School 2013: Episode 3
This week looks to be just as strong—or stronger—than premiere week for School 2013, which is doing some really great things with its characters. This episode sees the escalation of tensions and the entry of a new character who’s bound to shake things up a little. Or maybe a ton, given the way his arrival at school makes such a splash. What’s great is that we’re left hanging as to whether this is a good thing for everyone, or a way of amplifying all the existing conflicts and wreaking havoc with the established order. Which, I suppose given this nearly order-less mess of a school, may not be all bad.
SONG OF THE DAY
One More Chance – “가지마라” (Don’t Go) [ Download ]
EPISODE 3 RECAP
Se-chan drops the bomb with a smirk: He’ll be taking over the homeroom class from now on. Gah, he and Principal Im are so smug about it; it makes you want to slap those smiles from their faces. In-jae takes it well, though, and turns to her lone student to begin the after-school lesson, since she’s still the teacher for today.
Nam-soon heads out instead, to gather the other kids. He gets on the phone with Jung-ho, ordering him to get his ass to school so they can fight this out, “and bring your underlings along too, so we can have a go at it.”
Uh, are you really spoiling for a fight, or is this a tactic? Please tell me this is a tactic. He texts the class clown to come to school if he wants to see the fight.
Ohhhh, smart. Way to ensure a big turnout, since ain’t nobody gonna miss the show. Of course, now we’ve got to actually find a way around the fighting part…
All is silent and studious in Se-chan’s session, with his full classroom busily writing their essays. (Technically it’s a test, to get into the class in the first place.) Class 2 students tear down the hall, but come up short to find the classroom virtually empty. In-jae tells the students to have a seat, and now they’re stuck.
The same happens to Jung-ho and his posse, who enter the room expecting to see Nam-soon challenging him, and instead get invited to take their seats. Nam-soon enters and points out that they can have their showdown after class.
Jung-ho turns to go, but Nam-soon asks, “Why, you gonna run away?” Fightin’ words. Jung-ho tells his buddies they may as well see what’s going on, and they sit down.
It’s cute how pleased In-jae is to have a full class, and even Se-chan takes note of it as he walks by Class 2.
But as the teachers address their respective students, it’s clear just how different their perspectives are. Se-chan is challenged by an overachiever student, and he cuts her down to size, picking up on the fact that she’s No. 2 and that her question is typical of all No. 2s who dream of getting into the top universities but don’t have the know-how of those who will actually make it. It’s the difference, Se-chan says, between actually getting there and merely dreaming about it. What’s important for his students, then, is setting the appropriate goals.
Over in Class 2, In-jae says that the most important thing is to have a dream, even with subpar grades. That way they’ll have something to buoy them through the hard times.
I love how Nam-soon perks up when the snooty Ha-kyung joins the class—not because he likes her, necessarily, but because he’d been texting her to get her ass to class, and she actually showed. She looks annoyed at him, but hey, she made it didn’t she?
Asked what her dream was, In-jae thinks for a moment and replies, “To be a teacher.” They comment that hers came true, and she tells them, “Whether they come true or not, have dreams of your own. This is something I wanted to make sure to tell you.” There’s a bittersweet air to that, since we know she’s really saying goodbye to the class.
Nam-soon leads the class in bowing to the teacher to mark the end of the session, like a proper class president.
He’s immediately accosted by Jung-ho, who’s itching for his fight. Nam-soon suggests they take it up another time when the teacher’s not around, and Jung-ho counters that they can just relocate to a place without her. Nam-soon dutifully follows the bullies up the stairs, ignoring his classmates’ entreaties to avoid the conflict.
The students follow them to the roof, but get locked out. Do they call the teacher? Or do they let the boys fight it out, since they’re bound to at some point?
Nam-soon asks for a raincheck till tomorrow, and Jung-ho scoffs. Does he think it’ll hurt less tomorrow? Aw, but he’s stalling because he doesn’t want the class to reflect badly on In-jae. At least tomorrow, it won’t be her problem anymore.
