Equator Man: Episode 4
The intensity starts amping up as guilt, anxiety, and some blunt force trauma take hold of our star-crossed brothers. Father Time seems to have a pretty selective hand when it comes to who gets the short end of the aging stick as we transition into our adult cast – or as our four leads become more adult-y than they were before. But hey, it’s not every day someone gets to go to sleep and wake up as Uhm Tae-woong.
EPISODE 4 RECAP
Jang-il walks away from the scene of the crime in a daze clutching Sun-woo’s police petition. He pauses for a long moment on the bridge, his feet shifting and unsure. Almost as if he wants to go back. Too bad, Jang-il. There’s no going back now.
He knows it too, and finally takes that decisive step forward. Once alone he burns all evidence.
Soo-mi is there on his way out and asks if he’s seen Sun-woo. He nervously replies that he hasn’t, even though she was sure they were together. When Jang-il asks why she wants to see him, she coolly replies that he doesn’t have to know.
Jang-il shuts the curtains when he enters his room, and then hides under his bedcovers like a frightened child. There’s just something sad about that, and against all my better judgment I feel pity.
It’s not enough, so in a panic he begins to throw clothes into a suitcase. Memories of Sun-woo flash before his eyes, and he starts to gag, sickened by what he’s done. On his way to the train station he passes Sun-woo’s house, where Soo-mi waits outside.
Jang-il has the bad fortune of seeing Sun-woo’s childhood/gangster friend on the train to Seoul, and he just can’t escape people talking about Sun-woo. As far as karmic retribution goes, Jang-il gets his fair share when the friend mentions that Sun-woo almost died protecting Jang-il from gangsters.
This hits Jang-il hard, and he keeps seeking sources of shelter from the guilt – this time, it’s the simple act of pulling his collar up around his neck and sinking into his chair. I really like that while this doesn’t excuse Jang-il’s actions, there is some gratification to be had in all of the guilt he’s feeling.
Try as he might, Jang-il can’t forget what he’s done. Alone in the very apartment that was bought by a heinous crime, he sinks to the floor and sobs helplessly.
Yong-bae sees Jang-il’s room in shambles when he returns home, along with a note that reads that he’s returning to Seoul, and that they didn’t submit the petition. On instinct he approaches Sun-woo’s house, but hears Soo-mi outside raising a fuss with one of the neighborhood ajummas.
Soo-mi is intent on finding Sun-woo, maybe suspecting something of her own (since she now knows the whole truth), and takes special note that Jang-il was the last person Sun-woo was seen with. Yong-bae doesn’t make his presence known, but he hears everything.
Sun-woo’s gangster friend even goes to the office in Seoul to check if Sun-woo submitted the petition. When he finds out that no such petition was submitted, he can’t help thinking that it’s all very strange. Jang-il’s father is putting together the pieces as well, and it seems clear that he knows his son did something terrible.
We cut from Jang-il, who’s so on edge that even the wind frightens him, to Soo-mi, who can’t keep painting because of something niggling at her, and finally to Sun-woo – who’s been washed up on shore, but is alive. Barely.
Later, at a party where his rich friends talk about their copious amounts of money, Jang-il sets to drinking himself silly. He later decides he’ll keep drinking alone at the same roadside stand Ji-won is at, though he doesn’t seem to notice her. The news from the radio talks about a fisherman finding a dead man in the water without identification – and Jang-il, so racked with guilt, begins to dry heave again.
Ji-won follows him outside as he retches.
Jang-il: “Why did you do that? What should I do now? You drove me to hell, but you said it’s all good for me. Father, is it really good for me?”
This just sounds like nonsense to Ji-won, who tries to offer him water. He pushes her away and tells her not to interfere with his life, and it’s only when she sobers him up with some water to the face that he comes to.
When she turns to go, Jang-il latches onto her arm and asks in a small voice, “Can you stay with me for awhile? Until I sober up?”
They go to a train station where she sits next to him while he sleeps. When he wakes up in the morning she’s gone, but she’s left her scarf around his neck.
Jang-il finds her at the library to return it – only he’s replaced it with a much more expensive one. She tells him that no matter what happened, he shouldn’t blame his father. You can see Jang-il grow nervous as he asks her if he said anything else that was strange, but she simply responds that he was whining and jokingly adds that he shouldn’t do that anymore.
Sun-woo is found by the authorities and put into an ambulance, with only his gangster friend to care for him. Jang-il’s pager beeps in the library, and I’m biting my fingernails. What if he finds out Sun-woo is alive?
