If you’ve been able to catch up or start new dramas this week, what have you been watching? Are you enjoyably creeped out by It’s Okay Not to Be Okay? Did you start anything new?
Here’s what we started, finished, dropped, or kept watching this week.
(Note: We’ll mention some plot details, but major spoilers will have warnings.)
It’s Okay To Not Be Okay [1-6]
Watching this drama made me realize something about fairy tales. They’re almost all about children being abused by adults—usually, a parent. So, when Mun-young tells her students in the hospital that fairy tales are about facing the harsh realities of the world and waking up from your dreams, I can both appreciate the truth and the pained cynicism in her words.
Mun-young’s constant refrain from the very first episode is that we should all accept who we are. Gang-tae’s refrain is that he doesn’t have the luxury to. This brings us to a delicious conflict between a man who’s constantly running from the past, his feelings, and even his own thoughts, and a woman who’s decided to accept the worst of herself and embrace the world’s censure if it means getting what she wants.
A good question to ask at this point is if Mun-young is really accepting of herself or if she’s just decided to believe what she’d been told she was and live as if it didn’t hurt.
I’m particularly enjoying Gang-tae’s deep conflict as a young man shackled by love and obligation. I’ve loved Kim Soo-hyun as a North Korean spy before, so I know the man has range, but he’s brought an extremely poignant, dramatic presence to this role. As a quiet, repressed young man, he dutifully tries to give his older, autistic brother the best care he can, but wishes his burdens were less heavy, and suffers extreme guilt for having those thoughts.
So, when Mun-young glibly dismisses her own ‘burdens’ and says exactly what’s on her mind, he erupts at her and accuses her of being abnormal.
This happens repeatedly. So much so that I want Mun-young to walk away from the young man who is trapped so deep in his own head that he refuses to see her as anything but an ‘other’. The stark contrast in his empathetic behavior towards the patients he cares for and the way he treats Mun-young speaks volumes about how much she triggers his own issues.
I’d be pretty happy if they pause the building romance and just do a few episodes of therapy sessions at this point.
Finally, a note on watching pretty things die. My first thought at seeing child Mun-young tear a butterfly in half to test her friend’s devotion was—“Ah, so she doesn’t have empathy!” And that matched the show’s synopsis, as I would find out later. The PD very clearly wanted us to think that Mun-young was potentially a psychopath, or as her dad likes to call her—a monster.
But a few days after that episode, I thought back to my childhood and wondered if experimentally crushing ants and roaches made me a psychopath* too. Or do I get a pass cause they aren’t pretty, winged creatures of poetry and symbolism?
I don’t think children tend to have a whole lot of empathy to start with. It’s something learned. And if your parents are regularly abusing you, there’s a fairly good chance that your development could be stunted.
The Mun-young I’ve seen so far doesn’t lack empathy or a capacity to feel. (Her reaction to Gang-tae’s words make that evident.) So, what does make her ‘not okay’? An unresolved trauma from her childhood? A recklessness that borders on self-harm because she simply doesn’t know how to care about consequences?
I guess we’ll just have to keep watching to find out.
*Don't fret. I grew up to regularly rescue and foster dogs, cats, and the occasional crows. I don't think I lack empathy. Though maybe for humans...
Backstreet Rookie [1-2]
There are some tropes that are like catnip to me, and someone planning a long game to win over their oblivious crush is quite high on that list. (It’s why I really enjoyed Ye Lu Ming’s strategic wooing of Fan Xing in Find Yourself despite his eventual second lead pigheadedness.)
After the cringe-y promos that emphasized Kim Yoo-jung’s youth against Ji Chang-wook’s ajusshi-ness, I was quite relieved to see snippets of their interactions in the first episode on social media, and about ready to start the drama.
Then some of my friends watched it and brought up the scenes not being re-shared on Instagram and Twitter. Saya did an epic thread about it. Then she did one better and explained dramaland’s chequered past with minority representation in a wonderfully quotable post.
So, now my reasons for watching the drama had changed. I wanted to see the offending scenes in the context of the story and compare notes with my friends about my own reactions. Did I have a different perspective on it? Not a one. Saya was right. It was racist and horrible and my god what were they thinking!
All of which brings me to this. I’m so mad at the PD & writer for ruining this drama for me. I watched the first two episodes and saw enough of Saet-byul and Dae-hyun to know that I would love to follow their story. The age difference doesn’t feel as egregious because Saet-byul is twenty-two in the present day and there is no problematic power difference between the two. The show makes it pretty clear that Saet-byul doesn’t need the convenience store job. She took it to pursue Dae-hyun.
