School 2013: Episode 7
Happy holidaymas to you all!
Good thing for the addicted out there that dramaland waits for nobody, not even Santa, so we’ve got a full slate of regularly scheduled programming to dive into. Although I suppose if you were hoping for any sort of rest during the holidays, it’s not such good news…
This show continues to break my heart, even when I wonder whether I’m getting too used to the expectation that it will and will therefore become inured to its emotional twists and turns. But as it turns out, when your emotional storylines are conjured with such care and sincerity, you don’t just stop caring about them. Not with these characters, to whom I just want to give lots and lots of hugs and words of encouragement. It gets better, I promise. It has to. Doesn’t it?
SONG OF THE DAY
Zitten – “December” [ Download ]
EPISODE 7 RECAP
The teachers read through the school violence surveys, not really counting on leads but hoping for some anyway. But the results exceed their meager expectations, as survey after survey turns up one name: Park Heung-soo. It’s all in the hearsay category, but there are snippets of things we’ve seen, taken out of context: Heung-soo makes others bring him snacks, Heung-soo may have forced Nam-soon to steal the exam…
In-jae worries—what can they do? Se-chan, on the other hand, seems to be taking this a lot more lightly. To her chagrin he cheerily turns over the surveys to Uhmforce just as she’s trying to buy time before passing them up the admin chain.
She pulls him aside (back to the trusty staircase, where she stays a few steps above to remain eye level, which is a recurring gag I love) and says they should have taken pains to confirm the reports before handing them off. The new kid is being targeted, and there may be an explanation other than what’s on paper. They have a duty to interview the kids separately and suss out fact from fiction.
Se-chan says that the upper admin is better at that sort of thing, and asks who’s more important to her: one lost lamb, or thirty of them. In short, is she putting Heung-soo first when the rest of the class is suffering? He points out that their Class 2 came in last place in midterms, and even their best students dropped. He’s right in that infuriating way he has.
It turns out that the questionnaire pinpointing Heung-soo was a concerted effort by a group of students. Aw, this is so sweet that you can hardly begrudge them for being misguided, because the students—Kang-joo, Byun-ki, et al—were trying to protect Nam-soon.
That’s what they tell Uhmforce when they get pulled out of class, one by one, to corroborate the stories. They ask the teacher to save Nam-soon from his bullied misery, which just… aw. And yet, sigh.
When it’s Nam-soon’s time for questioning, he admits that he did buy snacks and lunch for Heung-soo, but says he’s not being bullied. “I just wanted to be nice to him,” he says when pressed for explanation. “We used to be friends.”
In-jae and Se-chan are filled in on the developments, but told to step back while the upper management handles the rest. To Principal Im, this means looking into ways of getting rid of Heung-soo.
The others crowd around Nam-soon when he returns, ready to lend him moral support. But he’s not exactly thrilled about the interference, and tells them tersely to mind their own business.
Nam-soon heads up to the rooftop alone, where he goes into flashback mode:
We open with Nam-soon and Heung-soo wearing school uniforms for a different school, back when they were friends. Oh, this is going to hurt my heart, isn’t it?
Nam-soon acts as lookout as he gives a vending machine a mighty kick, and Heung-soo grabs the change that comes pouring out. They make their getaway laughing, then head home to eat snacks and play around like simple teenage kids.
On another occasion at a soccer match, Nam-soon is Heung-soo’s biggest cheerleader, and gives him a mighty bear hug when he wins.
But things take a darker turn when Nam-soon finds himself pale-faced and weak-willed at a hospital, where Heung-soo slams a hand into the window and glares at him. Heung-soo’s wearing a hospital gown and sporting a few cuts, and Nam-soon can’t bring himself to go forward. He gulps nervously, then leaves. Heung-soo settles back wearily, sporting a cast on his right leg. Oh no, no more soccer for him?
In the present day, now it’s Heung-soo who sits with Uhmforce for interrogation. He’s tight-lipped as usual, answering minimally to say that Nam-soon is NOT his friend and that he did nothing wrong.
Uhmforce clearly doesn’t believe him, already halfway believing all the student reports that peg Heung-soo as the bully. Y’know, he has every reason to believe it considering Heung-soo’s surly nature and the appearance of things, but Heung-soo really was dead-on when he pointed out that teachers are prejudiced to suspect certain students, over and over again. He warns Heung-soo not to mess with Nam-soon.