Whatever number he sees is disconcerting, and he throws it back into his bag. It’s Yong-bae who gets a call next, and the look on his face is grave.
Next up is Kwang-choon, who Soo-mi finds just as he’s on the way to the hospital. He tells her that Sun-woo was found gravely injured, having lost his footing on a cliff. He’s unconscious, but a note was found with his number.
Soo-mi tries to go alone, but her father insists and they both end up at the hospital. Kwang-choon cries at the sight of Sun-woo in the hospital bed. “Did the person who killed your dad do this to you?” he wails.
Soo-mi tries to shut him up, but Kwang-choon counters that he has a conscience. (Perhaps unlike his daughter.) The staff wonder if Sun-woo has a guardian because consent is needed to move him into ICU, and Kwang-choon volunteers himself. “Saving his life is more important than money,” he claims, like the good person I know he is at heart.
When Sun-woo’s gangster friend (I wish I knew what to call him) comes, Soo-mi asks him what happened. “Sun-woo will tell us if he wakes up,” his friend claims. Soo-mi: “What if he doesn’t?” She’s so hard to read, and I can’t tell if she wants that to happen, or not.
Kwang-choon tells his daughter that if Sun-woo dies, he’ll tell everything to the police. She doesn’t like this idea one bit and asks him what good will come of it, and he fires back, “What good will come from not doing it?” Father and daughter are clearly on two very different ideological pages.
She stops him from following Yong-bae into Sun-woo’s room, since he’s worried he might kill Sun-woo by pulling off his respirator. I don’t know if this is a drama meta reference or not, but Soo-mi debunks that claim by saying it’s a patently silly thought when Sun-woo is always surrounded by hospital staff.
Yong-bae calls Jang-il to update him on Sun-woo. The general consensus is that he lost his footing on a cliff, but he’s in critical condition. “I don’t think he will live,” he tells his son. “So just forget about him and focus on studying.” Really, Dad? That’s what you tell someone whose friend is dying? (Unless you know he tried to kill said friend, which doesn’t really make them friends anymore, except now we’re getting too technical for an aside?)
Jang-il was clearly not expecting this news. He looks at himself in the mirror, wide-eyed, and begins to… practice his surprised face for when the police come to inform him that Sun-woo was found dead? Whoa, this is a whole new level of crazy. Okay. Need time to process this. So creepy.
Then someone begins to knock on his door in earnest. He’s slow to answer as dread rises in his heart, and gathers all his courage to open it… but it’s only the postman on the other side, who’s come to deliver a package Sun-woo sent to him. (He’d mentioned it when they last met.)
In a dark corner of his apartment, Jang-il sits next to the package, murmuring into the darkness.
Jang-il: “Sun-woo. I’m sorry. I couldn’t give up everything. I’m going to succeed no matter what. I’m going to have everything I want. And I’ll live with the guilty conscience for your death. Is it enough? Is it enough, Sun-woo?”
I don’t know, Jang-il. Isn’t there a saying about counting your bodies before they’re dead?
Chairman Jin meets with Yong-bae and asks about the petition that was never filed. Yong-bae tells him about Sun-woo’s condition, clearly growing uncomfortable when Chairman Jin asks how it happened. After hearing that Sun-woo may have gotten drunk and fallen off a cliff, Chairman Jin says offhandedly, “He doesn’t seem like he would let something like that happen.”
Yong-bae is left with some parting words by Chairman Jin, that he’s to take care of Sun-woo’s funeral arrangements.
We find him next in Sun-woo’s hospital room. Yong-bae takes his comatose hand and leans in close, “Sun-woo. Did you make my son commit a crime? You shouldn’t have done that.” Creepy. Luckily he just leaves him in peace.
We focus back on Sun-woo’s face as we get a flashback reel of his life, and then…
Sun-woo is all grown up. (Uhmforce! I mean, Uhm Tae-woong!) We enter a flashback with his father, who claimed that his one dream was to have a good life with Sun-woo, Sun-woo’s wife, and his grandchildren. Sun-woo’s dream was traveling the world with his father. But the last place he wanted to go? The equator. When asked why, Sun-woo says it’s because he thinks the equator looks like him. Spring in the day, and winter at night.
He knows he was adopted, and still tells his dad that he’s happy he was his father. But when he turns around to tell him, his father is walking away. It’s a dream, and adult Sun-woo murmurs in his bed for his father not to go.
