Yes, this top shot is almost exactly like the one kicking off the previous recap. But there’s a big (and awesome) difference: This one’s not a flashback.
There’s hope in sight! I mean, we all knew there must be, but now that I see the glimpses of it I’m totally psyched for them to actually kiss and make up and be back to being besties. Or, you know, just start talking. I’ll take what I can get.
Woohoo, ratings are climbing. The show is still in second place and will likely stay there, but School 2013 pulled in a 15.2% with this episode (Horse Doc had 18.1%, and King of Dramas a 6.6%).
SONG OF THE DAY
100% – “나 같은 놈” (Guy like me) [ Download ]
EPISODE 9 RECAP
In the wake of the principal’s pick-your-teacher ultimatum, In-jae and Se-chan enter their classrooms to see which students opted to learn with them. (Thanks for making me wait all week for that, Drama!) To everyone’s shock, Se-chan’s room is completely empty. Could everyone really have gone against expectation and picked In-jae’s methods?
…only her class is just as empty. Aha, so you pushed the kids to pick Mom or Dad and they rebelled by picking neither. I love that the principal’s methods backfired on her (her smugness balloon needed popping), but it sucks for In-jae and Se-chan, who’ll bear the brunt of her ire.
But back to that other cliffhanger, with our bromantic reconciliation hanging on the precipice. (Thanks for that too, sadistic bastid producers!) Heung-soo hovers in the open window, a long way from concrete death below.
Nam-soon yells for him to hurry and flee, but Heung-soo pauses. Nam-soon’s gaze lands on Heung-soo’s bum knee. I’m betting that knee is part of his hesitation, but no way in hell is it the whole of it; Heung-soo pushes Nam-soon toward the window and says, “YOU go.” He takes the lead in staring down the gangsters.
Yeah, like Nam-soon’s gonna leave him in the lurch. He steps back in front of Heung-soo, and now they’re surrounded. He mutters under his breath that he’ll take the left side and Heung-soo can handle the right, and just like that they’re back in sync, springing into action on the count of three. Most heartwarming poolhall brawl ever.
Our boys fend off the gangsters and dash out of the building, and I’m half-expecting them to burst into exhilarated laughter at any moment. Both look more alive than they have all series long.
The boys manage to bolt onto a bus just as it takes off, leaving the thugs swearing in frustration. Aw, and then Heung-soo actually claps a hand onto Nam-soon’s shoulder and they grin like fools at each other. It’s like muscle memory, their reflexes betraying how they really feel because it’s just the natural state of being for these two to be on the same side.
Alas, reality comes back and they awkwardly look away. The boys settle into seats on opposite sides of the aisle, with Heung-soo pointedly averting his gaze.
As expected, In-jae and Se-chan get told off by the principal for losing their class. Teacher Jo tracks ’em down and informs the teachers, and while the principal is ready to barge in to discipline them, Se-chan shocks them all by saying quite plainly that the principal ought to butt out this time: “Do you really not know why things came to this point?” I love it when he gets all hardass, partly because that’s his personality and partly because he lacks the fear of losing his job that keeps the other teachers paralyzed.
Teacher Jo has herded Class 2 to the library, and they wonder uneasily whether they’re all dead for defying the teachers. I love how Se-chan and In-jae regard the class with mostly relief despite their frustration, like parents who have found their runaway kids after a bout of rebellion.
The bus pulls up at school and Heung-soo exits. Nam-soon stays on, casting a longing look at his old buddy—are you just gonna let him go like that?
At the last minute, he asks the driver to stop and joins Heung-soo on the sidewalk. Phew.
Heung-soo’s favoring his injured leg, and Nam-soon asks if he’s okay. Heung-soo snaps that it’s none of his business, but Nam-soon reminds him that Jung-ho’s bike theft trap wasn’t Heung-soo’s business either.
Heung-soo retorts that he didn’t step in for Nam-soon, but because he didn’t want to see Jung-ho getting his kicks. Yeah, keep chugging along on that denial train.
Nam-soon thanks him for keeping his promise, and calls him a dumb nosy bastard in that affectionate way that boys have of cursing at each other when they really mean I lub you. I wonder if Heung-soo interprets it the same way; the look in his eyes changes and he looks stricken as Nam-soon walks away.
Ah, it pings his memory, as we see in flashback:
Nam-soon disciplines two of his gang underlings and is ready to unleash some more punishment when Heung-soo grabs him and stops him from beating them up. The underlings scamper away and Nam-soon curses at his buddy for stopping him—if he keeps letting things slide, everyone will think he’s gone soft and take him for a pushover.