No surprise, then, that he’s in a foul mood upon his return to the classroom, where Nam-soon waits to intercept him. Heung-soo sneers, “Now you’re even playing the victim?” He shoves Nam-soon against the wall menacingly, saying, “If that’s what you want, I’ll give it to you.”
Nam-soon tries to urge Heung-soo to stop, and Heung-soo challenges him, “Then hit me. If you hit me once, I’ll stop.” Nam-soon isn’t about to comply and pleads with Heung-soo not to dig himself in deeper trouble lest he get himself expelled.
The show of concern just angers him more and Heung-soo scoffs, “That’s what I want. To get kicked out of school, cleanly.” The boys grapple, just as the teachers come running down the hall to stop them—and in the process of disengaging, Heung-soo steps back and knocks In-jae down, who hits the wall. Oh, fuck. This boy just has the worst timing, doesn’t he?
Uhmforce and Se-chan grab Heung-soo, who gives this roar of frustration. Nam-soon stands there in shock, and the scene is dire enough that even Jung-ho’s bully posse are like, Dude. Those guys are pushing it. When the scary loose cannon thinks you’ve gone too far, you’re really in for it.
The other students are in awe of Heung-soo’s show of force, intimidated and also impressed. But if he gets expelled, they worry that Jung-ho will be back to ruling the roost, and I guess in the scheme of things they’d prefer a cool bully to a mean one.
The boys sit awaiting disciplining, and Nam-soon reminds Heung-soo that he was determined to lie low and graduate from this school. Heung-soo answers that he did intend to—if only Nam-soon hadn’t engaged with him.
Nam-soon says earnestly, “I wronged you. So—”
Heung-soo cuts him off, saying he’s gone soft. “But what can ya do? It’s too late.” Surely Nam-soon doesn’t expect him to accept his apology.
In the teachers’ office, the staff advise In-jae to file against Heung-soo too, for hitting her. They’re mostly inclined to let him go, and Se-chan adds his voice to that camp. In-jae’s the only one clinging to hope, saying that Heung-soo knocked her down by accident.
Gym Teacher Jo raises the question of why the boys fought in the first place. Se-chan offers that it’s all very obvious—one hit, the other hit back. Teacher Jo says pointedly that Se-chan has forgotten everything he’d been taught in the past: “The world contains a lot more things that are unseen than that are seen.”
In-jae joins the boys, who are not exactly in a talkative mood, and tells them to return to class. As she gets up to go, though, Heung-soo surprises her by asking hesitantly, “Were… you hurt?” She answers, “Of course I was. But thank you for asking.”
She adds thoughtfully, “But you guys, for some strange reason I don’t think you’re fighting. Am I wrong?”
Principal Im calls our two teachers in, this time in reference to the poor grades of Class 2. After noting that Se-chan’s lofty reputation seems to be higher than his performance merits, she instructs them to put all the students into mandatory study halls.
That night, Nam-soon seeks Heung-soo out at home to talk, asking if he’s going to keep coming to school. Heung-soo says of course he has to go if he expects to be expelled: “Gotta observe the formalities.” Nam-soon sighs, “You’d better. Or you’re dead.”
The next day at school, Nam-soon arrives to see a notice posted of a disciplinary hearing to address the school violence case regarding a certain “Student Park.” That has Jung-ho strolling into class to taunt Heung-soo for leaving the school just as he got here.
But today, Heung-soo’s not sitting in silent resignation; he shoots back the barb that Jung-ho’s so full of crap when he knows that there’s an even stronger presence around. His cryptic hints have the class buzzing over whom he means, as he adds that Jung-ho surely would rather die than admit he’s weaker than the person in question.
Nam-soon keeps his face averted and his head down, but the conversation clearly has him uneasy. Jung-ho too, who tamps down his anger.
In-jae prods Se-chan to try talking to the guys—maybe he can get through man to man. To her chagrin, Se-chan takes this all with a breezy attitude, saying he’s scared of Heung-soo and disliked by Nam-soon.
