Review: It’s Okay To Not Be Okay

THE SHORT VERDICT:

A meaty, dark, whimsical melodrama that examines the difficulties faced by people suffering from trauma and mental illness, It’s Okay is not an easy watch at all. There is lots to unpack, difficult feelings to feel, and even internal biases to examine. So if you’re looking for a fluffy rom-com, this is probably not for you, for right now.

However, it is remarkably satisfying to witness our characters’ journeys, because those journeys are teased out so organically, that all of the growth and progress feels earned and true. Fantastic performances by our cast – with a special shout-out to Oh Jung Se for his impressively amazing interpretation of an autistic character – brings everything to life, and it’s not hard to get invested in our characters’ journeys.

There are a few bumps in the road, but overall, this proved to be a very satisfying watch.

THE LONG VERDICT:

This is one of those times that I think some kind of warning label would help, when it comes to how people approach this show.

Most folks are used to Event Dramas (when a drama takes the dramaverse by storm) being light(ish), cracky, fun things – at least for a good long stretch, before any angst shows up. Crash Landing On You is a great example of what (I think) most people expect of an Event Drama. I found it so slurpable, especially in its first half.

This show.. is not like that.

While It’s Okay had just about everyone buzzing during its run, it really is far from light. Beyond its polished packaging, it’s meaty and thought-provoking and quite confronting, really, and it tests not only your patience (sometimes), but your biases as well, in terms of what you’d expect of key characters (quite a lot of the time).

I’d say that if you’re willing to keep an open mind, and be ready to embrace the heavy along with the light, then this could turn into a very special watch indeed.

OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE

Here’s the OST album in case you’d like to listen to it while you read the review.

I thought the OST was very good; I enjoyed many tracks on it, like Breath, where I really like the lightly ethereal yet groovy feel, and In Silence, which is suitably haunting for the more melancholic bits of our story.

Sew Your Heart is so haunting, beautiful and ethereal as well. I think, though, my favorite might be Little By Little, because it feels so perfectly suited to the main theme of our story. It’s got a childlike, innocent vibe to it, and our characters really do have to make their personal journeys, step by baby step, little by little.

Also, speaking of music, have you checked out Snow Flower‘s guest post? She was inspired by this show, and composed some lovely pieces that blend so well with the show’s own OST! You can find her guest post here.

MANAGING THE VIEWING LENS

I think there are two main things that are helpful to keep in mind while considering how to adjust your viewing lens.

1. Sometimes a fairytale lens helps

Sometimes, when things get a little hard to swallow, a fairytale lens helps.

Show pretty much hints at its goth fairytale inner nature, with its opening animation and the style of all of Moon Young’s (Seo Ye Ji) books. I personally found the goth fairytale lens helpful in the early episodes and in the later ones as well.

In the early episodes, when I still found Moon Young hard to comprehend, and my brain just wanted to urge Kang Tae (Kim Soo Hyun) to run as far away from her as possible, it helped to think of them as characters in a goth fairytale world. In the later episodes, this lens came in handy again, when considering Show’s treatment of its villain.

2. Flip the tsundere lens

I’ve come across enough viewer perplexity to know that quite a few people struggled with Moon Young’s behavior, especially in the earlier episodes.

I found myself instinctively feeling conflicted about Moon Young’s behavior too, because, on the one hand, her confidence and calm, glib, unruffled manner is badass and cool, but, on the other hand, her behavior is troubling, and she’s often demanding and unreasonable, and that is decidedly not cool.

It did occur to me, however, that we’ve seen many male leads start off as demanding and unreasonable, only to be transformed by their One True Love. As drama fans, many of us have witnessed this dynamic a hundred times over, and I have to admit, there was a time when I’d have no problems with this whatsoever. It’s admittedly only in recent years that I’ve become disenchanted with the jerk male lead who’s transformed because of love.

Basically, every time Moon Young did something that I found troubling, I’d ask myself if I’ve seen a male lead character do something similar in the past, and accepted it. Mostly, the answer was yes. Once I became cognizant of that, it became easier to accept Moon Young’s actions and keep rolling with where Show wanted to go. And it’s quite critical that I was able to do that, because all these were steps towards better understanding between Kang Tae and Moon Young, and a better Moon Young in the making.

STUFF I LIKED

General handling & execution

Show is very polished and darkly pretty to look at, and effectively gives us a grim yet whimsical sort of feel.

The thing that really stood out to me, in terms of Show’s handling and execution, is how Show sometimes shows us things from the perspective of the mental patient.

For example, in episode 2, Show brings Sang Tae’s (Oh Jung Se) world to life, to our eyes. That snippet, when Sang Tae is joyously going to the book-signing, and everything just takes on extra life and color, popping to life and basically jumping off the page to meet him, is so well done. It made me feel like I was seeing the world through Sang Tae’s eyes, and it was weird and different and quite wonderful, and I felt like I could understand Sang Tae better, because of it.

[SPOILER] There’s another great example in episode 3. Show does a similarly fantastic job making Gi Do’s (Kwak Dong Yeon) manic world come to life, in the sequence where he flits from scenario to scenario like he’s skipping through some kind of psychedelic kaleidoscope, and then, at the end of the episode, when we see the entire sequence from a regular observer’s point of view, where Gi Do is just dancing in the hospital hallway, and running on a treadmill, instead of dancing in the club and running on a road, it’s so poignant to realize that these patients are truly lost in their own mental worlds. [END SPOILER]

Kim Soo Hyun as Kang Tae

I think that Kim Soo Hyun is absolutely fantastic, as Kang Tae.

Don’t get mad, but my sister watched about half of this show before she got distracted, and said that she thought Kim Soo Hyun is overrated. And then I had a conversation with a new acquaintance, who said that he thought Kim Soo Hyun was the weakest link among all the amazing actors in this show. And that all makes me feel extra protective of Kim Soo Hyun, I have to admit.

For the record, I beg to differ. I think Kim Soo Hyun nails his performance as Kang Tae, and does it with a masterful amount of restraint, that allows glimpses of Kang Tae’s inner emotional landscape to leak through Kang Tae’s studied facade. During the difficult emotional scenes, Kim Soo Hyun’s delivery is gut-wrenching to watch; he makes Kang Tae’s pain feel so real and so raw. Over the entire range of Kang Tae’s emotions, I thought Kim Soo Hyun’s portrayal was nuanced and detailed, and so very heartfelt. Just, beautiful.

As a character, Kang Tae made my heart hurt for him, the more I learned about him. I think Show does an excellent job of presenting Kang Tae to us, the way he wants the world to see him, and then peeling back the layers, to show us more and more of what really makes him tick, before tackling those inner issues, to achieve growth and healing. I found the journey very gratifying to watch, because it felt so organically teased out, and so wonderfully acted.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E1. There’s such a clearness in Kang Tae’s eyes, despite all that he goes through. He’s not without emotion, and we see Sang Tae observe Kang Tae’s anger at Sang Tae being expelled from the vocational school. But, the moment he catches sight of his brother and turns his attention to him, all the anger melts away, and he only has kindness in his gaze, and gentleness in his voice, as he asks Sang Tae what he’d like to eat.

That ability – and that desire – to treat Sang Tae with preciousness, despite the hardship of taking care of a mentally disabled sibling, is deeply moving to witness. Kang Tae’s patience and love for Sang Tae looks to be rock solid, and that foundation never moves, regardless of the shifting, difficult circumstances of their livelihood. With this alone, Kang Tae has my heart. There’s something so pure about him, like he’s almost a mystical being not of this earth; he’s that special.

E1. On a shallow side note, Kim Soo Hyun is in excellent shape, and Show gives us an obligatory shirtless scene. What I do appreciate – besides how sculpted Kim Soo Hyun looks, eee! – is how matter-of-fact the shirtless scene is. It’s not gratuitous – at least, it’s not immediately apparent – but feels like it’s organic to the story, and we see how Kang Tae bears scars from his past injuries, likely sustained on the job. Also, there’s something very attractive about how Kang Tae seems so indifferent to how he looks. There’s no vanity about him, and I find that very appealing.

E2. Kang Tae makes my heart hurt, the more I know about him. To think that he’d lost his mother – who’d been murdered, no less – at such a young age, and then had run away with Sang Tae, so that he and hyung wouldn’t be separated, and then had basically grown up as Sang Tae’s caregiver, is such heartrending stuff. He’d had to function as a grown up, when he was just a kid, and all this time, on top of basic things like finding food and shelter, he’d taken on the gargantuan task of caring for an autistic older brother who needed special care. And, to think that he’s done it all so faithfully all this time, with so much love and patience, is just breathtaking and heartbreaking at once.

E2. Kang Tae’s sacrificed a great deal for Sang Tae, what with the multiple job changes and the constant moving, to keep ahead of the seasonal butterflies that trigger Sang Tae’s anxiety attacks, and he’s done it without complaint, and with compassion, even though it has meant transient relationships all his life, except with Jae Soo (Kang Ki Doong). But this episode, Kang Tae articulates that he’s probably also constantly moving for his own sake, because, as he puts it, “When life is unbearably hard, the easiest way out is to run.”

That layer of Kang Tae wanting to run away and hide from his unbearably hard life, just makes everything about him ten times more poignant. He’s such a caring brother; that scene of him throwing his own jacket to cover a terrified Sang Tae, and hugging him and apologizing, while trying to soothe him, just hits me right in the heart. Whenever Sang Tae acts out, Kang Tae always responds with patience and love, and this is such a stark contrast to the ignorant couple who’d insulted Sang Tae and treated him roughly. We’ve seen Kang Tae pour out so much love so many times, that it’s extra painful to realize that he’s hurting so much on the inside. He’s hidden it well, and all we can see are glimpses of swallowed anger or displeasure, so the reveal, that he’s running from the unbearable hardness of his life, is gut-wrenching.

E3. The other thing that really strikes me, this episode, is the realization that Kang Tae is operating under a facade too. Perhaps it’s because Kang Tae stole my heart so early, with his selfless love and patience for his brother; I felt rather startled to realize that 1, Kang Tae is wearing a facade too; and 2, he’s actually struggling somewhat, to maintain that facade.

When Moon Young confronts him about being a hypocrite, Kang Tae is taken aback, like she’s unveiled parts of him that he doesn’t want to be seen. That tells me a lot about how Kang Tae sees himself. I see him as a selfless, caring, self-sacrificing brother; he sees himself as a hypocrite, likely because he feels more resentment on the inside than he’d care to admit.

Poor Kang Tae. I feel so bad for him. He chose this path when he was just a kid; that’s way too young to be making these types of decisions, and yet, that was the one option he saw, if he didn’t want to be separated from Sang Tae. It’s only natural that he’d find the path tough, and it’s only human to feel some measure of resentment, but it seems like he’s holding himself up to a standard that’s higher, and internally beating himself up for not reaching it.

E3. As Kang Tae watches Gi Do let it all out, from a distance, he looks conflicted and sad, and then we see him imagining himself in Gi Do’s shoes, just jumping and screaming onstage with wild abandon, and that’s when he hesitantly turns to ask Moon Young if he should really play  with her like she’s asking him to. That says so much about what’s really going on, on the inside, with Kang Tae. There’s a lot that he’s repressed all this time, in order to fulfill the role of supportive brother that he’s chosen, and in observing Gi Do’s wild abandon, and prodded by Moon Young’s incisive statements, he’s finally thinking about letting the parts of himself that he’s held back all this time, to live a little.

I’m definitely curious to see more of what Kang Tae is like as a whole, rather than just as the Nurturing Brother persona that he’s adhered to all these years. I’m slightly wary of the idea of him allowing Moon Young to be any kind of guide, but it’s true that Moon Young is much more practiced at being honest with her thoughts and feelings than most people. And, so far, it does seem that these two people have been of help to each other, in their own ways, which makes me cautiously optimistic of the idea of them spending more time together.

E4. We also see in a flashback that Kang Tae’s mother had said to him that she’d given birth to him, so that he’d be able to help Sang Tae. That broke my heart. What an awful belief for young Kang Tae to have imprinted on him, that basically shapes the entirety of how he sees himself and his worth.

I don’t think Mom (Choi Hee Jin) meant that literally; I don’t think she thought that Kang Tae’s only value was what he was able to do for Sang Tae. Mothers love all their children, but they can’t help but baby the child that is the most vulnerable. And Sang Tae is that vulnerable child. Mom poured herself extra, into caring for Sang Tae, and unfortunately, neglected Kang Tae as a result. Poor baby Kang Tae, with his innocent doe-eyes, filled with disappointment, hurt and rejection, believing that he wasn’t as loved as Sang Tae.

I feel like those beliefs about himself and his purpose in life are so deeply entrenched in Kang Tae, that they still define him now. He’s trying so hard to be the perfect brother that Mom desired him to be, but that moment when he raises his voice at Sang Tae, gives us a glimpse of the frustration and anger and turmoil that’s been pent up on the inside, for so long. The fact that Kang Tae actually allowed that to bubble over – or rather, the fact that that anger managed to reach the surface – indicates that Kang Tae is reaching a limit, of sorts. He may not be boiling over now, but he’s operating near his maximum capacity, where all the ugly emotions on in the inside might overflow with the right amount of provocation.

The way Kang Tae cleans the whole apartment, while waiting for Sang Tae to come home, feels like penance that he’s doing, in an attempt to make up for how he’d lashed out at Sang Tae earlier. That’s sad, that Kang Tae always feels like he has to be good enough for his brother.

E5. Kang Tae talks about acting happy with such a sad, matter-of-fact look in his eyes; it makes my heart hurt for him. And then there’s how he says rather soberly, that he’d gotten what he’d deserved, when Sang Tae beat him for lying. It’s like he’s accepted that he’s never going to be as important as Sang Tae, and that breaks my heart.

E5. I feel like Kang Tae’s been aware of Ju Ri’s feelings for him for some time, and is pretending not to know, and that’s made him even more conscious of keeping her at a distance. I don’t think he reciprocates, and I am guessing that the thing about needing to leave anyway, is an excuse of sorts. And perhaps that’s true for not just Ju Ri. Perhaps that’s Kang Tae’s modus operandi; he doesn’t even allow himself to consider liking someone, and he uses his nomadic lifestyle as his official reason, so that he doesn’t have to examine the other emotional issues that he has going on, on the inside.

E5. Kang Tae’s remark to Jae Soo, that he’s forgetful these days, and sometimes forgets everything, isn’t, I think, an actual memory issue. It seems more like an allusion to the fact that his desires – to be free, to not be constrained, to have fun – are sometimes strong enough, that he forgets all the responsibilities he’s given himself, enough to actually consider the possibility of giving in to those desires, just like when he’d asked Moon Young if he really should play with her, like she says.

E6. The more I learn about Kang Tae, the more it seems to me that he’s tormented and driven by guilt. That flashback to how he’d momentarily considered leaving Sang Tae to die in the icy water, and then gone back to save him by jumping in and putting his own life at risk, is basically how he seems to approach his whole life now. When he’s driven by guilt, he ends up sacrificing himself in order to try to pay for that guilt. The way he’s denied himself the right to like or want anything, in order to take care of Sang Tae, feels like an extension of that. And the way he comes back to the cursed castle to stay with Sang Tae, even though he doesn’t actually want to, is also largely driven by guilt.

E6. Kang Tae’s pretty shrewd; when President Lee (Kim Joo Hun) blusters at him that he’s been putting his life on the line to protect Moon Young, Kang Tae immediately points out that President Lee’s been doing it for money, and not for the honorable reasons that he lists. In this moment, Kang Tae reminds me of Moon Young, with his sharp observations, and his equally sharp statements, never mind social decorum.

E7. Kang Tae musing about whether his mom had felt sorry for how she’d treated him is heartbreaking to watch. I’d forgotten how Kim Soo Hyun is absolutely gutting to watch, when he does a crying scene. Here, Kang Tae’s face crumples as he admits that he’d like his mom to feel regret, and starts to cry. Oof. Poor Kang Tae has been tormented by the belief that his mom loved him less than his brother, all these years. It’s equally gutting, to see Kang Tae quickly change his answer to “no,” while he swallows his tears.

In that freer space, where tipsy Kang Tae is alert, but not hampered by his usual reservations and constraining thoughts, he finally taps into memories of his mom loving him and putting his likes and desires first. The catharsis is profound, as Kang Tae is overwhelmed by the realization that he’d misunderstood Mom all along; she HAD loved him deeply. His tears express so much: pain, agony, release, and gratitude. Augh. It’s such a huge step forward, that Kang Tae has this epiphany. He’s basically cutting the leash of his misguided memories, that have been choking him all these years.

E8. It’s quite cute that Kang Tae basically threatens Director Oh (Kim Chang Wan) with non-compliance, in order to get Moon Young her fairytale class back. While I do think it’s partly because he’d like to see her even at work, I think it’s more to give her back the class because it had been unfairly taken from her. That’s quite thoughtful of him.

E11. The moment that strikes me deeply, is how, when Jae Soo remarks how Kang Tae’s changed so much, Kang Tae smiles and tells Jae Soo that this is who he really is. It hits me like a ton of bricks that Kang Tae’s closest friend, who’s lived and moved with him for years, actually hasn’t had a chance to glimpse the real Kang Tae, until now. That’s the extent to which Kang Tae has been tamping down his own feelings and desires. And it’s only now, as Kang Tae begins to allow himself to act on his feelings, that Jae Soo is beginning to really get to know his best friend. Woah.

E11. Kang Tae’s dreams are heartbreakingly simple; to go on a trip instead of move house; to fight with his brother; to wear a school uniform. The simplicity of those dreams is so poignant, because for most people, these are daily everyday things that get taken for granted, and yet, to Kang Tae, they’ve been unattainable dreams for years. It says so much about the way he’s lived all this time. My heart.

And that dream that he has, of being in high school and living a normal life, just about made me cry. It’s such a simple, everyday sort of thing, to be hanging out with friends, and try to talk to a pretty girl, and to be teased by your older brother who’s just gotten off work, but for Kang Tae, this is possible only in his dreams. And watching that dream unfold before my eyes, was so poignant and surreal. And seeing Kang Tae’s happy expression, as he sleep-mumbles his happiness to Sang Tae is very poignant as well.

E12. It’s taken Sang Tae so many years to be ready to talk about what he’d witnessed and experienced on the night that his mother was murdered, but that gives Kang Tae insight into a possible truth that sends him into an anguished tailspin. The possibility – probability, even – that it was Moon Young’s mother that had killed his mother, threatens to tear apart the newfound contentment and happiness that he’s only just started to sink into, with Moon Young and Sang Tae and their new family.

Would it have been better for him to have never known, because it causes him so much mental and emotional torment? In the moment, it’s tempting to answer yes, because it hurts to see Kang Tae in so much pain, and I want to rescue him from that pain as quickly as possible. But as I take a more long-term perspective of this, I realize that as long as Kang Tae is shielded from what is possibly a terrible truth, that truth has the power to crush him. The only way for him to be truly victorious, is to face that truth, and be the one to crush it. Once he does that, that truth no longer has the potential to hurt him. And so, as hard as it is to watch Kang Tae work through the pain, it feels necessary, for his healing to be true.

E12. Moon Young’s description of Kang Tae as the man without a sense of self, is spot-on. Kang Tae’s so used to being busy and needed, whether it’s taking care of patients, or taking care of Sang Tae, or tending to Moon Young’s moods, that when he finally has time to himself because Moon Young and Sang Tae are busy working on their new book, he literally doesn’t know what to do with himself. And instead of spending that pocket of freedom doing something that he wants to do, he only knows to cope with it by calling Jae Soo, and asking to spend the time with him. Kang Tae may be an adult, but he’s spent so much of his life taking care of others, that he hasn’t learned much about himself.

How significant, though, that his first night back in the castle, Kang Tae sleeps so soundly that neither Moon Young nor Sang Tae are able to rouse him in the morning. This must really feel like home to him now, and he must really have a sense of contentment about this, to be able to relax so fully, and sleep so soundly, the moment he’s returned to it.

E12. Kim Soo Hyun really kills it, with delivering Kang Tae’s pain. The shock of the dawning realization; the withdrawing into himself, while trying to control his emotions; the anger bursting through his thin layer of self-control that he’s managed to wrap around the dread of his awful conclusion; the tears rising in his eyes, as he rails against the wall in helplessness and anger; the way he falls to his knees and heaves in frustration. I can feel the tiredness and exhaustion rise up within him, even as he continues to wrestle with this potential truth.

E12. I’m glad that Kang Tae chooses to tell Director Oh about his struggle. This is growth. As we’ve learned, Kang Tae’s one to keep his thoughts and feelings to himself, and would rather bottle everything up than share his burden with someone else. The fact that he chooses to share his thoughts with Director Oh is a huge step for him.

It’s so painful to watch Kang Tae express his pain to Director Oh. His words start out quiet and restrained, but as tears and hopelessness rise in his eyes, his voice becomes strained and he can’t stop the sobs, and his cries turn almost whimper-like, as he drops to his knees, wondering how to face his mom and Sang Tae, now that he can’t tear the butterfly to shreds like he’d promised. My heart hurts for him, so much. And Kim Soo Hyun is just masterful, at expressing Kang Tae’s conflict and pain. Oof.

