But I am not rejoicing because “it” – my juvenile euphemism for “sex” – was the most anticlimactic resolution to Hae-soo’s (Gong Hyo-jin) sexual anxiety (no pun intended). However, before I get down to the issues I have with the eighth episode in particular, let me broadly outline the problems the narrative is developing as the show continues (or considering my delay, the show has continued).
What felt like a strained connection between the two focuses of the drama – psychiatry and love – is now at one level, completely wrenched apart and at another level, intermingled with the purpose of sentimentalization. When Hae-soo works within a hospital, the approach to mental disorders is clinical and detached but not necessarily objective; but when she works with Jae-yeol (Jo In-sung), the approach naturally becomes emotional. When these two parts were adding to the larger narrative, the central focus of the drama was psychiatric and psychological disorders with love as a sub-topic but with these two parts now working independently of each other, love has become the only theme with clinical psychiatry as a plot device.
Which is perfectly fine ,except now the stories of the schizophrenic wife, the hallucinating mother are just, well, stories. They are rendered completely unnecessary.
Apart from a fractured narrative, the sentimentalization of Hae-soo’s and Jae-beom’s disorders is creating major ethical concerns for me; which brings me to an integral part of the drama – couples.
So-nyeo (Lee Sung-kyung) and Soo-kwang (Lee Kwang-soo)
Starting with the most insignificant pair of the drama, this “couple” makes me really uncomfortable. First of all, So-nyeo is a minor so to see Soo-kwang lusting after her is outright alarming. I say “lusting” because Soo-kwang’s major concern is shown to be his inability to have sex with a woman without going through an episode of Tourette’s.
The director tries to justify it by implying she is going to turn into an adult soon, but that still does not make the situation any more comfortable because let’s be clear, just because I turn eighteen tomorrow does not mean I know what it means to be an adult nor does it necessarily mean I understand consent and coercion.
I don’t like how Jae-yeol thinks it’s just a matter of “love” to have Soo-kwang pining for So-nyeo without mentioning her minor status even once. In fact, nobody seems to notice it when it comes to Soo-kwang but everybody was hyper-aware of the fact when Jae-yeol was suspected of dating So-nyeo. Taking all of this into account, the polarized representation of So-nyeo as the “bad girl” and Soo-kwang as the “nice guy” is extremely unsettling.
Young-jin (Jin Kyung) and Dong-min (Sung Dong-il)
This is what happens when you have too many complex characters. Young-jin and Dong-min were shown as interestingly complicated in terms of their relationship with each other, their reaction to other people’s problems, their knowledge and experience, and at the same time their childishness. But with Jae-yeol dominating the drama, these two characters have been brought down to their two-dimensional sketch.
Surprisingly, it is not Young-jin who has lost her complications but rather, Dong-min. There is an over-abundance of him yelling at anyone especially Hae-soo – the implications of which I’ll tackle later – without respecting their opinions. He started out as the guy no one listens to and is slowly becoming the guy everyone is forced to listen to, and the narrative aggressively promotes his point of view as objective.
While there is a clear hierarchy between Dong-min and Hae-soo, it’s not the same for Young-jin and Dong-min, but he adopts a similar role in relation to her as well. Young-jin is used to complicated relationships – her romantic hangover, her accepting that both she and Dong-min are equally egoistic and ambitious.
But Dong-min is used to quash the complications by declaring “ultimate truths” – their relationship cannot work so he decides to ignore her doing the right thing, he needed her during hard times but she was too ambitious for her own good – positing her as an unobservant selfish woman. Irrespective of whether this relationship works or not, Dong-min is at greater fault here because he claims his point of view to be rational, practical and absolute when they are really not.
Hae-soo and Jae-yeol
Whoever thought it was necessary to do the compulsory push-and-pull ritual with them should retire from thinking for a short while because Hae-soo and Jae-yeol are too mature for that Boys Before Flowers nonsense.
Which is why when they do get together, they create a string of great moments in the drama. There is no spark, no crackling chemistry but there is an immense sense of comfort and trust within the relationship. Both feel vulnerable before each other, Jae-yeol more than Hae-soo,
But here is the problem – Jae-yeol gets the judgment-free relationship he wants from Hae-soo, but Hae-soo compromises on her wants: respect for each other’s choice, personal space and a desire for security.
This why the eighth episode leaves me in ethical discomfort. Jae-yeol promised that he wouldn’t pressurize her into having sex but the moment he starts the childish a-kiss-for-a-kiss tactic, he enters the realm of coercion. How does that make him any different from Choi Ho (Do Sang-woo)? She went with him because she did not feel the responsibility of “paying back,” having the freedom to be herself, but Jae-yeol completely betrays her trust. It is important to keep in mind that their relationship is that of dependence, so the concept of “choice” gets really complicated here. She may choose to have sex with him but this choice may come from a fear of losing the only person she is sexually comfortable with.
Faulty direction is also to be blamed here. If instead of focusing completely on Jae-yeol and his “man issues,” the episode had given some space to Hae-soo’s state of mind, then maybe this ambiguity – at least concerning the sex scene – wouldn’t have arisen.
The former constantly keeps scolding her for “ignoring her feelings” and “protecting her virginity” forgetting that the problem is none of these and the latter sings along the former’s tune. In addition, Jae-yeol is eulogized by Dong-min, albeit for selfish purposes; as a result, Jae-yeol starts defining what her problem is. And Jae-yeol isn’t even medically qualified.
This is what I mean by the problems of sentimentaization. By making emotions, duties, responsibilities the centre of the concern, the idea that her “anxiety” is a disorder is pushed to the periphery. As a result, instead of approaching it from a clinical angle, everyone seems to tackle the issue emotionally, turning a medical anxiety into petty personality issues and cowardice. Hae-soo is being constantly told she is stubborn, unaccommodating, aggressive, short-tempered, etc. and she believes the same!
The same approach is being taken for Jae-beom’s (Yang Ik-joon)case as well. Whether or not he has a mental disorder, whether or not he hit Jae-yeol in the neck, the fact remains that he did hit him, the fact remains that Jae-yeol was fatally wounded, the fact remains that he was a victim of domestic violence from his elder brother – and all of that cannot be ignored just because he eats bread innocently.
Jae-yeol and Kang-woo (Exo’s D.O/Do Kyung-soo)
After the shabby treatment of Hae-soo’s disorder, I am singularly focusing on Jae-yeol’s development. They should have just titled the drama as “It’s Okay, That’s Jae-yeol.”
But my frustrations aside, I love how the Jae-yeol – Kang-woo relationship is developing. I mean, yes, it’s occasionally a bit discomforting to have the camera focus right into Kyung-soo’s face, but he is getting better at acting. Also the return of the first love – Sang-sook – has confirmed the fears I had in the previous review.
Even with its plot twists and plethora of characters, the drama fails to draw me in because it is approaching the well-travelled road of unnecessary sensationalization and sentimentalization.
Screw you, Amytal, you horrible plot device.