Heung-soo scoffs that he can hardly turn a blind eye, not at all cowed by Nam-soon angrily muttering that he’d better butt out in the future.
Heung-soo promises, “Listen up, punkass. Whether you see me or not, wherever you are and whatever dumb stunt you’re pulling, till I die I’ll always stop you from doing anything that’ll send you to prison. I dunno about anything else but this is a promise I’ll always keep.”
*Tears* I know there wasn’t an “I love you” stated in that speech, but there pretty much was “I love you” woven all through it. Mollified, Nam-soon calls him a dumb nosy bastard, and they’re back to laughing and joking around like best friends.
In the library, the teachers give the errant Class 2 a stern eye and ask why they all ditched class—which, by the way, technically counts them as truant. The kids point out the dilemma they were forced into, and In-jae acknowledges the teachers’ partial fault. But as Se-chan points out, their methods of complaining were wrong.
The teachers convene to discuss how to handle the mutiny. On one hand, they could all get punished with truancy marks, per the rules. On the other hand, that would invite all sorts of headaches from moms like Min-ki’s, who would fly into a rage and blame the school for being incompetent.
In-jae and Se-chan sigh, wondering how to deal with this. Cutely, In-jae admits she thought all the kids went to his class, and he says he thought they all went to hers.
He suggests that she relent this time about her teaching methods. After all, students often get a rude awakening after seeing their poor marks on the upcoming state standardized exam (which is what gives them their national ranking for the first time)—and that can jolt them into working hard for the university entrance exam. Ultimately all roads lead to the college exam.
In-jae shoots him an incredulous look—after all this, he’s bringing them back to square one? Has he forgotten how the mutiny happened in the first place? Se-chan says that what’s important isn’t the teacher, but a willing student.
That night, Jung-ho and his minions emerge from whatever teenage delinquent behavior they were doing and find Heung-soo waiting for them. They do their typical adolescent posturing back and forth, till Heung-soo asks how Jung-ho has such bravado when he’s just the leader of some dinky back-alley posse.
That gets under Jung-ho’s skin, who fires back that at least he is a leader. What about Heung-soo? Is he still Nam-soon’s sidekick, clinging to the guy who crushed his leg?
Heung-soo SLAMS his fist into Jung-ho’s face, knocking him to the ground. He smiles pleasantly and tells Jung-ho to cut it out. It’s Minion #1 who gets angriest; Minion #2 is Ji-hoon, who looks weary of it all. Bully posse’s looking shaky… I wouldn’t be surprised if Ji-hoon broke ranks soon and left the trio.
In the morning, Nam-soon just lays in bed with nowhere to go. The voices of his teachers ring in his head, as well as Heung-soo telling him not to use him as his excuse.
His desk remains empty at morning call, which is when the teachers deliver their decision to the class: group cleaning punishment instead of truancy marks. Nam-soon steps in late, and my favorite part about his entrance is the joy on Young-woo’s face. Just melt my heart, why don’t you. Heung-soo… looks like he feels something about this, but we’ll just have to sit here guessing what. These boys with their tortured inner dialogues, not giving us a glimpse into them.
Heung-soo and Minion Ji-hoon were off school grounds yesterday during the class mutiny, so they get pulled aside for a scolding. In-jae urges both to keep their attendance records up if they want to move on to the next grade.
Uhmforce takes Heung-soo aside, so it’s In-jae’s turn to address Ji-hoon solo. She notes his improved grades, and he mumbles that he just answered what he knew and guessed randomly at the rest. In-jae takes that as a positive sign—going from filling in bubbles in a straight line to answering a few questions has shot his grades up noticeably.
I love In-jae’s gentle approach with him, because we can see that Ji-hoon is reachable—he’s a lost boy actively trying to make his way back. He just doesn’t know how. She offers a few words of advice, about how out in the real world there are problems you can’t solve through force: “You may think now that you’ll find a way later, but while things can go from bad to worse that way, they don’t get better.” He looks a little woebegone at this, and it tugs my heartstrings.
Teacher Jo comes by and gives Ji-hoon a palm-reading, saying that there’s some physical violence in his future: “Hm, looks like it’s either gangster or cop.” That actually deflates Ji-hoon a little, but Teacher Jo says he’s clearly not cut out for gangster, and he ought to be at an age to wise up. He leaves shooting a wink at In-jae.
The best thing about this is the smile it brings to Ji-hoon’s face. Aw, one lost boy found.