One of the nurses hears him, and hurriedly calls for the doctor that Sun-woo has finally come around. Sun-woo is unable to respond when the doctor asks him if he knows where he is, but he’s able to move his finger when prompted.
We then catch up with Chairman Jin, who’s doing extremely well, business-wise. His small enterprise has grown, and he’s being interviewed for taking over a big hotel while he talks of investing in a myriad of other expensive things.
Tae-joo seems to be doing well with his own business endeavors, and soon it’s back to Chairman Jin and family, which includes Hee-jun’s daughter, Yoon-joo, singing at a gala. When she gets to speak with Chairman Jin, she tells him that even if she goes to study abroad, she wants to learn business so she can work for his company.
Chairmain Jin thinks that Yoon-joo’s ambition is a good thing, but his wife asks if he’s nervous that she’d take his business. He looks at her for a long while, then sighs. “When can I feel that we’re really family?”
I was wondering if this long amount of time spent on Chairman Jin and his family was going anywhere, until finally one of his business partners asks if he’s interested in resource development – because a man from France bought mining concessions from a man from Busan… by the name of Moon Tae-joo. Everything he touches turns to gold apparently, so the man keeps praising Tae-joo, and you can see the slight tick of discomfort on Chairman Jin’s face.
Once alone, Chairman Jin broods in the darkness and crushes a glass with his hand.
We find adult Jang-il (Lee Jun-hyuk!) as he receives the fateful phone call that Sun-woo has finally come around. Even after the line has gone dead he stands frozen, allowing time for the shock to absorb.
Yong-bae gets the call next, and his reaction is similar to his son, for probably very similar reasons.
Kwang-choon and Soo-mi (Im Jung-eun) are the first to arrive at Sun-woo’s side. They pretty much assault Sun-woo with questions, but become strangely aware that he’s not responding visually. Can he not see them?
Jang-il, meanwhile, can’t reach whoever he’s trying to reach by phone and responds by throwing everything off his desk in frustration.
Chairman Jin attempts to glean more information on Moon Tae-joo, but there’s little to be found. He lives a secretive life and runs a business out of Indonesia, but past that, no one knows. Chairman Jin is suspicious, as he’s sure Tae-joo is up to something.
Yong-bae is still under Chairman Jin’s thumb, as Chairman Jin has called him to see if he wants to go night fishing. But Yong-bae can’t, and tells him that it’s because he needs to go to the hospital – Sun-woo has regained consciousness.
Now we’re back to Tae-joo. (For the love of dramas, can we please stay on one scene for longer than a second? I am getting whiplash here.) He tells his secretary to cancel all of his meetings. When asked why, he replies: “I have to go find my son.”
Perhaps Chairman Jin is doing the same, since he ends up outside of Sun-woo’s hospital room, looking in at him through the window.
Kwang-choon and Soo-mi return to Sun-woo’s side just as Chairman Jin is leaving, both of them worried for his mental state. Soo-mi tries to rouse Sun-woo by asking if he wants her to call his best friend in the whole wide world, Jang-il. But Sun-woo can only say “Father” over and over.
They’re just happy he can speak, though he won’t respond to them. Instead he mumbles: “Father… my father will come later. I have to wait.”
Kwang-choon immediately goes to the doctor to ask if Sun-woo’s lost his marbles, like it’s totally abnormal for Sun-woo to be unable to recite a dictionary upon waking up from a coma. The doctor says it’s all to be expected, although it seems like he’ll be okay otherwise.
Meanwhile, Jang-il can’t sleep. He finally just gets up out of bed and grabs a coat.
Soo-mi’s words about calling Jang-il ring in Sun-woo’s ears as he flashes back to the day by the shore. He seems to remember Jang-il hitting him, and begins to hyperventilate in bed.
The doctor comes as Sun-woo is positively convulsing, and it’s frightening to see him thrashing about and screaming on his bed. Yong-bae comes at just that time and watches him through a crack in the door. He doesn’t want to believe that Sun-woo’s finally come around.
Soo-mi comes back to visit Sun-woo the next day, and speaks gently to him. Even though she disavowed knowledge of him when they were younger, now she claims that they’ve been friends since elementary school.
Some recognition passes over Sun-woo’s face, and he offers a slight smile. “You’re good at painting.” She’s relieved that he has his memories. But then he goes and says, “Call my father and… tell him not to come too late.”
