Taiwan television reaches a new high with The World Between Us
, which is absolutely one of the best series to come out of Asia this year. Set in the aftermath of a random mass shooting, the ensemble drama explores the impact, coverage and consequences of the senseless tragedy in a manner that is both deeply personal and widely relevant. Over ten episodes, Lu Shih Yuan's script weaves different characters and conflicts together, posing many difficult and thought-provoking questions along the way about justice, ethics, compassion, grief, mental health and the media.
The World Between Us begins a few years after a mass shooting incident, the details of which are gradually revealed over the course of the series. We meet different people connected to the killer and the victims, all of whom are still grieving and coping. Sung Chiao An (Alyssa Chia) is a news bureau chief whose family and marriage with Liu Chao Kuo (James Wen) fell apart after the death of their son. While she silently struggles within, she continues to lead the daily news cycle of a TV station with steely determination. The killer's defense counsel Wang She (Chris Wu) is a human rights lawyer who wants more than anything to understand the motives of his client. His stubborn dedication to his calling, however, creates a rift with his wife (Tracy Chou), who wants to protect their family first.
After closing herself away from society for a long time, the killer's younger sister Ta Chih (Chen Yuu) picks herself back up to start a job as a TV news editor while keeping her family background a secret. However, her tough superior turns out to be the mother of a shooting victim. Ta Chih lives with landlord Ying (Pets Tseng), a kindhearted shop owner whose troubled younger brother (J.C. Lin) becomes increasingly unstable and potentially dangerous.
This drama draws a deeply human portrait of its complex characters, all of whom are hurt – and hurt each other. The media angle plays a particularly important role with Alyssa Chia's character being both a bereaved mother and a highly positioned newsperson. In the rush of breaking news and the pressure of ratings, she too struggles between right and wrong, and makes divisive calls that have negative effects, such as exposing Ta Chih and her parents to the public. Many events in the drama take place in the news room or are distilled through the news, exposing the gaps between reality, perception and reporting.
The World Between Us also does a commendable job of challenging the stigma of mental illness and pointing out the danger of dehumanizing criminals, however inhumane the crime may be. As the human rights champion who chooses to defend the worst offenders, Chris Wu's character is the classic pesky and righteous lawyer who makes other characters – and the audience – think twice about how we view and treat those who commit unforgivable crimes. There's one particularly memorable award-reel-ready scene where he reacts viscerally to his client's death sentence and delivers an alcohol-fueled monologue with an impassioned message: rushing to punish and otherize the killer does not signify justice and does not help society understand what went wrong and how to prevent similar tragedies. In this scene and many others, the script directly verbalizes the drama's themes and characters' emotions, which could come across as heavy-handed if not for the cast's strong acting performances.
While the drama doesn't try to villainize the mass shooting killer further, it also doesn't try to empathize with him, as he remains inscrutable to the end. Instead, the story humanizes and empathizes with those affected by the killer and those for whom he may serve as a cautionary tale. This process of digging into the characters is both cathartic and discomfiting, recognizing the trauma and pain of those who experience loss and suffering while also demonstrating how justified concern and anger can turn into unjustified prejudice and persecution that exacerbate the very evil we fear. On the tightrope of life, each person's decisions may have unexpected fallouts, and the distance between us and that which we abhor may not be as clear-cut as we think.
Despite the dark tragedy from which The World Between Us starts, the humanistic story generally aspires to journey to a brighter place with plotlines and resolutions that ultimately may be too tidy. What the drama dares to ask and address in that journey, though, is truly provocative, poignant and worth thinking about. One would be hard-pressed to name another recent series that successfully takes on as many heavy issues as this one does while telling an engrossing story with interesting characters.
The World Between Us is likely to win big at this year's Golden Bell Awards, and the cast and crew will deserve every accolade that comes their way.