In the teachers’ office, In-jae hands over stacks of records to Se-chan. He wonders if she’s really going to quit, and she points out that she’s being fired. Still, he suggests that she stick it out, since she managed to pull together her class.
A student bursts in to alert her to the brewing trouble, just as Jung-ho kicks Nam-soon in the gut. She dashes up to the locked roof door and orders someone to get the keys, and hears from the other kids that Nam-soon must’ve done this to get the class to show up.
Nam-soon balls up his fist, and when Jung-ho swings he ducks easily, then runs… for the edge of the roof. He jumps over the side and onto the narrow ledge on the other side, and oh god this cannot end well.
Holy crap, and then he swings from the ledge by his fingertips down to the story below, then again to the story below. Mind you, the roof is the fourth story. Yeeeesh.
But Nam-soon jumps agilely all the way to the ground, while the bully-minions actually marvel at it, since just looking over the edge has them dizzy. Jung-ho watches with a stone face.
Finally In-jae unlocks the door and everyone spills onto the rooftop, just in time for Jung-ho to taunt, “So I hear you’re getting fired, Teach.” Asked about Nam-soon, they say he went home, though the students wonder how he could have done it. Surely he didn’t jump down, right?
A student asks if it’s true In-jae’s being fired—er, quitting. Tomboyish Kang-joo chides the class clown Byun-ki for causing trouble, saying that everyone ends up ditching them. And Byun-ki reminds In-jae that her dream was teaching.
Another classmate figures there must be a good reason, and Kang-joo adds that she can’t help feeling disappointed, since it was nice having In-jae as their teacher. The others chime in, and whine at her cutely not to leave them. They tell her that if she doesn’t come tomorrow, she’ll have to pay that fee. It’s sweet.
In-jae goes home heavy-hearted and looks through an old notebook. It bears a message from 2007, which looks like something she wrote to herself: “It’s not yet time to let go of the children’s hands.” Kang-joo’s words ring in her ears about everyone always quitting them, and In-jae says to herself, “Not yet.”
The next morning, Nam-soon arrives at school and sighs, “Today I’m dead.” Ha-kyung pulls up next to him and indicates her phone—what was yesterday’s text all about? Ha, it turns out he’d threatened to blab about her going to Se-chan’s academy. She warns him to keep his mouth shut, but do I see a softening in their sniping? Cute.
In the parking lot, In-jae nervously waits for Principal Im, who pointedly tells her there’s no need for formal goodbyes. In-jae argues that the grades are starting to improve, and asks to remain as Class 2’s teacher. Principal Im points out that they have a new teacher, just as Se-chan arrives to join the conversation. He’s eager to wash his hands of the burden, though for appearance’s sake he pretends to reluctantly-but-graciously hand over the class. There—both teachers are in accord, so it’s settled, right?
Not so fast. Principal Im argues that there were PTA complaints as well. In-jae proposes the idea of being joint homeroom teachers, and before the principal can shoot down the idea, Se-chan jumps in and lauds it as a great notion, smoothly steering the conversation his way. Ha, I know he can be sort of smarmy, but when he’s using his powers for good and not asshattery, I get a kick out of Se-chan’s glib cleverness.
The kids hear that Se-chan is to be their new teacher, and commiserate with Nam-soon for sticking up for In-jae only to get stuck with that punk instead. He grumbles that he didn’t do it for her (suuuuure), that he only did it because he didn’t want Se-chan (which I wholeheartedly believe, though it totally doesn’t negate that first part).
Se-chan walks in to begin class, and everyone settles down and waits for Nam-soon to start the morning salute. He stands up… and heads straight for the door.
Only it opens before he gets there, and In-jae walks in. Yay!
Se-chan explains the joint situation, and announces their goal: to improve from last place in the upcoming midterms. I love that this seemingly modest goal has the whole class grumbling like he’s just asked them to scale Everest.
