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School 2013: Episode 14

An episode with a liberal sprinkling of the cute, which is a nice interlude amid an unexpected twist that’s sure to hurt our hearts—what a way to ease us into a lull of fun and feel-good moments before ramping up into the big finish. With two episodes remaining (a special will air after the finale next Monday), I was wondering how we’d inject more drama when our main thread of bromancey angst was behind us. Turns out, there’s always a way.

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EPISODE 14 RECAP

Two mini-crises erupt at the same time: In the teachers’ office, Se-chan puts himself on the chopping block instead of In-jae. In the classroom, the students clamor for the use of the late fees, which have recently been borrowed to pay off Jung-ho’s debt.

The boys who know about the money all grimace in chagrin, and Nam-soon excuses himself for the bathroom to buy some strategy time with his co-conspirators. Too bad Byun-ki swipes his key from him and opens his locker, which is empty. While the class is gaping at the missing piggy bank, Nam-soon owns up to it pretty frankly, though without explaining: “I used it.” He says he’ll pay it back, then leaves the room.

As for Se-chan, he may be pulling a strategic move with the offer to quit, which seems less a noble idiot move and more a way to leverage himself against Principal Im. After all, she’s using him as an excuse to get rid of In-jae (since they don’t need three lit teachers), and he’s also the motivation driving the parents to press for In-jae’s departure. Withdrawing from the game calls the principal on her bullshit excuse and also puts her in a weak bargaining position—what will she tell the parents if she loses their star teacher on top of everything?

Principal Im orders the teachers to stick around for a staff meeting afterward.

Nam-soon, Heung-soo, and the two minions leave the classroom feeling dispirited. Jung-ho’s not with the group but we saw him looking unhappy with events—enough that I’m half-expecting him to come up with a surprise solution—but for now, it’s his sidekicks who apologize to Nam-soon for making him the sole bad guy. Maybe they should tell the truth, they suggest.

Heung-soo points out that the truth won’t make the kids any happier, since they won’t exactly consider helping Jung-ho to be high on the list of good deeds. Nam-soon tells them all that it’s not their fault, nor is it Jung-ho’s—nobody said anything about using that money. It was Nam-soon’s decision, so it’s right that he be held responsible. He tells Ji-hoon and Yi-kyung just to worry about repaying the cash.

Trust Kyung-min, the snappish one, to be the first to call this embezzlement. The mean girls chime in that it’s not too surprising since Nam-soon had a shady past, and Jung-ho sits there grimacing at the conversation. He actually gets up and tells the class, “Hey, that money—” only to get hushed by Yi-kyung.

Nam-soon returns to address the class, keeping in mind Heung-soo’s comment about the class not being satisfied by his paltry explanation. So he tells them he had an extenuating circumstance that he can’t really talk about, but that he’ll pay it back Monday morning.

The kids are all set to tell the teacher about it, but Min-ki speaks up (aw, Min-ki) and advises that they wait just a bit for Nam-soon to pay them back. The students keep grumbling about not trusting him, and now Ha-kyung says she’ll make sure to collect the fee. Her hardass attitude helps shut them up, as does her promise to tell the teacher herself if she doesn’t get the money.

Crisis averted for now, the students decide to pool their cash for the goodbye party.

Se-chan tells In-jae he can’t handle being the homeroom teacher and lists all the headaches on his plate, which sounds like he’s making an excuse to convince her there’s no other reason. Granted his excuses seem reasonable coming from him—he’s here to raise grades, not to handle student problems—but In-jae asks if he’s doing this because of her. He says no, it’s for himself. Semantics.

Yi-kyung urges his best friends to make up already, pushing past Jung-ho’s obvious awkwardness at being in everyone’s debt. He grumbles that nobody asked them to step in, but Yi-kyung replies, “If we didn’t, would you be standing here now?”

But reconciling with Ji-hoon—which both boys do seem to want—is a tougher deal, because there are ideological conflicts here. Jung-ho asks what the point of being friends again is, when they’re headed along different paths. Ji-hoon points out that Jung-ho can straighten out and join them.

Jung-ho takes a decidedly pessimistic outlook, arguing that going to vocational school may seem like an answer now, but Ji-hoon will toil his life away reeking of oil and parts and earning a pittance. And that’s assuming he’s lucky enough to keep working. He refers to how he’s being chased by money right now (the reason for the gangster run-ins), and that Ji-hoon won’t stop being chased by money just because he’s walking the straight and narrow.

Ji-hoon says fiercely, “At least I won’t live doing bad stuff.” Jung-ho: “And who will give you credit for that?”

Back to impasse.

Ha-kyung takes Nam-soon aside to ask for the reason he took the money. He admits that it’s for Jung-ho, and to her credit she doesn’t blow her top over it, merely asking if he really thinks Jung-ho will have the wherewithal to work his butt off to repay the money. In any case, he’d better make sure to honor his promise.

