City Hall: Episode 15
(written by samsooki, clarity of thought, dissection, boxes of Kleenex and gentle hand-squeezing provided by 0timelost and cleown)
Episode 15 – “The Price of Victory.”
As amazing and as fun as Episode 14 was to watch, I feel like Episode 15 is deeper, stronger, all-encompassing. I know that many of you have wondered how I would recap this highly emotional episode, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure how to do it when I started. Sometimes, you can get too close to the characters. Sometimes you can get too involved and all you want to do is just watch and not write. We tend to reveal our inner selves as we write, and writing this recap certainly reveals a lot about the way I think. This episode is titled “The Price of Victory,” because sometimes, when you win at any cost you can actually lose.
Way back in Episode 10, we began with a delicious three-way showdown among Go Hae, Jo Gook and Mi Rae. This time around, with BB, Jo Gook and Mi Rae, things aren’t so delicious. In fact, things are downright scary. If I weren’t so enthralled by the superlative acting and dialogue, I would have gone underneath my bed, clapped my hands to my ears, closed my eyes and started humming.
BB has left his sanctuary and shown up in Inju City, generating plenty of media interest. Ostensibly, he has come out in support of Jo Gook’s campaign. But in reality, the person he has come to meet is not Jo Gook at all, but Mi Rae. And BB has ambushed both Jo Gook AND Mi Rae by getting both in the same place at the same time. This will not be pleasant, and Jo Gook knows it. And unfortunately for Mi Rae, she is about to find exactly how unpleasant.
Despite early and even unexpected praise for her honest and faithful service to her citizens, BB douses Mi Rae’s fangirlism in less than two minutes. BB lays his feelings all out in the open:
BB: I also have heard that there are people who are attached to you that should not be so. And that is unfortunate…
…Gookie, this child here, he has big ambitions for himself. Out of his own mouth, he once said that he wanted to have this whole nation. But how can it be that a man who wants to win an entire nation can let himself be trapped by a mere woman? And so, Mayor Shin, I would hope that you would not continue to sway him like you are.
Jo Gook (interrupting): What are you trying to say right now??!
BB (ignoring Jo Gook): Let me ask you but one thing: if you had to choose between this child here and the citizens of Inju City, who would you choose?
Mi Rae: …
BB: If you don’t go against my wishes, I can give you many things that will be useful to the citizens of Inju City. But if you choose the opposite path, then, as poor of a place as Inju City is now, it will be even harder to obtain government funds and subsidies.
Jo Gook (pleading): Please stop this now!
BB (rousing to anger): I gave this child the task to place an easy-to-manipulate puppet as Inju City’s mayor, and instead I find that he is the one who has turned into the puppet! Tell me EXACTLY HOW THE HELL am I supposed to understand this!
It is often said that truth is the most powerful weapon against evil. But truth, in the wrong hands, said in exactly the wrong way, by exactly the wrong person, is as devastating as any slander, any lie. Nothing that BB said to Mi Rae was untrue, and yet, this feels wrong. How can it be that BB speaks the truth, but nothing he says has the ring of true-ish-ness? In two brief sentences, BB has turned Mi Rae’s world upside down. At first, BB has praise for Mi Rae, noting that she is a honest and hardworking Mayor. But less than a minute later, BB completely trashes her. The message to Mi Rae – this man-child here is worth more to me than you, your principles and your entire pathetic city.
Hastening to action to close the barn door long after the cows have left, Jo Gook gets to his feet and tries to yank Mi Rae out of the room. BB levels another threat – if Jo Gook leaves with Mi Rae, how easy would it be for BB to destroy Mi Rae. Jo Gook has no response to a direct threat on Mi Rae. What can Mi Rae do? She has no support in this room, nobody in this room is willing to stand up for her. What choice does she have but to capitulate? She takes her arm back from Jo Gook’s impotent hand, and gathers the remnants of her dignity. Mi Rae bows respectfully to BB and leaves, her world shattered. Guess who doesn’t follow?
BB (at Jo Gook): If that child is broken, then know that it is all because of you.
At last, it’s time to talk turkey between BB and Jo Gook. Jo Gook lashes out (petulantly), and BB explodes in return:
BB: You still don’t get it, do you?! I thought you were going to do something great when you left me, all crying, and now, in the end, you are going to give up everything for that wench?
