Welcome to Superdaddy Yeol, the webtoon adaptation in which a mother with only a year to live sets out to turn her deadbeat ex into the perfect father. It’s a sad premise and the first episode doesn’t shrink from it, but there is hope (and a little humor) to be found as well. With his stubborn insistence on only looking out for himself, our hero doesn’t exactly seem like Superdaddy material—but then, where’s the fun without a bit of a challenge?
EPISODE 1 RECAP
It is 2005, near the end of the baseball season. Our main character HAN YEOL (Lee Dong-gun) is at his mother’s funeral, grieving with his father. He greets the guests dutifully, but when he receives a letter telling him goodbye, he goes running to search for the woman who wrote it.
Yeol leaves the funeral after seeing a baseball game on television. His father yells after him, blaming him for running around after “that woman” and reminding him that he isn’t the only one grieving. But Yeol walks out without saying a word.
In a flashback, we see him running out of a game after CHA MI-RAE (Lee Yu-ri), the woman he loves. He falls to his knees and says that he lied. “When I said I could live without you… it was a lie.”
Mi-rae is leaving to study abroad, and says she can’t imagine a future with him—they don’t “match 100 percent.” That expression angers Yeol, and he asks when in life is anything that certain. There are always variables and conditions, but he loves her 100 percent. Mi-rae doesn’t feel the same, however, and she walks out of the stadium and out of his life.
In the present, we see the baseball game that is going on at the same time as the funeral. It is the final inning, and the pitcher (UHM KI-TAE, played by Park Joo-hyung) gives up an easy hit. In the dugout, the head coach sighs that they’re going to have to switch pitchers, but don’t have anyone good enough.
Just then Yeol arrives in his baseball uniform, still wearing his mourning ribbon. He pushes past the other players and marches straight to the mound.
Yeol takes the ball from Ki-tae and declares that he’s pitching from now on. Coach Bang says that this pitch could be the last one he ever throws—can he live with that?
Mi-rae walks through the airport and stops in front of a television, changes the channel to the baseball game, and sees Yeol standing on the mound.
“My mother always said I would meet the person I’m supposed to meet,” Yeol says in voiceover. Now alone on the pitcher’s mound, he begins his windup. “In dramas, they call it fate. In sports, it’s called destiny. But I call it love.” He throws the baseball… but we don’t see what happens next.
Ten years later, a car speeds past a pair of cops on the highway. The chase is on, weaving from lane to lane and ending in front of an elementary school. A young girl gets out and the car takes off, but not before the driver tosses her a bookbag. The girl catches it and shoots the officers a dirty look, as if daring them to get in her way—this is Mi-rae’s daughter SA-RANG (played by Lee Re), and she’s got an impressive glare for someone whose name means love.
The baseball team hasn’t changed much in ten years. Coach Bang is still around, and Ki-tae has graduated from angry pitcher to angry coach. A relief pitcher is sent in, though he’s coming from a month of physical therapy. This is rookie ace RYU HYUN-WOO (Choi Min-sung), and he has been cleared to play by the Rehab Coach on the strict condition that he doesn’t throw curve balls.
Coach Bang reminds Ki-tae about the award ceremony at his daughter’s school, and tells him to leave early so he won’t be late. Meanwhile rookie Hyun-woo takes the mound, and blatantly ignores instructions by leading with a wicked slider.
The Rehab Coach watches the game from the training room. “I told that bastard to throw straight!” he growls, shattering the television screen with a fastball of his own. We finally see his face—Han Yeol.
Hyun-woo throws another pitch and injures his shoulder, rolling on the ground in pain. Ki-tae offers to accompany him to the hospital, in spite of his promise to attend his daughter’s ceremony. At the suggestion of one of the higher-ups, the coaches decide to send Yeol to school in Ki-tae’s place.
Yeol addresses a group of athletes, telling them the story of his final game ten years ago. He plays himself up, saying how Coach Bang let him pitch because he was so talented. But a flashback shows us the truth, as Coach Bang asks Ki-tae to let it slide this time because Yeol is so pitiful.