Time for Uhmforce to deal with the other two truants. Nam-soon gets seven days of school cleaning duty, while Heung-soo still has seven days left from the last punishment. In-jae’s the one overseeing the disciplining, but Uhmforce suggests that Se-chan take over. Ha, he does have a way with dealing with the knuckleheads.
Off it is to scrub urinals and pick up trash. Then it’s cleaning out a storeroom full of old desks—but since there’s no good place to keep the furniture while they clean it, they’ll have to move it all to a shed. On the roof.
It’s exhausting and aggravating, but wordlessly they get to moving. Nam-soon at one point gets the bright idea to use the elevator, only to get caught by Se-chan who locks it from use.
The boys keep up the work in silence, though when they do speak they happen to say the same things in unison. You can’t break that kind of rapport, betrayals and bad history be damned.
Se-chan and Principal Im get called out to meet with two of our most meddling moms (Ha-kyung’s and Min-ki’s), who have heard of the class mutiny through the grapevine. They basically order Se-chan to take over teaching the class and suggest that they find a way to “persuade” In-jae to cooperate.
Ha-kyung’s mother is that special brand of frustrating in that she says everything so sweetly, but she’s no less pushy than Min-ki’s overbearing mother. She suggests that if they can’t take this step now, the mothers can wait until the results of the upcoming nation-wide exams before making their complaint to the educational board.
The suggestion is one that Principal Im herself was backing, but she fumes at being pushed around at her own job. She asks Se-chan for his “help” in settling the matter with In-jae. If things continue this way and the marks come out poor, In-jae will be blamed and the parents will come back, up in arms.
In-jae continues her group discussion format, which appears to be going over pretty well with the majority of the students, although a stated minority ignores the lesson to read over their test prep materials. They gripe at the end of class, not caring that In-jae hears them supposing that her teaching method is a result of her being too incompetent to prepare them for college entrance exams. Gah. They’re so snooty.
Se-chan gives her a book summarizing previous state exams and suggests they work on matching their lessons. It’s quite the reversal, since now she’s suggesting he handle it all and he’s saying they’re better off working together.
In-jae’s thinking of the snotty student’s comment and wonders if she’ll have to change her stance—if the students truly want to learn college-exam material, perhaps that’s best for them. She asks if anyone sleeps through his class (he says they’re mostly awake) and whether she can sit in on his lesson, looking a little defeated. If nobody’s sleeping in his class, she’ll consider making the switch.
She’s a bit surprised to peer in during his class, where he’s teaching a pop song’s lyrics as a poem, ha. He does get some class engagement by framing his questions in true-or-false format and giving them sample tests, but In-jae can see the usual fooling-around as well, with students playing cell phone games or zoning out. And yes, sleeping.
Afterward, Se-chan suggests they switch over to his test-prep method at least until the state exams. She declines, saying that at least with her method, nobody sleeps.
She asks if the cleanup duo are done yet, and Se-chan only now remembers them. HA.
They’re still toiling away on the roof, and finally finish as he arrives to check on them. They’re done for the day, but tomorrow they’ll have to clean out the storeroom and all the desks as well.
Se-chan dismisses them but holds Nam-soon back, asking what he did in his time off after quitting middle school. Nam-soon replies that he just stayed home, sleeping. Se-chan says with a flash of insight, “He’s heavy, isn’t he? Park Heung-soo.” He adds that the burden doesn’t get lighter, “But if you work at it, it become bearable.” Hmm, sounds like he’s speaking from experience.
Flashback. We revisit the day Nam-soon visits Heung-soo in the hospital, when he’s so spooked that he can’t bring himself to face him. Instead he runs outside, struggling with the desire to go back and the impulse to flee.
In the ensuing days, Nam-soon sits in his room like a zombie, surrounded by dirty cups and bowls, looking like a wreck. That must’ve been one miserable year, shut away in that room, but more importantly locked in his own head.
Se-chan declares his intent to help their class study during their mandatory individual study halls, with lesson plans and ideas. In-jae points out that this is against the rules—he can’t give one class extra instruction and not the others—and asks if that’s how badly he wants to raise their class’s grades. Why?
Instead of answering honestly (It’s because of YOU, I want him to say), he just says this will help their class. As Se-chan teaches, In-jae peers in to see several kids asleep, which makes her heart sink.
At the end of the day as students file out of school, Nam-soon pauses to call out to Heung-soo, “See you tomorrow.” It surprises Heung-soo, who mutters, “Dumb bastard.” Aw, but see I’m on to you now; I know that in teen-jjang-speak “dumb bastard” just means bro-for-life, or maybe I-love-you-man.