BB’s point: Jo Gook was on the path to political stardom before he took a detour, guided by some secretary girl with no proper family background, no education (not even a high school diploma?), no wealth, no connections, nothing. Unbelievable! What would it take to get the childish Jo Gook focused again? What does he want from BB? A piece of candy or a teddy bear to hug? But Jo Gook, as emotional as we have ever seen him, fires right back.
Jo Gook: Those (the candy and the teddy bear) are things you should have thought of a long time ago. I am acting like this for a very simple reason. I want to see you before me, begging for forgiveness. You want to run for president, and you’ll need a huge amount of financial backing, right? And those funds were to come from President Go, right? And so his daughter Go Hae is the key. And I hold that key.
BB: You know all this and yet you still act like a little bitch?
Jo Gook: And that’s why I am going to dump Go Hae. Yes, I am going to dump Go Hae.
Jo Gook: Dumping women like old shoes is probably in my blood. You see, my father abandoned my mother. But at least, I am a better guy, since my father also abandoned his son. Presidential campaign donations? DON’T EVEN DREAM IT!
In a word, wow! What powerful, tour de force acting performances by Cha Seung Won and Choi Il Hwa! One of the things that I think get only minor or partial attention in Korean dramas, is the responsibility of the father to be a positive role model to his son. Far too often, in both dramas and in real life (with the latter reflecting the former, perhaps), Korean fathers tend to treat their sons like military underlings. But sons are not dog soldiers to be ordered about and abused by their fathers. The emotional trauma tucked away for years by Jo Gook is finally bubbling to the surface, and not only do I understand it, I can feel Jo Gook’s pain. But despite all of this, let me say this: if you had to choose a “bad” guy from among the people remaining in the tea room, my guess is that most of you would choose incorrectly. You all THINK you know, but I think you’d all be wrong.
Hint: the bad guy is not him.
Here’s what I know. BB has made but one mistake in his life – not taking early and full responsibility for a child that he didn’t anticipate or want. As Korean fathers of BB’s generation go, however, he may or may not have been more abusive than average (err.. other than abandoning the mother of his child and his child, of course). And even then, like all fathers, BB also did positive things, like shaping Jo Gook’s political career path up until now. Now let’s look at Jo Gook – what has he done so far? Jo Gook has
1. adopted a kid strictly to look good (political convenience);
2. promised to marry Go Hae strictly for her dad’s money (financial convenience);
3. followed in BB’s footsteps because it was the quickest path to power (political convenience);
4. then abandoned BB when he finds out that Soo-In was reporting to BB (emotional convenience);
5. used Mi Rae’s ethics in his speeches though he didn’t believe in them (expediential convenience);
6. hooked up with Mi Rae despite being engaged to Go Hae (hormonal convenience), and
7. decided to dump Go Hae simply because he is mad at BB (revenge-lical convenience).
Jo Gook goes around willy-nilly, doing whatever he wants, whenever he wants, to whomever he wants. And yet everybody else around him, for good or for bad, is consistent. Go Hae is consistent. BB is consistent. Mi Rae is consistent. Even Joo Hwa is consistent, never committing less than a misdemeanor and never more than a major felony. What about Jo Gook? It is extremely hard for me to respect a guy who flip-flops like a burger tended to by an inexperienced griller. I’m not saying that BB deserves to nominated Man of the Year, but between the two of them, Jo Gook is the one who has to shape up, and fast.
Not all bad guys where black hats and twirl handlebar mustaches.
What is the result now? BB says, bring it. Let’s see who wins this. BB is going to destroy Mi Rae and Inju City. BB leaves Jo Gook with that on his conscience, and in a k-drama staple move, a shocked Jung Do has overheard the whole exchange…
Mi Rae walks the streets of Inju City, her heart mangled and torn to shreds. She has been, from the beginning, a pawn in a power play between BB and Jo Gook. What hurts more? That Jo Gook never told her, or that she was foolish enough to believe him in the first place? And moreover, what did Mi Rae do to deserve this? All she has ever wanted was to make beloved Inju City into a place that children could grow up strong, healthy and educated, a place where people could make a living wage and be happy.