E12. On a shallow note, I am finding Kim Soo Hyun very sexy in these latest episodes. There’s something very appealing about how Kang Tae seems completely indifferent about his own looks. He doesn’t style his hair, and wears comfortable clothes that lean baggy, but that whole vibe, that it all doesn’t matter to him, adds to his allure, because I can see how handsome he is; I can see how lithe and lean and strong he is, under that unassuming T-shirt. And with how he’s been kissing Moon Young of late, I can also see that there’s a great deal of intent and smolder under his decorum and restraint. Excuse me while I rawr.

E13. We see more growth and progress for Kang Tae, which makes me happy. When he hears from Moon Young that she’s learned not to try to understand what’s on his mind, he actually opens up and tells her that he’d gotten sick and tired of taking care of and protecting others, because he’d been born to take care of his brother. But now, instead of looking at it as a job to do, he’s going to look upon it as a personal goal, because putting his life on the line to protect his family is a pretty cool thing after all. That is so significant, I feel, because this perception that he was born to take care of Sang Tae, and not for his own sake, has been haunting him his whole life. The fact that the idea of taking care of his family no longer feels like a burden, but a joy, is huge.

E13. I like the fact that Kang Tae is talking things through with Director Oh, showing him the mysterious notes and all. Again, this just shows that he’s not trying to bottle it all up and shoulder everything alone.

E13. Again, Kang Tae’s dreams and desires are so simple. When Moon Young encourages him to quit his job at the hospital, the thing that he really wants to do, is go to school. It really reminds me of how much he missed out on, growing up.

[END SPOILER]

Seo Ye Ji as Moon Young

My previous exposure to Seo Ye Ji was only in Moorim School and Lawless Lawyer, where her performances were solid but nothing to truly write home about, and I haven’t seen Save Me (I’m intimidated by the dark subject matter; I admit it, I’m a wuss), though I’ve heard that she is excellent in it. So to me, her outing in It’s Okay, is THE breakout role that’s catapulted her to the ranks of the high-profile leading lady.

Seo Ye Ji does a fantastic job of being Moon Young.

She looks amazing, and I love that unlike most kdrama female leads, she rocks a voice that’s on the lower end of the female register. It adds to the darker flavor of her character. Because of her impeccable wardrobe, Moon Young’s been compared to IU’s character in Hotel Del Luna, and when I imagine IU in the role of Moon Young, I find that IU’s higher, relatively thinner speaking voice doesn’t blend as well with the character, in my head.

On top of that, I love the languid ease with which Seo Ye Ji infuses Moon Young with, as a character. There’s something badass and cool, about a character who’s as unfazed as Moon Young is, no matter how crazy the situation is, around her. She has no qualms about throwing a situation into disarray, in order to say what she wants to say, or do what she feels is needed.

Moon Young is a difficult character to portray. On the surface, she’s ballsy, irreverent and devil-may-care. But as we get deeper in our story, her inner vulnerabilities start to surface, more and more. Seo Ye Ji delivers all of it, from surface sass to inner torment, with what feels like remarkable ease. Even in the early episodes, where Moon Young’s pain is only hinted at, Seo Ye Ji manages to inject pathos into those hints, enough to make me curious to learn more about her, and want to understand her.

I’d had my doubts at how Show would handle Moon Young’s growth and healing, because she starts out as such an abrasive character. But, mad props to writer-nim for teasing it all out in a way that feels natural and believable, and kudos to Seo Ye Ji for delivering so well, at every stage of Moon Young’s journey.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E1. I was wondering where I’d land, with the apparent controversy surrounding the extreme mean behavior of our female lead, and as it turns out, context really is everything, after all.

I can see how seeing snippets of her scenes could turn someone away from wanting to watch this show, because it would feel like buying into or supporting dysfunctional behavior that is cruel or unsympathetic to others. However, with context in place, it’s easier to accept Moon Young. She’s not cruel or cynical because she was born that way; she doesn’t have a missing chip in her brain. She’s a victim, of apparently both her parents.

We see in flashback that her father had tried to kill her by strangulation, when she’d been a young girl, and how that memory can still be triggered today. We also see from the opening animation, a heavy hint that she’s suffered from emotional abuse from her mother, since the girl in the animation is called a monster by her mother, whom she refers to as “the shadow of death.”

Piecing this all together, I already feel like Moon Young is a product of highly dysfunctional parenting, and had suffered emotionally, physically and mentally, under the so-called care of her parents. It’s not hard to make the leap to believe that she’d grow up to be sardonic, cold and cynical, having survived all of that. And, it’s also sobering to realize that there was a chance that she wouldn’t have survived, literally.

With that context in place, even though we don’t yet know all the details, I already see Moon Young as a victim in need of healing. She appears to be powerful in the way that she tramples on others, but I’m guessing that underneath, there are a lot of wounds that need to be tended to, in order for her to truly gain personal power; the power to overcome, the power to rise above, and the power to attain happiness, just like she writes, in her book.

I feel like it says a lot about Moon Young, that she wrote that book where the moral of the story is that you need to overcome your bad memories and negative emotions, in order to become happy. At this moment, it already feels like some kind of mantra for herself. I feel like her aloof, sardonic persona belies a deep-held desire to overcome her bad memories and achieve happiness.

E2. The things that Moon Young says and does are often socially unacceptable and sometimes, downright dangerous. Like when she wanted to plunge the knife into the patient in episode 1, or when she pushes the book critic / reporter down the stairs this episode, then literally grumbles about the fact that he doesn’t die. That’s truly disturbing stuff, and it makes her feel like a dangerous character, like she’s a dormant mine that might just get set off one day, when someone takes a wrong step, and end up exploding and killing everyone.

On the other hand, that moment when she chooses to stand up for Sang Tae at the book-signing event, was pretty satisfying to watch. It’s completely socially inappropriate, and it’s potential career suicide, but the way she gives an eye for an eye, to the couple that had been tormenting Sang Tae, and provides a calm, glib explanation every step of the way, is admittedly satisfying to watch. She won’t wait for someone else to dole out punishment, if she feels punishment is warranted. She couches it as the couple needing to apologize to her for ruining her event, but in reality, she’s stepping in to help Sang Tae and Kang Tae, as we hear in her muttered self-talk, before she intervenes. There’s something alluring about her rogue confidence, even though it’s – so far, anyway – expressed in inappropriate ways.

E3. Like I mentioned earlier in this review, every time I encountered behavior from Moon Young that I found problematic, I found it helpful to flip the lens, to check if I’ve seen jerk male leads behave in similar ways in the past, and found it acceptable.

The thing is, many of those jerk male leads didn’t have an actual mental illness to explain their bad behavior. Some of the worst male leads are casually cruel, just because they can be. Like in the Boys Over Flowers and Mischievous Kiss franchises. In both of those stories, the male leads are casually cruel because they feel superior and powerful; there’s no sob story to contextualize their bad behavior. In Moon Young’s case, even though I’m instinctively troubled by her bad behavior, I think it makes a difference, that she’s a victim of trauma and has suffered emotionally and mentally as a result. Put in perspective that way, it seems to me that Moon Young deserves more of a chance than the typical jerk male lead.

It does make a difference to me, when I see her suffering from nightmares, alone and removed from the posh, defiant persona that she’s made for herself. I feel like that persona is her armor, and I suspect that she feels all alone in the world, and believes that this armor is the thing that she feels will protect her.

In her nightmares, she’s paralyzed, tormented and afraid, and when I see that (kudos to Seo Ye Ji for delivering that tearful paralysis so well), I can’t help but feel compassion for her. It’s not that Moon Young behaves badly and should therefore be punished by nightmares. It’s that she’s suffered torment that’s damaged her and left her with longstanding nightmares and psychological issues, and part of her coping mechanism, is the bad behavior.

That moment, when she actually uses the Butterfly Method that Kang Tae taught her to calm herself from the nightmares, makes me realize that she’s more receptive than she’d like to let on. When Kang Tae had taught her the method, she’d implicitly rejected it, by telling him that it’s better to face trauma head-on. But, she’d actually been paying attention; enough to be able to use the method in a time of need.

Also, it’s striking to me, that in Moon Young’s dream, Kang Tae is gentle and comforting. Despite her fearless and brash ways, it seems that Moon Young’s heart’s desire, is to be comforted, which indicates to me that she’s much more broken than she’d like to admit.

E3. This idea of hypocrisy that Moon Young raises, is thought-provoking. “People are all hypocrites. We all live with a lot of hatred, but we act like that’s not the case.” It’s an audacious statement, but it might hold more truth than most of us would like to admit. And in being able to see and articulate that, does that make Moon Young more honest than most of us?

E3. Speaking of honesty, Moon Young’s appreciation for Kang Tae and her pursuit of him is bold and honest. “I want you,” “I’m horny,” “Do you want to sleep with me?” – these all come out of her mouth in fairly quick succession, whether it’s an answer to a question he asks, or a statement all her own. Plus, there’s the way she oohs and ahhs at the shirtless sight of him, when she finds him in the locker room. Either way, Moon Young is completely transparent about what or who she wants, likes or desires, and it’s interesting to me that this makes people – other characters and viewers alike, probably – uncomfortable. Are we as humans so accustomed to facades that we shy away from the truth?

E4. Moon Young is very sharp; she picks up on the fact that Kang Tae doesn’t stop Gi Do from taking over the stage and shouting his lungs out, and that omission alone tells her that Kang Tae feels that she did the right thing, in bringing Gi Do to the rally.

E4. This episode, we see an interesting parallel between Moon Young and Sang Tae: both of them need to have the thing that they set their sights on, once they’ve decided that the thing is beautiful and desirable. Moon Young’s said it of Kang Tae, and she’s clear that she wants him, and Sang Tae does the same with the dinosaur set in the stationary store. Is Show giving us an indication that this behavior of Moon Young is more linked to her mental and emotional issues than to her personality?

Besides the deeply disturbing dysfunctional grooming that we see Moon Young go through as a child with her mother, which still torments her today, we also see how Moon Young’s dad (Lee Eol) responds to her, when he’s aware of her. As much as the medical reports say that he’s lost his memories and he’s just a shell of himself, his revulsion at Moon Young’s existence, and his attempt to strangle her, despite his own weakened physical state, says a lot about the strength of his abhorrence for his daughter. How much stronger it must have been, when he hadn’t been weakened by illness. The way Moon Young just lies on the ground, chuckling ruefully as the tears escape her eyes, also says a lot about how must this has hurt her, and continues to hurt her.

E5. Moon Young actually standing in front of the emotions poster and studying it while Kang Tae sleeps, is another example of her putting in effort, when she’d pretended to reject it. First, it had been the Butterfly Method, and now, it’s the emotions poster. She takes Kang Tae’s words and advice to heart, even though she doesn’t admit it.

E5. The story that Moon Young tells Sang Tae is very revealing. She’d wanted to fit in, as a child, and she’d wanted warmth and company, and had waited every day for her prince to show up, to save her from the castle in which she was imprisoned. I feel like that’s still how Moon Young feels now, on the inside – just, with multiple layers of prickly walls, born of trauma and dysfunction, disguising her true feelings.

E6. Moon Young’s nightmares, where she’s taunted and haunted by her mother, and threatened and even choked by her, are truly terrifying. Her terror is evident, even in her paralysis. The fear is clear in her eyes, even as the tears come, and her whole body trembles. Seo Ye Ji kills it; I feel completely sucked into Moon Young’s awful dreamscape and I feel her fear.

E7. I think it says a lot about Moon Young, that her fairytales, while often macabre on the surface, contain such deep wisdom, about people craving warmth, and needing to cut themselves loose from the ties that bind them. She’s much more sensitive about what makes people tick than one might assume.

E8. Aw. Moon Young is being more considerate. When she asks why they’re at a shabby restaurant to eat jjamppong, and Kang Tae tells her that it’s where their mom used to take them because he’d liked the jjamppong so much, Moon Young immediately makes amends by saying that the restaurant is clearly famous and possesses a long history. In some ways, she can seem very innocent, and I thought her effort to smooth over her accidental insult was cute and earnest.

E9. I can see and feel Moon Young softening up and caring about others more, and I feel like her evolution is nicely handled. She is still mostly volatile and sassy, but we are seeing more moments of vulnerability and understanding of others, and I find her progress gratifying to witness.

I like that she makes friends with Sang Tae, and tells Kang Tae guilelessly that she likes Sang Tae because he’s cute. There are many people in the world who would disdain Sang Tae, as we’ve seen in earlier episodes, and it’s quite heartwarming to me, that Moon Young, in all of her glamor and elegance, doesn’t. That’s really quite nice.

Also, in asking Sang Tae questions about Kang Tae, Moon Young seems genuinely interested to understand him better. The entire vibe around how she asks questions about Kang Tae has changed. Before, it had always felt like a game, like she wanted ammunition with which to poke at Kang Tae or goad him. But not anymore. Now, her voice is even and her expression is soft, even as she muses in response to Sang Tae, that Kang Tae never learned how to have fun, and then she smiles, saying that she must make sure that Kang Tae has a real blast. Moon Young’s entire vibe is softer, and I really rather like it.

E11. Moon Young is allowing her true heart to come to the surface and express itself, and that’s important.

The opening scene, where she cries over the discarded drawing of the camper van, it’s clear that she doesn’t just feel bad for triggering Sang Tae’s meltdown which then hurt Kang Tae; she also feels sad for the brothers, pictured in the drawing. There is real heartbreak and sorrow in her face, as she cries, and in this moment, I don’t feel that it’s herself that she feels sorry for, despite Kang Tae pushing her away. In this moment, I feel that she feels heartbreak for the brothers, and that moves me.

E12. I read a while back, that someone with Antisocial Personality Disorder – which has been officially communicated at press conferences as the condition that Moon Young suffers from – can learn to care about a small circle of other people, even though they remain generally lacking in empathy for the world at large. I do see that care developing in Moon Young. Moon Young now, compared to Moon Young when we first met her in episode 1, is markedly more able to feel for Kang Tae and Sang Tae, who are now the people who are closest to her.

When she drunkenly admits to Kang Tae that she’s really happy that he and Sang Tae live with her now, she looks the most fulfilled and serene that I’ve ever seen her.

E12. The way Moon Young actually stops to listen to Sang Tae’s Oppa Reprimand to greet her elders, and then says hello to Ju Ri’s mom (Kim Mi Kyung) as instructed, is a pretty big deal. It’s little things like this, that show me Moon Young’s growth.

And then there’s how Moon Young reacts, when Kang Tae is unable to hold back his anger, and lashes out at her. Past Moon Young would have lashed right back at him, with a vengeance, and she would’ve lashed out harder than what she’d received. But Present Moon Young takes a step back and asks why Kang Tae is angry, and if she’s done something to upset him. When he smooths it over and sends her on her way, she spends a long time trying to figure out on her own, why Kang Tae is angry. And when she can’t find answers on her own, she orders a lot of pizza from Jae Soo, so that she can ask him about it. She’s making a serious and sustained effort towards understanding Kang Tae, and that’s impressive.

And then, when Jae Soo tells her that the only thing she can do is not force the issue with Kang Tae, and give him space, while comforting him quietly, she really does just that. Given Moon Young’s default behaviors, this is a Huge Deal.

E12. I love the way Moon Young looks at Sang Tae, as they get ready to leave for the photo studio. There is kindness and affection in her eyes, which is so significant. I love it. And I love that when she realizes that Kang Tae does’t want to go, but Sang Tae’s all prepared to go and would be crushed if they didn’t go, she decides that she and Sang Tae will go have their photos taken for the book that they’re working on. That’s such a nurturing thing to do. It’s exactly what I’d imagine a savvy, caring mom would do, to comfort her autistic child, and it gives me a thrill to see Moon Young doing this, without prompting or instruction.

I really love that Moon Young tells Sang Tae to forget all the cool poses he’d practiced because they’re fake, and not try so hard and just be himself. And I love that she says it to him in such a gentle, encouraging manner. She’s affirming him, that it’s best to be himself; that being himself is enough, and I love that.

E13. The way Moon Young asks so tentatively if she’s part of that family that Kang Tae wants to protect, makes my heart go out to her; I can see that she wants to be included so dearly. And when Kang Tae assures her that she is, because they’ve taken a family portrait now, the tears in her eyes, as she smiles, speak volumes. She feels included and valued, and it means the world to her, and I’m happy for her.

E13. The way Moon Young deals with the situation where Sang Tae feels unable to draw faces, is so different now compared to what I would’ve expected of her before. There’s no temper tantrum, and she doesn’t make unreasonable demands. Instead, she listens to Sang Tae’s reason, and then comes up with a solution, and gives him homework to do, to figure it out in the next week. That’s huge. That’s empathy and understanding and patience. She’s giving Sang Tae the space and time to work out a solution in a way that resonates with him. And she even encourages him, that he’s observant. I love it.

Of course, Moon Young’s growth is a work-in-progress, and I’m not surprised that she declines to see her father one last time, before he passes. Instead, she processes it in her own way, and invites Ju Ri (Park Gyu Young) over to chat over drinks, and as the conversation progresses, Moon Young even tells Ju Ri that she’d been scared of her mom and had wanted to run away, and that she’d tried to be an obedient daughter so that her mom wouldn’t hate her. And while her dad had been around, he hadn’t done anything for her except to read to her from a fairytale once. That’s a lot of deep and personal sharing, for someone who struggles to connect with others.

E13. It’s very poignant, to see that even though Moon Young states that she’s not sad at her father’s passing, she clearly holds the memory of her father reading to her, close to her heart. Just because she didn’t see her father before he passed, or forgave him, or mended their relationship, doesn’t mean that she can’t hold a memory of him dear. That glimmer of positivity amid the brokenness feels so precious.

E13. Moon Young’s musing that she became a writer of fairytales because she knew how hard the life of a princess really is, makes me feel quite sorry for her. She really did suffer a lot, growing up in that castle. It’s no wonder her fairytales are darker and more grim than the average fairytale.

E13. Oof. Moon Young’s realization that her mother is likely the person who killed Kang Tae and Sang Tae’s mother, is painful to watch. She’s been growing so well, and making so much progress, and enjoying her new family so much, while learning to care about them and love them, and now, she’s faced with the almost-certainty that her own mother caused all their misfortune by killing their mother. It kind of feels like all of that progress has been ripped from her, in one fell swoop. Poor Moon Young, and also, poor Kang Tae, who seems torn between her and Sang Tae, all over again.

E14. I am glad that despite the difficult realization that Moon Young has to grapple with this episode, that the growth and progress she’s achieved is still visibly in place. When Kang Tae goes after her as she leaves the hospital, she doesn’t scream, act out or go crazy. She has enough presence of mind to tell him that she won’t run away, and not to worry; she just needs some time to think things through. There’s a great deal of self-control and maturity at play here, and I feel proud of Moon Young.

[END SPOILER]

Oh Jung Se as Sang Tae

Oh Jung Se is – in a word – extraordinary as Sang Tae.

As an actor, Oh Jung Se is quite the chameleon, in that I’ve seen him in such a vast variety of roles, but watching him as Sang Tae, I fully believe that he is Sang Tae, developmentally challenged, nervous and fidgety, yet also loving and childlike. I find it hard to believe that I watched Oh Jung Se be a scheming GM not so long ago, in Stove League. He’s freaking brilliant as an actor, and I’m jaw-on-the-floor impressed with him, in this role.

Sang Tae’s outbursts when he gets anxious, tense and skittish, and talks a mile a minute in circles, is really so well done. I feel like I can hear the nervousness in Sang Tae’s voice, as he rattles on, in an apparent attempt to self-soothe. It’s heartbreaking to see his limitations make his world so small, and at the same time, it’s truly sweet to see, in episode 1, how he understands that he’s Kang Tae’s hyung, and offer to buy him dinner.

I found it so very gratifying to watch Sang Tae’s journey of healing from his past trauma, and growth towards independence. Every step forward felt like such a victory, and I felt so proud of Sang Tae, for rising above his disability, to live his best life.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E2. Oh Jung Se is incredible as childlike Sang Tae. That scene when he was getting ready to leave for the book-signing, is just brilliantly done. Sang Tae recites the entirety of what’s playing on his screen, from the cartoon itself, to the commercials, and also, effortlessly recites the note that Moon Young wrote in the book that she autographed for him, and all of it is rattled off a mile a minute, like some kind of soothing mechanism that gives him stability, and he does it almost absentmindedly; it’s just so pitch perfect.

E12. It’s so moving, really, to see Sang Tae be the rescuer and caregiver, protecting Mr. Kan (Kim Ki Cheon) by shielding him from the terrible sounds that are triggering his traumatic hallucinations. Kang Tae’s done this for him so many times, that Sang Tae instinctively knows what to do; he takes off his shirt and uses it to cover Mr. Kan’s head, then holds him, pats him and soothes him, telling him that it’s going to be ok. And he even knows to ask the other passengers on the bus to call the hospital as well. What a hero. I am so proud of him. And, Sang Tae bursting with pride is super endearing as well.

E13. Sang Tae can be so insightful sometimes that it’s quite startling. When Seung Jae (Park Jin Joo) tries to persuade him to neutralize Moon Young’s dark stories by using pastels, he declines, and tells her that once neutralized, it would be bland and tasteless, and no one would like to eat that. So incisive!

E13. I love that this episode, we see that Sang Tae’s been practicing how to draw butterflies, in his sketchbook. He’s facing his fears, and no one’s even putting pressure on him to do it. He said he would, and so he’s working on it. And I am so proud of him.