We finally see Yeol’s pitch, which goes awry when it slams into the batter’s head. He charges the mound, and within seconds the players and coaches from both sides have instigated a brawl.
One player asks Yeol why he threw that pitch, especially when he was in mourning for his mother. “Because I wanted to show someone,” he replies. A call comes in from another coach, asking Yeol to stand in for Ki-tae at his daughter’s school.
Sa-rang’s teacher tells the class all about Head Coach Ki-tae, who’s the next dad to come in and talk about his job. His daughter Bo-mi is happy to hear her father praised, and the kids go wild at the thought of a real star coming in to speak.
One of the kids points out that Sa-rang’s father hasn’t come in for his talk. A blabbermouth sitting near her says that he heard she doesn’t have a father, only a “scary mother.”
Just then the class president arrives, and tells the teacher that Bo-mi’s father won’t be coming in, and her “uncle” is on his way as substitute. The teacher asks the boy to choose a seat, and the only two available are next to Bo-mi and Sa-rang. Uh-oh… classroom drama!
Class President saunters down the aisle, while Sa-rang pulls out the empty chair for him with a shy smile. But he sits down next to Bo-mi, and the entire class laughs that Sa-rang was dumped. The boy who outed her earlier about her father jeers that she has a fake father and a fake boyfriend—gah, why are kids so mean?!
Sa-rang pounds on her desk and gives Bo-mi a Death Glare so strong it even has Class President squirming in his seat. She rushes to the classroom door, only to knock into Yeol on his way in. He extends his hand, but she ignores it and leaves the classroom.
Sa-rang books it down the hallway, out of the school, and all the way to the soccer field. She looks up in the direction of the classroom, hurt and angry. “Jerk,” she mutters.
Mi-rae talks with a patient at the hospital, informing her that she doesn’t have much time left to live. The patient is understandably upset—even more so as another doctor had said that nothing was certain, and she might yet live.
But Mi-rae insists that her death is 100 percent certain. The most they can do with chemotherapy and radiation is delay it for a month or two. The patient breaks down and attacks Mi-rae, yelling if she thinks she’s a god, to know for certain when someone will die. “Do you understand a mother’s heart?” she wails.
The patient pulls Mi-rae’s hair until another doctor (DOCTOR SHIN, played by Seo Joon-young) intervenes. “I’m a mother too!” Mi-rae declares, finally pushed out of her cold professionalism.
A while later, in the ladies’ bathroom, Mi-rae corners the colleague who gave her patient false hope and shoves her face-first into the sink. “What’s the possibility of you surviving?” she snarls.
Mi-rae accuses the other doctor of trying to make patients angry with her, so that she won’t get promoted. But Mi-rae promises that she will become chief no matter what, and dunks her colleague once more for good measure.
Yeol introduces himself to the children, who badger him to teach them real baseball instead of talking about games from ten years ago. When Bo-mi claims that her father was a better pitcher and is a more important coach, Yeol has to defend the value of rehabilitation.
In order to illustrate what rehabilitation is all about, Yeol turns to the teacher and starts pointing out her flaws. Her posture is messed up from trying to look sexy, her jaw and neck are strained from looking at her cell phone all the time, and he even calls her out on having received plastic surgery—not cool, Yeol!
The teacher stands up, ready to rip into him, when Yeol compliments her smile and dedication to the kids. “If you just fix what I pointed out,” he says, “you could become the most popular teacher in school.” Before we can see if she will buy that line or not, a student points out the window and yells.
Sa-rang is on her tenth lap around the track, running barefoot. She keeps going until she falls, skinning her knee. Yeol offers a hand to help her up, and when she ignores it he laughs that this is the second time she’s rejected him today. When he asks why she was running, Sa-rang says she wanted to show someone.
The teacher and Class President come outside, with a pair of running shoes for Sa-rang. “Don’t do this anymore,” Class President asks, his little face all solemn.
The teacher flirtatiously asks Yeol when they can meet again, admitting that she used to be part of his fan club. She reminds him how he used to talk about marrying for love and raising a family, but Yeol says that was all lies. Now he only wants to live the rest of his life on his own. Yeol and Class President each walk away, leaving two disappointed ladies in their wake.