The meeting over, Jo Gook runs all around the city trying to find Mi Rae. Stopping by City Hall, her home, everywhere. Finally, he runs up the stone stairs to the hilltop where he first held Mi Rae, and there he finds her, she who is heading in the opposite direction.
Jo Gook: Why didn’t you answer your phone? Do you know how worried I have been?
Seriously?? The first words out of your mouth are about how worried YOU have been? Look, I know what he is trying to say, and I know how hard it must be for him, a Korean man with every status marker above Mi Rae’s, to apologize and to get on his knees and beg for forgiveness (like he should), but this is total bull-shit, excuse my potty-mouth. I am upset, because this Jo Gook is supposed to be a man’s man? How about a baby’s baby?
Mi Rae walks down a few steps until they are nearly eye-to-eye, but not quite, as Mi Rae looks down slightly at Jo Gook (how brilliant is that PD direction, btw). She smiles sadly at Jo Gook, caressing his cute worried face.
Mi Rae: In one night’s dream, we went on a trip together. And in another night’s dream, we held hands. On another night, we hugged each other. On another night, we even fell asleep together. And then it happened, that…
Mi Rae (continuing): …that, on different night, just like day, we broke up just like this.
Jo Gook: …please don’t treat me so harshly.
Mi Rae (now composed): You once asked me what I would do if I found you as my opponent. Shin Mi Rae has already lost to you. But Mayor Shin cannot lose to you, can she?
Mi Rae tells Jo Gook to go his own path, as Mi Rae will follow hers from now on as well. She leaves Jo Gook standing there, with nothing but ashes in his heart.
I am pretty upset at Jo Gook. Jo Gook, you are child who only knows what you want, you have no clue what it takes to be a leader. You want to know what it takes to be a leader? Mi Rae’s words are powerful in its elegance and simplicity. She is saying that her heart has already been given to Jo Gook, but her responsibility as a leader and as a human being takes precedence. Oh, and by the way, Jo Gook, you have seen this kind of selflessness and integrity before. You saw it when an unemployed mother of three, Boo Mi, tossed your money back at you, and instead, GAVE YOU all the money that she had in the world so that you would help Mi Rae win the election. You didn’t understand that kind of integrity then, and I am not sure you understand it now. Believe me, I am not about to give you the benefit of the doubt. Not after the no-show you pulled in the tea house.
That night, Mi Rae is collapsed on her bed, crying and literally pouring the love out of her heart. Jo Gook is right outside, helplessly listening to those cries. Does he finally understand that he, and nobody else, not BB and not Go Hae or anyone, is the cause of Mi Rae’s cries?
The next day, the breakup is complete. Jo Gook finds the very last gift from Mi Rae on his fence. It is his jacket, the jacket that he had given to Mi Rae to shield her ripped dress that day of the one-woman protest. It is the jacket that Mi Rae danced with, with Jo Gook secretly watching from afar. Things were okay for Mi Rae, before Jo Gook. She was strong enough to keep herself going, when fourth class bung-holers were throwing eggs at her, throwing tomatoes at her. She was strong enough when all of City Hall was against her. She did not need Jo Gook’s help. But how bad has it become, now that she has started to rely on someone else, believing that Jo Gook had her back? Mi Rae is saying to Jo Gook, You weren’t there when I needed you. But that’s alright. It is fine, I will believe in myself now. Shin Mi Rae might have lost, but Mayor Shin doesn’t need some invertebrate to support her.
Side plottings –
Her hand forced by Jung Do, Joo Hwa signs divorce papers. Jung Do only wants Joo Hwa to stop behaving so badly, but Joo Hwa has turned into the woman scorned and now there is no stopping this runaway train. Logically, Joo Hwa blames Mi Rae for Jung Do’s divorcing her (true enough, if you accept the premise that being a career criminal is an attractive quality to have as a wife), and makes it her sworn duty to block whatever it is that Mi Rae is trying to accomplish. Truly, there is no greater motivation in this universe than spite.
BB meets with Go Hae, spilling the beans that Jo Gook intends to dump her. Go Hae goes from being elegant and pleasant, to being crazy livid, and then Go Hae and BB point fingers at the other for this fiasco.
