Mother: Episodes 11-12 (Open Thread)
Mother has always been visually quite stark, but despite its heavy material, it largely has not been dark. But the majority of this pair of episodes is spent in darkness, which seems appropriately symbolic given that we spend it in the shadowed psyche of an abusing, murdering villain.
With allies and protectors to light her way, it’s up to Soo-jin to end the dark night and save her daughter.
After Yoon-bok is kidnapped, Soo-jin gets into an accident chasing the wrong truck. Meanwhile, Seol-ak has Yoon-bok gagged and bound, and discovers the necklace given to Yoon-bok by Madam Cha. He sneers at the idea anyone could think she’s valuable, but it gives him an idea.
He cooks up a scheme with Ja-young to extort money from Soo-jin’s family if they want Yoon-bok alive. Struggling with her emotions, Ja-young says her daughter is already dead and only tells Seol-ak to spare her the details.
“You won’t throw me away, will you?” she asks him, voice cracking. That’s why you’re crying? Seol-ak makes Yoon-bok listen to the whole conversation.
Questioned by the police, Dr Jung tells them that he’s never seen a guardian as concerned for their child’s welfare as Soo-jin. Detective Lee’s partner wonders afterwards whether they’re barking up the wrong tree since everyone they meet is protecting Soo-jin so fiercely.
Threatened by Ja-young, Madam Cha begins to amass the money immediately, to Yi-jin’s dismay. Mom says in perfect seriousness that if Yi-jin breathes a word to the police, she’ll strike her from the family register. But she later does report it secretly, which puts Detective Lee back on the pair’s tracks.
Soo-jin and Dr. Jung and track down Seol-ak’s original truck. Madam Cha updates them on Ja-young’s threat, which Soo-jin recognizes as also being her revenge.
Seol-ak’s relocated Yoon-bok to Soo-jin’s old abandoned orphanage, where he recounts childhood memories of his own mother to Yoon-bok. Flashbacks show a capricious woman and little Seol-ak desperate to please her. She killed herself in the end, and he’d found the body. He tells Yoon-bok how much he loved seeing the moms cry after he killed their kids.
Soo-jin connects with Ja-young directly and wants proof of Yoon-bok’s continued safety. She receives a series of audio files where Yoon-bok narrates their book, “Mom, I’m Running Away.” Soo-jin discovers a coded message from Yoon-bok in it, which allows her to figure out where they are.
Seol-ak says the only reason Yoon-bok is still alive is because she didn’t cry. But he forces her to wet herself and then hoses her down (as his own mother did), before dragging her to the basement where he has a noose prepared for her.
Still dripping, Yoon-book says she knows he felt that he should’ve died instead, so his mother wouldn’t have. That really gets to him, and Yoon-bok notes that he’s crying. Furious, he ties her up in a sack and douses the place in gasoline.
Soo-jin and Dr. Jung split up when they reach the orphanage, with the doc taking a secret entrance. Soo-jin allows herself to be bound and desperately offers more money, but he has no intention of any of them leaving alive.
He tells Soo-jin that his first murder was an accident, but seeing the relief through the mom’s tears, he realized he had done her a favor. He says she has no right to call herself a mother when she hasn’t suffered the way those moms did, but Soo-jin contradicts him. She says one mom killed a man for her sake and the other was at her side for thirty years, watching over her: “So I know very well what it takes to be a child’s mother.”
Seol-ak readies the noose again for Yoon-bok, and Soo-jin distracts him with an astute reading of how his mother must have treated him. He attacks her instead, and running up from behind, Dr. Jung knocks him out with a Virgin Mary statuette.
The three of them then flee as the police enter the building. Detective Lee disables Seol-ak with a shot before pursuing Soo-jin, and Seol-ak locks himself into the basement. He relives a childhood memory of his mother leaving him, and face contorted with tears, he cries, “I told you not to leave me alone.” After a long moment, he tosses his lighter into the gasoline.
Flames engulf everything, and in his last voiceover, he promises his mom that if she were to come back to life, he would be quiet and clean, and would never cry. Ja-young receives a final text from him, in which he says he’s sorry. This is sad. But it’s not sad when police finally arrest Ja-young for Yoon-bok’s kidnap.
Dr. Jung is caught at a roadblock… alone. He doesn’t divulge anything about Soo-jin, though he does point out yet again that without Soo-jin’s actions, Yoon-bok would be dead. Aww, I like you so much. Left to work it out himself, Detective Lee narrows Soo-jin’s possible location to a Buddhist temple.
Carrying Yoon-bok on her back, Soo-jin makes her way through woodland towards the same temple to seek shelter for the night. The monk turns her away at first, but she reminds him of a visit she made twenty years ago. Back then, she wanted to become a monk to sever her ties with both mothers, because she wanted to live without a mother at all.
Now recognizing her, he smiles that she became a mother herself and sets them up in a guestroom. Yoon-bok wakes up crying from a nightmare that Soo-jin had died, and Soo-jin holds her. The monk, meanwhile, finds out about Yoon-bok’s kidnap from his phone.
Detective Lee’s partner questions his dogged pursuit of Soo-jin, when she clearly isn’t a risk to Yoon-bok, but Lee replies grimly that he’s worried about them turning up dead in this cold. They make it to the temple by morning, but there’s no sign of Soo-jin. But Detective Lee discovers a still-warm guestroom and realizes the monk gave him the slip. Thanks to him, Soo-jin escapes.