I don’t know if I’ll be watching this show going forward. From what I hear, worse is to come in the next few episodes. But even if I do, I won’t be writing about it here. I feel like trying to defend the ‘positives’ of a show that actively dehumanizes another ethnicity isn’t the right thing to do. So, if there’s anything more to say, I’ll update you on the next Long Yak.
My Unfamiliar Family [9-10]
This drama fills my heart up in so many ways, and so many times per episode, that I find it difficult to write about with any degree of coherence. Most dramas have one OTP for me, the relationship that keeps me invested and watching (and that’s not necessarily the lead romantic pairing). But here I change my mind with every scene!
Eun-hee and Eun-joo hit me where I live with their endless arguments and deep love for each other; it bowls me over at times how completely they get each other, in the bone-deep way that sisters often have. They are SO different, and it’s hard to tell how much of that is personality, how much the doing of that deadly wound both suffered the day Mom left home with Eun-joo, and the coping mechanisms each developed in its aftermath. Yet they balance each other in some essential way. And then there’s Ji-woo, the eternal maknae even though he’s treated as a man outside the house. Eun-hee always has to fight her instinct to treat Ji-woo as the baby he will always be to her, and he often resents his noona’s overbearing nature while still playing the maknae card when it benefits him. But they still split their croissants unspeakingly, automatically.
As for Eun-hee and Chan-hyuk. BE STILL MY HEART. They were dancing around the truth this week about feelings they’ve kept inside for decades, playing with fire as they each come closer to breaking. I’ve felt “we want to be more than friends” chemistry between them from the start; these two somehow managed to convey that while also having a completely healthy (well, almost) friendship that carries the weight of time. (Also: SO GLAD Eun-hee has finally told that toxic Geun-joo where to get off, although I would have enjoyed a more emphatic set-down. But that’s not Eun-hee’s style, I know.)
The entire opening sequence of Episode 10, from Chan-hyuk calling Eun-hee when she’s down and reminding her of the love letter she wrote in a super unsubtle way, her visceral embarrassment at the sudden memory, his fondly rereading this note he’s held onto just like every other thing he has that reminds him of her…
And then Eun-joo’s revelation that Eun-hee uses her smiles to make other people feel comfortable, that she gives up on wanting good things for herself, that she lowers herself for the sake of those she loves… it was a slow dawn breaking on Chan-hyuk’s face from that moment, through Eun-hee’s lovely, drunken confession, to that walk at the end that holds their youthful memories.
I’m dead. By the time we got to that ending scene I was simply a ghost, watching from outside my earthly shell.
Episode 10 left us at a turning point for three couples: Eun-joo has finished processing and is ready to divorce Tae-hyung, Sang-shik and Jin-sook are finally having a very needed conversation, and Chan-hyuk has decided to take the risk he’s been afraid to all these years. I’m excited to see where the final act of this drama takes them.
It’s Okay to Not Be Okay [1-2]
This drama is gorgeous, creepy, stylish, funny and decidedly upsetting. I kind of love it?
Kim Soo-hyun, Seo Ye-ji and Oh Jung-se are all equally brilliant in their roles, in a show that for once seems as though it will attempt to tackle mental illness in all its facets, and not just the ones that add extra makjang on top. It’s willing to ask us to be uncomfortable, in order to force us to question our own biases about neuroatypical people. I am a little torn, because I can only see pain resulting from a man who has identified so much with his caregiver role in his family that he literally made a career out of it, and a woman with no sense of right and wrong who has decided she must possess him. How can this end well?! I’m not even rooting for them to get together right now, not without years of therapy, but I am riveted by every scene they’re in together. That chemistry is FIRE (even if I find their looooong glances at each other a little self-indulgent on the part of the PD).
Also, can we just talk about the cinematography for a second? Every frame is an actual piece of art. I watched Episode 2 twice and I was glued to the screen both times, in awe of the way this show is put together on a technical level. The scene transitions are a thing of beauty. We go from present to past, from one perspective to another in these seamlessly executed, gorgeous shifts that blur the edges between both. It evokes both the dreamlike, fairytale aesthetic of the drama, and the blurry perspectives of characters in the story who don’t have as firm a grasp on the socially accepted “reality” that tends to be presented as objective and hard-edged in most TV shows.
Add to that dialogue that alternately cuts like a knife, twists my heart up in knots and warms it, and surprises the occasional genuine laugh out of me, and I am sold. I’m likely headed for heartbreak, but I can’t look away.