Taking a moment to calm herself, Go Hae returns to being pleasant and plotting. She doesn’t care that Jo Gook wants someone else. She still wants Jo Gook, as she sees him as a very nice trophy husband, the kind of trophy that might lead her into the Blue House. It is a rather twisted reason to want to get married, but there are worse reasons to marry, and worse reasons to break up. Go Hae is not one to take defeat so easily, and she tells BB not to worry as she will turn into a fox to get her man back.
Back to Mi Rae and Jo Gook –
Jo Gook has one last speech to give before the election, but during the speech he spots a baendaengi brooch on a woman who has her face covered by a newspaper. Jo Gook realizes who it is immediately.
He abruptly stops speaking in the middle of his speech, and Mi Rae realizes Jo Gook sees her, and quickly turns to go. Jo Gook restarts his speech before she can leave, and this time, he speaks entirely for her ears and for her benefit.
Jo Gook: And so now, I have to make a decision. Do I ignore you who is naïve and easily pushed around, and give you up for my own happiness? Or do I suffer for your happiness?
Jo Gook: Who can make such a decision easily? While this choice will cause me to lose many things, I am more afraid of losing you. And so, even if you cannot stand with me, I hope you won’t stand so far away from me. Even if you are standing against me, I hope you can stand a little closer to me.
Mi Rae lingers just a bit longer, but then walks away, never turning back around. His speech over, Jo Gook follows her, finally catching up to her when she accidently causes an accident with a water truck. Using this as an opportunity to plead his case, Jo Gook begs Mi Rae not to go away, but to stand close. This is the first time in his life that he wants to live differently. If she cannot beat BB, then Jo Gook will beat him for her. Mi Rae’s reply is basically the theme of this recap:
Mi Rae: But how will you fight BB for me? You didn’t even have the courage to take me out of the room in front of him. And even after I had suffered that much insult from him, you didn’t even have the guts to chase after me. What are you going to use to fight him? Are you even elected as a National Assemblyman? What have you done in your life? I beg you, stop being delusional.
You’re an intelligent and beautiful man. What woman wouldn’t be interested in you? Just receive this breakup as the price you must pay for being so handsome. You said this before, that the result is more important than the process, right? This is your result. This is the result of you trying to create a puppet mayor. So just accept it.
Jo Gook has no words in response. How could he? And haven’t I been saying this all along? Of course, if I were on Jo Gook’s side, I would be whispering – “Man up and accept this… for now. But don’t give up, she still loves you, and you can still win her back. Don’t give up. She is worth it. You just have to become a better man than you are now…”
Election Day arrives, finally. Mi Rae steps in the voting booth. Staring at the ballot, she runs her finger across Jo Gook’s name, caressing it. She makes the tiniest of smiles and softly whispers the most awesome thing that makes me tear up:
Mi Rae: You stupid puppy dog… hwai-ting!
The votes are coming in, and as expected, Jo Gook overtakes his nearest rival, the former Governor of the province. He has won!
Go Hae, watching on television from her luxury apartment, looks pleased at the success of her fiancé. Step one for her path to the Blue House is complete.
She is preparing a very special night for the two of them in celebration. It looks like she is planning on their first night of intimacy and consummating their relationship before marriage. One wonders whether she actually has feelings for Jo Gook (after all, in Mi Rae’s words, what girl wouldn’t be interested), or whether she just wants to have Jo Gook as a trophy.
But Jo Gook has other ideas. He has rented a house of his own for his own celebration, and has finagled a way to get Mi Rae to come by ordering delivery.
Mi Rae is not amused with Jo Gook’s tricks, but Jo Gook pleads with Mi Rae to stay, saying that he loves her. Twice she pulls away, but finally, Mi Rae agrees to stay.
Still, Mi Rae wants Jo Gook to know that there is a price for everything. And this time, the price is that Mi Rae has to just keep hiding from sight, has to keep pretending, lying to everyone, so that nobody knows that they in love with each other. The price of Jo Gook’s happiness is that Mi Rae has to pretend that she is nothing. She is willing to pay that price for Jo Gook.
And Mi Rae adds that she might be a typhoon to Jo Gook, but she is also a typhoon to Inju City, and responsible for 130,000 men, women and children. But to give in to Jo Gook’s desires, to give in to her desires, as crazy it might be, she is willing to do so for Jo Gook. But she has one condition. Just one small condition. Just one promise that Jo Gook has to keep, even if he fails everything else in his life with respect to Mi Rae.