E14. Sang Tae shines so much this episode that I almost want to burst from having my heart swell. His simplicity is extra endearing to me, this episode. First, it’s sweet how all Kang Tae has to do, is tell him that there’s a variety of butterfly that looks just like the butterfly that was drawn on his mural (a white lie which I can understand feels necessary, in this situation), and Sang Tae is assured and confident enough to come out from under the table.

And when Kang Tae reminds him of his promise not to run away even if he meets the butterfly, Sang Tae, so fresh from a panic attack, solemnly says that he will not, because a promise shouldn’t be taken lightly. Then, he earnestly asks for a bit of help to overcome his fear, because he gets a headache every time he sees one. Augh. He’s really so pure and sincere.

[END SPOILER]

Kang Tae & Moon Young

Kim Soo Hyun and Seo Ye Ji are all-around excellently matched, in screen presence, skill, and chemistry. I thought they played off each other very well, from the initial almost-hostility, to the big emotional scenes, to the various beats in between. They always felt very in sync with each other, in any given scene, and I found them a pleasure to watch together, all the way through to the end.

I’ve come across some viewer discomfort at the OTP in this show, because Kang Tae already has enough to deal with, with his brother and his own issues to manage, and Moon Young only represents a greater burden on Kang Tae.

I understand where these viewers are coming from, and I wrestled with this issue too.

From the beginning of my watch, I had an inkling that Show would be working on having Moon Young and Kang Tae overcome their respective traumas with each other’s help. My ask was that Show would handle it with nuance, and allow that healing to feel organic and believable instead of magical and convenient. And, now that I’ve emerged on the other side, I can say with certainty, that I’m glad I decided to trust Show on this one.

Sometimes it’s better for damaged people to stay away from each other, because they could hurt each other even more, and sometimes, it’s that commonality – that you’re both damaged – that draws you together, because you can understand each other and empathize with each other.

On paper, I can understand why some viewers say that they can’t get behind a pairing between Moon Young and Kang Tae; it’s because they’re both hurt and damaged. But as I got deeper into this story, I began to understand that this pairing is the second scenario, where Kang Tae and Moon Young are able to understand each other in ways that no one else can; in that way, they help each other not feel so alone, anymore. It’s all very delicate and complicated, and to Show’s credit, this is all teased out quite beautifully.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E1. I’m not quite thrilled at the childhood connection that Show is hinting at, because that’s quite tropey and overdone, and this drama feels fresh and interesting in so many ways, that it feels like a cop-out of sorts, to include the childhood connection trope. That said, I’m intrigued at Kang Tae’s statement, that he’d liked the girl whose gaze Moon Young reminds him of, who’d been messed up and without conscience. I’m sure he didn’t like the girl because of those qualities, coz that would make him messed up. I’m guessing that he liked her in spite of how she was, and now I’m curious to know more about what drew him to her. Could he see that she was hurting underneath it all, even then?

E1. The chemistry between our leads is very promising, right off the bat. Both Kim Soo Hyun and Seo Ye Ji bring a great deal of presence onto the screen, and combined, their energy feels well-balanced. So far, the vibe between them is charged and pregnant with possibility. She seems quite wowed by his visuals, at least, and makes no effort to hide her appreciation, while he seems intrigued by her. And he’s not making much of an effort to hide that either. I was taken by surprise, when Kang Tae said that he’d come to the company, in the hope of seeing her again. I thought he’d come by, because President Lee had asked him to. I’m curious to see how this connection develops, particularly because both parties seem to be approaching it with a measure of boldness.

And, even though my brain protests that Kang Tae has enough to deal with, without Moon Young and her issues entering his world, it is quite refreshing to see that Moon Young immediately recognizes her attraction to Kang Tae, and pursues it. Although Moon Young’s default expression, if she wears one, is that of boredom, amusement regularly flashes across her face, when she’s looking at Kang Tae, or thinking about him.

E2. On the surface, it seems like Moon Young wants to have Kang Tae as some kind of plaything, as we see in her daydream of being a giant and picking him up by the scruff of the neck like he’s some kind of tiny amusing mouse. But, later in the episode, she’s offering to pay him money, to give him the authority to keep her in check, so that she doesn’t explode. That’s interesting to me. She wants him to have some kind of emotional power over her, and that’s the opposite of picking him up as a plaything. I’m intrigued, to say the least, and curious to see how serious she is, about this.

With this reveal, the playing field is more evened out, in the sense that both Moon Young and Kang Tae are in need of some kind of healing. And, that scene where Kang Tae teaches Moon Young the Butterfly Method of self-soothing, seems symbolic. In this scene, he’s attempting to teach Moon Young how to take a step back, but she turns it around on him, and tells him that trauma is best dealt with face-to-face, as she gets up close in his personal space. I’m guessing that this is an early metaphor for how they will help each other. He will help her self-soothe and control herself, while she will help him stop running away, and face his trauma face-to-face. It’s a touch heavy-handed, but it works.

E2. Given the very crackly nature of the chemistry between Moon Young and Kang Tae, I’m definitely curious to see more of them together, now that she’s tracked him down to Seongjin City. There’s a very natural rhythm that seems to exist, between Kang Tae and Moon Young.

That scene where he steps in to hold her back from arguing with the book critic, each time he reaches for her arm, her wrist, or her hand, it feels so deft and natural, like he’s done this many times before, with her. Except that he hasn’t. Which makes it all the more thrilling. My favorite moment, was when he grabbed her by the hand, to stop her from reaching out to probably hit the book critic. That felt more respectful and intimate than the wrist-grabs. But, the combination of it all – the grabs to the arm, wrist, hand and then wrist again – came across like some kind of dance. And I was quite enthralled.

E4. Moon Young’s as incisive as ever; her diagnosis, that Kang Tae is a child because she can see that he just wants to be loved, is so spot on. Kang Tae’s entire hang-up can be traced to the perceived lack of love from his mother. Moon Young’s casual statement that she’s a child as well, might be a hint that she, too, just wants to be loved, just as Kang Tae does.

E4. The fact that Moon Young’s desperate, very tantrum-like cries of “I love you” actually get to Kang Tae, and echo in his mind later, demonstrates how deep that need to be loved runs. Even this insincere-sounding declaration, which is more bargaining chip than anything else, has the power to haunt him.

E4. “You won’t be able to understand me until the day you die.” That’s something that Kang Tae says to Moon Young, and which Moon Young later muses aloud, back at (an absent) Kang Tae. They both feel so alone, and yet, a connection is made, I think.

E4. When Kang Tae finally sits down to read Zombie Kid, he’s hit by what the zombie kid is actually hungry for: the warmth of his mother. It reduces him to tears, because that’s all he’d ever wanted himself. And when he hears that Moon Young had been strangled by her own father at the hospital, I feel like he sees too, that that is what Moon Young’s ever wanted, as well. In this moment, there’s solidarity, and I think that’s what drives him to seek her out, in the pouring rain.

When Kang Tae sees Moon Young walking in the rain, he doesn’t say a word. But that action, of taking off his own jacket to put on her shoulders, feels profound. To my eyes, it’s like, he has so little of his own – so little warmth, that he’s still hungry – but he’s giving her the little that he has, so that she can gain some warmth too. Augh. That is heart-hitting, gutting stuff.

And the fact that Moon Young collapses from the gesture, indicates just how hard she’s been pushing herself, to just keep going. She’s literally on the brink of collapse when he finds her. I feel like this is metaphorical, that the strong, fearless Moon Young we’ve been seeing, belies a much more vulnerable Moon Young on the inside, who is holding herself so taut that the single gentle touch is able to shatter her into a thousand pieces. Oof.

E5. It might feel rather deflating from a viewer point-of-view, that the grand, seemingly emotional/romantic gesture that ends our previous episode, seems to fall flat this episode, with Kang Tae and Moon Young back at apparent bickering loggerheads.

It makes sense to me, though, because both of them are prickly and damaged, and neither of them feels ready to actually let anyone in. I see it as them attempting to get a little closer to each other, but their metaphorical thorns getting in the way, and because they’re both thorny in their own ways, they’re locking horns and circling each other, while bickering about it.

But it’s significant to me, that we see cracks forming in each of their facades, and a bit of truth leaking out. When Kang Tae confronts Moon Young about what the zombie boy really wants, Moon Young bites out that the zombie boy wasn’t interested in warmth, and was only interested in satisfying his hunger. Alone in the bathroom, though, Moon Young looks unsettled and uncomfortable, as she tries to shake off Kang Tae’s words. My gut sense is that his words had hit home, but she doesn’t want to admit it.

It also seems quite telling, that Kang Tae actually opens up in front of Moon Young, and talks about how he always smiles for Sang Tae, so that Sang Tae believes that he’s happy. I don’t think Kang Tae’s ever told that to anyone, and yet, here he is, telling Moon Young about it. She has a way of asking questions, and making him want to tell the truth, like in this instance. He says that he doesn’t like her, and regrets running out to get her out of the rain, but there’s something about her that brings his truth to the surface, and that’s important.

I don’t think Kang Tae is making a conscious decision to let Moon Young in, though. I feel like he’s a moth drawn to a flame, in a sense. He doesn’t think he should let her – or anyone else – near, but he can’t seem to help himself from telling her things, and he feels compelled to drive out in the rain to get her. There’s something about her that draws him to her, even though he’s fighting it. And even though Moon Young is scheming and unreasonable in how she wants to spend time with him, I can’t deny that just the small spots of alone time that they’ve had, have already drawn some key confessions from Kang Tae.

To be fair, Moon Young herself feels conflicted about Kang Tae too. She’s infuriated by him, but she’s also drawn to him. She notably only stomps on his T-shirt, instead of ripping it to shreds, when she’s angry at him, and before we know it, the T-shirt is hanging up nicely to dry, all over again.

I’d half guessed that Kang Tae knew that Moon Young was the girl from his childhood, but the confirmation does make for a bit of a twist, since he’s been talking about the girl to Moon Young, and saying that he’d been a jerk who’d run away even though she’d saved him. It puts everything he said in a new light; he’d been indirectly telling her all these things; that he’d liked her; that he wanted to forget her; that he’d felt like a coward because he’d run away from her. That’s.. very transparent, once you remove the whole layer of him acting like he didn’t know who she was. And now that he’s admitting the truth, that he’d known who she was, all those things that he’d said, are plainly to her. That’s a lot of honesty for someone who holds his cards so close to his chest all the time.

E6. Moon Young’s maneuver, of getting Sang Tae to sign a contract with her, to live in her house, in order to get Kang Tae to do the same, is unfair and hits below the belt. She does this, despite Kang Tae making it very clear that he doesn’t want her to mess with Sang Tae. Granted, technically, Kang Tae could have left Sang Tae there at the castle and walked away from the situation, but given what Moon Young knows of Kang Tae and his inability to walk away from Sang Tae, this gamble was pretty much a sure win for her, and she knows it.

Again, Moon Young has a way of asking very confronting questions. “Your brother has abandoned you. Will you abandon him too? Or will you let him lock you down your entire life?” I do think that sometimes we need someone to get us to examine the tough questions, and this does seem to force Kang Tae to grapple with himself and his emotions, and figure out the choice that makes sense to him.

E6. Kang Tae’s take on the story as he talks with Sang Tae, is interesting. It’s sympathetic to Bluebeard, and he says that one day Bluebeard will eventually find his true love who’ll understand him for who he is, and tell him it’s ok to be different. I’m intrigued by the fact that as he says this, he thinks of Moon Young looking down at him from the balcony. Does he see himself as Bluebeard, and Moon Young as the one who tells him it’s ok to be different? Coz from where I’m sitting, it seems more like Moon Young is Bluebeard, with everyone scared of her, and he’s the one who’s going to come and rescue her from a life of being all alone. That’s.. interesting. And I dig the idea of mutual healing and mutual saving. I hope Show does a good job of demonstrating that mutuality, as we go.

E6. Kang Tae’s guilt thing shows up again, when he talks about why he couldn’t get over Moon Young all those years. He’d felt guilty for running away from her, when she’d saved his life, and when he’d liked her first. And although he’d tried to walk away from her in the present by pretending not to recognize her, he can’t do it, in the end. Granted, he chooses to stay, not out of guilt, but out of compassion for her, but that self-sacrificial undercurrent is still very strong.

Kang Tae sees beyond Moon Young’s proud and prickly surface, and that’s what makes him have compassion for her. That moment in the hospital, where she actually starts to believe that Madam Kang (Bae Hae Sun) is her mother as she claims, is so uncertain and vulnerable. Kang Tae witnesses it, and that alone tells him a lot about Moon Young’s insecurities and fears.

E6. It says a lot about Moon Young, that when Kang Tae rouses her from her nightmare, the first thing she does is scream-sob at him to run away. She’s instinctively holding onto his shirt for dear life, but in her mind, the only thing she can think of to tell him, is to run away, because she’s afraid for his safety, since Nightmare Mom has threatened to kill him.

I am moved that Kang Tae knows to respond to her inner, true state, rather than what she says. I love the way he pulls her into his arms and holds her hand, as he says, “Okay. I won’t leave.” He looks worried and uncertain, but there’s something rock-solid and comforting about his presence, because Moon Young is quickly soothed and calmed. I feel soothed and calmed too, from Kang Tae’s assurance. He’s clearly the rock that she needs, but he’s in need of healing and restoration himself, so I’m curious to see how things unfold from here. He says that he doesn’t want to be the person that others need. But it’s beginning to look like he’s acting on his own cares, rather than being pushed into doing things he doesn’t want to do.

E7. On the surface, things with Kang Tae and Moon Young look much the same, but there are definite glimpses of change in both of them, as well as glimmers of warmth, and that makes me
happy.

As much as I understand viewers who feel Kang Tae should run as far away from Moon Young as possible, I find it gratifying to see him become more honest with his feelings. I like that he apologizes to Moon Young for saying that she’s an empty can, and I also appreciate that she is matter-of-fact about admitting that she thinks he’s right that she’s an empty can. In this moment, there is no battle of the egos; only clear-eyed, thoughtful honesty, and I like that a lot.

Communication is improving, between Kang Tae and Moon Young. He explains how he’d heard her screams of “get out” as “please stay,” and she tells him about how her nightmares are always of her mom, and how she’d always feel awful afterwards, and how, this time, she doesn’t feel so bad after all. I love that gratified little smile that Kang Tae leaks, knowing that he’s helped her.

E7. Tipsy Kang Tae is adorably more easygoing and smiley than non-tipsy Kang Tae, and it’s really thoughtful and sweet that he beings Moon Young Mang Tae, the little doll that he’d made for Sang Tae, to help him overcome his nightmares. Also! That thing that Kang Tae says, that Moon Young shouldn’t drink because if they both end up drunk, things would get out of hand, is quite.. alluring, I have to admit.

It’s also cute how Moon Young, from disdaining the doll at first, becomes more and more enamored of it, especially when she realizes that Kang Tae made it himself. Moon Young does treasure the things with a personal touch, after all.

E7. I love that moment when Kang Tae strokes Moon Young’s hair and praises her for helping Madam Kang cut herself free. There’s so much contentment in both their faces in this moment, and even though Moon Young had not intended her actions in that way, it’s clear to see that she enjoys the sensation of feeling like she’d done something to help someone. Again, this is a small hint of progress.

I do think that this is part of the catalyst – along with her dad’s words about how she’ll end up just like her mom – that gives Moon Young the burst of determination and courage she needs, to cut her hair – the leash that’s been holding her down and choking her all these years.

That moment when she faces Kang Tae with her chopped off, shorter locks, and they both laugh together, feels like such a freeing moment for her. How sweet, that Kang Tae then helps her neaten her new cut like a proper hairdresser. The way Moon Young looks at her reflection in the mirror, even as a tear falls from her eye, is full of tentative wonder, as if she’s seeing herself – her true self – for the first time. I do love the deeper significance of her question, and Kang Tae’s answer, in light of this. “How do I look?” “You look pretty.” Aw. Their muted, contented smiles, as they look at each other, with tears in their eyes, say so much about how moved they both are, in this moment.

E8. This episode’s theme is Beauty and the Beast, and I feel like Show is playing with the question of just who is Beauty, and who is the Beast, ie, who’s taming who, really? We also get two very different interpretations of the fairytale; one where Beast is an abuser who grooms Beauty to do what he wants, and one where Beauty’s pure love is what changes and saves Beast.

Interestingly, in our story, the genders are swapped and Kang Tae, with his patience and restraint, is positioned as Beauty to Moon Young’s primal, volatile Beast. So far, I feel like Show is trying to say that the answer, in terms of who the tamer is, is both of them. Moon Young and Kang Tae are taming each other in their own ways, and in that way, it feels like we’re toggling between the two interpretations of the fairytale. Sometimes, it feels like Moon Young is slowly conditioning / training Kang Tae to want to be her companion and protector, and at other times, it feels like Kang Tae’s good heart is drawing Moon Young to be more vulnerable and kind. It’s a very interesting dichotomy, and I find it quite fascinating to follow along, as the lens changes.

E8. I have to unpack how I feel about Kang Tae liking Moon Young. On the one hand, Moon Young is more troubled than the average person, and sometimes, it feels like between her and Sang Tae, Kang Tae risks being sucked dry. On the other hand, I have to acknowledge that Kang Tae is fully aware of her dysfunction, and he’s also telling himself that he must be crazy, but his growing attachment to her is undeniable. The fire with which he takes down A Reum’s (Ji Hye Won) abusive ex-husband (Kwon Dong Ho), after the ex hits Moon Young, is so strong that it takes multiple people to get him to stop. This, even though Kang Tae clearly understands the severity of what he’s doing, and the risk that he’s taking. He just feels that protective of her.

Because Kang Tae is a character who’s lived his whole life reining himself in and enduring all kinds of unfair treatment, abuse or insults, in order to do the responsible thing, the very act of him allowing himself to follow his heart, as ill-advised as it might seem, is a huge step for him that is healing and freeing, at the same time. Along those same lines, Kang Tae allowing himself to hit the abusive ex is also out of the norm for him. Normally, he would swallow his anger and stop at restraining the violent perpetrator. But this time, he’s allowed himself to follow his emotions and express his anger freely.

Which brings me to the dilemma of Kang Tae’s choices: allowing his emotions to flow freely is a healthy thing, but what about when those emotions lead him down a destructive path? It can’t be all or nothing; that’s not how healthy people live. Will he be able to learn moderation, by the time we get to the end of our story?

E8. I do enjoy Kang Tae leaking smiles more and more, though. We begin the episode with him leaking a smile, after teasing Moon Young with the possibility of a bowl haircut, and we end the episode with him looking positively radiant, as he brightly tells Moon Young that he’d like to go on a trip with her, immediately, now that everything at work is properly messed up. I mean, my brain is concerned at the possible negative consequences of Kang Tae’s actions, but his radiance in the moment warms my heart so much, that I’m almost willing to throw caution to the wind and tell Kang Tae to do whatever makes him happy.

I also very much enjoy seeing Moon Young softening up and being more vulnerable. Her new penchant for receiving a pat on the head from Kang Tae, as approval and praise, is endearing. She really seems to derive a lot of gratification from such a simple thing, and that’s sweet. And even though she’s pretty much her usual demanding self, there’s an underlying softness in her gaze, like she’s happy to be in cozy domesticity with Kang Tae, and is content because she has his acceptance.

E9. What a freeing experience his trip with Moon Young turns out to be, despite the false starts and the frustration that came with that. In the end, they do end up having fun, and it was just really nice to see them smiling together.

The almost-kiss scene on the balcony is pretty thick with crackly tension, and Kang Tae allowing himself to lean in towards Moon Young is – augh – very swoony. The moment getting undercut by the bleat of the deer echoing through the night, is quite amusing, and Moon Young’s frustration is funny as well. I wouldn’t have minded a follow-through on the intent to kiss though; just sayin’.

On a slight tangent, I do really like the wordplay of “미쳤어” (michyeoss-eo) versus “멋 졌어” (meos jyeoss-eo). The two phrases sound so similar, but mean completely different things. It’s too bad the wordplay is lost in translation. But “stunning” does give us a pitch-perfect vibe of what Moon Young means when she says with appreciation, that she found Kang Tae “멋 졌어” when he hit A Reum’s ex.

E9. On the shaky bridge, Moon Young refuses to even touch it at first, but once Kang Tae mentions that he can’t enjoy this kind of fun with Sang Tae, Moon Young bites the bullet and agrees to cross the bridge. Sure she demands that Kang Tae take her on his back, but when he walks ahead grinning, she doesn’t flounce off in a huff (like past her would’ve done); she pushes ahead despite her nerves, and gets on that bridge, just to make Kang Tae happy. I think that’s a Pretty Big Deal, for Moon Young.

E9. Tipsy Kang Tae is very endearing and adorable, I must say. And Kim Soo Hyun is so very convincing in his delivery that I honestly believe Kang Tae is very tipsy and only half lucid, with his sleepy eyes and slurry speech.

“I have fun when I’m with you.” … “I keep smiling.” When Kang Tae mumbles that in his tipsy state, it feels like a rare moment of complete honesty. Plus, he’s so darn cute that I can’t even blame Moon Young for attempting to get frisky with him, heh.

I must say, all that wrestling and all the tension, in both voice and body, make for a very heady moment of taut embrace, as Kang Tae asks Moon Young to just please stay still and go to sleep. Oof. I do like how the moment melts into something more calm and soothing, as Moon Young remarks that being stroked on the head helps to aid sleep, and Kang Tae complies. The way Moon Young smiles and snuggles into his chest in that moment, makes me feel that she feels secure and protected in his arms. That’s really such a pure sort of emotion.