To that end, he hands out a study plan assignment, due tomorrow. He wraps up and asks for the president to close the session. Nam-soon remains resolutely silent, and finally it’s Ha-kyung who stands and leads the salute. Oh, interesting. She actually bothered.
Then the students huddle ’round In-jae to confirm that she’s going to stick around. She reminds them that they asked her not to abandon them, and although there’s some minor grumbling (“Two teachers means twice the nagging”), it’s clear they’re all happy to have her back.
Se-chan is eager to pawn off all the annoying work, and says that he’ll be in charge of the students’ grades while In-jae can be in charge of nagging the kids and handling the administrative stuff. I know he’s a lazy bastard, but I do enjoy his ability to wriggle free of responsibility with that charm of his. Maybe because we know his comeuppance is on the way.
Young-woo comes up to Nam-soon at the fountains to ask if he’s going to miss class again (Se-chan’s, which he refuses to take). Aw, we know Young-woo only sat out to keep him company, and Nam-soon tells him to stay in class today. Nam-soon adorably turns on a faucet for him, then gives Young-woo a pat on the butt. Omg. Too cute, these two.
Sure enough, Nam-soon stands out in the hallway during the lesson. Gym Teacher Jo sees, and tsks-tsks. More for Se-chan the indifferent tutor than for Nam-soon, I think.
In-jae hands out an assignment in her class, which is a questionnaire asking the kids to outline their goals and dreams. Jung-ho and his bullies stroll into class at the end, and he pointedly says that since school’s still in session he’s technically only tardy, not truant. He’s clearly here to fight Nam-soon, and In-jae says she wants to see them after class, wanting to stop it.
Nam-soon gets up to walk out of class—whether away from the challenge or into it, I’m not entirely sure. But Gym Teacher Jo steps in and requests to speak with Nam-soon, and In-jae’s relieved to have the excuse to keep him away from trouble.
Jung-ho sneers that it’s nice having the teachers on his side to shield him. “I’ve got lots of time,” he adds. “I’ll be seeing you.”
Teacher Jo takes a perplexed Nam-soon to the gymnasium and instructs him to clean it. Nam-soon wonders if he’s supposed to do this all by himself and is told of course not… just as Se-chan arrives. Ha! Is Teacher Jo playing meddling matchmaker? I love it.
Teacher Jo hands them two mops and says that they’re both in need of some discipline: the student skipped class, and the teacher looked the other way. They are to both clean the gym, equally (no foisting it off on the student, he warns), and every day Teacher Jo will drop by the class to make sure everything is hunky-dory. Should more of today’s class-ditching occur, they’ll be put on cleaning duty again. HEE. I love Teacher Jo.
Se-chan is first to suggest they wipe the slate clean and have Nam-soon rejoin the class, wanting to end this the easiest way possible. At least Nam-soon agrees, though it cracks me up that Se-chan is totally surprised by his easy capitulation.
Teacher Jo watches them limping out of the gym, chuckling, “They’re exactly alike.”
The next morning, when Se-chan prompts the class prez to lead the greeting and collect homework, Nam-soon sends him an annoyed sneer (hee), but complies.
The students complain about the double homework, some of them only opting to fill out one—either Se-chan’s study plan or In-jae’s About Me questionnaire. Or in Nam-soon’s case, neither.
Both teachers start to lecture him, which is hilarious since it sounds like nagging parents. Se-chan asks what his dream is, and he says there’s nothing. So he has no dream, and no plans for college—why come to school? Nam-soon offers to think it over and leaves.
In-jae criticizes Se-chan’s tactic of asking a question like that so baldly. Se-chan points out that her questionnaire contains the same question. She turns away in a huff. I could watch this all day.