At the hospital, Mi-rae tells Dr. Shin to make sure she doesn’t cross paths anymore with her scheming colleague. Dr. Shin admires her force (and wonders if she’s been studying martial arts recently, ha), but he also suggests that she could be more tactful with her patients. But to Mi-rae that would be unethical, because it only gives patients false hope.
Since Mi-rae is such a strong supporter of honesty, Dr. Shin decides to be honest: “I like you, sunbae. I like you a lot.” Mi-rae looks him straight in the eye, then kicks him in the shin (and honestly, would you look at the stilettos she’s wearing? Ouch).
She says she doesn’t have time to raise her daughter, let alone another big baby, but Dr. Shin declares that he’s serious—he wants to become Sa-rang’s father. Before Mi-rae has a chance to respond, she is called over by her superior, hospital director Dr. Choi.
Dr. Choi has recommended Mi-rae to head the new Oncology Department. Mi-rae says that it has been a tough climb to get to where she is now, so she should go all the way in order to reach the summit.
“That’s why I like you,” says Dr. Choi. “You’re pretty and ambitious.” He tells Mi-rae that she will go far by his side, giving her arm a lecherous squeeze. Mi-rae waits until he’s gone before she drops her forced smile, muttering that he’s sleazy and incompetent.
Yeol arrives at the hospital to see the injured Hyun-woo. Ki-tae doesn’t wait a second before accusing him of negligence, worried that the team will lose their expensive ace pitcher. Yeol goes right over to Hyun-woo and raises his arm, declaring that his shoulder isn’t injured at all.
It’s actually Hyun-woo’s neck which is injured, and Yeol shows his expertise as he explains how throwing curve balls places the strain directly on the neck, which is why he told Hyun-woo to avoid them. But Hyun-woo ignored his advice, and Yeol suspects that he did it on purpose.
An X-ray confirms Yeol’s hunch about Hyun-woo’s neck, but DR. HWANG (played by Kim Mi-kyung, the sports rehab clinic director) says that the damage is even worse than suspected. The coaches all stare at Yeol, who walks out of the room.
Yeol remembers what Mi-rae told him, that it’s either 100 percent or zero, as he walks down the hallway. It’s better to be alone, he thinks, because that way you don’t have to take responsibility for anyone but yourself.
Mi-rae finds Sa-rang after school and offers to take her out to dinner. Sa-rang wants to know why she isn’t asking about what happened at school, but Mi-rae knows her daughter must have had a reason. It’s not what happened, but what Sa-rang does next that counts.
Sa-rang wants to quit track, because she feels like she loses if she doesn’t place first. Mi-rae shrewdly wonders if that’s why Sa-rang lied about having a father, because she didn’t want to “lose” to the other kids who have two parents. That’s how Sa-rang felt at first, but she assures her mother that she doesn’t now. Her father is in Heaven, she says, so she really does have two parents.
Mi-rae tells Sa-rang not to quit track, because it’s fine to lose a little if you win in the end. Sa-rang asks eagerly if her father was the kind of person who always won, and Mi-rae says he was, “except to one person.” Sa-rang happily guesses that one person was her mother. A call comes in from Dr. Choi, and Sa-rang tells Mi-rae to meet her for pizza that evening after she takes care of her work.
Yeol meets with Coach Bang, who has bad news. The team’s managers are investigating the coaches after Hyun-woo’s injury, and Hyun-woo himself is talking about suing Yeol for excessively strenuous rehabilitation.
Coach Bang tells Yeol to set aside his pride and ask Hyun-woo to relent, as he has been forced to do several times as a coach, a father and the head of a family. But Yeol replies that this is why he lives alone—so that he can keep his pride and only look out for himself.
Reporters swarm around the hospital, hoping for an interview with Hyun-woo. Yeol strides past them without a word. Director Hwang is talking with her daughter, HWANG JI-HYE (played by Seo Ye-ji), who also happens to be the baseball team’s doctor. Ji-hye follows Yeol to Hyun-woo’s room, and when Yeol sees that it is empty, he stalks away. Ji-hye calls after him, but he ignores her.