I do love how Kang Tae later muses aloud to himself that he just can’t hold himself back any longer, and proceeds to bring Moon Young wildflowers in the morning. I love that he makes reference to the past, and tells Moon Young that he went to get her what he couldn’t give her before. Aw. He did say that he always felt bad for running away from her, so this feels like a reclamation of that moment. He looks so gently happy to give them, and she looks so gently happy to receive them, that I can’t helping grinning at my screen while metaphorically clutching my heart. (I did think that the scene morphing to show adult Kang Tae gazing on kid Moon Young was weird. It’s a romantic scene, so to have him looking at a child afterwards, is kind of squicky. They should’ve gone all or nothing, on that one, I think.)

I feel that it’s significant that in this moment, Kang Tae is the one who initiates the kiss, unlike all the other times that Moon Young’s outrageously spoken of wanting him, and Moon Young, without her need for her larger-than-life armor, feels comfortable enough to just smile and enjoy the moment. It feels like they’re starting to embrace the parts of themselves that the other person brings out. Kang Tae’s doing things that he wouldn’t normally do, and Moon Young’s behaving in a way that’s much “tamer” than her usual style, and yet, this moment feels honest. They’ve been helping each other to put aside their armors, to present more of their true
selves.

E10. I think that the way Moon Young tries to be there for Kang Tae, but ends up lashing out at him in frustration, is believable. She’s a troubled individual who struggles to have empathy for others, and it’s already a big sign of progress, that she cares enough about Kang Tae to follow him and try to express concern. But, she’s got a long way to go and is still far from equipped to actually be a shoulder for him to lean on, and it’s unsurprising to me, that, faced with an unresponsive Kang Tae, she’d lash out and even throw her sneaker at him, just to force a reaction out of him. It’s not ideal, certainly, but I think it’s realistic.

The way Kang Tae asks Moon Young to stop following him and leave him alone is so full of resignation and exhaustion. When he says that his brother is more than enough for him to handle, I feel his weariness. It’s true that right now, any decision he makes to love Moon Young is one that would involve him giving to her, because in her current state, she’s not really capable of being the giver. I can understand Kang Tae’s decision to wake up from his “dream.” Realistically, loving and taking care of both Sang Tae and Moon Young is too much for a single person to bear, especially someone who bears as many hidden wounds as Kang Tae.

E11. The way Kang Tae rushes to the castle out of worry for Moon Young, and the way he homes in on her and runs to embrace her, panting with relief, is so intense. The way he gets riled up, as he makes to go after Park Ok Ran (Kang Ji Eun), is even more intense.

But then there’s the way Moon Young looks at him and asks him if he’d come because of Park Ok Ran, rather than because he’d missed her, and the tears sheening in her eyes, say so much, about how much reaching this conclusion hurts her. I’m really glad that Kang Tae forgoes going after Park Ok Ran, and chooses to stay with Moon Young instead.

The entire scene that unfolds next is so absorbing. Moon Young returning to her room to hide under the covers; Kang Tae coming in and tying a handkerchief around her bloodied hand; Moon Young protesting in louder and higher tones, that this cut is nothing compared to the hurt that he inflicted when he told her to get lost; Kang Tae holding her by the shoulders and stating that when she can’t control herself to count to three; Moon Young, starting to count, like he says, despite her heightened emotions, and slowly starting to calm down: “One.. two..;” Kang Tae, finishing the count with her, “Three,” with emotions heightened, and moving in to kiss her, ardently, deeply and tenderly, pulling her to himself so that there is no room between them, and kissing her some more. Augh. Flail.

I do love that even as they pull away and look at each other with some uncertainty and questioning in their eyes, it doesn’t change anything; the next move they make, even after pausing to look at and check in with each other, is more kisses. Melt. The next time Kang Tae pulls away to look at Moon Young, he tells her, “Happy birthday,” and his voice is low and slightly raspy, and it’s very sexy. Umph. And then he whispers, “I missed you.” Augh. My heart.

E11. The way Kang Tae pulls Moon Young down to lay down in his arms, as she nurses his fever with a wet towel, looks so natural and cozy, like he’s done this with her a hundred times before. That effortless ease makes the action sexy, but I am most taken by how at ease Kang Tae is here, where he’s able to rest easy, and express that it’s nice, and that it’s the first time he’s had someone take care of him when he’s sick. There is a distinct note of bittersweetness about that, but by and large, I feel my heart relax, because Kang Tae finally looks relaxed. The way Moon Young lays her head on his chest, and pats his chest comfortingly, is a posture that speaks of her giving care, rather than taking or demanding it, and that feels really nice to see.

E11. I like how Kang Tae tells Moon Young honestly all about Sang Tae’s trauma and why Sang Tae needs him by his side. And I like even more, that Kang Tae isn’t using it as a reason to push Moon Young away anymore; instead, he’s telling her what he’s facing, and asks her to stay by his side, through it. It’s the biggest thing he’s done for himself, and that step of being more generous with himself, is actually moving to witness.

I love the way Moon Young answers, “Why not?” with tears in her eyes. The significance of Kang Tae’s request is not lost on her, and she is moved by it; she is moved that he’s letting her in. And I love that. I love that she understands how big of a deal this is for Kang Tae, and treats it accordingly, even though her words are casually flippant.

E12. I do love the way Kang Tae lays Moon Young down in her bed, then kisses her goodnight, while placing Mang Tae in her hands. It’s all so gentle and tender; I can feel the care that he has for her, expressed in this moment. Very lovely.

E14. I really like how resolute Kang Tae is, that he will not leave Moon Young, even in the face of the realization that her mother killed his. He’s so clear that Moon Young didn’t do anything wrong, and it isn’t her fault. “She’s just Ko Moon Young to me, not Do Hui Jae’s daughter.” He looks rather sad as he says it, but he also looks determined, which feels like an apt combination of emotions to me.

E14. I think it’s so important that Kang Tae tells Moon Young that they’ve done nothing wrong, even as she hides in her room, locking him outside. She feels crushed by guilt for what her mother did, and how that caused Kang Tae and Sang Tae to suffer all their lives, and this statement of fact, by Kang Tae, that none of them has done anything wrong, is what she needs to hear, to be set free from that guilt.

E14. When Moon Young hears that Chief Nurse Park (Jang Young Nam) is really her mother, she starts freaking out and insists that Kang Tae run away, just like she’d done when she’d woken from her sleep paralysis before. And just like before, Kang Tae responds to her heart, not her words. He holds her tightly, even though it’s clear from his eyes that he feels quite helpless too. He just isn’t going to let her go, and I find that determination moving.

[END SPOILER]

Kang Tae & Sang Tae

The relationship between Kang Tae and Sang Tae is truly one of my favorite things in this drama.

The love between the two brothers is so pure and runs so deep, that it’s clear to see, even in  their most difficult and dysfunctional moments. I found it supremely gratifying to follow them on their journey, as they unpacked the unhealthy things in their relationship, faced even the most ugly, difficult parts of it, and emerged stronger, freer, healthier and more loving than ever, on the other side.

Some parts were hard to watch; not gonna lie. But it was so worth it, walking with these two brothers, as they challenged themselves and each other, to overcome their demons.

Also, watching Kim Soo Hyun and Oh Jung Se spark off each other, is such a treat. They are both so excellent in their roles, and they make Kang Tae and Sang Tae such a natural, believable pair.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E3. It’s so bittersweet to see that the reason Sang Tae’s saving up money, is because he wants to buy a camper van so that he and Kang Tae can live in it, so that Kang Tae won’t have to be scolded by landlords every time they move to avoid the butterflies. It’s so touching that Sang Tae knows what Kang Tae goes through, and is doing everything he can, to change that for Kang Tae.

E6. The scene, where Sang Tae rails on Kang Tae, screaming, “I’m not yours, you don’t own me. I belong to myself,” is so painful to watch.

On one level, it’s heartbreaking to think of it from Sang Tae’s point of view, because even though he’s a full-grown adult, he has no autonomy or independence, and is mostly treated like a child. Yet, he has some understanding of his adulthood, as we see from the way he tries to take care of Kang Tae, asserting the fact that he’s hyung, and so Kang Tae can depend on him. It must be so frustrating for him, to understand that he’s hyung, and yet have so little ability to function as hyung. His cries feel like years of pent-up frustration, finally allowed release, as he repeatedly shouts that he belongs to himself. The cries feel so distressing and wretched, and yet so ineffectual, at the same time. Ack.

On another level, the scene is heartbreaking when I look at Kang Tae. He doesn’t fight back at all, and just lets Sang Tae hit him. His stricken expression, and the tears in his eyes, say it all. He’s shocked, worried, sad, exhausted, hurt, and dazed. I feel so bad for him; I want to give him a hug and tell him that it’s not his fault.

It’s so bittersweet, though, to see that even in the fall-out between Sang Tae and Kang Tae, they both have the other’s best interests at heart. Kang Tae doesn’t want Sang Tae to get hurt, in getting close to Moon Young, and Sang Tae just wants to be able to earn that camper van for Kang Tae. Aw. These two brothers.

And I do love that Sang Tae immediately apologizes, when Kang Tae shows up at the cursed castle the next day, and that Kang Tae simply smiles and pats Sang Tae on the shoulder. The entire intense screaming-hitting-crying drama is resolved, just like that. It’s sweet.

E9. Sang Tae’s jealous hold over Kang Tae – where only he is allowed to play with Kang Tae, and only he is allowed to be Kang Tae’s favorite – is definitely a growing problem. Their relationship is very close, and I did really like the closeness that shone through their phone call, when Kang Tae tells Sang Tae to call if he feels bored that night, and, after a pause, Sang Tae, who obviously wouldn’t like the idea of Kang Tae not coming home that night, still tells Kang Tae to do the same and call him if he feels bored too. That gesture of acceptance, despite the phone call being “bad news,” warmed my heart.

E9. Gurgle. It’s so hard to watch Sang Tae lose it because he learns that Kang Tae lied to him about going away on his own. Sang Tae’s voice, worked up into a high-pitched scream, as he tells Kang Tae not to lie, and insists Kang Tae tell him whether he likes him or Moon Young better; Sang Tae rejecting Kang Tae’s words as lies; Sang Tae tapping into his distorted childhood memories and repeatedly accusing Kang Tae of wanting him dead, and of actually attempting to kill him; Kang Tae’s desperate denials; Sang Tae’s desperate insistence that it’s the truth; it all swirls in a terrible moment that seems to never end, as Kang Tae collapses in anguished tears, haunted by his own guilt for a fleeting childhood moment that he’d thrown his life on the line to take back – but which still strangles him today. Oof. Such a raw, throbbing wound, shared between both brothers, ripped open and laid bare. It makes my heart hurt to look upon it.

Oh Jung Se and Kim Soo Hyun kill it, matching each other beat for beat, emotion for emotion, in this very difficult scene, but I can barely register their twin brilliance, because this scene was literally painful to watch.

My heart breaks for Kang Tae, that he would experience such a liberating, emotional high, only to come crashing down to the lowest low, right after. They say that the higher you go, the harder you fall; looking at the anguish written all over Kang Tae’s face, I feel it. I can understand why Kang Tae’s held himself in check all these years; he was probably fearful that something like this would happen.

E10. There’s a song “You’re Cold” on the soundtrack that plays this episode, that I’m finally taking notice of. The English lyrics include the words “you take my breath away” – but the Korean lyrics also talk about not being able to breathe. I find that a very interesting juxtaposition, since the connotation of each phrase is completely different. And it resonates with me, in terms of the love that we see being played out, with our characters. The love figuratively takes their breath away, but at the same time, also adds pressure to them, to the point that they feel suffocated and can’t breathe.

Here’s a partial translation of the lyrics (translation not by me; my Korean isn’t that good):

Where does the path to my heart begin?
When did it start to point to you?
Even when I don’t open my eyes, I keep thinking of you

If it’s with you
I think I could do a crazy love

I get scared without you
Now it hurts
As if I can’t breath

You take my breath away
my everything

The love and angst between Kang Tae and Sang Tae is a great example. They literally love each other to the death, and would each die to protect the other, but there is also so much pain embedded in their history.

In the aftermath of Sang Tae’s meltdown-outburst, what strikes me most, is how, besides guilt, Kang Tae is consumed by so much shame. There’s a distinct deep sense of shame that he carries with him, for ever having wished his brother dead, and for ever having acted on that wish, even for a fleeting moment. The way Kang Tae tells Moon Young that she should’ve let him die that day at the lake, is so painful. He literally believes that he would be better off dead; that’s how low his opinion is, of himself.

Sang Tae can’t forget that pain of rejection, thoughtlessly inflicted by a young Kang Tae, who himself was suffering from perceived rejection as well. And as we hear from Sang Tae later in the episode, he’s aware that their mother had favored him over Kang Tae as well, so there’s likely to be some guilt around that as well.

I love how the brothers make up after the meltdown has had time to settle. Kang Tae apologizes for ever wanting his brother to be dead, or normal, and as he weeps, asking Sang Tae not to abandon him, the comforted becomes the comforter, as Sang Tae steps out of his hiding place in the zip-up closet, and slowly hugs him and pats him on the back, telling Kang Tae not to cry, and also asking Kang Tae not to abandon him.

Gulp. These brothers make my heart cry.

E11. I think the thing that moves me most, this episode, is how Kang Tae and Sang Tae are allowed to be who they really want – need – to be. Kang Tae has hungered all his life to be carefree; to be able to say and do what he really wants; to express himself; to lean on his older brother. And Sang Tae, after being taken care of his whole life, wants and needs to assert himself as Kang Tae’s older brother; he needs to express himself as the adult that he is, and be treated accordingly. And the brothers get both get to do this, this episode, and that makes me so happy.

That fight that Kang Tae and Sang Tae have, is a shocking thing on the surface, since Kang Tae’s always been the one to give way to Sang Tae and take care of him, but this was liberating for them both. Kang Tae finally gets to express himself freely without walking on eggshells around his brother, and Sang Tae finally gets to relate to Kang Tae like a normal hyung, rather than a patient who needs special care. The fight is a brotherly scuffle which essentially brings them closer together, and the sense of release and freedom that this gives Kang Tae, is just quite glorious to see.

I love watching Sang Tae become cognizant of Kang Tae’s happiness, and making a decision to assert himself as the big brother that he is. From the moment he begins that phone conversation with Kang Tae, “Have you eaten?” – traditionally spoken by the caregiver and therefore, by Kang Tae to Sang Tae – sets the entire tone of everything that unfolds next.

It brought literal tears to my eyes, to see Sang Tae take Kang Tae out to dinner, and cut his cutlet for him, and take care of him, and insist on paying for the meal, and even give Kang Tae pocket money, is the sweetest, most lovely thing. It feels so needful, for both brothers.

Kang Tae’s eyes filling with tears, even as he eats the cutlet that his hyung’s cut up for him, and takes the pocket money, promising to spend it preciously, says so much about how this is so soothing for his soul, to be treated like the younger brother, finally. It’s also so endearing to see Sang Tae rising to fill his big brother shoes. It’s clear that this makes him feel empowered, like he has agency, and it’s something that he’s always yearned for too, in his life.

So poignant, and so wonderful. ❤️

[END SPOILER]

The trio together

I really enjoy the idea of found families, and even then, I had no idea how much I would love seeing these three together, forming their own little family, against the odds. I luff them together, so much. ❤️

The road to togetherness is not an easy one, and I really appreciate how Show takes it slow and eases our characters into this new family arrangement, taking into account each person’s quirks and challenges, and patiently dealing with each thing, until each person in our trio is ready.

The progression from near animosity to fierce and profound loyalty is organic, beautiful and gratifying to witness, and I count this as one of the big highlights of my watch. Love.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E6. It’s actually rather nice to see Kang Tae and Sang Tae bring warmth and life into the cursed castle. Moon Young doesn’t say it explicitly, but she’s clearly happy about it. I love the way she asks for more rice at breakfast, and eats a heaping spoonful right away. It shows how hungry she is, for normalcy, and for the company of others. It’s extra heartwarming to me, in all of the difference that this makes to Moon Young, that Kang Tae and Sang Tae are just being themselves.

E8. Sang Tae is jealous of the hints of closeness that he sees between Kang Tae and Moon Young, and at first, I thought that it was because Sang Tae likes Moon Young, and while there may be a bit of that going on, the bigger thing seems to be that Sang Tae doesn’t want to lose Kang Tae to Moon Young. That scene, where Sang Tae agrees to gives Mang Tae to Moon Young, “instead of Kang Tae,” says a lot, I think. As precious as Mang Tae has been to Sang Tae, Sang Tae would rather give up Mang Tae than Kang Tae.

E8. That scene where Kang Tae shelters Sang Tae from the rain with his umbrella, while Moon Young, stopped a few steps behind, watches thoughtfully, is almost a direct mirror of their scene with Mom. In the present, Kang Tae’s taken over Mom’s place as Chief Nurturer, focusing more on Sang Tae than on Moon Young, but in a positive twist from the original scene, Moon Young doesn’t need Kang Tae to invite her to catch up with them; Moon Young does that all on her own. I feel like this is a hint of sorts, that Moon Young won’t require as much babying as we think, and Kang Tae won’t have as hard of a time as his mom did.

E11. I love that Moon Young gives her best effort, in winning Sang Tae over. Yes, her methods aren’t always great, and she does lean on threats to make her case, but her earnestness and persistence are still nice to see. I just like seeing that she’s determined to win Sang Tae over, for Kang Tae’s sake.

And when she grows frustrated because Sang Tae refuses to budge, I do like that after some initial teasing, Kang Tae sits her down, looks into her eyes, and explains things from Sang Tae’s point of view; that Sang Tae’s afraid of being left alone, if he loses Kang Tae to Moon Young; that what they need to do, is assure Sang Tae that he’s not losing someone, but gaining a new family member. Aw. I do love that even as they have this conversation, which is about overcoming difficulties, Kang Tae looks so peaceful and happy, and Moon Young, after listening to Kang Tae’s words, looks content and happy too. Sweetness.

On the other hand, I love how Kang Tae begins to talk with Sang Tae about non-family members who live together, in ways that he can understand. He refers to cartoons and fairy tales, and talks about what it means to be an adult, it’s really heartwarming to see Kang Tae approach this so gently, and with so much empathy and understanding.

That final shot of Sang Tae walking ahead, then hesitating, before calling out to both Moon Young and Kang Tae to hurry up and follow, is so fantastic. I love that it’s the cumulative result of both Moon Young’s efforts to win him over, and Kang Tae’s efforts to explain things to him in ways that he can understand, that eventually bring about this breakthrough.

That scene of Kang Tae talking to Sang Tae about The Ugly Duckling, and using it to talk about how the ugly duckling could’ve stayed and been happy with the other ducklings, if it’d been treated with love, interspersed with shots of Kang Tae and Sang Tae moving back into the castle – with Sang Tae telling Moon Young not to run, and then giving her Mang Tae, like the big brother that he is – is perfect, and makes my heart feel so full. Lovely. ❤️

E12. What a great way to top a great moment, to have Kang Tae come striding in, all cleaned up and spiffy in his suit, with his hair styled, to boot. He made it! Which means that he’s done wrestling the demon – that potential awful truth – and he’s overcome. Augh. I am so, so proud of him, in this moment. And he’s choosing all over again, to be family with Moon Young, along with his brother. Eee!!

Sang Tae’s exuberant joy at seeing Kang Tae, proudly declaring that Kang Tae’s his brother, is the most heartwarming thing, and Kang Tae’s strides towards Moon Young and Sang Tae feel purposeful and full of meaning. There’s a slight hesitance and plaintiveness in Kang Tae’s gaze, as he asks if he’s not too late, but there’s contentment and resolve too. There are smiles all around, and as I watch this little family take their family portrait together, my heart feels so, so full.

I am growing very fond of Mang Tae, and it makes me smile, that Moon Young would make Mang Tae the messenger, bearing her little confession note, that she’s really happy to be a family with Kang Tae, Sang Tae and Mang Tae. It’s sweet and heartfelt, and also endearing and adorable, and I can imagine how that would really hit Kang Tae in the heart and get him moving to put on the suit and get to the photo studio for the family portrait.

E14. I love how, after Sang Tae receives 30,000 won for his work in the kitchen, he immediately divides it so that Kang Tae and Moon Young can have 10,000 won each, as allowance. He is such a caring big brother.

E14. Sang Tae’s simple way of looking at things puts everything into perspective. The way he asks Kang Tae if she’s whimpering at night, takes us back to the story of the Cheerful Dog, and he concludes that Kang Tae needs to help Moon Young cut her leash. Precise, accurate and to the point. Sang Tae is so insightful.

E14. One of my favorite moments this episode, when he hears that Moon Young isn’t feeling well, Sang Tae insists on bringing her porridge, and then, in complete big brother mode, coaxes her to eat. Moon Young sobs and asks for forgiveness, even as Sang Tae coaxes her to eat, and it’s the most parent-like thing, for Sang Tae to say, “Eat just 3 spoonfuls, and I’ll forgive you.” And then, as Moon Young haltingly eats the porridge that he feeds her, he continues to coax her, while telling her that she’s a good girl. Heart. Burst. That is just the sweetest, most wholesome, moving thing. LOVE. ❤️

I also really love the scene where Kang Tae asks Sang Tae to hug him and pat his back. It’s such a little boy thing to do, and I love that Sang Tae comforts him as asked, and tells Kang Tae that he’ll protect the both of them, because he’s the big brother. Sweetness.