Ha-kyung gets cornered by a trio of girls, who all happen to be the top in their class. They’re led by that huffy No. 2 girl who sniped at Se-chan, and I find it oddly funny that at this school the mean girls are the nerds. Ha-kyung has been skipping out on their special study group, made for the smartest kids who want to get into Seoul National University, and they’re peevish about it—does she think the group is beneath her level?
Ha-kyung says in her awesome deadpan that they shouldn’t say things like that… because it’ll injure their pride. Ha.
No. 2 girl smirks that she’ll want to show up to study group now, and they dangle the bait: Se-chan’s prized, super-hard-to-acquire “golden notes.” Ha-kyung says she doesn’t need it, leaving them gaping.
There must be satisfaction in knowing that they’re desperate to have you because they want your brainpower, and Minion 1 says as much. But she’s the one who managed to get the notes with her connections, and without Ha-kyung there as incentive to share it, she’s not inclined to let the others in on it. Watch out there, No. 2 is just about to blow her fuse.
No. 2 probably needs a name now, and it’s Eun-hye. Her day just gets worse when she finds that she’s failed to make Se-chan’s special essay class… and that Ha-kyung got in. But Eun-hye wonders how Ha-kyung got in when she didn’t take that test.
Man, for all the things Se-chan is terrible at as a teacher, he sure is on the money when reading students: He pegged Eun-hye as a desperate almost-best type with an inferiority complex, and she proves that by swiping her classmate’s golden notes and taking photos of every page like she’s on some covert op.
In-jae and Se-chan are busy in yet another bickering session when they are informed of a new transfer student on the way. One look at his record is enough to label him a “school shopper”—the kind of problem kid who transfers out of every school after causing trouble there. He’s already got five transfers on his record and is behind after taking a year off. One of the other teachers sighs that putting him in the same class as Jung-ho is bound to be problematic.
In-jae’s more willing to take the kid than Se-chan, saying that he’s got to go somewhere. They resume the bickering, with In-jae arguing that the kids need to figure out their About Me questions more than they need a study plan right now, and he points out that he collected more of his plans than she did, and she counters that they started with the easiest assignment…
Uhmforce points out how silly they’re being (but so cute!) and orders them both to deal with the transfer kid together. He’s like their marriage counselor, which cracks me up.
Nam-soon stays behind to finish collecting the assignments, and sees the golden notes in the trash—it’s where Eun-hye dropped them to deflect suspicion. Nam-soon recognizes the notes, though, and assumes that Ha-kyung left them behind, and returns it to her desk. Uh-ohhhh.
Se-chan agrees to take on the kid, and how funny is the cut that shows us that In-jae’s standing on a huge step to be eye level with him? He warns that as soon as School Shopper causes trouble, she’ll back off and he’ll get to dictate how class is run. After all, she’s the one on thin ice right now, and she’s already got two problem students on her plate.
Golden Note girl is quick to point the finger at Eun-hye for stealing her book, until the suspicion hits her that there’s another possible culprit. She roots through Ha-kyung’s things and finds the notebook there, and accuses her of being a hypocritical thieving bitch. Well, don’t hide how you really feel.
Nam-soon speaks up to say he put the notes in Ha-kyung’s desk… only he doesn’t have an explanation for why he assumed the book was hers. Not without giving away Ha-kyung’s secret about taking the class, which she clearly doesn’t want him to say. So thief she is.
The teachers step in to calm the situation, although In-jae still doesn’t get the reasoning behind it and both Se-chan and Nam-soon have been warned—ordered, rather—by Ha-kyung not to say a thing about her taking that class.
Eun-hye brings her homework to Se-chan’s desk and sees the roster for his essay class. On it, she sees that the last spot for the class was actually hers… until Se-chan scratched out her name and wrote in Ha-kyung’s. Ooh. Wanna take bets on just how loud Eun-hye’s going to get about this? We’ve seen Se-chan intrigued by Ha-kyung’s studious habits and surely it’s his prerogative to organize his own class, but Eun-hye… well, reasonable doesn’t appear to be one of her dominant qualities. She snaps a photo of that list, too.