Mi Rae: Me, I am strong enough to deal with all of this. I can deal with you. I can’t make the choice between Inju City and you, because I can’t give up on my citizens or on you. So, I will deal with everything.
And so, down the road, please don’t say “It isn’t your fault that I am leaving.” Please don’t run away from me. Please don’t ever push me away. Understand?
All Mi Rae is asking from Jo Gook is not to treat her like trash, if they do finally end up breaking up again. Don’t say those words that would cut into my heart. That’s all I ask….
With that, Jo Gook sweeps Mi Rae into his arms, and well, at least for a night, they leave their problems (and a bit later, their clothes) behind.
And meanwhile, still waiting in her “I don’t plan on wearing this dress for long” dress, Go Hae is stood up. Without a phone call. Without any text or email. Go Hae is now angry, as any stood-up fiancé would be angry, but more so because it would only take one guess for her to win on the new FOX smash hit reality game show, “Guess Where Your Fiance is Tonight!” Go Hae will not stand for it.
She will make Jo Gook pay for his victory. She makes a single phone call to a certain slimeball… Go Hae has set a bomb that is set to explode with pictures of her and Jo Gook together in a hotel.
Meanwhile, Joo Hwa, embittered and truly angered by Jung Do refusing to settle for a serial felon for a wife, has declared war on Mi Rae’s administration by getting the City Counsel to filibuster her entire budget and plans for the future. She will make Mi Rae pay for her string of victories, including breaking up Joo Hwa’s marriage. Hell hath no fury like a serial criminal scorned…
As strong as Mi Rae is, will she be strong enough to deal with everything? Jo Gook’s political life, Mi Rae’s dreams for Inju City, and the love that each has for the other… will all of it go up in smoke on the same day?
Cha Seung Won and Kim Sun Ah are astonishing in this episode, with both creating characters that are so memorable, so interesting, so realistic. I can’t say enough about both actors here.
The character of Jo Gook is really something. He is such a flawed human being. He is emotionally under-developed and damaged goods due to his traumatic abandonment as a child, and yet he grows up to being this incredibly well-balanced and stable individual… at least on the outside. But on the inside, he is a selfish prig, so focused only on what makes him happy, on what his interests are. He is what many successful people are like – so devoted to themselves that they cannot see beyond their noses as how their actions will affect others. It is what has made them successful, this narrow focus, but it has also made them into second-class bungholes.
And with our heroine, Mi Rae, she is just amazing. Whenever she is put down, whenever she is attacked, she fights back with ever more determination. And each time she fights, she gets stronger. She challenges Joo Hwa, and gets fired. So she challenges the administration, and gets her friend Boo Mi fired. So she challenges the Mayor, and finally, strong enough, she wins her first battle. And then she is put down again, and ends up running for Mayor and winning. Then she brings down a whole system of corrupt municipal government. And now she is fighting against BB and Go Hae. But has she really gotten strong enough to beat both of them, while protecting Inju City, Jo Gook and their relationship?
The person to watch for in this Episode:
I have to say, Choi Il Hwa’s portrayal of BB is so intense, so scary, so much like the father-in-law from hell, that I have to give him…. second place in the award for Person To Watch For. Hehe!
Of course, the person to watch for in this episode is Mi Rae! While much of the credit has to go to the writers of this drama, who have created such a strong character in Mi Rae, it is Kim Sun Ah who gives the character 3-dimensional depth and shading. I might have said this in earlier recaps, but it bears repeating here. I don’t think there is another actress who could have played the character of Mi Rae.
The scene on the hilltop stone staircase is so heart-breaking, it gets difficult to swallow and I tear up sometimes when I watch it. Mi Rae, whose heart is so large, has a fundamental weakness in that the larger a person’s heart, the more the person hurts when it breaks. Jo Gook has truly broken her heart, and the pain would be unbearable to all but the strongest of persons. It is a lucky coincidence that Mi Rae is strong enough to bear that pain, but it doesn’t mean that she should have had to bear it. Shame on Jo Gook for being a coward, for trying to win at everything without weighing the potential consequences to people other than himself.
This is why Mi Rae’s principle for living is that a person should win when he or she is defending a righteous position, and lose otherwise. If you win all the time, then there will be a price to pay for victory.
On To Episode 16!