Also, I’d just like to say, I love Sang Tae’s refrain: “A kiss is better than a fight.” ❤️

[END SPOILER]

Kang Ki Doong as Jae Soo

Kang Ki Doong has played so many best friends and sidekicks that when I saw that he was playing Kang Tae’s best friend, I just assumed that he’d be kinda supportive and funny, to add interest to our story.

Jae Soo turned out to be so much more than a token side character. I grew to really like and respect Jae Soo, for being such a loving and loyal friend. I kid you not; that’s the refrain that kept coming to mind, the more I saw Jae Soo in action. He blew me away with the depth of his love for Kang Tae, and the extent of his loyalty and sacrifice. What a guy.

On a random side note, it occurs to me that Jae Soo is named Jae Soo just so that Sang Tae can address him as Jae Soo-sshi, which sounds like Jesu-sshi, ie, younger brother’s wife. Tee hee. Jae Soo really does seem to have a wifely sort of relationship with Kang Tae, and I find this amusing and quite perfect.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E2. Even when Kang Tae tells him to stop following them around so that he can settle down and live a more stable life, Jae Soo instinctively refuses, saying that it’s up to him to decide what he wants to do. That’s how much love he has for Kang Tae and Sang Tae; he’s willing to be nomadic, so that he can be with them, even if that means that life is hard. Aw.

E5. When he realizes that Kang Tae had lied to him about the pipes bursting, as a cover for having Moon Young over, Jae Soo doesn’t even take Kang Tae to task for lying to him. All he wants to talk about, is how Kang Tae should stay away from Moon Young, because he’s literally worried for Kang Tae’s safety. He’s got a great point, that Moon Young had hurt him with a knife at their first meeting, and someone who’s unstable could be dangerous.

E12. I do like how Jae Soo is fully aware of Kang Tae’s tendency to only reach out to him when he’s in need of him, like when Sang Tae and Moon Young are unavailable, but only grumbles for a bit,  before responding to Kang Tae’s need for company anyway.

E12. And then there’s what Jae Soo tells Moon Young as well, that the only way he’s been able to stick with Kang Tae all these years, is to accept that Kang Tae doesn’t reveal what he’s thinking or feeling, and that the only thing he can do for Kang Tae, is to stay by him, and quietly comfort him.

Jae Soo is spot-on, of course, in his understanding of Kang Tae, but what strikes me more, is how loving he is, towards Kang Tae. He doesn’t demand a minimum amount of disclosure or reciprocity from Kang Tae, even though he regularly whines and wheedles over whether Kang Tae likes him or Sang Tae more. He accepts Kang Tae for who and where he is, and makes a conscious choice to meet there. He is a wonderful, loyal and loving friend, and though he might grumble and nag, he’s always ready to give and forgive, and I really respect that about him.

E14. Jae Soo’s observation of and advice to Kang Tae this episode feels wise. He observes that Kang Tae is really weak, even though he’s always taking care of others, and that Moon Young is weak too, which is why they are drawn to each other, because they want to lean on each other. He advises Kang Tae to stick close to Moon Young, so that they can join forces and be strong together. Jae Soo’s a good egg. And that advice is the kind of affirmation that Kang Tae needs right now.

[END SPOILER]

Kim Mi Kyung as Ju Ri’s mom

Gosh, I just love Ju Ri’s mom so much.

She’s just really kind and sweet to everyone, in her matter-of-fact, slightly gruff but totally caring way. The fact that she’s played by Kim Mi Kyung makes her even more awesome. I got to a point when I perked up just to see her on my screen. 😍

[SPOILER ALERT]

E10. I love how everyone rallies round to take care of Kang Tae, and I especially love how Ju Ri’s mom feeds him food and then tells him to be her son in his next life, since he won’t be her son-in-law. Augh. So much kindness, I love it. No wonder Kang Tae looks like he’s about to cry, even as he takes a bite of food.

E12. I love how Ju Ri’s mom is kind as a general rule. She’s kind to Kang Tae, regardless of whether he’s interested in dating Ju Ri, and she’s kind to Moon Young even though Ju Ri and Moon Young have literally fought each other. This episode, I love how patient and admiring she is, while she listens to Sang Tae prattle at length about his adventures of the day. The way she reacts so appreciatively to the health supplements that President Lee gives her, is really sweet too.

And the way she quickly ducks out of the way, to give President Lee and Ju Ri some private time to talk, is very endearing too.

E13. I love the mother-son sort of relationship that Kang Tae seems to have with Ju Ri’s mom. Not only does he go to get food from her to feed Moon Young, he gets life advice too. When he muses out loud if he doesn’t know if his mom is ok with him trying so hard to be happy, I love how motherly she is, as she confidently tells him that giving him up on being happy just because he feels bad about it, is a horrible thing to do to a parent. Augh. I hope these two lean into this mother-son dynamic a lot more, and for a long time, because they are so good together.

E14. I keep loving Ju Ri’s mom more. She’s always ready to love the people around her in such practical ways. When Kang Tae asks her to look after Sang Tae for the rest of the day, she immediately puts an apron on Sang Tae and tells him he needs to help her in the kitchen, and waves Kang Tae away. She’s so dependable and she feels like such a solid, caring anchor, in the midst of any kind of upheaval.

And when she makes rice balls, she makes sure to send some to Kang Tae and Moon Young, because, in her estimation, with something going on between them, they’re likely to skip their meals. Such a motherly observation and ensuing action. I’m right there with President Lee, as he looks at her in tearful wonder and gratitude, and blurts out, “I respect you so much.. I love you.” 😍

[END SPOILER]

Park Gyu Young as Ju Ri

I have to admit that I liked Ju Ri more at the end of our story, than at the beginning. In the beginning, I found her too closed off and stuffy, and sometimes, I felt like she was a bit too brusque with her mom – and you already know how I feel about her mom.

Happily, I found myself liking Ju Ri a lot more in our later episodes, and I was happy to want happy things for her.

[SPOILER ALERT]

When I didn’t like Ju Ri so much

E6. Ju Ri getting so angry at her mom for accidentally encouraging Kang Tae to follow Sang Tae to the cursed castle, makes me think of Moon Young’s words to her, in episode 5, about being two-faced and acting nice and innocent and weak, when she’s really not so nice. Perhaps we will see more of the real Ju Ri, now that she’s so upset.

When I felt sorry for Ju Ri

E9. Ju Ri’s  conversation with Seung Jae on the rooftop is rather illuminating. She admits that Kang Tae has absolutely nothing, and she’d thought that she’d be able to fill up his emptiness. She says it with a look of wistful sadness in her eyes, and I feel like she’s beating herself up for being inadequate; that even a guy with nothing, who could benefit from her love in every way, refuses her affection. Aw. I do feel rather sorry for her, because she shouldn’t feel that way.

When I started to change my mind about Ju Ri

E10. Giggle. I must say that Drunk Ju Ri is sassy and funny, and way more interested than sober Ju Ri. The way she sasses Moon Young and even slaps her on the head is hilarious, and the way she later blasts Kang Tae for speaking casually to Moon Young while being overly polite with her, is pretty great too. I do think Ju Ri should allow more of her real self to shine through, and not be as concerned with being proper, because she’s much more charming and interesting and colorful, when she lets loose a little.

[END SPOILER]

Kim Joo Hun as President Lee

At first, I kind of thought President Lee was just a convenient side character, there to facilitate Moon Young’s writing career, and also, to provide some amusement with his apparent preoccupation with money and the making of it.

However, I’m pleasantly surprised by how endearing I found him, by the end of our story. I like that Show takes the time to tease out his more earnest, decent inner self, and show us that there’s more to him than meets the eye.

[SPOILER ALERT]

One of my favorite President Lee moments

E10. I like that there’s no hint of irony in President Lee’s conversation with Moon Young, where he helps her analyze that she misses Kang Tae and Sang Tae. He’s been coming across as an understanding and patient teacher, lately, and I like that. In Moon Young’s case, the tutorial seems warranted; she does literally have to learn how to love others. “You miss him.” … “I miss him.” Moon Young seems to be absorbing the new information while trying on the thought for size, until the thought becomes realization. And I love that President Lee seems to genuinely care about Moon Young’s growth and well-being.

[END SPOILER]

The potential loveline between Ju Ri & President Lee

At around the episode 8 point, Show starts teasing a potential loveline between Ju Ri and President Lee, and I have to admit, at the time, I felt mildly amused but mostly neutral about it, mostly because, at this point of my watch, I still felt mostly neutral about both these characters.

Happily, as I grew to like both characters more, I found that I came to enjoy their loveline more as well. Bonus.

Overall, Show goes with a pretty light touch with this loveline, which I liked. It felt subtle but endearing; a nice perk to our main narrative, without trying to be too much.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E9. In principle, I’m not against President Lee having a maybe-loveline with Ju Ri, and I know that the feeding of the veggie wrap is a cultural thing, but it did bug me that he insisted on shoving it into her mouth even after she declined. That wasn’t cool, I thought.

But, I do rather like the gentle way he talks with her, on their way back from the convenience store. And I like the combined insight that he and Ju Ri have: that both Moon Young and Kang Tae are alike; they are both intensely lonely, but they don’t want to show it nor do they want to let people near, and that’s perhaps why they understand each other and are drawn to each other.

Bonus points to President Lee for managing to make Ju Ri smile, even when the topic of conversation touches such a raw nerve with her. This does kind make up for the force-feeding moment from earlier.

E11. I like this new development, that Ju Ri and President Lee seem to be making some headway in their loveline. President Lee not taking offense or running away after seeing Ju Ri’s drunken worst, seems to have unlocked something in Ju Ri. She’s no longer dismissive of him, and even allows Mom to put lipstick on her, when she’s on her way to have dinner with him, to make up for the drunken damage she did to his car. I mean, she still begins their conversation by talking about Moon Young and Kang Tae, but when President Lee good-naturedly puts a stop to it and asks to talk about her instead, she smilingly complies.

I kinda think that this thing where President Lee’s seen her at her drunken worst, when she’s not wearing all her proper courteous layers, and still likes her, must have moved her. I mean, it’s a theme that moves me deeply (and it got me right in the heart, when I Hear Your Voice did it for its OTP), so I can see how this might unlock Ju Ri’s heart towards President Lee. How can your heart not waver for a guy who’s seen you without all your niceties, and still thinks you’re the bee’s knees?

E13. I’d thought that President Lee was being sneaky-smart about courting Ju Ri, but it turns out to be mostly Seung Jae’s brainchild, and President Lee can’t help but muck it all up, in his eagerness to talk to Ju Ri, pfft. I do much prefer the outcome that this brings about though, where he confides in Ju Ri’s mom, and decides to approach it more honestly. I thought it was sweet of him to go wait for Ju Ri at the bus-stop to walk her home – until he mucked it up by talking about how he wanted to treat his ideal woman like a daughter. Silly earnest bumbling man. 😆

E14. Ju Ri’s starting to leak amused smiles around President Lee, which I take to mean that she’s softening towards him and maybe even likes him back. That’s nice. Also, it’s excellent progress, that when she asks him about what’s going on, it’s Moon Young that she’s worried about, and not Kang Tae.

[END SPOILER]

The friendship between Moon Young and Ju Ri

If you’ve watched kdramas long enough, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Ju Ri and Moon Young are presented as childhood ex-friends, or that Show gives their friendship a redemption arc. What I do like, though, is how Show stays true to its central theme of healing, in teasing out the backstory and the ensuing reconciliation.

I actually like that the road to reconciliation feels gradual and honest. It involves soul-searching and candid conversations, both of which are things I very much approve.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E5. That catfight between Moon Young and Ju Ri is pretty epic. It’s such an explosion of feelings – most of them directed at Kang Tae. Moon Young is taunting as she tells Ju Ri just what she thinks of her, but given that Ju Ri slaps her so sharply, it makes me wonder if Moon Young’s touched on a raw nerve, for Ju Ri to react that way. Moon Young comes across as rude and inappropriate, because she doesn’t filter her words, but she does tend to be incisive and honest. Or, is that all stemming from jealousy over the fact that Moon Young seems uncomfortably close to Kang Tae?

The flashback to Ju Ri’s early friendship with Moon Young does explain a lot about why they feel so opposed to each other in the present, and it explains why Moon Young’s said so disdainfully that Ju Ri likes to smile at others and pretend to be nice. How sad, though, that what ultimately broke that early friendship, was Moon Young’s feeling of being sidelined. As misguided as her actions were, it does make my heart pinch to think that she did it all because she wanted to have Ju Ri back.

E12. The conversation that Moon Young and Ju Ri have about Moon Young’s dad’s poor prognosis, is oddly peaceful. I mean, on the surface, it’s a conversation sounds similar to ones they’ve had before. Ju Ri asks Moon Young to take her dad for a walk, together with her, and Moon Young declines, saying that she doesn’t want to. But, this moment, in contrast to previous conversations, feels distinctly serene and tranquil.

It feels like Moon Young’s made peace with how she feels about her dad, and this is her final conclusion. It doesn’t feel like there’s any room or need for further discussion on the matter. She’s concluded that she’s fine with leaving her relationship with her dad as is, and even though this means never mending her relationship with him, that’s ok. How aptly aligned with this show’s title, that it’s ok to not be ok.

[END SPOILER]

Special shout-outs:

The general warmth of the little community

I really enjoyed the general warmth of the little community that grows in Ju Ri’s house. I find it sweet that they start to care about one another, and become a found family of sorts, eating together, and laughing together, and stepping in to help, when help is needed.

[SPOILER] In episode 10, I found it very heartwarming that everyone rallies round to help take care of Sang Tae. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and in his childlike state, this really feels like what’s happening with Sang Tae. I do love that everyone cares enough to actually step in and do something. The cozy family feels. 🥰 [END SPOILER]

Kwak Dong Yeon’s cameo as Kwon Gi Do

Huge shout-out to Kwak Dong Yeon, for his scene-stealing cameo as Kwon Gi Do, the patient with Manic Syndrome, in possession of a strong exhibitionist streak. He really does give his character a manic sort of quality, while making him amusing as well.

More than that, Kwak Dong Yeon imbues Gi Do with a deep pathos, in the more vulnerable scenes. It’s very impressive, that he delivers so well, on each of these very different fronts.

[SPOILER ALERT] When Gi Do gatecrashes the political rally that his father (Han Ki Joong) is participating in and takes to the stage and talks about how it’s not his fault that he was born a little dumb, and was hit and looked down upon for not doing well in school, and how he felt invisible, and did crazy stuff to get his father’s attention, and ended up really going crazy, it’s heartbreaking and illuminating, to realize that he was just hungry for his father’s love and acceptance, and the lack of that, basically led to him losing his mind.

That was something that could have been prevented, if only Gi Do’s father had been more accepting of his own son. How sad, and how thought-provoking. Also, Kwak Dong Yeon near made me cry, with this scene. [END SPOILER]

The child actors

I also just wanted to give a shout-out to Moon Woo Jin and Kim Soo In, who play baby Kang Tae and baby Moon Young respectively. They both don’t have a lot of lines, but I felt that they both channeled their adult counterparts really well.

Kim Soo In portrays the questioning, almost unfeeling ice princess really well, and Moon Woo Jin makes me feel baby Kang Tae’s lostness and his confusion and sadness, as he compares how Mom treats him versus his brother. Really well done.

STUFF THAT WAS OK

Treatment of the villain [SPOILERS]

The downside to starting my watch a little behind everyone else, is that it’s hard to avoid spoilers if everyone is talking about a show. I’d been accidentally spoiled for Show’s big twist, which means that on the downside, I was not shocked by the reveal, since I’d already heard about it before I got to it.

On the upside, it means that I had the chance to watch for signs that pointed to the reveal, that Chief Nurse Park was, in fact, a psycho, and possibly Moon Young’s mother. I will concede that there were little breadcrumbs that indicated that Chief Nurse Park wasn’t exactly stable, but they were few and far between.

E13. The facial twitch she got after suffering a paper cut, coupled with the dark look that flashed across her face, while she was upset about something, is the first piece of evidence I managed to come up with. And then the only other actually suspicious thing is how quickly she cleared Park Ok Ran’s bed, after Park Ok Ran escaped from the hospital, and then mysteriously said that Park Ok Ran wouldn’t be able to come back. Other things like how she’d remarked that parents have their reasons for doing things, are quite neutral, to me, because anyone could have said that and had a point. But I concede that on hindsight that could interpreted to be pregnant with meaning.

Mostly, I found Chief Nurse Park to have been capable, calm and empathetic, and functioning at a very high level of competence for her job, taking care of both staff and patients. It’s.. really hard to believe that while she was doing all that, she was also taking time to terrorize the very patients she claimed to care for.

Another thing I found hard to believe, is how she could have survived, after being thrown over the banister and basically landing on her head, and then getting thrown into the sea while trapped in a piece of luggage? If she’d survived, she would have suffered some long-term effects, no? Like some sort of brain injury or a limp? But no, Nurse Park is perfectly functional and has suffered no visible ill effects of almost having been murdered.

Show does go on to provide several flashbacks to fill in the blanks on how Nurse Park behaved as a villain, while working at the hospital. The way she basically killed Moon Young’s dad by cutting off his life support, while breezily wishing him, “Die well,” is completely the kind of psychotic behavior I’d come to associate with Moon Young’s mother, and so, with examples like these, the shoe began to feel like it fit noticeably better.

It was also helpful to follow the advice that I’d received, to think of her as a fairytale villain. That really helped to smooth over any bumps caused by unanswered questions and stretches in believability.

STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH: A random list [SPOILERS]

There aren’t a lot of things that I didn’t like in this show, so here’s a couple of things that just weren’t my favorite.

E6. The silent movie skit in the epilogue, where Sang Tae is Bluebeard and Moon Young’s the wife that he kills, while Kang Tae is the hunchback who tries to fight him, is quite off the wall and weird. I found it a bit jarring after the emotional high of where we leave Kang Tae and Moon Young, and I rationalized this as the drama’s way of showing us its sense of humor. But I have to admit, it wasn’t a favorite.

E10. Director Oh’s analysis that Park Ok Ran is either very familiar with Do Hui Jae, or could very well be Do Hui Jae herself, is such a leap. I mean, I know Show wants to give us a way to plant that conclusion, but honestly, that was not a logical conclusion. Kang Tae’s first conclusion, that Ko Dae Hwan had mistaken Park Ok Ran for Do Hui Jae, makes a lot more normal sense.

FAIRYTALE THEMES

Show does a consistent job of centering each episode around a fairytale theme. I liked some more than others, and one of my favorites is the tale of the cheerful dog, in episode 7.

[SPOILER ALERT]

The tale of the cheerful dog is such a clear mirror of our characters, who put up strong fronts, but whimper in agony when no one’s looking, because in actual fact, they’re struggling to cut themselves loose from the leashes that imprison them, because they’ve been so used to being tied down.

This episode, it’s gratifying to witness our characters cutting themselves loose, one by one. It’s not the end, especially for our key characters, but it’s such a significant beginning. Aside from our key narrative arcs, the theme also shows up in a patient arc, which I found nicely handled.

When Moon Young confronts Madam Kang over her canceled classes and demands compensation, I’m quite horrified when she decides that Madam Kang’s fur shawl is suitable recompense. After all, that is the very shawl that Madam Kang and her daughter had quarreled over, after which her daughter had died, still holding the shawl that she’d bought for her mom.

I’m stunned though, to see Madam Kang choose to let the shawl go. As it turns out, that token of remembrance of her daughter, had also been tying her down and choking her with guilt all these years. The relief in Madam Kang’s face is clear, as she tells Kang Tae that her burden is finally gone. What a thought-provoking perspective, that sometimes, the things that we hold most dear, are the things that are holding us back the most.

[END SPOILER]

OTHER THEMES / IDEAS [SPOILERS]

Show is rich with themes and ideas, and here are just a few that didn’t fit into any of the sections above.

E3. That moment when Sang Tae says that to an autistic person, family members are like close strangers, is such a punch to the gut. I see the truth in that statement though, I think. Even though the family members mean well and are loving, they don’t truly understand what the autistic person is experiencing, and that’s why they feel like close strangers instead of kin. That’s a sobering and sad thought, really.

E4. We get a deeper glimpse at the effect that parents have on their children, and Show raises the question of why parents bring their children into the world. Gi Do’s father says that he has no need for a child who is useless, and we also see in a flashback that Kang Tae’s mother had said to him that she’d given birth to him, so that he’d be able to help Sang Tae. How awful, for both Gi Do and Kang Tae, to believe that their love and acceptance by their parents, was based on them fulfilling some criteria.

E9. I like the insight by Director Oh, that people who overdress as a general rule do it because they want to use it as an armor to protect themselves. This does seem to ring true for Moon Young, and as an extension, I feel like everything about her devil-may-care, prickly persona is an armor that she’s constructed for herself, to protect her from being hurt.

SPOTLIGHT ON THE PENULTIMATE EPISODE [SPOILERS]

All in all, I consider this a solid penultimate episode. Was this the best penultimate episode ever? Well, no. It did feel a bit tiring to wade through, from time to time. And yes, we do go a bit ham with the villain arc, but – and this is so important – we manage to avoid noble idiocy! I mean, that alone is worth celebrating, yes?