Ha-kyung and Kang-joo grab snacks after school, and Kang-joo wonders if the two ex-BFFs have reconciled. Ha-kyung sighs that it looks like a difficult rift to mend easily, saying that she tried poking at Heung-soo and could see him seething. Those boys sure are alike, down to the way they both sleep through study hall.
Kang-joo takes note of Ha-kyung’s uncharacteristic interest, and the way she was actually looking somewhere other than the blackboard during a lesson. Ha-kyung uses Kang-joo as her excuse, saying she was only turning back to see whether she was sleeping, but gets caught in the lie when Kang-joo challenges, “So was I sleeping or not?” Ha-kyung does a hilarious shifty-eyed thing while she picks the likely answer—yes—and gets teased for being wrong.
Passing through the school hallway, a posted announcement grabs Ji-hoon’s attention. It’s a notice for a technical school, for students who don’t want to go to university but want to learn skills.
Ji-hoon goes to In-jae to ask for an application, and she lights up. Aw. She starts to congratulate him for making a good decision, but then recalls an important detail: his attendance record. Ji-hoon promises not to miss any more school, but she says he’s already missed too much. He asks earnestly whether it’s impossible—what if he tries really really hard? Poor In-jae has to break it to him: With more than a handful of truancies, even applying will be difficult. Ji-hoon looks crushed.
She starts to tell him that his initiative is the most important thing, but Ji-hoon says dully, “I thought that if I changed, everything would work out. If I came to my senses now, I thought I would get accepted.” With a bow, he heads out.
In-jae rushes to hold him back and says she’ll look into finding a way. She asks him to hold on to that drive for just a little longer, and he gives her this sad nod.
Just his luck that Jung-ho should run into him right outside the teachers’ office, having heard the gist of the conversation. He gives him crap about it, but Ji-hoon has finally had enough and says evenly, “Let’s cut it out now.”
That earns him a trip to the roof where Jung-ho socks him in the mouth. Ji-hoon tells him that he’s not afraid of him, and that neither are the others: “That stuff doesn’t work anymore. I’m saying this as a friend—let’s come to our senses now.” He’s been thinking more and more about where this path will take him, and he’s through being the thug.
Jung-ho, naturally, doesn’t take this well and he slams Ji-hoon against the wall. Thing is, I don’t really see as much anger in Jung-ho’s reaction as I think I see fear of being left behind. Much like Nam-soon, in fact, when he jumped Heung-soo out of their gang. Ji-hoon adds that if Jung-ho keeps this up, he’ll find it hard just being his friend.
Jung-ho starts beating Ji-hoon more fiercely, then picks up a wooden stick to finish the job. But he stops himself and Ji-hoon asks, “Are you gonna bash in my leg too? Like Go Nam-soon?”
That strikes a chord in Jung-ho, and he drops the wood and walks away. Oh please tell me this ends the strife. Because now that Ji-hoon’s on the right track it would be devastating to have the thug past holding him back—even more than it already is, I mean.
Se-chan continues his study hall lectures, In-jae continues her half-effectual discussion groups, and the boys continue cleaning up the school. Then test day rolls around and the principal asks whether our Class 2 teachers are feeling confident. I do enjoy Se-chan’s growing smartassery as he points out that teacher confidence has no correlation to student performance, ha.
The principal suggests to In-jae that she can always take the remedial kids and teach them a special lesson instead of the test. In-jae flatly refuses to remove those remedial kids from the testing.
The principal points out, however, that these kids just fill in bubbles in a straight line or don’t bother to finish the test, which means they’re basically telling them to sit still for the hour and a half that they could spend in a class that might actually teach them something. “Do you think I don’t worry about these kids too?” she asks. What’s frustrating is that she’s right.
Se-chan steps in and says they’ll consider it, which infuriates In-jae. How dare the school tell the kids not to test just so that they don’t lower their school’s marks? Se-chan says they would’ve just filled in bubbles and slept anyway.
In-jae retorts that even so, they came to school to take the exam: “They’ll be sad enough that they’re bad students and they won’t have wanted to come here in the morning, but they decided to come. How can we tell them, You’re messing with the test, so get lost?” Does he really think that making excuses and talking in euphemisms will keep them from knowing the truth?
She tells him her one wish: “To send every student in this class up to the third year, without leaving one behind. I may not be able to raise their grades or take responsibility for their lives, but transferring the kids I looked after to their next homeroom teacher—that is what I want as their homeroom teacher.”
