I’m back for more I-LAND, a couple days earlier than expected! This week was more focused on preparation than performance, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have plenty of observations.
Part One: Exposition, and a Tour of Paradise
At the beginning of this episode, I felt like we finally got some clarity regarding the overall scope of this project. It seems like the final debuting group will have 12 members? Or, maybe that was already laid out last episode? I can’t remember. I tend to zone out when the shows go on and on about the specifics of the rules.
It was very cool seeing more of the I-LAND complex. I’m still impressed by the set design and world-building that went into this. It gives the show such a unique vibe.
I guess The Ground is supposed to remind viewers of a depressing hovel or something. I’ll tell you right now, it looks a lot better than most hostels I traveled through when I was younger! Lots of space, nice lighting and a natural aesthetic. Add their flattering, all-black clothing and you’ve got a home base that doesn’t seem so bad.
Also, this episode solved the mystery of the car I spotted in the background last week. I guess The Ground isn’t a place for actually living — it’s only a training spot during the day. The guys are unceremoniously driven away in the dead of night, maybe to a cheap hotel?
Part Two: Mind Games
So much of an idol’s job is showing off their charm to audiences. I thought it was interesting that the guys basically had to do this to each other in order to be chosen as one of the twelve “I-LANDers.” I don’t really like mind games in reality shows, but it did reveal personalities pretty effectively. The “voting for each other” schtick reminded me a lot of variety mainstays like Survivor.
The producers are clearly sowing the seeds for a Ni-Ki and Ta-Ki frenemy situation (and possibly Ni-Ki vs. Heeseung rivalry), but I don’t think anything is going to come from either.
Part Three: The Mission
I-LAND’s first mission is similar to Produce 101. The guys must perform the show’s “signal” (or theme) song. We’ve already heard Into The I-LAND performed by IU, and it sits comfortably near the top of the Korean digital charts even as I write this. I understand why they chose IU (um… she’s popular), but I think the track makes more sense as an idol release. Of course, IU is technically an idol, but she’s kind of gone past that classification musically.
The way this series is set up, it’s interesting how I-LAND puts teamwork first, while The Ground is more focused on individual success, as the trainees attempt to break into the complex. Not to get too deep about a show that really isn’t, but I like the contrast between collectivism and individualism. It’s something that’s been on my mind a lot in our 2020 pandemic reality, and it will be interesting to see the contrast play out. At the very least, it sets up the David versus Goliath conflict that these shows thrive on. Of those in the ground, I suspect EJ will become a quick fan favorite.
Now, full disclosure, my least favorite part of any Produce episode was the endless sitting around and talking about who is going to sing what line and who was gonna dance what dance. It always went on way too long. I find it pretty boring in this show too, but it did spark some interesting drama.
I found Jay’s audition for each part to be pretty funny, in a pitiful kind of way. I like his ambition, but you’ve gotta back it up with skill. As of now, his attempts were pretty darn rough. I’m sure he’ll improve.
Ni-Ki is clearly becoming a lightning rod of storylines already. I like his ambition too, and the producers clearly have their eyes on him as a conduit for extra drama. The tension between him and Heeseung was interesting to see, especially when it spilled over to the entire group. From the beginning, it’s seemed that I-LAND is positioning Heeseung as a frontrunner. It’s not often that these shows also paint that person in a negative light. But, the editing definitely made Heeseung look more authoritarian than I’m sure he’d like. It was probably exaggeration, but also ended up creating a pretty humbling experience for him. Hopefully, this spurs on growth rather than bitterness.
Part Four: The Confrontation
The I-LANDERS were sent through their magical gate for a confrontation with one of the show’s judges, which turned out to be none other than K-pop legend Rain.
I love how he appeared like the boss at the end of a video game level. Even the set kind of reminded me of those dark castles in the 90’s Mario games. I’ve got to say, I kind of enjoyed watching his tiger training. He really put the kids through their paces. Being a K-pop idol is like being an athlete, and I’m sure these kind of drills are not unusual in the industry. It certainly brought out Ni-Ki’s weakness as a singer.
Part Five: The Performance
Of course, Mnet has to give the guys a freaking moving stage to perform Into The I-LAND on. It’s like “the floor is lava,” K-pop edition.
Still, between this and Road to Kingdom, Mnet is killing it with their creative staging. Not being able to have a live audience sucks, but it does force creativity. I loved the celestial light up panels all over this cube-like stage. The song itself still seemed to be in IU’s key, which was confusing and didn’t allow the guys to hit the high note that becomes the climax of each chorus. As a result, this performance felt oddly lacking in drama.
Kudos to them, though, for delivering this all without any training or guidance. I really do think that collaborative aspect is one of the show’s strengths.
Unfortunately, the judges had pretty low grades across the board for this first performance. I’d have to agree with them, as no single moment or performer really stood out to me. That’s probably to be expected at this point, though, and gives them something to strive for and grow from.
Given that “eliminations” depended on the strength of the entire team, it was revealed that six I-LANDers will be moving to The Ground next episode, only to be replaced for now. It’s an interesting penalty system, and I think they’ll be a lot of fluidity between these two settings as the series goes on.
Reader, who do you think will be sent to The Ground next week? Will Ni-Ki’s underwhelming center position cost him? Or, will most of the eliminations be members who barely got any screen time anyway?