Let me reiterate that it really does help – as I was advised – to think of the villain as a fairytale villain. Because, Villain Mom is flat-out, lost-her-marbles c-ra-zy. She drugs Sang Tae, lures Kang Tae to the castle, and baits him to kill her, before stabbing him with a tranquilizing needle, all in a bid to reclaim Moon Young as her art piece. And she does it all with relish, like doing evil things gives her a delirious high.

I appreciate Kang Tae reinforcing the idea that people are not things, when he tells Villain Mom that Moon Young is a person and not an art piece. I also appreciate that it’s the memory of Moon Young musing that her mom is still her mom, regardless, that causes him to release his stranglehold on Villain Mom.

Moon Young tries to stab Villain Mom (ie, tries to destroy the butterfly to save the brothers), but Kang Tae blocks the blow, getting stabbed in the hand, and reminds Moon Young that she’d promised him not to do it.

Sang Tae – in full Big Brother glory – whacks Villain Mom on the head with a huge volume of fairytales, and knocks her out, thus protecting his two younger siblings, like he’s pledged to. Aw. I love that Sang Tae is the one who saves the day. And, I appreciate the scene being shown with the child actors in place of our adult actors; it brings home the point that the acts of terror that Villain Mom had inflicted, were on these kids, and the trauma that had lingered, had stunted parts of them as they grew up. And now, as our characters overcome Villain Mom, we see that it is the kids who prevail, finally.

It’s kind of odd that once Villain Mom is taken away by police, her arc seems to be completely over. It’s like she exited Stage Left, and that was the end of that, while the scene changes to the next Act. There seems to be no further involvement needed by Kang Tae or Moon Young, not even in the way of having their statements taken at the police station. I’m sure that’s not standard protocol, and it does feel weird for Show to omit it, but it’s much more acceptable when you think about Villain Mom as a fairytale villain, and our story as a modern-day fairytale, because fairytales don’t get muddied up with pedestrian things like witness statements and police investigations.

We then spend the bulk of the episode exploring the emotional impact of all that’s happened.

Some viewers might feel impatient with this portion of the episode, because it might feel like Kang Tae and Moon Young are waffling on and not getting a happy ending of their own volition, because there’s no more Big Bad getting in their way. While that kind of storytelling would probably work if you think of our story as a fairytale, I.. actually prefer that Show takes the time to explore the complicated emotions that they both feel.

Moon Young feels a lot of guilt towards Kang Tae and Sang Tae, not only because of what her mother’s done, but because her mother’s actions trace back to Moon Young herself. It’s natural that Moon Young feels guilty for it all, and feels that it would be too difficult and painful for Kang Tae and Sang Tae, to keep seeing her day to day. Moon Young’s estimation that Kang Tae will pretend to be ok, in turn making her walk on eggshells and feel suffocated, is a sharp one; I can imagine that that’s the kind of thing that would happen.

And, even though Kang Tae tells Moon Young that it doesn’t make a difference to him, and he’s confident that he’ll be able to handle it, the truth is – which he admits to Director Oh – that it’s really not that easy. I really appreciate that Show acknowledges that. Emotions aren’t straightforward things, and humans are complex creatures, and – c’mon – this is the death of his mother that we’re talking about. It would feel unbelievable, if Kang Tae was able to get over it all instantly and be as right as rain.

In this situation, I really like Director Oh’s simple conclusion. “If both options feel like death, wouldn’t it be better to suffer together?” Indeed. And that’s the conclusion that Kang Tae chooses to embrace, even as he admits that he still needs time to work through it.

I also love the scene where Kang Tae moves to throw out Dooly’s Mom because it had been a gift from Villain Mom when she was Chief Nurse Park. I love the significance of Sang Tae taking Dooly’s Mom back, and stating that even though the person who’d given her to him is bad, Dooly’s Mom didn’t do anything wrong. And he comforts her instead, telling her that he won’t let her be thrown away. Aw. What a great reminder to Kang Tae, that even though Villain Mom may be evil, Moon Young didn’t do anything wrong, and needs to be accepted and comforted.

The big scheme to get Moon Young to eat some food is so endearing and heartwarming; it’s no wonder that Moon Young feels touched, in spite of herself. Plus, who can resist the matter-of-fact love that Ju Ri’s mom doles out, really? ❤️

I love that when Moon Young gets back to the castle, the one waiting for her isn’t Kang Tae, but Sang Tae, all tired out and curled into a ball while sitting on the stairs, clutching his sketchbook. I mean, who could resist that earnest innocence? Also, I LOVE the callback to the first time that Sang Tae had seen Kang Tae’s happy smile in his sleep. That’s so meaningful, that he’d drawn it because it’d been the first time that he’d seen Kang Tae happy.

The other callback, of Kang Tae running after Moon Young, shouting, “I love you! I said I love you!” –  I liked less. It just doesn’t land with a whole lot of sincerity, when played like that. But, I appreciate the role reversal, and also, the fact that Kang Tae, who’s always bottled things up on the inside, now doesn’t care two bits, that everyone can see him running after Moon Young, and yelling his feelings out to her.

In terms of the episode’s closing scene, where Kang Tae basically corners Moon Young into an almost-kiss.. well, I like the concept more than the execution. As swoony as Kang Tae looks in the screenshot below, with all that smoldering intent, it niggles at me that Moon Young is consistently leaning further and further away from him and trying to get away from his kiss. That doesn’t sit so well with me, so I hope Show fixes that nicely in the finale – while it works at serving up our happy ending.

THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]

To be honest, I did not love all of this finale.

This might be an unpopular opinion, but I felt like the tonal shifts were a bit jarring, and big patches of story felt like filler, to my eyes. However, the parts that I loved, I really really loved, and they were enough to make this finale feel worthwhile and meaningful, despite the stuff that I didn’t love so much.

But first, let’s rewind to that almost-kiss. The weird bleat of the deer interrupts the moment, causing Kang Tae to yell at it to shut up, and that makes both he and Moon Young laugh, resetting the moment to something a lot more real. He’s no longer intent on proving a point, and neither is she. Finally, his voice is gentle and tender, as he tells her he loves her, and she responds to his kiss, as a tear falls from her eyes. ..And it turns into the kind of kiss where they, uh.. surrender, spirit, soul and body. Ahem. And rawr.

Sang Tae and Kang Tae quit their jobs, and Moon Young almost quits writing too, but changes her mind because of Sang Tae’s drawing of Kang Tae’s real happy face, and decides to at least write that last story.

I think I mustn’t have been in the mood for slice-of-life, or perhaps it was an odd transition from all the drama we’ve had in this story, but I wasn’t so enamored of all the little daily, ordinary things that we see.

Director Oh outing his father-son relationship with Cha Yong (Choi Woo Sung) by dragging out of the storeroom by the ear; Moon Young and Sang Tae ignoring Kang Tae while they work on their book, and Kang Tae’s disgruntled chagrin; Moon Young offering President Lee the choice between publishing her book or her mom’s last book, and Mom’s manuscript getting lost when President Lee sends the instructions to save the manuscript no matter what – to Moon Young’s phone instead of Seung Jae’s; Seung Jae finding the manuscript in the rubbish dump and then pretending to quit, in order to take petty revenge on President Lee for not treating her well all this time; it all just doesn’t land with a lot of oomph, for me.

However, I do like that Moon Young goes to see Villain Mom, and, against all of Mom’s insistence that she and Moon Young are the same, Moon Young states that they are different, and that unlike Mom, she’s learned about warmth. Moon Young then takes a leaf out of Sang Tae’s book, and paints over Mom’s inferred meaning of butterfly to mean psyche and therefore psycho, with psyche’s other meaning, cure, before she turns and leaves Mom, for the last time. This feels like a fitting and meaningful way to close out the villain arc, with callbacks to themes and ideas that had been introduced before. I thought that was nice.

Kang Tae tells Jae Soo (now “hyung,” since Kang Tae now realizes the value of having a hyung) that he should do what he really wants to do, and go where he really wants to go, instead of blindly following Kang Tae and Sang Tae around. Aw. This is bittersweet to me, because while I understand the importance of Jae Soo finding his own path in life, I do very much enjoy him being part of Kang Tae and Sang Tae’s family. And I kind of want them to keep on being family, even though Kang Tae and Sang Tae are now family with Moon Young. Can’t we have room for one more..? 😕

When the book is published, I love that the first thing Sang Tae does, is to bring the book to show Mom at her tree. His tearful joy, as he proudly tells Mom that he drew all the pictures in the book, and is a professional illustrator now, fills my heart so. I’m sure Mom is so proud of him. Kang Tae’s tearful embrace, as Sang Tae prattles on to Mom, is so beautiful as well.

I was a lot less interested in Moon Young and Sang Tae fighting over who would get to narrate the book, the book launch going awry, and the various patient updates that we got along with that, but I did love that Sang Tae saved a book for Ju Ri’s mom, and wrote a sweet note in it to thank her for everything. And I love that Kang Tae thanks her too, and asks for a hug. How sweet of Mom, to say that he really doesn’t need to ask, before she hugs him like the son she never had. Aw.

President Lee tells Ju Ri that he plans to open his office in Seongjin City instead of Seoul, which means that these two can easily date now, yay. And Director Oh gives Sang Tae a camper van, so that our little family can finally go on that trip that they’ve always talked about.

I was not into the whole arc where Sang Tae and Moon Young troll Kang Tae and pretend that they don’t want to go on the trip, and then Kang Tae gets all upset and gets drunk. I mean, that felt quite unnecessary and kind of mean. But, I do like they went on the trip, and that we get a highlight reel of their happy times on the road.

I like that Moon Young apologizes to Kang Tae, for having hurt him physically twice, in the past, and Kang Tae simply accepts. The apology might be a little late, but things aren’t being swept under the carpet, and a promise is implied for a different future, which I like.

The other thing that kind of surprises me – but which feels so perfect – in this finale, is Sang Tae’s declaration that he wants to work. He’s said for a while now, that he only belongs to himself, and Kang Tae only belongs to himself, but this is the first real step towards independence that he’s making. He’s not simply following Kang Tae on the road trip as a mindless tag-along; he’s making a conscious decision that he’s had enough fun, and now wants to work and feel valued, and he’s even made plans for President Lee to come pick him up.

Wow. I was a little blindsided by this, because in my head, these two brothers simply belong together all the time, but I recognize how very needful this is, for Sang Tae – and for Kang Tae as well. All this time, they’ve each learned to say that they belong to no one else but themselves, but this is the first step towards putting those words into action. And it’s so moving, that it’s Sang Tae who makes that first move.

Kang Tae’s concerned and tearful, but accepts Sang Tae’s decision, and I love that Sang Tae comforts him by wiping away the tear off Kang Tae’s face, giving him a hug and rubbing his back, telling him not to cry. Aw. That is so sweet. He’s such a Big Brother. ❤️ Sang Tae thanks Kang Tae, and Kang Tae thanks him too, for being his brother. Gulp. These two make me wanna cry; it’s all so heartachey and good. And then later, Sang Tae gives his parting shot of advice to our lovebirds, “A kiss is better than a fight, okay?” Ha. So. Perfect. ❤️

Finally, we hear the rest of Moon Young’s latest story, narrated in voiceover by Kang Tae. We continue the story and hear that the Shadow Witch kidnaps the Masked Boy and the Emotionless Princess and locks them in a tunnel. The Box Man finds the tunnel but can’t go in because his box head is too big. But, despite his friends telling him to run away and not worry about them, he musters up his courage and takes the box off his head, and proceeds to save the Masked Boy and the Emotionless Princess.

“Upon getting out of the dark tunnel, the two of them saw the man’s face covered with dirt and grime instead of the box and burst out laughing. They laughed and giggled. While laughing uncontrollably, the Masked Boy’s mask suddenly fell off. The can surrounding the Emotionless Princess’ torso also fell off and made a clanking noise. The Box Man, now out of his box, said this when he saw the two of them finding their true faces while laughing.What the Shadow Witch had stolen from them was not their true faces but their courage to find happiness.”

Augh. That’s perfect. It’s a perfect note on which to end our story, bringing everything back to fairytale form, while condensing the journey of our little trio towards finding their true selves, into a simple-to-understand fairytale that still manages to resonate with so much truth. I love it.

This journey was not an easy one, but it was so worth it, to follow our characters as they found their way out of the darkness of the cursed castle, into brightness, sunshine, hope and happiness.

THE FINAL VERDICT:

Meaty and thoughtful, while balancing dark with whimsical.

FINAL GRADE: A

TEASER:

MV:

PIANO COVER: OST ALBUM

I found this piano cover of the entire OST album, and it’s quite lovely. So I put it here so you guys can enjoy it too. ❤️

PATREON UPDATE!

The next drama I’ll be covering on Patreon, in place of It’s Okay To Not Be Okay, is Record Of Youth. I just can’t resist the idea of some Bogummy on my screen, y’know? 😉

If you’d like to join me on the journey, you can find my Patreon page here. You can also read more about all the whats, whys, and hows of helping this blog here. Thanks for all of your support, it really means a lot to me. ❤️

72 thoughts on “Review: It’s Okay To Not Be Okay

  1. daeche_uju

    AT LAST!!! My long wait for your review to come out is over, FGV! TBH, I always consult your site whenever i am looking for a show to watch, or deciding if i should watch, and then come back here to hear your thoughts about shows i really love.

    Actually, i watched IOTNBO because i wanted to find out what the hype surrounding KSH (whom I have never seen before) was all about, if it was justified at all. I am relatively new to the Kdrama universe, starting only last Jan 2020 with CLOY, and then getting sucked in, and finishing one drama every 4-5 days. I must admit that during the first few episodes, i felt KSH was overrated. He was stoic and almost deadpan in most of the scenes, and was clearly upstaged by the more flambouyant KMY and his irrepressible hyung Sangtae. But as Kang-tae’s layers upon layers were peeled off, as he simmered and boiled and burst, I came to see the light — how utterly MASTERFUL and deserving of all the awards and accolades KSH is. He ripped my chest, stole my heart, and alternately made it swell with emotion then diced it into a million pieces whenever he wept. What i first thought was “deadpan, stoic” was actually KSH finely calibrating every trace of emotion that seeped out of Kang-tae, as if he had a dial attached to his well of emotions and expressions, and with every episode, he would dial it up, sometimes halfway, sometimes all the way. Astounding restraint and intent and nuance. And can we all take a moment to appreciate KSH’s 50 Shades of Cry — because he doesn’t cry the same in any two scenes. Each cry is unique yet equally gutting (culminating in that scene where ST breaks down by the hospital staircase, accusing KT of wanting him dead). The restraint he shows whenever he tries to stifle that cry — like when he was at the rooftop with Jaesoo, wondering if his mom ever felt sorry for treating him that way, and as he was about to weep, Juri’s mom came, and his cry was interrupted and he had to swallow all those tears; or when he was at the restaurant with ST and KMY and thought of his mom, about to weep while slurping his noodles, and was interrupted by KMY’s comment — is mind-blowing. And please, do not even get me started on how hot KSH has made Kang-tae, shabby clothes and all, yet sizzling with smoulder in those romantic scenes with KMY. Oh KSH, the fangirl in me will never be the same now that I am forever under your spell <3 <3 <3

    Seo Ye Ji was PHENOMENAL as KMY, and this is arguably her career-defining role. No one, absolutely no one, can play KMY. SYJ IS KMY. Because she imbued KMY with such vulnerability, depth, complexity, and pathos, it never crossed my mind to loathe her, despite her bullying ways at the start. She always struck me as a severely broken soul, like a third-degree burn patient, wounded to such extent that her true self is unrecognizable even to her. And i had compassion for her. I was bemused at her antics, and loved her early on. I would be hard-pressed to find a female lead as compelling as KMY. She is an icon.

    Oh Je Sung was PERFECTION as Sang tae. I have run out for superlatives for his performance.

    I agree with most netizens who wished that show did not resurrect Villain Mom anymore. It was campy and illogical. I wish the trio simply had to battle the memory of her, the trauma she inflicted on them, and not have to actually physically encounter her. I know the actress who played Villain Mom is a seasoned veteran, but I did not like her portrayal of Villain Mom. To me it was over the top. Maybe it was the director’s choice, but still. Oh well.

    MAD PROPS to the writer and director and animators of IOTNBO. Mad props as well to the composers of the whimsical, ethereal OST. I am raring to purchase KMY’s books (which my friends have already!), if only there was an English translation.

    I truly appreciate your very detailed review of my FAVORITE KDRAMA thus far, IOTNBO. Reading your review while listening to the OST (thank you for that!) took me on a trip down memory lane, reminiscing, relishing, and reliving this most beautiful drama.

    P.S. I truly wish all 3 leads would get Baeksangs for this. This may not come true if both KSH and OJS are nominated as Lead Actors, instead of Lead and Supporting, respectively.
    I know the finale wasn’t your favorite, but for me, this is how a finale is done — with all loose ends tied up neatly and REALISTICALLY, with a curve ball thrown in at the last second for impact (ST leaving the pack to work on his own). And then coming full circle by ending, as it started, with a KMY fairy tale. AWWWWWW. What the Witch stole from them was not their true faces but the courage to seek happiness. To borrow your words, FLAIL. <3

    Reply
    1. kfangurl Post author

      Aww! Thanks so much for anticipating this review, daeche_uju!! ❤️❤️ Thank you for your patience, and thank you for enjoying it, now that it’s finally out! 😃

      I love how eloquently you describe Kim Soo Hyun’s mastery as Kang Tae!! It makes my heart swell to know that you started out feeling he was overrated, but came to appreciate his amazing depth, breadth, and nuance of delivery. I think he’s awesome, and worth all the hype, so I was dismayed to see varying comments from others, that they found him overrated. I wish all of the naysayers could read your comment and experience your change of heart too! 😃 I so agree that what appears as deadpan and flat to the new and casual observer, is actually KSH delivering with fine nuance and control. It’s easy to miss if you’re not looking for it, but when you know to look for it, it’s so impressive to behold. 🤩🤩🤩 This show reminded me all over again, why KSH is so favored in the industry!

      I love your description of Moon Young too, and how you were quick to love her. What I particularly love, is that your love for her doesn’t stem from enjoying her badassery, which many construe as cruelty; rather, your love for her clearly stems from a place of compassion, and I LOVE THAT. ❤️❤️ I completely agree that Seo Ye Ji is magnificent as Moon Young, and I can’t imagine Moon Young being played by another actress either. And YES, Oh Jung Se is just such a revelation as Sang Tae. I found my jaw on the floor, more often than not, while watching him embody the character of Sang Tae so seamlessly. Amazing! 🤩

      As for Jang Young Nam as Villain Mom, yes, she did play Villain Mom very OTT, but that is not her usual style, so I am sure this was a directing decision. I’m guessing that the PD was going for a larger-than-life villain, to go with Show’s fairytale theme.

      I appreciate ALL of the items you listed as positive about the finale, so I’m not in disagreement at all! It’s just.. I felt there was too much filler in the finale, and I felt that took away from all the awesome parts, by creating a sense of drag that Show didn’t need. Considering that Show still struck me as a solid A-grade drama despite the things I didn’t think it did so well, that’s very impressive indeed! 😉

      Thanks again for enjoying this review, I know it must’ve taken quite a long time to read! 😜😅

      Reply
      1. daeche_uju

        All KSH naysayers and cynics should watch The Producers!

        I deep-dove obsessively into his filmography after IOTNBO, and will have to say that prior to IOTNBO, KSH was MAGNIFICENT in The Producers. The level of nuance with which he played Seung Chan was out of this world, stratospheric. I wasn’t as impressed by him in My Love from the Stars, despite it being a smashing hit. Admittedly it was a very tricky role to handle, and he did it sufficient justice, so it was “okay” for me, but he did not exactly blow my mind in the way that he did in The Producers and IOTNBO. He was also okay in Dream High, okay in Secretly, Greatly — his level of “okay” is still better than the average actor, but he has set such high standards for himself, so when i don’t need to sweep my jaw off the floor or daydream about him for an entire month, then his performance is “okay” for me. I have yet to watch Moon Sun. After reading your review of it twice and how you repeatedly emphasized how sexy KSH was there, i am sold, i am starting it today!

        I am not sure if you do film reviews as well, but i would really love to hear your thoughts on his controversial movie Real. I watched it, and my brain hurt figuring out what was going on. BUT, i understand why KSH would want to do that film, and why he would consider it the culmination of his acting career in his 20s. Once again his portrayal of 2 (or even 3!) distinctly different, highly nuanced and deeply disturbed and disturbing characters is mind-blowing. There were a lot of (gratuitous), uhm, difficult scenes (which could have gotten an X rating) which surely distracted viewers and contributed to the vitriol aimed at the film. That said, Real is a must-watch for KSH fans (like us!!!) if only to study and marvel at his creative process.

        As a final word to this KSH appreciation comment, just to provide ample balance and objectivity, I think I have found something he is not superlative at — and to me, it is fight scenes. As a consummate professional, we know how hard he works to master a required skill for a film, so yes, he delivers, he wings it. But what i am saying is, in the grand tapestry that is his talent, action scenes are his loose threads. But I say this only because Ji Chang Wook in Healer (and The K2) is my Gold Standard for action drama. To me KSH learns and amply masters the action sequences, in the same way he mastered the dance sequences in Dream High; but JCW is simply a gazelle during fight scenes, he is action personified; while someone like Taecyeon in Dream High flows like silk when he dances. This is not to disparage KSH in any way, because I AM COMPLETELY IN LUFF WITH HIM, but it just made realize that the Universe is Fair after all aheeeeheeeeheeee.