Yeol finds Hyun-woo in a bar with Ki-tae, drinking even though he has a surgery scheduled. Hyun-woo asks sarcastically if Yeol came to beg him to abandon the lawsuit, just like Ki-tae. Ki-tae tries to pull rank as head coach, but Yeol dumps an ice bucket over his head and says that if he’s really a coach, he should act like one.
Ki-tae leaves Hyun-woo in the room with Yeol, but as soon as he reaches the hallway he calls a reporter and offers a juicy story. Now that it’s just the two of them, Yeol demands to know why Hyun-woo injured himself on purpose. “I’ve been in more pain than anyone,” Yeol says. “You can’t fool me. I’m Rehab Han Yeol.”
Hyun-woo lashes out at those words, saying that Yeol is a nobody who doesn’t deserve respect. He used to look up to Yeol as a role model, the pitcher who played through anything, even his mother’s sickness. But now he thinks Yeol is trash who deserves to be alone. Yeol punches Hyun-woo in the face, and the reporter lurking outside snaps a flurry of pictures and runs away.
“I wanted to show her,” Hyun-woo says at last. His girlfriend broke up with him, and he thought that if he showed her how much he was hurting, she might return to him.
Yeol tells Hyun-woo that he did the same thing once, to no avail. He hit the batter on purpose ten years ago, and welcomed the fight that followed, all to show his most desperate and defeated side to the woman who left him. But she didn’t return, and that became his last game.
Yeol cautions Hyun-woo not to be like him. Showing someone your worst side won’t get her to come back. It’s not really love, and it’s disrespectful to the game of baseball. “Then what am I supposed to do?!” Hyun-woo cries. He hurts so much he wants to die, and not even baseball is enough anymore. “How do you rehabilitate that?” he demands. But Yeol has no answer—he only walks away.
Hyun-woo’s words stick with Yeol as he walks through the hall, and he thinks back to what Mi-rae said when she left him. He wonders resentfully how she’s living now. Then Yeol hears a voice that sounds suspiciously familiar in another room, but he receives a phone call before he can investigate.
It’s Mi-rae in the next room, singing with Dr. Choi and another sleazy old man. Dr. Choi is all compliments for her determination, while the other doctor tries to get a little touchy-feely. Mi-rae maintains a bright smile as she fends off his advances, holding in her anger for the sake of her career.
Mi-rae makes a brief escape to the washroom. Looking at her reflection, she vows to succeed so that no one will look down on her for being a single mom. She will protect Sa-rang to the end, even if it means putting up with those lecherous old men. Mi-rae gets an angry text from Sa-rang, who’s waiting for her at the pizza restaurant, and calls immediately to say she’s on her way. But just as she’s about to leave, she collapses to the floor.
Sa-rang waits at the restaurant, sure that her mother will come. When the store closes she waits outside, sighing that she has something she needs to tell Mom. Just then it starts to rain.
Yeol walks through the rain in search of his father, who has escaped from the nursing home (apparently not for the first time). Yeol finds him in a restaurant, drinking and flirting with the owner. When Yeol goes inside, Dad tells him that because Yeol won’t marry, he’s going to marry instead. Their bickering gets very heated, as Dad accuses Yeol of chasing a woman when he should have been taking care of his sick mother, while Yeol fires back that Dad was more often absent than not.
Yeol gets fed up when Dad asks him to pick a woman to marry from a selection of photographs, saying that he no longer cares if Dad collapses or not. Dad yells that it was Mom’s final wish that her son get married, though Yeol scoffs that he’s fibbing. He walks away, leaving Dad in the restaurant with the bizarre ajumma who apparently enjoys flirting with runaways from nursing homes.
Mi-rae hears the bad news from her junior colleague at the hospital. She’s in the final stages of cancer, and has at most one year to live. She accepts the news with a stiff upper lip, only asking her colleague to erase the records and keep her condition a secret.
Outside in the hallway Mi-rae sinks to her knees, overwhelmed. She remembers to check her phone, which shows ten missed calls from Sa-rang.