Se-chan says that that’s something she can say only when she could be assured of sticking around to make that transfer. Ooh, he’s letting the cat out of the bag. She doesn’t know what he means, not being privy to the moms’ veiled threats to push her out, and he asks if she knows why he started special lessons for the kids despite not making a dent in their grades.
He tells her that if the results of the state exam are bad, dire things are in store for the principal. And that means In-jae is going to be her scapegoat.
He entreats her, “In the time used to beg and plead with the students, take some care of yourself too.”
He warns that if she doesn’t do it—take those kids out of the test—he will. Seething, she tells him that that’s nothing a teacher can or should do.
The teachers distribute the exams. Principal Im watches grimly as Class 2’s underachievers immediately set them aside and start napping.
During a break between tests, Heung-soo steps outside to sneak a smoke in the storeroom. Nam-soon notes his departure and follows him there to ask if he’s going to take the rest of the exam because more blots on his record puts him dangerously close to expulsion. But before they’re able to engage in a round of why-do-you-care and who-said-I-cared, they hear the janitor approaching. They duck for cover in the cabinet… and the janitor locks them inside, thinking the storeroom empty.
Awww, yeah. Now I see why they made a point to confiscate cell phones before the test started. These boys are stuck together, for better or for worse. Imma say better.
The next test segment is English, and that means the questions are given orally over the speaker system. Jung-ho notes his ex-minion Ji-hoon sitting for the exam and takes out his cell phone, playing a game loudly just so he can fuck up everybody’s concentration and prevent them from hearing the questions. This, of course, is hugely problematic.
Jung-ho ignores In-jae’s entreaties to hand it over and the students grow more agitated. Se-chan goes right up to Jung-ho’s desk and knocks the phone out of his hand, grabbing his arm in a death grip. After all the jjang wars, has Jung-ho finally met his match in Teach?
Se-chan pulls him out of class and into the hall, where Jung-ho grumbles for him to let go if he wants to talk. Se-chan does, and Jung-ho turns to walk right out of school. Se-chan stops him with the low warning, “I grabbed you back, so now it’s your turn. If you have the tiniest intention to keep coming to school, turn around right now. If you don’t turn now, you can’t come back to this classroom.”
Eek! Don’t give the livewire an ultimatum! Unless it works, of course, in which case bravo. Ack, I can’t decide if this tactic is brilliant or reckless.
Jung-ho actually looks conflicted (maybe just a tiny bit), but he walks out.
So much goodness, and so much heart. I’ve come to expect a lot of character depth and nuance when it comes to Nam-soon and Heung-soo, both in the writing and in the subtle acting, but I was surprised at how well the show has done with a minor character like Ji-hoon, whose name I didn’t even know till the last episode. He’s just been there in the background, casting conflicted looks at intervals, giving us a general sense that he wasn’t totally with his gang anymore even before the story put him front and center. It’s that kind of care with the role that makes the sudden spotlight feel like a natural progression and not a jarring Problem of the Week situation.
They’re doing the slow development with Jung-ho too, which I appreciate, because he’s not an easy fix. Perhaps some viewers still don’t even see him as anything but an antagonist. I like that we’ve been seeing him breaking his stone-faced facade by degrees, but that hasn’t been a simple matter of a teacher swooping in to save the day and bring the misunderstood kid out of his shell. You just can’t Dead Poets Society this kid, and it’s going to take a lot of work… but I really think it’ll be worth it.
I love that we’re still seeing layers peeled back between Nam-soon and Heung-soo, despite thinking we’ve basically got their backstory down pat. But no, there are always little details to shine a little more light, like Heung-soo’s promise, which totally brought tears to my eyes.
Perhaps Heung-soo still believes he hates Nam-soon, or that he doesn’t mean anything to him anymore, but the promise shows that he’s still looking out for him. The deal—to keep him from doing anything that’ll send him to prison—sort of sounds like the bare minimum kind of attachment, and maybe it was. He won’t say he’ll save him or give him something big and grandiose, but this is the thing he can do. And the fact that he keeps the promise now despite having every reason to toss Nam-soon aside is, at the bare minimum, proof that his current hate is no match for his former love.
It’s bittersweet, too, in adding to the skewed balance of their relationship. I’m getting that Heung-soo saved Nam-soon on multiple levels, but Nam-soon not only couldn’t do the same, he actively had a hand (or foot) in ruining things for his friend. It’s why his current burden is so heavy, and because Nam-soon can’t save Heung-soo now or retroactively take back his actions, there’s little he can do to ease that weight. At least we have Se-chan’s assurance that the burden, while never lightening, does become bearable at some point.