Who Are You–School 2015: Episode 1
Phew, Who Are You—School 2015 has quite the dark streak, but I like it. It’s partly because the show deals with issues like bullying in a rather stark light, and partly because this is also a mystery-thriller on top of being a school drama. This first episode is on the heavy side with all the setting-up required to show us what the outcast’s life was like before the big twist, but I also think there’s room in there to add cute, funny touches. I don’t expect it to go full-on rom-com, but I wouldn’t want that of this show anyway; just a little bit of light to give shape to all the shadows.
SONG OF THE DAY
Tiger JK – “Reset” from the Who Are You—School 2015 OST [ Download ]
EPISODE 1 RECAP
We open with an interview-style introduction on LEE EUN-BI (Kim So-hyun), a second-year in high school who explains her contradictory feelings about school sheepishly: She doesn’t like going, but not going makes her nervous. And if she weren’t able to go, she’d want to.
Eun-bi lives in the southern province of Gyeongsamnam-do, in the city of Tongyeong. She works multiple part-time jobs and aspires to be a teacher—one who understands her students, their lies, and what they’re hiding.
Eun-bi has a cheerful way of speaking, but once we join her at school, the reason for her answers becomes clear, because she’s the target of some vicious bullying.
Case in point: A girl, So-young, is led by her friends to the special “birthday present” they’ve prepared for her. They’ve cornered Eun-bi and proceed to make a “birthday cake” of her, flinging eggs, flour, and fish sauce over her head. So-young and her posse laugh maliciously while Eun-bi chokes back tears.
She has to dress in her gym clothes for the rest of school, and everybody makes a big show of recoiling at her stink from the fish sauce. Her teacher pulls her aside to ask why she’s always in gym clothes and whether she’s being bothered, but doesn’t press when Eun-bi lies that nobody’s doing anything.
So she’s left completely adrift while everyone gawks and laughs at her openly, enjoying her misery.
Her home life is more pleasant, and her bright personality is allowed to show through as she acts as de facto mother hen at the orphanage, Love’s House, where she’s spent most of her life. She’s the eldest and makes the kiddos eat their vegetables and is lovingly naggy.
Eun-bi notices ripped clothing in the wash and checks on one of the other girls, Ra-jin, who’s hiding a large bruise on her side. She lies that she just fell while playing with the other kids, but Eun-bi gently pries the story out of her—and then marches over to the home of the boy who did this to her.
The bully’s mother dismisses Eun-bi huffily, but Eun-bi stands up to her boldly, unwilling to be turned aside. She doesn’t accept the “they were just playing” excuse, pointing out that both sides ought to be having fun for that to qualify. She refuses to leave until Ra-jin gets an apology and a promise not to pick on her again, and they get it.
As they leave, Eun-bi urges Ra-jin to speak up when things like this happen, and to assert herself so the bully recognizes she won’t just be pushed around. Ra-jin, who already looks up to Eun-bi as her shining role model, thanks her and says, “Unni, you’re a present God gave me in place of a mother.”
Eun-bi receives a gift in the mail, from a woman who appears to have been sending her gifts for some time. This note is signed with the name Song Mi-kyung and says that she bought a sweatshirt for Eun-bi while she was out buying one for her own daughter.
The orphanage director wonders at this generous benefactor, and Eun-bi marvels at how perfectly the gifts fit her size and her taste.
It’s not so much a mystery to us, though, when we cut to Seoul to meet GO EUN-BYUL, who looks exactly like Eun-bi—and her mother’s name is Song Mi-kyung.
The two have a healthy, affectionate relationship, and Eun-byul good-naturedly groans at her mother’s overzealous packing for her upcoming school trip to a famous temple that’ll have them in Tongyeong for four days. But interestingly, when Mom sees the matching sweatshirt in Eun-byul’s suitcase, she doesn’t recognize it—it’s Eun-byul who must have sent it down using her mother’s name. Hm, so she knows she has a twin?