Yeol walks home in the rain, talking on the phone to another coach about the reporter who saw him punch Hyun-woo. He sees Sa-rang crouching outside the empty restaurant, and is about to keep walking when she keels over. He looks closer, and recognizes her as the running girl from Bo-mi’s school.
Yeol brings Sa-rang to his apartment, installing her on the couch with blankets and hot chocolate to warm her up. She wakes up and screams to see a strange man, and Yeol screams right along with her.
Sa-rang jumps behind the sofa until he reminds her that they met at the school, and then she warns him quite calmly that she’s an athlete and he’d better not mess with her. “Do you know how manipulative and scary my mother is?” she demands. It’s official—this girl is awesome.
Sa-rang grabs her phone and backpack and heads for the door, ignoring Yeol when he yells that she has a fever. Her mother always keeps her promises, she says, so she has to meet her. She leaves before Yeol can tell her that she’s left a bag behind.
Mi-rae reaches the restaurant and looks for Sa-rang, relieved when Sa-rang arrives almost at the same time. Mi-rae tries to apologize, but Sa-rang doesn’t want to hear her explanation. “I said it was okay if you were there,” she says. “But if you’re like this, it makes me miss Dad.”
Sa-rang says she wants to have a father who can be there even if Mi-rae is busy; someone who can play with her and look out for her. Mi-rae looks stricken at these words. She hails a taxi so she can take Sa-rang home.
Yeol rounds the corner, still holding Sa-rang’s bag. It has her running shoes in it, and Yeol reflects that she can run just fine without them as he prepares to throw the bag away. But then he catches sight of the taxi, with Sa-rang and Mi-rae about to get in.
In voiceover, he repeats what his mother always told him, that he would eventually meet the woman he was supposed to be with. “People in dramas call that fate,” he says, echoing the words he said ten years ago. “People in sports call it destiny. I… call it love.”
Yeol runs after the taxi, waving the shoes and yelling like a maniac. Mi-rae looks in the rearview mirror, and sees him running behind.
This was a solid introduction to what I hope will become a great drama. We have our premise, as well as a good sense of our characters and their relationships. Only an hour in and I feel a connection to both of our leads, flawed as they are. Even the characters on the periphery, like Hyun-woo, Ki-tae and Yeol’s father, felt like fully realized individuals who developed over the course of the episode. It’s too early to say for sure, but I think Superdaddy will manage its characters with a deft hand.
In spite of her prickliness and propensity for drowning her colleagues, I’m already half in love with Mi-rae (who am I kidding—it’s because of those things). She’s open about her ambition and straightforward to a fault, but she also has the fortitude to face up against the reality of her approaching death. She may be kind of a jerk at times, but she’s no hypocrite, and her determination to protect her daughter is all kinds of admirable.
Her “100 percent or zero” attitude does seem wrongheaded to me, especially when we see it reflected in Sa-rang’s attitude towards track. It’s almost exactly like Ricky Bobby’s creed in Talladega Nights: “If you ain’t first, you’re last!” And as Ricky Bobby’s dad tells us: “That doesn’t make any sense at all. You can be second, third, fourth… hell, you can even be fifth!”
So it seems to me we have two flawed worldviews that took center stage in the opening episode. The first is the idea that life is 100 percent or zero, winning or losing, wrong or right. But that’s not it at all. Not everything is black and white—in fact, I’ve heard that sometimes there can be as many as fifty shades of grey (har har).
The second flawed worldview is the belief that the correct response to someone rejecting you is to show them your worst side in the hopes that it will bring them back. Yeol knows that this doesn’t work, but his reaction to that is to vow to live alone, taking no responsibility for anyone other than himself.
As Mi-rae begins her plan to turn Yeol into a Superdaddy of legend, I look forward to seeing them both grow and adapt different worldviews. Yeol needs to learn that the way to win someone back, if indeed it can be done, is to become better than you were before. And for her part, Mi-rae needs to learn that there are many more choices besides 100 percent or zero to be found in the eternity that lies within the heartbeat between life and death. There is room for change, compromise, half measures and whole measures, forgiveness… and maybe even love.