        Reply
  2. lotusgirl

    Wow! So comprehensive. It took me days to read through the whole thing. I have to say you hit it spot on. There was so much more depth to this show than I expected going in and I was pleasantly surprised. The biggest kudos go to Oh Jung Se as Sang Tae. I can’t get over how amazing he was in this. His acting chops continue to impress me. I had just watched Stove League before IONTBO and didn’t recognize them as the same person for a while.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl Post author

      Thanks for taking your time to read this review, lotusgirl!! ❤️❤️ I know it’s long (longer than every other review I’ve ever posted!) so not everyone would have the patience for it. I’m so glad you enjoyed it!! And YES, Oh Jung Se feels like 2 different people, in this show and in Stove League!! This show really opened my eyes to see what a great actor he is!! 🤩🤩

      Reply
  3. phuazzie

    Hi kfangurl, glad to see this review! It’s incredibly long, detailed and thoughtful. I did enjoy the show overall, it had a unique, quirky tone and feel. Mostly successful in balancing the dark fairytale storyline with the emotional trauma and healing storyline and even a found family storyline too.

    I agree with you that the performances and the storyline of the 3 main characters was very strong, it was great to see them heal from their emotional trauma and get stronger, and also lovely to see how they had conflict with each other but grew closer by the end.

    Some of the feels really landed. I cried so hard when Kang Tae read the Zombie Boy story, that episode was directed so effectively in juxtaposing his memories of being overlooked by his mum, with the story of Zombie Boy and his mum’s sacrifice. I got chills from that story! I enjoyed all the storybooks in fact, the emotional lessons plus creepy dark fairytale vibe. Probably cos I greatly enjoyed reading fairytales when I was younger, including the darker original tales and the Sandman graphic novels with goth twists on traditional myths and legends.

    However some of the shortcomings of the show that pulled down its score for me were: (spoilers)
    a) completely unrealistic villain. Agree with what one commenter said, the mother could have been more a shadowy trauma/haunting figure to be overcome. Rather than have her come back from the dead and recover so improbably from grievous injuries! Good grief. How would she have gotten nurse qualifications? Also such a narcissistic and psychopathic person as Do Hui Jae could never have put up with the daily grind of being nurse, let alone so capable as to become Head nurse, for all those years. Really short sells the nursing profession. And when she decided to let it all out and go Disney villain, it was really over the top and maniacal. Some subtlety would have been better.

    b) Some of the psychiatric patients were too stereotyped. You highlighted the best “case of the week”, the manic depressive patient. I was also touched by the storyline of the mum who lost her daughter. But not so much the rest.

    c) Plot holes. One big example – how come there aren’t serious repercussions from Moon Young pushing the reporter down the stairs? Yes he threatened to sue but isn’t assault a criminal offense? Why isn’t Kang Tae more flustered or bothered by that incident? Also who the heck raised Moon Young after her dad tried to kill her? It’s implied that after that incident he was put into the mental hospital because of his tumour.

    d) Veering between serious and light in tone – not always successful? Sometimes I felt too much time was spent on tertiary characters being silly i.e. Seung Jae and Director Oh’s son who was a lousy caregiver.

    Btw I thought you would highlight the fact that Director Oh and Kim Soo Hyun had acted together in My Love From Another Star! He was the lawyer who was the alien’s most faithful human friend.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl Post author

      Oh yes, I loved that scene where Kang Tae read Zombie Boy and cried. Chills, seriously. ❤️ I read that the fairytales from this show are really getting printed, so you could possibly treat yourself to some of them, if you enjoy them enough! 😄

      Your list of shortcomings ring very true, especially the part where you say that Villain Mom could have never put up with the hard life of a nurse for so many years, just for this revenge. That’s so true! Based on what we saw of her and her indulgent vanity, it’s so hard to believe that she’d be able to keep up the nurse facade for any length of time! 😝

      That’s also a great question, about who raised Moon Young after her father attempted to kill her.. it’s not mentioned at all. Perhaps he only landed in the mental hospital later, and so Moon Young had him as a guardian even though he’d tried to kill her? 🤔 Yes, that sounds implausible, I know.. probably just as implausible as Villain Mom being a nurse for years..! 🤣🤣

      I agree, the bits about Director Oh’s son seemed quite unnecessary and felt like filler that wasn’t very well-used at all. I’m not sure what the purpose was, of putting him in there.

      Ah, I forgot that Kim Chang Wan was the faithful lawyer in You From Another Star! In that case, yes, this was a poignant reunion indeed! 🤩

      Reply
  4. Gloglo

    I loved this show. I found it very well paced and classy, with very strong characters and a brilliant take on fairy tales (as being mirrors of people’s different psychological states and journeys).

    The female lead really stood out for me. I’m aware that people find it difficult, understandably, to warm up to main characters, male or female, that show a bullying streak earlier on in a drama, but I usually enjoy these characters the most. The success of a drama with this kind of “obnoxious” person lies on its ability to uncover their vulnerable and heroic side, and do it in surprising ways. It is not a question of being “changed by loved”… that’s never satisfactory. It’s a question of revealing the true nature of a person who insist in hiding behind a facade. Moon Young is that kind of character. The actress who played her was fantastic, had an incredible presence and great range.

    I was less impressed by the main male lead though. His part was complex too. Kang Tae is a nice caring guy whose gentle coldness is as endearing as it is frustrating. I could not but keep thinking that a different actor would have shown the character’s passion simmer underneath his coldness more convincingly. I was never sold by Kim Soo Hyun’s interpretation. I kept wishing the acting nuance and subtlety of a Park Seo Joon or a young Hyun Bin… As for the other actors, they were all excellent. Apart from the most veteran, those who played Sang Tae, the pizza parlour friend and CEO Lee did a great job.

    The comedy worked very well too and that is a credit to the writing, direction and indeed the performances. The balance between the funny and the dramatic was just perfect.

    This is an A from me too.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl Post author

      “The success of a drama with this kind of “obnoxious” person lies on its ability to uncover their vulnerable and heroic side, and do it in surprising ways.” – very nicely said, Gloglo! 🤩 And I agree Seo Ye Ji did a fantastic job of the role.

      I do love Park Seo Joon and Hyun Bin, but my personal opinion is that Kim Soo Hyun did just as fantastic a job, with the role of Kang Tae. In terms of the coldness you mention, I actually think that he might have been directed to tamp down any simmer in Kang Tae, because he is perfectly capable of delivering it when it’s needed, as we see from some of Show’s later scenes. So in this case, I don’t think it’s a question of actor capability, and possibly more a question of the PD’s interpretation of the character.. 🤔

      Reply
      1. Gloglo

        Yes, I agree, Kim Soo Hyun became more relatable towards the end and I did became more engaged with his acting. I haven’t seen this actor in anything else, so perhaps that’s why I just needed to get used to his presence and acting style.

        Reply
        1. kfangurl Post author

          Oh yes, I agree that experience with KSH helps.. I notice that viewers who were new to him in this, tended to say that they found him not as good as the other leads. But, because I knew he was fully capable of very nuanced acting, I was looking for that nuance, and actually found his acting in the early episodes very good. 🙂

          Reply
    1. kfangurl Post author

      D’aw!! Thank you so much, Sean!! 🥰🥰 To think that I received a rating even higher than the show itself! It’s time to celebrate! 🤗🥳

      Reply
  5. Linds S

    We deal with a lot of serious mental illness in my family as well as mental disabilities. My children are personable, handsome and intelligent. Most people outside the family would never guess except for my youngest son Alex, now age 32, who is obviously mentally handicapped. I watched most of the drama until it became clear that there was going to be a villain etc. I have never thought of my life as heart breaking, but I could relate to the conflicted younger brother who was the caretaker.

    The drama of the villain seemed very contrived and almost insulting to me. Real lives just go on and on with little drama or we create our own drama. Mental illness is on-going with day-to-day fluctuations in health and well-being. When it isn’t discouraging or alarming it’s tedious.

    There are moments we laugh. We laugh at things that Alex says, but when he digs holes in his skin when he is feeling anxious, no. My son Trevor even laughed about the time when he was delusional that he called the FBI to report himself. We felt a chill though when he talked about trying to jump into moving cars to avoid “the satellites”. Our story might not make a good drama but we don’t need a villain.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl Post author

      I agree that we didn’t really need a villain in this story.. I guess writer-nim might’ve been sticking with the fairytale theme of the show, by including a larger than life villain? 🤔 It would have been a different, more relatable journey, I’m sure, if writer-nim had opted to do without the villain.

      Much love to you and your sons, Linds! ❤️

      Reply
  6. Kay

    As expected, a truly wonderful review of this amazing drama! 🙂 You beautifully broke down so many of the themes and character journeys that were explored. It’s a lot to unpack.

    And I loved that you highlighted all three of the main characters and their personal stories. Kim Soo Hyun, Seo Ye Ji, and Oh Jung Se were equally magnificent in their character portrayals and each found a place in my heart. Such different journeys yet all so powerful.

    It’s Okay to Not Be Okay truly won my heart in every way possible. I loved every single minute of this drama, and that truly is a feat not easily achieved. Thanks for the great review 🙂

    Reply
    1. kfangurl Post author

      Thanks for enjoying the review, Kay!! ❤️❤️ This drama truly was a lot to digest.. I know I didn’t touch on everything, but this is my best attempt at unpacking this meaty beast of a drama. 😃 I’m so relieved and glad that you enjoyed the monster that this review turned into! 😆 26,000 words is the new record around here. 🤪

      YES, Kim Soo Hyun, Seo Ye Ji and Oh Jung Se were equally magnificent. What a treat, to have them sparking off one another every which way, in the course of our story! They always felt equally matched in my eyes. 🤩🤩🤩

      Reply
      1. Kay

        Woohoo! A new record! That’s a big one for sure. Now that one will be hard to beat. It’s a very deserving drama to hold the record 🙂

        Reply
        1. kfangurl Post author

          Ahaha! I don’t aim to beat it, if I can help it! This one was a beast to write, it’s just so meaty, and I know that I didn’t do it quite enough justice, even 26,000 words later. 😜😅

          Reply
  7. Alice

    I have a different opinion. I liked Seo Ye Ji when she was being a badass. Telling a few home truths to her child fan was refreshing to watch. But I started disliking it when she became clingy to Kim Soo Hyun. At first, I thought it was to throw him off then throw him under the bus. Very good, I thought. Slowly, I realised she was becoming clingy because she really liked him. That was cringey for me, and I liked IOTNBO less.

    The autistic brother is still a standout.

    For a more authentic take on mental disorder (that still gave us the requisite happily ever after but didn’t shy away from the realities), watch Its ok That’s Love instead.

    It’s ok that’s love is a Kdrama on mental illness with romance plot.
    IOTNBO is a romance with mental illness as a backdrop.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl Post author

      I honestly don’t know if it’s fair to expect an authentic take by a kdrama, on something as complex as mental illness. I did watch It’s Okay That’s Love, and I enjoyed it, but I am suspicious about how accurately mental illness is portrayed and treated in it as well. Mostly, I enjoy both dramas for the stories they tell. Also, given that this was always designed to be a drama where romance would be allowed to bloom, I’m quite surprised that you were expecting Moon Young to throw Kang Tae under the bus..? 🤔 She was always going to really like him.

      Reply
  8. Lamenteuse

    Thank you for the great review! This is my first time watching a drama relatively close to when it actually aired, so I hope you don’t mind my taking the time to share some thoughts on the show.

    I agree that all of the lead actors in IOTNBO were phenomenal, but I was really impressed by Kim Soo Hyun. I haven’t seen MLFAS or his other work, but I thought he was so much stronger than a lot of male leads I’ve seen in other recent dramas (ex. Hyun Bin in CLOY). Kang Tae’s growing awareness of his resentment at his stunted life and halting attempts to acknowledge and act on his suppressed desires were palpable and sometimes gut-wrenching to watch, especially when it came to reckoning with his relationship with Sang Tae. Moon Young referred to herself several times as a bomb, but I think Kang Tae was also essentially a landmine: underneath that calm surface, his emotions were roiling, and sometimes he exploded at the people who unknowingly pushed him too hard. I think Kim Soo Hyun made these complex emotions accessible, believable, and relatable.

    I didn’t have trouble with Moon Young’s character in the first half of the series because I chalked up her eccentricities and manipulations to her alleged psychological disorder. In the second half, it was easier to like her for who she was striving to become, and also for her evident compassion for those around her. That said, I am more in the camp of viewers who don’t think she actually has Antisocial Personality Disorder. I think her mother definitely did, and because of that, she grew up abused and poorly socialized, which probably exacerbated some predilections towards the disorder. However, some of her interactions with other people that likely put people off – her kidnapping Gi Do, her bluntness with Madam Kang, even her manipulating Sang Tae to live in the castle as a way to get to Kang Tae (the most unforgivable) – provided outlets that led the characters to heal. This, combined with her insightful fairy tales, signaled to me that Moon Young is extremely intelligent and able to deeply understand people’s innermost psychological needs. She just refuses to behave according to conventional norms, which interestingly, reframes the question on what it means to have a mental disorder.

    Personally, I loved the show’s fairy tale lens. I thought it was a clever way to show the different ways of interpreting the social norms and boundaries that govern our behavior. (Some of Moon Young’s interpretations of the classic fairy tale morals made me LOL.) Unfortunately, even thinking of Nurse Park as a fairy tale villain couldn’t help me overlook all the inconsistencies with her character. (I know that the show had to deal with the evil mom-murder question, but I feel like this plotline was a missed opportunity to do something thoughtful and unique.)

    Could go on for longer, but I’ll stop. 🙂 Suffice to say, I miss this show already.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl Post author

      Wow, your thoughts on this show are so eloquently put, Lamenteuse! 😍 I love your description of Kang Tae’s character, and Kim Soo Hyun’s delivery of him. His delivery is truly gut-wrenching to watch at times, and I completely agree that Kim Soo Hyun handled those complex emotions impressively.

      That’s a very interesting question, on what it means to have a mental disorder. I agree that Moon Young comes across as very insightful; her fairytales and the emotions and psychology that they tapped on, were especially incisive, I thought. Although, her interpretation of the more traditional fairytales was kind of off-the-wall! 😆😆

      I agree that Show could have handled the villain differently; it was only with foresight, hindsight, AND lots of rationalization, that I came around somewhat, to Nurse Park being Villain Mom. 😝 Show could’ve definitely done things differently, like keep her as an intangible threat, like Kun suggests below. I think that would’ve been far more interesting. 😃

      Reply
  9. Ele

    Hello Fangirl, what an incredible review of this incredible show. There was so much I absolutely adored about it, not least the three leads and their relationships with each other and themselves. I loved the fairytale aspect of it and felt the device let the writers take a more creative approach to showing mental illness, its cruelty and darkness. With two children with ASD, I felt Sang-tae was played by Oh Jung-se beautifully. I think he captured a complex condition and made it at times so convincing, I believed he really had ASD. Anyway, for me, it was utterly compelling and I cared so much about them. Thank you for the care in your review. You’re always so well-balanced and thoughtful. I love your flails 😀

    Reply
    1. kfangurl Post author

      Thanks so much for enjoying the review, Ele! ❤️ I have to agree that Oh Jung Se did an incredible job playing Sang Tae, and portraying the behavioral quirks of someone with ASD. The fact that you found it convincing says a lot, since you have experience with ASD up-close. I have hope that Sang Tae as a character will foster greater empathy and understanding towards those who live with ASD. Oh Jung Se deserves all of the awards for his performance, I say! 🤩

      PS: Thank you for flailing with me! 😉😍

      Reply
  10. Elaine Phua

    It’s interesting that you mention that Moon Young’s behavior is unlikeable to many viewers – probably because its unfeminine, and if you imagined her as the jerky male lead then it becomes acceptable. I think there was rather deliberate gender role reversal between her and Kang Tae. Early in the series she pushed her affection on him aggressively (yelling I love you, demanding attention, even holding his elder brother hostage in her castle), thus taking on the Bluebeard / Beast role of menacing kidnapper. But she did this because she was insecure and didn’t know how to express her feelings in a socially acceptable way. Whereas he was always the nurse caregiver and sick of sacrificing himself to others’ needs, which is usually a female trait. Eventually when he decided to commit to her, his love redeemed and transformed her, like how Beauty transformed the Beast into a more caring person.

    I noticed that in pivotal moments like the final confrontation, Moon Young was the one who charged in to try and rescue him, and he swooned in her arms (because he was drugged) but still the pose was a deliberate inversion of the Knight saving the Princess trope. And then they knocked away the fairytale trope by having disabled elder brother Sang Tae be the protector!

    Reply
    1. kfangurl Post author

      I like how you put everything together, Elaine!! 😄 You’re so right, there was definitely a good amount of role reversal happening, and it didn’t occur to me that Kang Tae swooned in Moon Young’s arms like the usual damsel in distress. Although, in his case, it was only because he was out cold. 😆 Also, SO MUCH YES to having Sang Tae swoop in to be the hero and protector, when he’s traditionally always been the one who needed to be taken care of. 🤩

      Reply
  11. Prashil Prakash

    Finally! It’s out!

    I really really loved this. It’s right in the middle of your most kdrama-y show and a really deep thought provoking show.

    And the way they handle is basically taking the better aspect of both of them.

    First of all Ko Mun-young was unfairly Hot(I’m sorry but I’d be lying to myself if I didn’t say that)
    And what a great performance by Seo Yeji.

    I don’t really support the critisism the show faces on the problematic aspects though. Ko Mun young herself is broken and has Anti-Social personality disorder. So her so called “problematic” actions are “problematic” by design. She’s Messed up and that’s what the show is about.

    (Sidenote: Mun Young(moon), Man Wol(moon) co incidence? Just kidding 😅)

    Kim Soohyun. Okay.. I wasn’t a fan when I saw him in “My love from the Stars” as it was first Kdrama I had ever watched and I wasn’t conditioned to kdrama leads like him back then. Looking back I still wouldn’t say I would’ve loved him, now that I’ve watched a few dramas now.
    BUT.

    He smashed it in “Its okay to not be okay” and I loved him here! And I’d say he probably didn’t even have to act much. His eyes did 90 percent of acting for him! Lol.
    His fake “it’s okay” smiles were exactly that, fake. And him trying to show “everything is okay”, that “he is okay”. When he definitely was not! And it showed.

    You know you’ve nailed it as an actor when we want to hug you through the screen and tell you that everything will be okay.

    Kim Mi Kyung was excellent (obviously) but the most tear jerking scene was when Sang tae gives her the story book in episode 16 and there’s a message for her. To her “fake mom”, so beautiful and so precious!

    Oh I see your gripe with the Nurse being the villain. She was excellent as just being a great nurse, and in fact i’d say she was awesome.
    And she did well with being the villain too. But yeah you’re right with it not working out well.
    Jang YoungNam salvaged the villain arc as much as she could though!

    Also her being in good health most definitely has to do with mun Young’s Dad being delusional. He most definitely didn’t throw her in the sea. Putting actual scenes of her being thrown in the sea is a most probably a device to throw off the audience. They use this a lot in surreal movies and shows.

    Juri and President relationship was really cute and I was soo glad the writers didn’t break them off by the end for no reason (which they love to do in shows, cuz pain and suffering and whatnot)
    Open ending to their relationship. Perfect. I won’t ask for more!

    All in all great show. Excellent OST. Probably even my favourite in terms of soundtracks.
    My top picks are: You’re cold, Breath, Silence, Little by Little. And of course the title track ( Sketch book by Janet Sunh)

    Thanks for the review
    You worked extra hard for this one didn’t you!
    Cheers 😊

    Reply
    1. kfangurl Post author

      Thanks for anticipating this review, Prashil! Yes, I did work extra hard on this one! 😅

      Ah, I’m so glad that you enjoyed Kim Soo Hyun in this, especially since you didn’t much care for his performance in You From Another Star! You’re so right, his eyes communicated so much, and his fake “I’m ok’s” were pitch perfect. And OH YES, that scene where Sang Tae gives the book to his surrogate mom is just the most beautiful thing. ❤️🥰 So much love, and so beautifully done. 😍😍

      I love your perspective, that Moon Young’s dad was delusional and therefore didn’t actually throw Mom into the sea. That definitely helps to make her survival more believable – although it is still a stretch. Thanks for that! 😄

      Reply
  12. samsooki

    KFG – great review, and awesome job! I really do enjoy reading both your posts as well as the comments.

    Now, this reply is a narrow post, and i’m only discussing one aspect of the drama that I feel the production did not get right.

    i feel like the drama danced around but never actually addressed the mental health issues that were embroidered around the edges of the drama and used as a cool prop.

    i feel like the drama treated ASD in the same way as a garden variety kdrama melodramatic “Trauma,” that such “event” could be fixed with various therapies, time, patience and love. And I cannot disagree more with this characterization. ASD isn’t something that one can fix by painting. drawing or reading books about fairy tales – in many cases, ASD can be managed and it can be worked around, but there is no known ‘cure’ for it. Generally speaking, the working goal for families who deal with ASD is to assist the incapacitated person to accomplish specific activities of daily living (taking a shower, brushing teeth, wearing clothes, going to the bathroom, eating food, sleeping, walking, exercising, sitting quietly, being able to use a bank ATM machine) on his or her own. These might be “low expectation” goals to some, but to the ASD community, every successful completion of an activity of daily living is a celebratory event.