Unlike her twin, Eun-byul is stylish and popular at school, and has an inner circle of friends with two girls, Song-joo and Shi-jin. She’s extra-tight with Song-joo; the two have matched their outfits to a tee, and third wheel Shi-jin looks a little wistful to be left out.
The class heads down to Tongyeong in buses, minus two boys whom we’ll get to know separately. One of those two is HAN YI-AN (Nam Joo-hyuk), who’s missing the trip because he’s a swimming star and is at a national meet.
Eun-byul listens to a live sports broadcast as his race unfolds, and lights up when she hears that he’s won. Her crush must be a secret, though, because she hides it from BFF Song-joo, even though it’s no secret that they’re friends.
Based on Yi-an’s bashful text-flirting with Eun-byul, the crushing is mutual, and dates back to their kiddiehood. In a childhood flashback, we see young Eun-byul admiring Yi-an’s swimming medals and asking for one of his many. He refuses but promises her the first medal he wins at the national level. She huffs that she doesn’t believe he’d do that when he won’t even give her a trivial medal like this one. Yi-an retorts that she’s a dummy—he’s not giving this one to her because it’s trivial; as in, he’ll give her one that’s important. A-dor-able.
The high school minefield extends to the parents, and Eun-byul’s mother does a favor for another mother by introducing her to an exclusive clique of moms. The leader barely hides her disdain for the newcomer (Shi-jin’s mother), doling out some passive-aggressive barbs before deigning to give her card and number out.
The girls hear about Yi-an’s gold medal, though Eun-byul plays it cool and doesn’t show much excitement. She says that they grew up knowing everything about each other, as though Yi-an is nothing more than a sometimes-annoying buddy.
But then Eun-byul gets a text that darkens her mood immediately. It’s from a girl named Jung Soo-in, and says, “Just because it’s in the past doesn’t mean it never happened.” Eun-byul seizes up in shock—definitely scared, maybe even guilty.
So for the rest of the day, she’s withdrawn and quiet, despite her friends’ attempts to draw her out. When Song-joo prods her to talk or eat, she snaps and yells at her loudly, to everyone’s surprise.
We hear a bit of the story from the school moms, who talk in vague terms about some incident last year involving Soo-in, who had moved away but is now apparently back. It must be a scandalous incident, because when the other moms recall that Soo-in and Eun-byul were friends, Eun-byul’s mother is quick to say that no, they weren’t really friends, just casual acquaintances.
As the school trip arrives in Tongyeong, we hop over to Eun-bi at Love’s House. She assures a worried Ra-jin that she’s okay despite not feeling well, and the little girl says that although unni is popular and has lots of friends at school, she only has unni. To comfort her, Eun-bi promises that she won’t get sick anymore.
But while Love’s House was at least a safe space for Eun-bi, today her tormentors show up for more bullying fun. Wearing beatific smiles, they explain to the director that they were concerned about Eun-bi, and that they wanted to help out by doing their community service project here.
Of course, once they’re alone with Eun-bi, it’s back to sneering and malevolent threats. The sidekicks are bad enough but it’s leader So-young who drives the evil train here, telling Eun-bi to do their work since she’s living off their parents’ taxes.
Ra-jin witnesses the scene and looks upset to see her unni being pushed around. Eun-bi doesn’t want to let her see the true situation either, so she lies and agrees with the bullies that this was all a fun joke, and she’s fine.
It’s clear that So-young sees her powerful father as a shield from any possible blowback, and even tells the orphanage director that her father is on a scholarship committee and would like to help out Love’s House. Eun-bi sits there in nervous confusion, trying to see what her bully is getting at.
Meanwhile, the high school students settle into their hotel rooms, playing games and having fun. Eun-byul remains in her funk, and reads a clipping featuring Love’s House with a photo of Eun-bi in it.
And then she gets a phone call that prompts her to slip away secretly, ignoring her friends again. A little while later, sidekick Shi-jin steps out for her own call and catches a glimpse of Eun-byul in the distance—she doesn’t quite know what’s going on, but it looks like a tense encounter between Eun-byul and a boy.