Yikes. Okay, so some spotty memories. Soo-mi plays along, but then asks him if he remembers how he got hurt. She seems hopeful that he doesn’t, and he swiftly turns away from her. “I don’t remember,” he says. “Don’t ask me.”
But then he opens his eyes, really opens them, and asks her the time. She says it’s twelve, but he thinks it’s twelve at night. She corrects him that it’s the middle of the day, all the lights are on… and the realization starts dawning on Sun-woo slowly. He can’t see.
The doctors check his eyes, and Soo-mi starts wheeling him back to his room. He looks like a frightened child being able to hear without seeing, his eyes darting around him to find any sort of purchase.
Soo-mi finds Jang-il in the hospital, and asks if he’s here to see Sun-woo. “Sun-woo might not remember you,” she warns. “Some of his memories are gone since his head got hurt from the accident.”
Sun-woo sits on his bed and thinks back to what the doctor told him – his corneas separated from the shock of his accident, so his brain can’t recognize what he sees. He lets out a sigh as he tells himself that this must all be a joke.
But then he starts losing it, and begins to yell for someone to turn on the light in the middle of the day. He attempts walking and only ends up stumbling around, falling all over the place as he yells for someone to turn on the lights.
Sun-woo then wanders the hallway calling for the doctor and causing a general scene. Jang-il watches him approach from the other end of the hall, his face frozen and his feet firmly planted. He knows Sun-woo is blind and lets him pass by…
…Until Sun-woo suddenly grabs onto him from behind, thinking he’s the doctor. He asks for help as Jang-il looks positively terrified and sad at the same time. Oh, poor things.
Sun-woo eventually pushes him away and grasps a nearby wall to stabilize himself. “This can’t be true. It’s a lie. Who turned off all the lights? Turn on the light!” he yells. “Turn it on!”
Uhmfooorce! Just had to get that out of the way.
The first half of the episode was gold, the middle (after the unknown number of years passed) middling, and the ending strong. I get that we had a lot of people who needed to react to Sun-woo regaining consciousness, but add that to the actor switches (Chairman Jin’s stepdaughter’s actress switch really threw me off, since she looked old enough to be switch-free beforehand), to the camera’s flea-like attention span, and you get one confused audience.
I gained my bearings well enough, because it seems like a great amount of years have passed for Sun-woo, Jang-il, etc. to grow up – only the remaining cast didn’t age by a single day. Seriously guys, not even a little white hair? A change in style, perhaps? For the most part, it seems like the world around Sun-woo remained as stuck in time as he’s been. I just found myself wishing for that one Exposition Fairy who always seems to pop up when someone wakes up from a coma to jump in the frame to say, “You’ve been in a coma X amount of years!”
So that bit of griping aside, I have to say, I’m still digging this show. It’s a character drama of the highest order, and I was absolutely riveted when we focused so long on Jang-il’s guilt. I found it very realistically written and portrayed, since killing in dramas is commonplace nowadays – but normally those characters that kill on impulse end up having been evil to start with, amoral, or have an uncanny ability to compartmentalize. Jang-il isn’t evil, he isn’t amoral, so when faced with the guilt of killing his friend he felt it and showed it in such a way that I found myself actually feeling bad for him.
Genre differences aside, a recent example of this kind of behavior would be the character of Tae-mu from Rooftop Prince. He kills someone he’s known for his entire life on impulse, and then there’s just nothing – no personal recompense, no guilt, he only worries about being caught. So is he a sociopath who can’t distinguish right from wrong? Is he simply that heartless? It’s not in Rooftop Prince’s itinerary to answer those questions, which is fine for the drama (because if they spent time on that, we’d have a different show), but Jang-il’s guilt made me realize how desensitized I’ve become to murder being used as a character device. Why spend time fleshing out a character in fifty pages when you can have them commit murder in only two, and have that take care of the rest?
Murder can be impulsive, like we saw with Jang-il, but unless you’re an amoral sociopath you’re going to feel something once you’ve realized what you’ve done. And in Jang-il’s case, he truly suffered for it. I just loved that we saw it in such detail so that he’s in a moral grey area, which is a perfect place for one of our main characters to be. It doesn’t excuse his actions, but it certainly gives him layers. The same even goes for Yong-bae, who may be the one more worried about getting caught, but he’s not completely evil, per se. The closest we get to a bad-to-the-core character is probably Chairman Jin.
But then again, Jang-il practicing his poker faces in the mirror was pretty freaky and decently amoral. Way to throw a wrench into my character theorizing, Equator Man. You win this time.