As Ja-young is led out of the police station, protests Seol-ak’s innocence, and yells at the gathered press that Soo-jin—who is the daughter of actress Cha Young-shin—killed him. This woman is really something. Madam Cha sees it on the news and wants to call a press conference to tell the truth about Soo-jin, but then faints.
The detectives catch the monk, but his only companion was another monk. He’s as close-lipped as Dr. Jung and maintains that he hasn’t seen Soo-jin or Yoon-bok. Detective Lee’s superiors want to see results, and threaten to take the case away from him.
Soo-jin’s identity and photo has been released in the press. Mother and daughter board a ferry, Yoon-bok coaching Soo-jin to show a nonchalant expression so as not to raise suspicion. While they look out to sea, they don’t see policemen board behind them, coming ever closer.
This show sure is a killer with its cliffhangers, argh! The tension is still tight as a spring, but I hope it doesn’t lapse next week now that Seol-ak is out of the picture and Soo-jin is about to be caught.
I didn’t expect Seol-ak to go like that, but we only really learned about him this week. I’m pleased with the nuance with which his character was treated, and how what drives him was more complex than the usual “women are filthy evil dirty creatures” which turns up so much in drama killers. It’s not that he’s exaclty relatable, but you can see how he ended up in that place from all the bad starts and wrong turns.
It never excuses his actions, but I think his ultimate arc made him more human and less demon, leaving us with a lot to think about. It’s tempting to look at people like Seol-ak and write them off as irredeemable psychopaths, but in setting up the contrast of Yoon-bok with Seol-ak, I feel like it intends to show us that they’re perhaps two sides of the same coin. They have common origins but opposite fates—the result of a cumulative series of differences in circumstances, choices, and personal outlooks.
It didn’t surprise me, then, that he connected with Yoon-bok, and that with her small voice and old soul, she shook him to his core. For her, the love that she’s received since becoming Yoon-bok—from Soo-jin to Hong-hee, Madam Cha to Dr. Jung—gives her courage, but it also gives her a deep insight into the ways in which Seol-ak has broken and been broken. It’s not novel to discover that Seol-ak has been replaying the beats of his childhood, but there’s a painful poignancy in it when it is such an accurate reflection of real life abuse stories.
I wonder if his only possible resolution was to die, because he never sought to heal. He only sought to recreate the cycle of pain and reckoning—not to absolve himself, but to keep arriving at the same answer: that a mother will only be happy when the child she doesn’t love is dead. It feeds something in him to prey on that combination, where every woman is his mother and every child he kills is himself. Perhaps that’s why his last moments are so sad, and for the sake of the child that he was, you can allow him the closure of ending his pain—both that which he feels and that which he causes—by ending his life.
In a super-twisted way, the relationships between Seol-ak and those women turn out to have been mutually beneficial, though in the end, both Seol-ak and Ja-young only prove how tenacious the bond between child and mother is. For Seol-ak, even though his mother didn’t love him, he loved her with all a child’s desperate abandon. For Ja-young, as much as Yoon-bok is an inconvenience to her, approving her murder comes at a shattering spiritual cost. I’m sure her neediness and fear of abandonment stems from her own childhood issues, but it’s disturbing to realize it’s nevertheless an inevitable choice: Of course she’ll throw her away, just as she’s thrown her away before. Like Seol-ak, she’s frightening because of how true to life her character is.
At first, I speculated on whether her inability to love her daughter was down to post-natal depression, but it must be much more than that, because this woman has a total inability to decenter; her only priority in life is herself. And that’s the root of her failure to evolve from biological motherhood to emotional, where her priorities for ongoing survival and happiness would have shifted from centering on herself to centering on her child. Sacrifice is the absolute distilled essence of motherhood, and Ja-young has none of it, and that’s why nearly every other woman in this show makes more of a mother than she does.
I wanted to talk about how Yi-jin is not actually as callous as she appears; I was going to argue that she made the most sensible choice she could in that situation, and that it took courage to go against her mom. But by her own admission, she was driven by anger and resentment, so I’m not sure in what light that casts her previous opposition to Soo-jin and Yoon-bok’s appearance. Though she’d come off as unfeeling, I felt like she was disadvantaged by not knowing the true state of affairs (unlike the others), but also in having the most sheltered outlook of the three girls. Soo-jin had her painful childhood, but youngest sister Hyun-jin was also able to understand Soo-jin much more, since from being a reporter, she would have seen much harsher things than a genteel upbringing would have allowed. And that’s not a fault on either sister, it’s just that they can only approach their lives with the experiences that they have, which always made Yi-jin appear to be living out a completely different genre from her mother and sisters.
There’s a definite sense that she’s always competed with Soo-jin for her mother’s love, and feels like she didn’t get her due. I can understand that, because it’s clear that as much as Madam Cha cherishes her daughters, she’s always yearning for the one that left the nest. Maybe there’s an added insecurity there for Madam Cha, because unlike with her blood-tied daughters, the bond with Soo-jin must have felt more tenuous to her. She must always have been afraid that she would leave forever because there was nothing to bring her back. I can see how hard it would have been for her to read someone like Soo-jin, who doesn’t volunteer her emotions.
In that sense, Yoon-bok’s arrival in Soo-jin’s life has not only woken up a protective maternal instinct, but also has given her more understanding for both her mothers. Combined with the shock of Madam Cha’s terminal condition, there’s also the beginnings of a new filial instinct to cherish both women, and I hope we’ll get a chance to see those relationships grow before we say goodbye to this show.
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