    In MH lingo, Sang Tae is an extremely high-functioning individual, but with him as well as a very high percentage of others with ASD, there are still corresponding health issues that require certified care-taking. Health issues that are often associated with individuals with ASD include but are not limited to, large and fine motor control, vision and hearing issues and hypersensitivity, epilepsy and seizures, low muscle tone, hypermobile joint disorders, causal depression and anxiety, sleep apnea, eating disorders including weight loss or gain, auto-immune disorders. Sang Tae seemed to have a few issues, but they came and went as the drama story-arcs needed them to come or disappear.

    Obviously, no drama is going to go into detail or treat ASD accurately or in a balanced way, and this drama is an allegory more than anything else about how we treat one another. And I am not asking kdramas to be medical documentaries on what ASD life is like. BUT, if you are going to use ASD as a backdrop or as an Event, then getting the details correct is so freaking important. This is because people so often take as medical fact what they read or see, without rigorous independent research and consideration based on peer-reviewed science.

    Therefore, how this drama treated the character of Sang Tae, I think, was a gigantic disservice to the viewers, who might have come away with the idea that if only they could get their loved one with ASD to paint or draw, maybe they could “solve” similar cases or individuals. Insofar as I loved the drama itself and the characters, i was massively disappointed with the insinuated take-aways as to how to deal with ppl with mental health issues. And not just with Sang Tae, but this happened with every. single. patient. at the hospital.

    It just doesn’t work that way. But if you watched the drama and didn’t know better, maybe you now think it could.

    Reply
    1. Katrina

      I respect your opinion and disappointment with how the show depicted someone with autism, but I certainly do not think, or hope, that someone would think they can treat a medical condition from what they see in a kdrama.

      Reply
      1. samsooki

        It is ridiculous right?

        But ppl do some pretty ridiculous things based on what they see or read or what “feels right” to them. Like, you wouldn’t think that ppl would drink bleach to prevent coronavirus, but here we are. Just a few years ago, koreans all of a sudden had this huge acorn fad diet and korea lost 30% of its squirrel population in a year due to starvation. mental health is such a delicate subject for any culture and society, and when ppl in America blame MMR vaccines for causing ASD, and when asians blame evil spirits and lack of exorcisms for various mental illnesses… sadly, ppl will believe anything if it gives them hope or a cause. we don’t need kdramas furthering the problem.

        Reply
        1. Katrina

          Yes, but the difference here is the drama did not make claims that painting or drawing would solve a similar problem. Even in real therapy sessions, people need to understand that not all treatments will work for everybody or in the same way, let alone this is just a drama and Sang Tae’s painting is part of the plot device in his character development. By your logic, everything in the media can be put accountable for people’s actions. I put the onus on the person who believes everything they read or see that they “feel right” without seeking professional advice when it comes to medical treatments.

          Reply
    2. beez

      @samsooki – I totally agree but one thing about Kdramas – they feel so much like American tv of the 1950-1960’s where it was assumed that the general viewing public knew nothing about anything and so being accurate was not considered necessary. What I mean by that is if you watch American tv back then, legal shows like Perry Mason and police shows thought nothing of presenting ignoring how procedures and things really work. For instance, I can tell you, as someone who worked in the legal field for over 35 years, there is no such thing as a “surprise witness”. If you do not identify a witness in advance, you cannot use said witness in court. But even now we’ll see surprise witnesses on shows. These types of things make for great drama effect but it’s frustrating for anyone who knows how whatever subject is being portrayed actually works.

      Reply
    3. kfangurl Post author

      Hi samsooki, thanks so much for enjoying the review! ❤️ I’m by no means an expert on ASD, so I can’t really comment on it.. My only contributing thought is that I don’t think Show means to portray it as curable?

      To my eyes, Sang Tae is who he is, and doesn’t actually advance towards becoming more highly functioning because of therapies like drawing. I thought the main focus, for him, was overcoming his fear of butterflies, which I see as something separate from his ASD. Towards the end, when he said that he wanted to work, I also credit Show for not making him truly independent, ie, he doesn’t leave the camper van on his own. He’s shown as still needing President Lee to come pick him up in a car, thereby implying that he will continue to receive support and care, even as he continues to work.

      ..And that’s my completely layman, non-expert viewer reaction. I don’t know if it helps, but I just wanted to put it out there. 😅

      Reply
  13. Sam Butler

    What a great review! My wife and I also fell in love with show from the very start, and agree that viewing it through the fairy tale lens is definitely the way to go. But I do disagree on one thing. I was thrown completely out of the show by the reveal about Nurse Park. (My wife thought it was pretty bad as well, but her reaction was closer to yours.) I thought the reveal was completely forced, that the show would have hit the exact same emotional marks with the mother staying dead. The ancillary idiocy would have been greatly reduced. (Why is Sang-in speeding? To catch Moon Young? She’s running about 10 mph. Why does Gang Tae not just call the police when she shows up at the castle? Etc.)

    I’m reminded of the ridiculous shootout at the end of Crash Landing. Once again we get a great K-drama choosing to forgo its own marvelous first twelve episodes to revel in badly written violence. Please tell me this tedious fascination with serial killers and murderous mothers in dramaland is going to end soon. It’s not even about the han!

    Still, the greatness of everything else in show, especially the acting, still makes it very much worth watching.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl Post author

      Thanks for enjoying the review, Sam!! 😄 I have to confess that I giggled a little, at your rant about serial killers and murderous mothers. 😆 You’re right, these have become narrative crutches in Dramaland, and too many shows reach for these to spice up their story. Not all dramas do this, though, so when a drama shows up that tells its story without resorting to narrative tropes like these, they always feel extra precious to me.

      I forget if you’ve seen The Light in Your Eyes? It’s also known as Dazzling, and it’s very special. It’s not a romance per se, and knowing too much ahead of the watch would be too spoilery. But if you haven’t seen it, I do highly recommend it. I feel it’s an underrated gem. ❤️

      Reply
      1. Sam Butler

        You are so prescient! We just finished watching The Light in Your Eyes last week. My wife liked it better than I did – I’d have preferred more hints about what was going on in the first ten episodes. As it stands it’s not that different from the standard, ‘It was all a dream,’ trope. But other than that it was a lovely, wonderful show, very different from so much of what’s out there. We loved it

        Your rec was spot on!

        Reply
        1. merij1

          The Light In Your Eyes AKA Dazzling AKA Radiant remains unique in our limited viewing experience. Incredibly touching, well-acted and insightful.

          But I too would have preferred to understand where it was going much sooner in the show’s run. A twist as heavy as that is a bit much to impose on viewers who sign up for an entirely different type of show.

          While we’re on the subject of aging, has anyone checked out the Netflix show, “Dear My Friends” (2016), which co-stars Kim Hye-ja from the Light In Your Eyes?

          Reply
          1. Snow Flower

            Dear My Friends is a masterpiece! It is definitely worth checking out. Despite the many heartbreaking scenes, the show has a healing vibe. The cast of veteran actors is magnificent.

            Reply
        2. kfangurl Post author

          Wow!! What amazing timing!! 😃 I feel like I time-traveled or something, with my recommendation getting instant positive feedback! 😆 I’m glad that you and your wife enjoyed it, it is very different from the usual drama fare indeed! ❤️ I can’t recall if you’ve seen My Mister, but if you haven’t, I highly recommend that too! 😉

          Reply
          1. Sam Butler

            We loved My Mister. An absolute favorite. And one of the few K-dramas we’ve been able to convince our friends to watch.

            Reply
  14. ngobee

    Thank you for this very long, thoughtful and perceptive review. You really nailed a viewing experience close to my own. Fantastic performances all around – and a big step forward for Kim Soo Hyun acting-wise. He may be the biggest star in the ensemble but the others sure challenged him.

    The villain left me a bit baffled. I had a hard time reconciling the narcisstic mother with the nurse character, too. I also didn’t understand why she murdered Kang Tae’s mother: because her son was interested in her perfect daughter? Or, on a more symbolic level, because she let her imperfect son Sang Tae live? Imperfection and neediness being a sin? In the end, it didn’t matter enough to me to really mind.

    The clinic director’s unconventional counseling and interventions were fun as were all the little visual details that give the story depth. A second viewing is in order, I think.

    Reply
    1. Elaine Phua

      Do Hui Jae murdered Sang Tae and Kang Tae’s mum because she suggested referring Moon Young to a child psychologist, due to her lack of empathy and killing small animals which was a warning sign of psych disorder. That’s why Do Hui Jae said I’ll raise my own child.

      Like many others I think they shouldn’t have made the nurse the mum. Narcissistic and psychopathic Do Hui Jae would never have been willing to take orders all day long and do her job so competently, let alone become head nurse! Either the mum should have stayed dead, or she could have come back as herself. Actually my main issue is if she managed to recover from almost being killed, why not come back and take custody of her daughter? Her husband had no evidence of her killing the housekeeper. Whereas she could have put him in prison. Drama land always wants to shock the viewer that the person they least suspected was the killer all along, but then it doesn’t make story sense.

      Reply
      1. ngobee

        Thank you Elaine Phua. You are right. I totally forgot about the murderous mother’s motivation. That’s what binge watching can do to you.

        Reply
  15. kfangurl Post author

    Hi everyone, if you were viewing this post and the formatting was crazy wonky, I apologize. The Tech team and I were doing some testing to troubleshoot this post, and the formatting went nuts as a side effect. I have since manually reformatted everything (all 26,000 words! 😝) so it should look fine now. I just wanted to put this out there, in case you encountered the wonky formatting when you visited the post.

    Also, the troubleshooting itself was a success, despite the unexpected side effect. The post title, link to jump to comments, and tags are all showing now. Yay!

    Reply
  16. Luna

    I had so many issues with IOTNBO, in only five episodes before dropping it. As far as I’m concerned, sexual harassment is never okay. Bullying a child is never okay. Using and manipulating vulnerable people is never okay. Attempted murder is never okay… And writing that glosses over and occasionally even glorifies such behavior is definitely not okay with me.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl Post author

      Aw, I can understand why this show didn’t work for you, Luna.. while I agree that Show does gloss over some disturbing behavior, by and large, Moon Young’s is a journey of growth and redemption, which I think in itself implies that Show doesn’t think her earlier behavior is as ok as it first appears. That said, it does require the viewer to hang in there to wait for the payoff, and I know that many viewers wouldn’t be willing to hang onto a watch they aren’t enjoying, to wait for a payoff that they’re not certain is coming. 😅

      Reply
    1. kfangurl Post author

      Yes, this drama isn’t easy to write about, I have to agree! I was a little overwhelmed while working on this review, and am now glad (and relieved!) that it’s done! 😉 Thanks for enjoying the review! ❤️

      Reply
  17. phl1rxd

    Hi Fangurl – I faithfully followed every Patreon update of this drama. I think that is as close as I will ever get to watching it. I tried to keep an open mind but with each post I thought I had made the right decision. It is just not for me.

    That being said – this post is so well done as were all your Patreon entries. Super job as always Fangurl! You really gave this drama a lot of attention and all the write ups were excellent.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl Post author

      Aw, there’s wisdom in not forcing yourself to watch a show just because everyone else loves it. (I could benefit from some of that wisdom, sometimes! 😅) Thanks so much for following the posts on Patreon, even though you weren’t watching the show yourself. Thank you for joining me on the journey, phl! ❤️❤️

      Reply
  18. Sarah

    Kfangurl,

    Thank you so much for reviewing this. I got about 1/2 way through and stopped reading – not because of the review, but because it reminds me so much of how my husband I lived years ago, with little flare ups now and then. I can diagnose her as having Complex Post-Traumatic Stress (formerly borderline personality), because I know it myself. And my husband, with his own mental illness, was by my side no matter what.

    I think I need to be stronger still, before I can watch this. But the need for a relationship with a man, however unhealthy – fear of abandonment, her history of abuse, but that fear of abandonment is palpable. You wake up and pulse can be upwards of 150.

    I’m so, so glad South Korea produced this drama. They seem to have a better grip on mental health than the US. We throw our mentally ill into prisons. It’s still so taboo, although the drug companies still manage to make a fortune off of us.

    Again, thank you for the review. I’ll tell my therapist about it. See what she thinks of watching it.

    Be well!
    Sarah

    Reply
    1. merij1

      Sarah, I salute you for being able to say you might be even a little borderline. (If that’s what you meant.) And your husband for being supportive of you. I lived for five years with someone who suffered that disorder, but she simply could not imagine that the incessant drama started with her. Her dad died when she was an adolescent, which I imagine was the abandonment that started it.

      It’s a really tough one. One minute a person would be inside her border — I think of it as a moat — and therefore simply the greatest person of that type ever in history. But the moment they crossed her in any way, they flipped into becoming “the enemy,” practically no longer human in her mind. She actually used those words: “you did/said this, so now you’re the enemy.”

      I thought I was flexible enough to support her, but it turned out I was not. Although, in truth, there were other issues besides that.

      This show sounds more even interesting than I thought.

      Reply
      1. beez

        @merij1 – it’s excellent! It certainly doesn’t flinch.
        I see Kfangurl is back! I haven’t read the review yet as real life decided to get on the way… but I’m going to take my time and savor it when I do.

        Reply
    2. phl1rxd

      Hi Sarah – I could not get past episode 4. Hard as I tried I just could not do it. You are 100% accurate when you say that that the US does not have a grip on how to deal with its mentally ill citizens. If I had a dollar for every time I said “The US does not support or protect their most vulnerable people” I would be rich. It is a sore spot for me and makes me pretty upset. These folks can be found living under every highway underpass in big cities. It is so, so sad.

      Reply
    3. kfangurl Post author

      Aw, thanks for sharing, Sarah.. and I admire you for knowing yourself well enough, to know when something might be an issue for you. That takes wisdom and self-awareness. I think you are doing the right thing in being cautious with this one; you don’t want to inadvertently upset the balance that you’ve worked hard to achieve. I hope that if / when you do get to watch this, that you’ll find it a rewarding journey. Hugs. ❤️❤️

      Reply
  19. Snow Flower

    Another excellent review, Kfangurl!

    I agree that finding the right way of viewing this show is important. The show is not a romantic comedy and neither is it a medical drama set in a psychiatric hospital. I personally thought that the fairy tale vibe was perfect from the very beginning. The fairy tale lens is also helpful when encountering some very minor bumps along the way. Overall, this show has been one of the highlights of the 2020 drama year for me so far.

    The cast was pitch perfect. I was somewhat neutral about Kim Soo Hyun, but he really delivered here. It is not an easy job to play an ordinary character surrounded by two extraordinary ones, and yet he did it with subtlety and restraint. His emotional scenes were always very impactful.
    Seo Ye Ji is clearly the breakout star in the drama. She managed to make Moon Young straight forward, insightful, and vulnerable.
    As for Oh Jung Se, just give him the awards right now!
    The rest of the cast was also pitch perfect. I never thought that drunk Ju Ri would be so entertaining and heartbreaking at the same time. I would have been happier with more Jae Soo and Seung Jae bickering scenes.

    I liked the idea of facing one’s nightmares in order to overcome them. It was not an easy journey for our characters, but watching them making small steps in the right direction was so satisfying.

    My favorite music tracks are the same as yours. I liked Breath, In Silence, and Sew My Heart the best. The instrumental tracks were also very good. I recommend this drama wholeheartedly!

    Reply
    1. kfangurl Post author

      Thanks for enjoying the review, Snow Flower!! ❤️ Thanks again for sharing the fairytale lens with me – I believe you were the one who told me that viewing the villain as a fairytale villain helped you. And it worked like a dream. If I hadn’t had that fairytale lens handy, I might’ve had a lot more trouble with how the villain was handled. 😉

      Aw, I’m so glad you enjoyed Kim Soo Hyun in this! I’m one of those who think he’s great, so I am admittedly a little dismayed that there are viewers who find him a weak link in this show. I completely agree that he delivered wonderfully and with restraint, and oh my, he did so amazingly well in the emotional scenes! 🤩😭🤩

      Gosh, yes, Oh Jung Se deserves all the awards for his outing as Sang Tae. SO PERFECT. I’ve always thought Oh Jung Se is versatile, but this show proved that he’s flat-out amazing as an actor. Just, WOW. 🤩🤩

      And I so agree, we could have done with more of Jae Soo and Seung Jae together. Show hinted at a potential loveline between them, but it was left very vague and open-ended. My imagination is robust, so I’m more than capable of conjuring up some happy ending for them, but I still would’ve liked to see that play out on my screen. 😉

      Reply
      1. Snow Flower

        Kfangurl, I hope the video above will stimulate your imagination in regards to Seung Jae and Jae Soo!

        Reply
        1. seankfletcher

          This is brilliant, Snow Flower. I enjoy playing this song on my guitar. Glen Hansard is an awesome musician and the Oscar for this song was well deserved (and a fine movie too).

          Reply
        2. kfangurl Post author

          Woah. I didn’t know what to expect from the video, I thought it’d be some BTS footage from IOTNBO, but THIS IS GOLD!! 🤩🤩🤩 They are SO CUTE together, and the blending harmonies speak of so much chemistry and synergy, and I LOVE the little casual bits of skinship! 😍😍😍

          Thanks so much for sharing, Snow Flower, this was so good! ❤️❤️

          Reply
  20. Kun

    Glad to see you loved this show so much because it pretty much grabbed my heart from the first episode and never let it go. I loved the main and supporting cast and especially loved how they weaved in her story tales into the themes of episodes. My main struggle was with the villain of show and while I recognize that they dropped hints that she was still alive, I would have preferred that they had forgone that. Instead I feel like they could have approached the mother as more intangible threat that the characters had to work through emotionally with themselves and each other and I think this could have been brought to life through some of the more creative storytelling and aesthetics that the show has shown capable of producing.

    Kind of a minor note but I actually did find the moment in the last episode where Kang Tae was bored while the other two were working interesting because to me it felt like a reference to how he kind of doesn’t know what to do with his new found freedom as we saw with him begging to spend time with Jae soo before in a previous episode. Curious to see if he finds out what he truly wants to do in life now after the road trip 🙂

    Reply
    1. kfangurl Post author

      That’s an interesting thought, Kun.. I do think that Show would have landed better with a lot of viewers, if Villain Mom had been kept as a vague concept of a threat instead of an actual person. I feel like that would’ve forced our characters to battle a lot more with themselves, than with an actual villain in the flesh, and that might have resulted in a lot more meaningful moments of character development. 😊

      As for what Kang Tae wants to do, he did mention that he’d like to go back to school, but that was left open, to allow him and Moon Young to go on the road trip. I would like him to go back to school, in some way, shape or form, though. It feels like he’s missed out on so much, from dropping out of school to take care of his brother, that I’d love for him to get that time back, in some way. ❤️

      Reply
  21. 아이린

    I have been following your reviews for a while now and you’re become one of my staples when it comes to Kdrama reviews. It is my very first comment and I wanted to stop by and shout out a big THANK YOU for your hard work and dedication.
    I completely agree with you on this drama, I was a little afraid at the beginning but I came to enjoy it very much!
    The only character I didn’t fully understand was the numb assistant to President Lee, I didn’t really grasped whether she was meant to be fun or not 🙂
    Kisses from Italy 🙂

    Reply
    1. kfangurl Post author

      Hi there 아이린, it’s great to finally meet you! ❤️ I’m happy to know that you’ve been enjoying the reviews! 😄 And yes I agree, this show can be a little difficult to figure out in the beginning, so I’m glad you managed to enjoy it as much as you did! As for Seung Jae, I think she was supposed to be a funny character, though I agree her characterization felt rather uneven. Like, we’re randomly informed that she just likes acting young even though she’s not young, and she’s supposed to be dim-witted about work but not about things like love. It just all feels like very broad strokes, with very little to fill in the details. But I do always enjoy Park Jin Joo, so Seung Jae’s uneven characterization wasn’t a huge issue for me. 😋

      Reply
  22. merij1

    “Don’t get mad, but my sister watched about half of this show before she got distracted, and said that she thought Kim Soo Hyun is overrated. And then I had a conversation with a new acquaintance, who said that he thought Kim Soo Hyun was the weakest link among all the amazing actors in this show.”

    Ha. As you may recall, that was our reaction to him in My Love From Another Star – the other show where he portrayed a character on the autism spectrum. (Half-joking! Or maybe 3/4s…)

    This sounds pretty interesting, so we’ll have to struggle with whether we can warm up to him. Great review, regardless, if the start is any indication. A proper viewing lens is crucial for so many of the deeper shows.

    Btw, I don’t see a link at the top to jump down to the comments.

    Also btw, whoa, I was able to format your quote and add boldface via HTML. Another reason to love the new blog format!

    Reply
    1. kfangurl Post author

      I really thought Kim Soo Hyun was fantastic, so I hope you’ll enjoy his performance in this show! 🙂 As you can tell, I think he’s great and lives up to the hype. 😉 And yes, the right lens is very important, especially for this show. I’ve come across quite a few people who’ve dropped this one because it wasn’t landing well with them, and I feel like a different viewing lens might’ve helped.

      Also, yes, this post isn’t displaying correctly, unfortunately. Not only is there no link to jump to the comments, the post title is missing and so are all my tags for the post. The Tech team is working on it, so hopefully that will be fixed very soon! 😅

      Reply

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