Nam-soon interrupts to ask whether Heung-soo really will be expelled, asking if there’s any way to stop it. Alas, they can’t do anything until the hearing is held. Se-chan wonders why Nam-soon just stood there without defending himself yesterday, and starts to say, “I thought you could fight—” That comment strikes the notice of Uhmforce in a way that has me very uneasy…
In class, In-jae ropes Byun-ki into demonstrating her lesson on how to describe a narrative. He recites a jokey sequence of the lunchlady taking away his meat dish, and then In-jae asks for another volunteer. To everybody’s surprise, it’s Nam-soon who raises his hand.
Heung-soo tenses as Nam-soon stands and begins:
“To be a soccer player was his dream. To continue the path to being a soccer player, the coach told him he had to quit fighting with his gang. The Number One told him he had to get jumped out to leave. So he got beat up and hurt his leg and collapsed. The Number One is a bastard who trampled his dream.”
Heung-soo sits through this with difficulty, and relives the moment when he was beat up in a dark alley by a gang of his peers, a foot crunching down on his knee.
The class is silent by this point, casting curious looks back at him and Heung-soo. He has one last sentence to cap off his conclusion:
“And that bastard is Go Nam-soon.”
We see the moment of the knee-crunch again, and now the camera pans up from Heung-soo’s agonized face to Nam-soon—staggering back in shock at what he’s just done. Wow, Nam-soon literally trampled on Heung-soo’s dream… I wonder if it’s one of those subconscious things, where you fear being left behind and lash out in hurt.
“Therefore, Park Heung-soo has done nothing wrong.”
Jaws drop. There’s tense silence all around, broken only when Se-chan arrives to take Heung-soo and In-jae to the teacher’s office.
The class scrambles to reorganize this information into their brains. So Nam-soon was the top jjang (of a gang of rebellious cool kids at school) and ranks higher than Heung-soo? This means that even if Heung-soo gets expelled, the pecking order will thankfully not be shaken around again because Nam-soon outranks Jung-ho, who’s a mere Number Three now.
The discussion is distasteful to Nam-soon, who keeps his head down, and Kang-joo, who feels for him and tries to argue that this is all irrelevant stuff of the past. But it’s Ha-kyung who gets them to stop by snapping at them to shush, and they half-joke that Ha-kyung’s the real jjang around here.
Just our luck: The police officer called in response to the school violence hearing happens to be the same one who handled the kids’ fight the last time, and he recognizes In-jae. Principal Im tears her a new one and removes her from her homeroom teacher responsibilities, going so far as to refuse hearing an explanation—she’ll get that from the real homeroom teacher, Se-chan.
In-jae grabs Se-chan before he heads into the hearing to ask which way he’ll vote. He tells her that it’s best all around for teachers and students to maintain a certain distance between them, and she asks, “Is that why you did nothing when Ha-kyung collapsed?”
She’s so distracted during class that she excuses herself to join the disciplinary meeting, where Se-chan informs the others (led by Min-ki’s mother, no surprise) of the misunderstanding that led everyone to assume Heung-soo’s guilt.
In-jae is given a chance to say something, and she starts by saying that she’s afraid she may truly be letting a last chance slip through her fingers. This is not convincing talk for jaded teachers who remind her that kids don’t change so easily, pointing to the perpetual rotten egg Jung-ho as proof.
But In-jae says that she’s starting to see stirrings of change in Jung-ho—she’s witnessed something changing in his reaction to something Se-chan said, when he’d always been so hard and unchanging before. She adds the incident of Heung-soo checking that she hadn’t been hurt, knowing that he must have felt uncomfortable asking her. If they still care, if they’re still able to react like this, “Doesn’t this mean they still have potential?”
Aw, tears. I’m totally fighting mine, but Principal Im says sarcastically that she’s quite the romantic. In-jae understands this, but asks for one more chance for Heung-soo.
Min-ki’s mother asks whether Heung-soo has any true desire to continue school, in which case he should use this incident to reflect and mend his ways. But if he doesn’t, well, they’re all just wasting their time.
Teacher Jo speaks up to say that society is the one to rule by absolutes. Schools should bend and adapt and make new rules.
The teachers head into a vote, which In-jae doesn’t get a say in, and she heads outside to wait. Uhmforce tallies the votes: Three to expel, and two opposing (Teacher Jo and the officer). Except then he throws his own vote into that ring, making it three-to-three.