Eun-hye steps out of the room just in time to hear Se-chan telling In-jae how Ha-kyung attended his academy and received the book from him. Ergo, she didn’t steal it. In-jae wants to rectify this by distributing that notebook to everyone, fairly, but Se-chan objects. Students go to extremes to pay out of their ears for that book, unfairly.
In-jae: “I see you’re still a tutor. Not a teacher.”
Eun-hye asks Se-chan to add her to his special class, and he says she didn’t make the cut. She points out that neither did Ha-kyung, to which he replies that Ha-kyung merits special consideration as No. 1 in the school: “What rank are you?” That shuts her up, but something tells me this is far from over.
After school, the bullies wait to corner Nam-soon. Today he has no excuse, and he follows them to an alley and proceeds to get the daylights kicked out of him. Ugh. It’s a pretty brutal beating, especially since he doesn’t defend himself.
Even Jung-ho wonders at his lack of participation, but Nam-soon says, “Let’s stop here.” Aw, he just wants to take his beating quickly and go home, which is terribly sad. He invites Jung-ho to tear him apart—’cause he’ll be tearing his own life apart while he’s at it.
Well, that sounds fine and all from an existential point of view, but I’m more concerned about the physical part where you don’t get turned into a bloody pulp.
Jung-ho swings his fist… which gets caught by another hand. It’s Transfer Student. (Yaaaaaaaaaay!)
And then new kid Heung-soo (Kim Woo-bin) says, “Long time no see, Go Nam-soon.” Omo, they’re old friends?
Heung-soo smiles… which then twists with derision as he calls him a crazy bastard. So not friends then. Nam-soon looks decidedly unthrilled about this meeting.
The arrival of Uhmforce breaks up the reunion, and the boys scatter. Heung-soo makes his way to the school, bumping into Kang-joo along the way and making a poor impression with the rude way he kicks her bag at her.
Nam-soon runs off clutching his side, and a flashback fills us in:
Some time in the past, Nam-soon is being kicked around by a group of bullies, much like today. Only in this case, it’s Heung-soo who’s the ringleader, smiling as his posse beats Nam-soon up. Oh no. This is not turning into a good year for our hero.
Nam-soon gets a call for his errand-running job, and hears that the customer wants something from his school. With a sigh he retrieves a bag from Ha-kyung’s desk to deliver the bag of her stuff across town… to a bathroom?
Ah, it’s a change of clothing and she needs it before she can join her academy class. Just as Nam-soon apologizes for the notebook mishap, a classmate happens by… and sees Ha-kyung in uniform. She realizes that Ha-kyung’s been lying about her school, which I guess is a Big Fuckin’ Deal here because you have to have certain school credentials to be admitted to the academy. We get it. You’re like the Harvard of Harvard-prep schools.
Ha-kyung seems rattled but manages a cutting reply: “But I’m still a better student than you guys.”
Nam-soon sticks around while Ha-kyung changes, then intercepts her—she doesn’t mean to go to academy now, right? That girl already spread the news far and wide.
Ha-kyung works up her nerve and heads to the academy, but Nam-soon pulls her away, knowing she’s not going to be up for the reception there. He pushes her on his bike and she lets him take her away, brushing at her tears during the ride.
While crossing a bridge she has him stop, seeing the message written on the railing: “What troubles you?” She yells that it stinks, everything stinks, and throws her uniform over the side. She says she’s humiliated, ashamed of her school, though she supposes he wouldn’t understand.
Nam-soon calmly reminds her she’s smarter than that other girl. What’s to be embarrassed about?
Ha-kyung asks, “Is there anything you want to throw away? Then throw it away here.” He doesn’t respond and she sighs that whatever, he probably has nothing.
But Nam-soon says, “Me. What I want to throw away is me.”
