It’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly made the ABS-CBN television show, “On the Wings of Love” (OTWOL), a worldwide pop culture phenomenon.
Many will say it was a confluence of factors.
Or you know, destiny. Fate.
OTWOL certainly has come a long way from when it premiered last August. From a lighthearted comedy-drama about the arranged marriage of working-class couple Leah Olivar (Nadine Lustre) and Clark Medina (James Reid), OTWOL has evolved into a more serious examination of love, family and relationships.
This change in the show’s dynamic, however, was not something that was easily embraced by its fans. Some noted that the series became uncharacteristically heavy and intense as it went on. The comedic moments that seemed to be an OTWOL trademark became few and far between.
When it was announced late last year that the show would be extended until February, I admit that I received the news with equal amounts of excitement and trepidation—excitement because there were more episodes to look forward to, but with the fear that the quality of the show would suffer.
The series’ recalibration into a more serious drama was, in the long run, a step in the right direction for everyone.
It can easily be seen in the profound growth as actors of lead stars Reid and Lustre.
Lustre, even in her breakout role in the film “Diary ng Panget,” was a star in the making, but her acting turn as the indecisive yet fiercely independent Leah displayed her range as a performer.
Reid, on the other hand, is practically unrecognizable from his early Wattpad film roles. I can’t even reconcile the Reid who played Cross Sanford in “Diary ng Panget” with the one who plays Clark in OTWOL. He has proven himself to be not just a pretty face.
The series also made sure to highlight its secondary characters, played by a slew of veteran actors: Mang Sol (Joel Torre), Tita Jack (Cherry Pie Picache), Lola Pachang (Nanette Inventor) and Rona (Isay Alvarez).
Let’s also not forget Bianca Manalo, who plays Tiffany, and who more than held her own in the dramatic scenes.
On the other hand, it would be remiss of me not mention how this extension posed certain challenges to the series, as well. Too long story lines (the Ilocos road trip), irrelevant story digressions (Do we really need to watch all those Harry-Audrey scenes?), unbelievable character decisions, and these past weeks’ time jumps have muddled the general narrative.
My OTWOL discussion group called this new version “OTWOL 2.0.” We often expressed our longing for the laid-back OTWOL of the early days, when Leah and Clark were at their happiest.
The best thing that came out of the extension was the introduction of Clark’s sidekicks: Axl (Benj Manalo) and Kiko (Rafael Sudayan). The #RaksNotDead odd couple often shouldered the comedy duties in the series, and truly, it was a relief to be able to laugh again amid all the drama.
Change is inevitable—necessary, too—even for a TV show. It’s better to evolve and make mistakes than stagnate.
With the series’ shift to a more sober tone, it’s clear that the writers still took great pains to deliver a grounded and carefully crafted story.
Except for the very soapy nature of Leah’s mom’s story line, most of the issues tackled on the show were real problems of real people. No wonder many people could relate to these characters.
Source of discourse
It isn’t just a TV show; it’s a source of discourse. Judging by the millions of social media posts since it premiered last year, OTWOL is a show that encouraged, maybe even demanded, discussion and analysis.
Online and real-life discussions weren’t just focused on the love story (or on the lead stars’ reel-to-real romance). There were conversations about the social and personal issues tackled in the show, the actors’ performances, and even the show’s production elements.
What’s even more unique about all this OTWOL talk is, no one was really arguing about who Leah or Clark should end up with. There was no team this or team that, because there wasn’t a love triangle to begin with.
Simon (Paulo Avelino) and Jigs (Albie Casiño) were never really part of the equation. It has always been about Leah and Clark. It was always about whether they would stay together.
Which brings me back to the show’s guiding principle on love, “Kung mahal ka, babalikan ka.” I would like to believe it still rings true until the end, but I find that even philosophies on love evolve.
It was interesting to me how a series like OTWOL chose to take the difficult road to happily-ever-after. I imagine that it would be easier for the production team, for the actors and even for the viewers if all we had these last two months were kilig moments between Clark and Leah, while they were preparing for their wedding.
But that would be a great disservice to the show. OTWOL wanted to tell a specific story about specific people—people, and not just characters.
Dismantling the stereotypical
It’s not far-fetched to assume that OTWOL attempted to dismantle the stereotypical, fairy tale kind of love. Leah is not going to be content being saved by the heroic prince in shining armor.
The choice she made wasn’t really between love and her career; it was between staying as she is now and the possibility of a better version of herself.
Tita Jack said it best: “Na-discover nila na mayroon pa pala silang gustong iba sa buhay, maliban sa isa’t isa.”
Leah has always been vocal about wanting to be her own hero. She never really second-guessed herself when it came to her career.
Clark, on the other hand, was definitely not a heroic fairy tale prince, even if it he tried so hard to be one.
His character development was a complicated maneuver on the part of the OTWOL writers and directors. It was more subtle than Leah’s, which is probably why his hitting rock bottom was more devastating, too.
It was easy to assume that Clark was the perfect guy. But this perfection is Clark’s fatal flaw.
Perfection doesn’t exist, and sooner or later, this paragon of a romantic hero will fall apart.
The realization that Leah can be her own hero was a bitter pill to swallow for Clark. His own history shows us that he’s the type of person who needs not only to be wanted, but to be needed.
A real relationship is not a fairy tale that ends when the two lead characters meet, fall in love and slay the dragon. In reality, the dragon doesn’t stay dead. It transforms into different shapes and sizes.
What OTWOL wants us to understand is, love—and ultimately life—is never as simple as a fairy tale. It is full of laughter and tears, kilig and arguments, and never-ending complications. It can be jealous and insecure, yet at the same time empowering and a source of pride. You have to work hard at it. You have to choose to be honest, trusting and vulnerable.
In real life, destiny can only do so much. It’s the people that make a relationship (or a TV show) successful. In the end, tadhana is just not enough.