Principal Im is displeased, and asks Se-chan for his stance. He says he approves expulsion, bringing satisfied smirks to several faces. ARGH. Please tell me there’s a twist to this conversation. Please? C’mon twist… any day now…
Heung-soo doesn’t stick around for the verdict and leaves early. Nam-soon chases him out, and Heung-soo sneers at him for airing their dirty laundry to the whole class. Nam-soon says he had to do that to stop him from being kicked out immediately, and although he doesn’t quite know what he can or should do, he feels Heung-soo has to stick around for Nam-soon to do something. To apologize. To start repaying that debt.
Heung-soo snaps that the apology should’ve come earlier: “Debt? Is this a debt that can be repaid?” He accuses Nam-soon of taking him for a pushover, ignoring him all this time and then suddenly asking for forgiveness. He spits out, “I’d rather get kicked out of school, even just to refuse to give that chance to a bastard like you.”
Nam-soon stops him in his tracks by asking what he’ll do if he isn’t expelled. Will he ignore his noona’s wish and ditch school anyway?
Se-chan explains his stance, that Heung-soo is plenty deserving of expulsion in his eyes. Principal Im smiles and orders the deed finalized. And then he cuts in, “However, today I am here on Teacher Jung’s behalf.” Yesss!
He states that In-jae’s opinion is all too clear, and he’ll honor it by casting his vote to keeping Heung-soo around. Ha. Would it kill ya to just play the nice guy role straight for once? Actually, I’m convinced Se-chan can’t act sincere and thus needs the asshole cover, and actually likes having In-jae’s idealist nature as convenient excuse. YOU BIG SOFTIE. There’s just a really thick douchebag veneer laid on top of the marshmallow center.
But Heung-soo answers Nam-soon’s question: “I still won’t come, asshole.”
The next day, the results are posted: The student in question has been disciplined with extra school duties. Somebody has filled in the blank (where it reads Park ___) with Heung-soo’s name, and Nam-soon tears the paper to remove the name. But Heung-soo’s desk is empty this morning.
Principal Im states her “disappointment” in Se-chan for not siding with her. But rather than caving, he comes out strong and suggests that she reinstate In-jae, in a tone that sounds an awful lot like a demand. He pulls out his own Achilles heel and uses it as leverage—what if news leaks out that she hired him despite his checkered background? She warns that this would be damaging to himself, but he asks who would suffer more—the academy tutor, or the school principal.
Ooh. See? This is what happens when you use your powers for good and not evil!
Se-chan returns to his desk and finds In-jae busily texting Heung-soo to urge him to come to school. She wonders why he took her side in the vote, and he blusters that he didn’t “take her side,” exactly—”I was your avatar.” Ha. It really would kill you to take credit for a good deed, huh?
In-jae asks Se-chan to watch over the class of lambs while she goes off in search of the one. With that, she heads out in search of Heung-soo and pounds on his front gate to no avail.
On her way out, it’s Nam-soon she runs into, who’s here hoping to see Heung-soo again.
She figures they really must have been tight, and he explains what it was like being best friends since grade school. His face lights up in this way that just guts you, because I’ve never seen Nam-soon so animated or smiling. He explains that Heung-soo was amazing at soccer, and even got scouted. The smile dims as he confesses that it didn’t happen for Heung-soo, thanks to him.
She wonders why a kid like that would run around with fighters in the first place. He says that he wasn’t really one of them; he just tagged along with Nam-soon. She asks why he didn’t just let Heung-soo go—was jumping him out a rule?
Nam-soon admits that he was angry; it felt like he was being left behind.
He tells her to go on; Heung-soo won’t return to school until he and Nam-soon resolve their issues. So he waits in the neighborhood playground until Heung-soo finally comes out to meet him, more to tell him to cut it out than anything.
Heung-soo’s annoyed with the constant nagging, but today Nam-soon is the one to strike first. He grabs Heung-soo by the jacket and asks if he’s really going to ruin his life for a crazy bastard like himself. Just go to school and ignore him!
Nam-soon asks, “Why do you use me as your excuse to run away, punk?”
Heung-soo retorts, “Yeah, I am running away. It makes me sick seeing the face of the guy who ruined my life—just seeing you makes me think of my smashed leg and I can’t stand it so I’m running, asshole.”
Nam-soon says with tears brimming in his eyes, “So come out and get your revenge on me.”
