung-bok has had to expand on a world that maintains the webtoon’s roots whilst also building on what has been pre-established. When it works, it works. When it doesn’t, particularly with the re-introduction of characters later in the season, the plot holes are noticeable and confusing.
That’s not to say the season misses. When we settle back in with the story's next phase in Episode 4, things gradually begin to find their groove again. What gets added into the lore and science behind the monsterization is fascinating, particularly when contrasted with real-world events. Exploring a world outside of the Green Home apartments also provides a shift in perspective, and incorporating the military and government influence highlights the all-too-real truth that the people in charge aren’t necessarily here to help.
What can’t be ignored is where the series starts and where it ends. SWEET HOME Season 2 leaves on a cliffhanger that frustrates more than entices. This begs the question of whether the decision to split the series into three seasons hinders the overall storytelling. I'd say yes based on the beginning and end of SWEET HOME Season 2.
SWEET HOME Season 2 adds necessary lore and exploration into the potential continued evolution of monsterization in the world of the show. With game performances given by all involved, the cast makes the best of what they’ve been given in this unfamiliar terrain. However, puzzling storytelling decisions confuse and distract more than add to the final product of this season. Reading more as filler than a cohesive, fully-fleshed-out story, SWEET HOME Season 2 doesn’t have the spark of its predecessor. Hopefully, Season 3 rectifies this.
You can catch SWEET HOME Season 2 now on Netflix. Stay tuned for Season 3 in 2024.