In the staff meeting, the principal leads the discussion on how to handle Se-chan’s offer/threat to quit. In-jae says she doesn’t want to cause further trouble and seems ready to walk away quietly, but it’s the other teachers who speak up, saying that first they’d like to discuss the question of whether In-jae really such an unfit teacher. They comment on the difficulties they all face teaching, saying that the kids need constant encouragement and nagging and pushing to spur them to change—but more importantly, that Class 2’s collective changing is apparent to all. Not only that, but even the parents are starting to change as well.

The teachers appeal to the principal to reinstate In-jae. They’ve already taken the liberty of introducing the incoming teacher to a job at another school. Even the toady vice principal voices his support for bringing In-jae back as Class 2 homeroom teacher, adding that Min-ki’s mother has approved the idea, saying that she felt In-jae’s presence would be good for Min-ki. Aw, now that’s change you can believe in.

So In-jae is persuaded to change her mind. Teacher Jo gives her a gentle pep talk over some tea and sympathy, and she admits that she did want to stick it out through the end—it’s just that she didn’t feel she had that right. The kids rejected her and she was essentially kicked out as homeroom teacher, and felt she wasn’t qualified to stay on. She confides that things have been really hard on her, but it was the kids that got to her most, who made her hesitate.

He chides her in a half-pitying, half-affectionate way that it’s silly of her to get so attached to kids who will just forget everything and zoom on with their lives anyway. But that’s what makes In-jae who she is, I suppose, the way she cares regardless of that.

The girls head out to buy snacks for their goodbye party, and Kang-joo sighs that she wishes she had a time machine to go back to the day they all turned on the teacher. But she commends Ha-kyung for changing enough to actually do something for a teacher, and Ha-kyung quips, “It’s not just any teacher, it’s Teacher Jung.” As if that explains everything. Which it does.

Kang-joo grumps about Nam-soon spending their money, and Ha-kyung has to defend him, saying he probably didn’t spend it himself. Naturally Kang-joo jumps all over that until Ha-kyung relents, making Kang-joo swear she won’t spread the secret. Kang-joo’s eyes pop out to hear the truth, but Ha-kyung warns her to shut it. Let’s see how long this lasts.

Se-chan prods In-jae to join him for class, handing back her notebook and playfully refusing to go alone. She thanks him, and since Se-chan doesn’t handle earnestness gracefully he sort of hems and haws and pretends he doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

So Se-chan heads into class, only today he takes up the position at the back of the room while In-jae walks in to the front. The kids all perk up, but assuming this is goodbye they start to wail and moan and groan about how they petitioned for her not to quit (“Don’t leave us!”). So In-jae has to raise her voice to shut them up, and announces that she’s back as homeroom teacher. Smiles all around. (Which turn to groans when she announces mandatory study time, heh. Back to business as usual.)

Teacher Jo steps in to request a favor, since his PE class got cancelled earlier for that staff meeting. Could he take the class now—and could In-jae and Se-chan join them?

They head to the gymnasium for couples dodgeball, and the teachers are set to pairing off the kids. Ha, I love that the Nam-soon and Heung-soo pairing elicits more exasperation from Heung-soo. But that’s nothing compared to Jung-ho and Ji-hoon, who are paired with the help of meddling Yi-kyung, who signals to the teachers to stick his buddies together. Worse yet (for them, but better for us), the teammates have to maintain contact throughout the game.

Last but not least, Teacher Jo instructs the teachers to hold hands. HA. The kids have fun with that.

The game commences. So much cute.

The teachers buy everyone snacks, and then it’s time to head to study hall. Nam-soon’s one of the last to leave the gym and tells In-jae that he was worried she’d really gone, and that he’s glad she came back.

Se-chan hangs back with Teacher Jo, who asks if he really intended to quit. He says yes, because he felt perhaps he wasn’t cut out to be a teacher. Teacher Jo says in his wise old way that there are all sorts of teachers, but that they’re all teachers.

After school, Nam-soon and Heung-soo ask the (former?) bully trio if they have job leads, and urge them to do a good job. The boys haven’t found anything promising yet, but figure they’ll have to go out and pound the pavement of the weekend.

The boys go from Help Wanted sign to Help Wanted sign, and it’s one discouraging rejection after another. They find busboy jobs at a buffet, but it’s not long before an obnoxious ajusshi takes issue with getting his sleeve brushed by a dirty dish, and he starts yelling and jabbing at Jung-ho—which, as you can imagine, does not go over well.

Jung-ho tries to hold in the words, but his glaring sets off the customer, who snipes, “Did your mom teach you that way?” Oh, it’s all over then, and Jung-ho drops his plates and walks.