Later that night, Eun-bi calls out her bully to ask about the scholarship. She isn’t in a position to refuse the chance just because she dislikes So-young, and asks for her help in getting it. So-young says she’ll try talking to her father, and asks for Eun-bi’s phone.
Eun-bi waits anxiously while So-young sends texts… and all the while, So-young snickers to herself while sending fake threats to her friends under Eun-bi’s name (I’m going to crush you… I’ll burn your house down…). She laughs about that scholarship, and finally Eun-bi is pushed to her limit. She grabs a nearby wooden stick and challenges her wildly, calling So-young the worst—and moreover, she’s pitiful.
That sparks So-young’s anger, and she notes the CCTV above them before goading Eun-bi to hit her. She makes a grab for the stick, and in the scuffle she gets knocked into a pile of debris. Eun-bi sees the stack of beams and pipes heading for them and leaps in to shield So-young as they’re both hit and knocked out.
The next day, the Seoul girls are still at a standoff, with Eun-byul preoccupied with her secret problem and her friends reacting in kind. Shi-jin finds herself in the middle (literally) of the spat—and then catches a glimpse of the bruise on Eun-byul’s neck. It makes her think of that brief scene she saw the night before, but she doesn’t quite know what to do with that information.
One of Eun-byul’s objectives for this trip is getting in touch with Eun-bi, and she calls Love’s House under a false name, saying she’s an old friend of Eun-bi’s. She then calls Eun-bi’s cell phone number—and not ten feet away, her twin works the register of the cafe and sees her phone ringing. But Eun-bi hesitates to answer, and the call cuts out before she does.
Eun-byul trudges into a bathroom stall and sits there glumly, ignoring the two friends who figure they’ll leave her to her moodiness. The bathroom light flicks off as everybody leaves, but footsteps sound, and as they get closer and closer to her stall, Eun-byul gets nervous. She calls out, and then yells scaredly, “Is it you again? How long are you going to do this?!”
Then she looks upward over the stall, and her eyes widen in fear. She screams.
The rest of the class is gathered for a group photo, and the photo catches Eun-bi as she walks by. The class is ready to leave, but the head count comes up short and they soon realize that Eun-byul is missing.
The school group organizes into search parties to scour the grounds, anxiety mounting the longer time passes and Eun-byul remains missing. The teachers ask her friends for information, and now Shi-jin offers what she saw last night, which looked like her fighting with a guy.
At his swim meet, Yi-an gets a call from a friend just before his big race. News of Eun-byul’s disappearance rattles him so much that when the race kicks off, just as all the commentators speculate that Yi-an is all set to skyrocket to fame, he doesn’t even participate. He remains poised on the starting block, wondering, “Eun-byul, where are you?”
Mom hears from Eun-byul’s friends and drives down to Tongyeong immediately. Teacher Kim (Lee Pil-mo) can only tell her that they’re awaiting more news, and a distraught Mom breaks down in tears, both accusing and pleading. But there’s nothing that can be done.
Meanwhile, Eun-bi doesn’t appear to have been very injured in the accident, but So-young is milking the situation, playing the part of traumatized victim. Her mother accuses Eun-bi of being the aggressor and demands justice from the school.
The teachers prod Eun-bi to apologize, but she’s tired of being the wronged party and stands up to defend herself. She says that she’s thought it over and over, and the only conclusion she can come to is that she’s done nothing wrong.
But So-young is the daughter of a respected prosecutor and Eun-bi is a nobody, and she is expelled from school. She asks to attend her last day of school through the end, not wanting to act as though she’s being run off, and heads back to class to finish her day.
Her desk has been graffiti’d and So-young’s posse rounds on her immediately. Eun-bi asks why she hates her so much, and why she’s bullied her.
So-young sneers, “Just. Because.” She says that she hates everything about Eun-bi, as though that explains everything.