Heung-soo shoves him back. Revenge? What could he take from Nam-soon that would equal revenge? “Do you even have anything that was like soccer to me? If there is, say so. Try throwing away the thing that’s most important to you. Then I’ll pretend I believe you mean all this crap you’re spouting. Throw it away, and I’ll go to school.”
His time’s running out, because Heung-soo has been truant for days and one more will trigger more disciplinary action. In-jae’s done all she can and she heaves a sigh, dejected. Se-chan sums it up succinctly: “You feed ’em rice cakes, and they spit it right back out.”
In-jae calls class to order. Heung-soo’s desk is empty, and she orders Nam-soon to call him—this is his last chance, and if he doesn’t come to school he’s kicked out.
Nam-soon heads out to make the call. He agrees: “I’ll throw it away, what’s most important to me.” He’ll have to come to school to see what that thing is.
In-jae watches the clock as the day comes to a close. She allows an early dismissal, and most of the students clear out eagerly.
To her everlasting relief, Heung-soo walks in the door just as Uhmforce is about to confirm the truancy. Uhmforce sees the nearly empty class and intends to mark it as absent anyway, but In-jae says they haven’t technically called the end of class yet. Min-ki confirms this, and In-jae declares him late… followed by the official dismissal, punctuated by the class president’s official ending salute.
The two former friends are the last ones left in the room, sitting side by side, and Heung-soo asks if he’s decided what to throw away. Nam-soon hands him a piece of paper, which makes him laugh sardonically.
Nam-soon takes the paper back and submits it to In-jae, who looks stunned. Oh no. He’s quitting school, isn’t he? Aggggh, this makes me want to cry.
Sure enough, In-jae looks down at the notice to drop out, signed and dated.
Heung-soo waits for Nam-soon outside to ask, “That’s all? School?” He scoffs that this is kinda weak—doesn’t he have anything bigger?
Nam-soon replies, “Do you think what I just gave up right now was school?” No, and that’s why I’m crying. He faces him to add, choking back a sob, “What I threw away wasn’t school. It was you, you punk.”
He walks away, giving in to the tears.
This show, I swear. It’s just so raw, and complex, and I can’t help but be right there with the characters every step of the way. There’s an earnestness to the emotions that gets right under my skin; it doesn’t feel fabricated or manipulative, like it’s aiming to wring tears from me. It has a way of laying the truth at your feet, and because that truth resonates with me so completely there’s no shutting it out; I’m toast.
School 2013 isn’t a perfect show, and it definitely isn’t the prettiest one out there. I wonder whether the flatness of the palette is intentional, to draw down the emotional scale from heightened drama-surreality to a down-to-earth mundaneness—or maybe that’s reading too much into a show that had a small budget and got stuck with the non-pretty camera. Somehow I feel like it would have been an intentional choice with this drama, but who’s to know? In any case, my point is that the show has its weaknesses just as it has its strengths, and I don’t think the directing is doing anything special from an artistic standpoint, either.
But this is a drama where none of that matters, because I’m so completely immersed in the world that it doesn’t matter that the colors aren’t totally saturated or the visuals aren’t very polished. The show feels genuine, and is written with care and restraint; I love that.
Take the conflict at the core, which I love even as it tears me up inside. It’s the best and worst kind of narrative angst—best because it’s so effective and fraught with real consequences, but the worst because it’s so strongly set up that I don’t know how my nerves are going to hold up until it’s resolved. At this point I just have to hang in there and hope that it IS resolved. Because if these boys don’t find healing, I don’t know if I could handle it.
What the boys’ rift does is provide living proof of the futility of revenge, in a stark and simple way that speaks volumes. There’s just no way to “fix” the hurt here, literally nothing Nam-soon can do to make it better, and nothing Heung-soo can take solace in to make himself feel better. Lashing out at Nam-soon won’t even satisfy him because the enormity of his own loss is so consuming—what does he care about the punkass’s future when his life holds no meaning? It’s why I think the school-dropout storyline can’t continue indefinitely, because I can’t imagine that Heung-soo would feel the least bit better. No glint of satisfaction, no revenge gratification.
The only recourse is healing, isn’t it? And that’s what’s so damned hard about this all, because forgiving is the hardest thing in the world, and it’s the only way out.