His friends try to hold him back and entreat him to just get through this job, but he fires back that guys like them get treated like dirt with one look. He says he’ll do things his way, and gives them the ultimatum to follow him out or to stay behind and bus dishes. He leaves, and Yi-kyung and Ji-hoon head back inside with big sighs.

When Monday morning rolls around, Nam-soon gets ready for school and heads to his tin of cash, but it’s only got about forty bucks left in it. It’s not enough, and more importantly, it’s all he has to live on. He even puts in a call to Dad, but he isn’t coming home anytime soon (so no money).

Jung-ho’s not in class, but the others are and put in what they’ve got. They’re still about 100 dollars short of the 300 total, which Nam-soon has to tell Ha-kyung with the promise to find a way to find the rest by the end of the day. With aggravation, Ha-kyung throws in a few tens from her own wallet and warns him to make good on that promise.

Nam-soon has to admit to the class that they’re still a bit short, but that he’ll make sure the full amount is paid by the end of the day. The mean girls use that as an excuse to strike at Ha-kyung, wondering if she’ll really live up to her deal. Gah, those girls. I know they exist in real life. But do we really have to hear so much from them?

Nari, the sleepy student who’s always late and making up hypochondriac excuses, asks the teachers for advice on her university entrance chances, with her area of study being theater and film. When asked about her interest in that major, she just shrugs that she was a child star, like it should be easy since she has experience acting as a child on a daily soap. Se-chan gives her his usual, by which I mean the cold hard truth with no sugar-coating: She’ll be lucky if she makes it into college with her grades, and nobody cares about an acting gig from last decade.

Nari is one of those indifferent students who never seems to care about anything, but being told your shot at the future you wanted is not gonna happen is still a crushing blow, and she trudges back to class wanting to have a heart-to-heart with her best friend, Hye-sun. But Hye-sun has just gotten a brand-new phone and everybody’s playing with it, and she doesn’t register that Nari’s particularly glum. She waves her aside and gets distracted.

So next, she tries writing a note to get Hye-sun up to speed, saying that she’s feeling totally down about her school chances. She slips it into Hye-sun’s notebook and tells her to read it, and waits expectantly for the sympathy to come. But another classmate pulls her attention away and the note gets dropped, forgotten, and Nari finally just takes it back.

The boys still need to scrape together about 70 dollars and try calling Jung-ho, only to get no answer. They wonder amongst themselves whether they should ask one of their teachers for the money… or maybe get a quick fix with a loan shark? Nam-soon suggests that they try using their brains, which gets three boys staring at him blankly, echoing a chorus of, “Us?”

It’s soccer day in gym period, which darkens the mood of both Nam-soon and Heung-soo. Heung-soo tells his buddy not to look like that, since he’s wearing his guilt-stricken face, but Nam-soon says he can’t help it—it gets to him, no matter how he tries.

Heung-soo tells him to hide it, then, though he’s not saying this angrily today. Just a matter-of-fact way that acknowledges that this is hard on both of them, and that Nam-soon’s reaction makes it worse for him. He tells Nam-soon to go to gym class, but he’ll be sitting this one out. And he heads to the empty classroom to wait out the period, alone.

Nari goes home early, technically for being sick though it’s really just because she’s had a crap day. Hye-sun catches her on her way out and gives her a cheery goodbye.

Jung-ho finally shows up and slams down his cash in front of his friends. The friends hand it over to Nam-soon, who asks where it came from. Jung-ho bristles at being asked that by everyone and tells them not to care, and with him in a sensitive mood Yi-kyung suggests that they accept the cash now and ask questions later.

Thus Nam-soon presents the cash to Ha-kyung in front of the class, apologizing for the trouble. And just then, Hye-sun loses her brand-spanking-new cell phone. She freaks out, and a mean girl snipes that it sure is convenient that Nam-soon paid back his debt just as that phone went missing. Argh. I’m so annoyed with her, I refuse to learn her name.

Ha-kyung and Kang-joo snap at the bitchy girl, but they can’t help but wonder. And neither can Jung-ho’s friends.

Ha-kyung asks Nam-soon where the money came from, and Nam-soon says firmly that it wasn’t Jung-ho: “He’s changed.” To her credit, Ha-kyung accepts that as an answer, even though she’s not entirely assuaged.

Too bad the girls choose the bathroom as the place to say this, because head mean girl Kyung-min overhears from the stall, and she isn’t about to cut Jung-ho any slack.

Now they can’t keep the news from the teachers anymore, who ask for the details. Hye-sun says it might not be one of their classmates, because the phone disappeared during gym period and the classroom was left unlocked. Heung-soo tenses—he was in the room, which is probably why it didn’t get locked—and it was Nam-soon’s responsibility. As is his norm, Nam-soon just accepts it as his fault and apologizes for forgetting.

In-jae offers the students once chance to return the phone without punishment, if they drop it off to the lost and found by the end of the day.