Eun-bi asks how much lower So-young means to go, because you’d think she couldn’t get much lower: “You’re already the worst.” And this time when So-young steps up to face her, Eun-bi doesn’t even flinch.
Except she’s outnumbered and overpowered, and the three bullies pull her behind the curtains. And if there’s anything more ignorable than the school outcast, it’s the expelled school outcast, and everyone turns a blind eye as Eun-bi begs them to stop.
The scene carries a distinct eerieness as we see the struggle through the sheer curtains and the students blithely go about their day just feet away. So-young films on camera as her sidekicks rip at Eun-bi’s clothes, threatening to post the video the next time she does anything they don’t like.
Eun-bi breaks free and runs out—still clothed, thank goodness—and despite her best intentions, she’s run out of school anyway, without completing her last day. She drops her nametag in the yard and leaves the grounds.
And then, a body splashes into water. It’s Eun-bi (at least, I presume), and as her body sinks, wearing the twins’ matching sweatshirt, the camera lingers on her schooldesk, where she’s carved her parting message: “Goodbye. Friends.”
This was a strong first episode for School 2015, which managed to do a lot of heavy narrative lifting in an efficient, effective way. We have a lot of characters coming in and out (and in two separate worlds, at that), but the show balanced the introductions well and provided a solid foundation for both girls’ characters and lives. The dashes of intrigue are curiosity-piquing, and suggest that this is a drama whose full story must have been mapped out in advance—there are a lot of parts that feel like they’re being laid carefully now, to fit neatly together later. The writer clearly has a direction and maybe also the ending in mind, and I like sensing that up front, that our producers are in full control and know what they’re doing. It gives me the confidence to put my trust in their storytelling.
I really loved School 2013′s simple approach to the mundane struggles of high school lives and its stripped-down narrative—the characters really brought that show to life, as well as the slice-of-life storytelling—but I have to say, I dig the mystery twin angle as a way to add a fresh twist to School 2015. Okay, I may have a fondness for twin/switched-identities/doppelganger stories to begin with, but that aside, the show has me intrigued with its mystery, particularly with who Eun-byul is.
As the main lead, Eun-bi will be our eyes as we experience the drama from her point of view, but Eun-byul is an interesting cipher, and comes with multiple question marks. Who is the guy she met with? What was her role in the Jung Soo-in incident—and what does she know that the other girls don’t? How much does she know about her twin, and why doesn’t her twin know anything?
It was a bit harrowing to watch Eun-bi undergoing such a relentless barrage of violence and harassment, but I like that the show treated the bullying head-on without gilding anything. Not just in the way they depicted the actual harassment, but also the way the other kids ignored what was going on—even when some clearly felt sympathy for the victim—and the way the teacher seemed to know what was going on but feigned ignorance. It’s a battlefield out there, and coupled with Angry Mom, School just makes me incredibly glad to have gotten through those high school years in a different era and environment. I swear, it’s like bullying is a virus that grew and mutated over the years, turning ever more virulent. Shudders.
I’m a bit surprised that we covered so much ground in just the first episode, but I think we’re well-positioned to get into the meat of the story starting in the next one. The drama carries the tinge of realism that marks its franchise, and on top of that has upgraded its visual appeal (I really felt the perfunctory direction was the biggest drawback of School 2013—it was written and acted so well, but edited together clunkily, and shot so plainly). Kim So-hyun is perfectly cast, and while we’ve known for ages that she could handle meaty stuff, I’m really looking forward to seeing her carrying a show. Hopefully the show holds up to the promise I see so far.
- Pretty, sentimental posters for School 2015
- Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the first day of School
- Flour, eggs, and tears in Who Are You—School 2015
- Script reads for new KBS spring dramas Producer and School 2015
- News bites: April 5, 2015
- School 2015 still without leading man, courts Yook Sung-jae to star
- Nam Joo-hyuk up for first starring role in School 2015
- School 2015: Lee Yubi out, Kim So-hyun in?
- School 2015 in the works at KBS