Oof. What kills me about the moment is the way he says this so simply, like it’s no big deal, just a fact of his life.
Ha-kyung insists on walking the rest of the way and heads to a bus stop. Nam-soon follows and watches, just to make sure.
Later, he turns back to his About Me homework. He’s been trying to fill it in for days, but the problem is, he just has nothing to say. The first introduction box says no more than, “I…” He can’t think how to finish it. Under the categories for dreams, problems, hopes and the like, all that’s written is “None” and “I don’t know.”
He starts to fill in the last box asking why he goes to school: “To be honest, I don’t like going to school.” This continues as a voiceover as he arrives at school in the morning, and sees Ha-kyung standing awkwardly in front, dressed in street clothes since she threw her uniform away.
“I don’t know why I go, and when I go I always feel embarrassed or annoyed.” Nam-soon shrugs off his jacket and hands it to Ha-kyung, heading in without a word.
“I’m a bad student, I have no dreams, and I don’t like getting hit. But the strange thing is, when I wake up in the morning I automatically head for school. So if you ask why I go to school, I have one answer.”
In class, Nam-soon erases the entire box he’d written before, and writes in: “Just because.”
He breaks your heart, doesn’t he?
Ha-kyung walks up and drops the jacket on his desk: “Dummy. How can I wear boy’s clothes?” She says it without bite, and the interaction gets their classmates oohing.
The teachers begin class, and introduce their new addition. In walks Heung-soo, looking surly and mean. Nam-soon looks up in alarm, and you can practically hear him gulp. Oh boy. Not this, too.
Nam-soon is called upon to lead the salute, and it’s only now that Heung-soo notices him. And smiles, like the cat just caught the canary.
Then as Se-chan leaves the class, he’s accosted by Principal Im and a group of suits. They’ve received reports of his illegal tutoring activities.
No, not my Nam-soon! I don’t know how much angst I can see him enduring, even though part of that angst, I think, is necessary in prodding him to find where he’s going. He’s got growing pains to go through, and I wouldn’t necessarily have him avoid that just to stay comfortable because I’m so invested in seeing this kid maturing and finding himself.
It’s just that I love this kid so much already, and it hurts to see him knocked about by life, and I don’t even mean in a physical sense. Yeah the beatings hurt, but you almost get the sense that he’s okay with the physical pain, having gotten used to it. At least he knows what to expect there. But it’s so sad, seeing him having no sense of self-worth. I wouldn’t call it low self-esteem, but quite literally just having no concept of offering the world any value, any purpose. He’s just here because he is, not because there’s a reason. That hurts my heart, but also makes me really excited to see how he develops that from within.
It’s also why I’m liking the slow build between him and Ha-kyung, which connects them in a real, significant way. This isn’t a romance built on attraction or giddy puppy love; they bring something out in each other that is important and real and maybe a little painful. They force each other to confront some truths about themselves, things they’ve been successfully masking to everybody else. I love that, and I really want to see where they go with this.
Something this show is doing that I appreciate is the way it plays out conflicts. There’s a certain expected rhythm that comes into play when we trot out the usual stable of problems and antagonists, so that while I’m watching I feel like I know where something is headed. And then the drama pulls back on the obvious answer and goes in a different, less stereotypically dramatic way.
For instance: the way the notebook made the rounds and got Ha-kyung accused of thievery. I was wondering if we were going to get the usual escalation and misunderstanding, and felt like I could predict how things would shake out. But instead we headed in a different direction, not one that dealt with thievery (which would have been a detour conflict) but cut straight to the chase—Ha-kyung’s whole issue about going to that academy in the first place and feeling somehow ashamed of herself, even though her outer shell has all the right answers for why she shouldn’t.
I like that we used the moment to highlight her personal struggle, rather than just being an external clashing that could have happened to anybody. It gives me faith that we can expect this show to continue presenting meaningful trials and tribulations, and not conflicts that are just there to jerk us (and the characters) around.