As students file out of class, the stragglers wonder where the phone could have gone. Kyung-min says meaningfully that the guy who showed up with money today is the guy who stole it, and calls out, “Hey Jung-ho, I hear you had some cash today.” He tenses up, asking if that’s a crime. She says, “Nope. I’m just saying. You had money.” Urg, I hate you. I wish I could unremember your name, just so that I could pointedly choose not to learn it.

Nam-soon takes Jung-ho aside after school, and Jung-ho barks, “You think it’s me too?” Nam-soon says no, but he does want to know where the money came from, since that can be his defense. His friends try to soften the request for info, saying that the situation is suspicious so it’s understandable that the students would jump to conclusions. But Jung-ho fires back that it’s not the situation they find suspicious, but him. He stalks off without saying anything.

If anything, his reaction confirms to his buddies that it wasn’t him. Nam-soon wonders at Heung-soo’s moodiness, and all Heung-soo says is, “It disappeared during gym class.” He looks pretty troubled… I mean, my money’s on the unexpected culprit (Nari), but why do you look so guilty?

The next day, Nari calls in sick. The school has unexpected visitors in the form of two policemen, called by Hye-sun’s father to catch the thief, and have already been given Jung-ho’s name as a likely culprit. The cops have confirmed that Jung-ho was absent in gym, and assure the teachers that it’s probably him.

Jung-ho can’t stand all the whispering in class speculating that he did it, and gets up to storm out. Yi-kyung holds him back, warning him that leaving now will confirm in people’s minds that he did it: “But you didn’t!” Fuming, Jung-ho sits back down. There there goes Heung-soo with the shifty eyes again.

When the teachers arrive for morning roll call, In-jae tries to take Jung-ho aside quietly, but it’s obvious to everybody why he’s being singled out. He feels the indignity as everyone stares—just as the policemen enter with news, having reviewed the CCTV footage. The good news: It’s not Jung-ho, and the whole class gets to hear it. The bad news: Park Heung-soo will have to come along to the station with them.

Without a word, Heung-soo gets up and walks out, only stopping to shoot a tense look Nam-soon’s way.

He’s escorted out with his arm restrained by the cop as students crowd around to witness his walk of shame. Nam-soon runs after him and stops him before he reaches the police car, asking, “Why was it you?”

Heung-soo says, “It isn’t me.”

Nam-soon yells, “You didn’t do it—so then, why is it you?”

Surprisingly, Heung-soo’s voice breaks on a sob, “Because I lived a reckless life. I’d forgotten that for a bit, while playing around with you.”

In-jae lays it out for Se-chan, and for us: Heung-soo didn’t report for gym class. That doesn’t make him a thief, but it does mean he violated probation.

Nam-soon watches the car pull away, carrying Heung-soo in tears.

 
COMMENTS

Oof, Heung-soo! Nooooo. Don’t cry.

There’s an interesting motif running through the latest episodes that comes together with this latest twist—the idea that you’re pegged by your past, that sometimes you can try and try and that change is not going to be good enough. I don’t think that’s what the series is arguing, but it’s definitely the philosophy being challenged, particularly by Jung-ho.

I expected the show to wrap up Jung-ho’s arc rather neatly, so I’m actually pleasantly surprised that they’ve kept it going, if only for the fact that change is freaking hard. That it takes a lot more than a desire to climb up out of the hole you’ve dug yourself. Ji-hoon represents one side of that coin, the hopeful side that wants to be better, the side that decides that enduring a tough, honest life is better than not trying. And Jung-ho’s the harsh cynic who’s been beaten down by life one too many times to believe it holds anything good for him.

It’s significant that he has his moments of hope, but also realistic to show that hope on its own isn’t enough. I wanted him to bring himself back from the point of no return, but I also want him to work for his redemption. He’s getting there, but he’s not there yet. So it’s fitting that the drama shows the struggle—the one step forward, two steps back challenge of self-improvement.

Then we have Heung-soo, who gets carted away on a freaking technicality. Ack! How cruel is that? He knows he didn’t do it (steal), we know he didn’t do it, everyone knows he’s not that kind of kid anymore—and really, he probably never was even in his gang-fighting days. But there his past goes, tripping him up now even when he’s doing the best he can. And the cruelest part of all that is that it wasn’t like Fate pulled one over on Heung-soo and got him unfairly. He knew the rules. It’s just that, as he said, he got a little relaxed and forgot, and his past sins are making present self pay.

I just hope that whatever trap he’s fallen into this time, it gets resolved mighty quickly. Don’t make him suffer, hear me? Because it hurts when Heung-soo hurts. For a character who actually doesn’t DO much—he’s motivator and catalyst, but not the most active, plot-moving character—there’s such pathos in his journey, perhaps for these very reasons. That we have to believe wanting to be better leads to being better. What’s it take to turn over a new leaf around here?

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