A Beautiful World: Episode 2
People seem to forget the power of words and how they can hurt or heal others. Empty expressions of sympathy, callous remarks in the name of gossip, and even the absence of words can leave irrevocable scars and create long-lasting trauma. As the Korean saying goes, “A thoughtlessly thrown stone kills the frog.”
EPISODE 2 RECAP: Stepping on Shadows
A woman in high heels walks alone when a student suddenly drops from the sky. She approaches the boy and then screams at the sight of Joon-suk laying on the ground with blood pooling around his head. Eun-joo jolts awake from her nightmare; the image still rattling her.
In-ha chases after Detective Park and mentions the broken surveillance cameras during the night of Sun-ho’s accident. Coupled with his missing phone, she finds these series of oddities too unusual to be coincidental, but the detective berates her for suggesting fabrication and letting her imagination run amok.
When Detective Park says that he “understands,” In-ha shouts in frustration, asking him what he could possibly understand when they, the family, don’t understand anything at all. If the police won’t do their job, In-ha promises that she’ll solve the case herself, and storms away.
Still overwrought from the confrontation, In-ha overhears two neighbors gossiping about her family. They comment on how fortunate it is for their apartment complex that Sun-ho jumped from the school rather than at home, but before In-ha can step in to fight, Moo-jin grabs her hand. Together, they walk past the women and stand silently for the elevators.
In-ha organizes the box of Sun-ho’s belongings and maintains a mundane conversation with Moo-jin. At the sight of Sun-ho’s shoes, a wave of emotions hits her again, and she weeps. Moo-jin can only watch, blinking away his own tears, as In-ha holds onto the shoes for dear life.
Eun-joo frantically digs through the pockets of her coat and takes out a school uniform button. She flushes it down the toilet and washes her hands vigorously, so engrossed that she misses Jin-pyo’s arrival. His sudden appearance startles her, and he notes her odd behavior as well as the button still inside the toilet.
In-ha notices a missing button on Sun-ho’s uniform, but before she can think on it further, Moo-jin tells her that he can access Sun-ho’s sent call log since the cellphone contract is under his name. He begins tidying up Sun-ho’s room, but In-ha stops him, remembering Sun-ho’s promise to clean up himself. The memory triggers another, and In-ha recalls Sun-ho putting a notebook into his bag. She searches through his items and realizes the notebook is gone.
As Eun-joo helps Jin-pyo get ready, he tells her that Sun-ho’s case was closed as a suicide attempt due to pressures of academic performance, and he orders her to stay away from the family since misfortune is contagious. He throws out a nonchalant comment about Eun-joo feeling uncomfortable, which could be interpreted in different ways, and watches her reaction. Though his words express concern, his stone-cold face says otherwise.
In-ha shares her discovery with Moo-jin and reasons that the missing notebook must be Sun-ho’s diary. Their conversation is cut short when Soo-ho’s teacher calls them to the school because of the fight Soo-ho had with another student. The other mother is already there, and she rebukes Soo-ho for not apologizing to her daughter.
Moo-jin immediately apologizes for Soo-ho’s behavior and pressures her to do the same. When Soo-ho refuses, In-ha suggests talking privately with Soo-ho to hear her story, but the other mother defiantly asks if violence can be justified. Having heard enough, Soo-ho finally speaks, “You apologize first.”
Soo-ho tells the other mother that her dad never cheated and her mom isn’t a psycho. She wants the other mother to apologize for spreading lies about her brother’s accident, but the other mother ignores the accusations and tells Soo-ho that girls shouldn’t fight. In-ha asks if that means boys can, and realizes that there’s nothing more to discuss.
The other mother threatens to report this incident to the school violence committee, but In-ha points out the culpability of adults in this situation. As the argument escalates, the girls are escorted out of the room, leaving the two mothers inside to talk.
In-ha asks the other mother if it’s fun watching another family’s misfortune, but the other mother scoffs at her question. As the other mother shamelessly acts like the victim, In-ha explains how her malicious and thoughtless comments hurt her daughter. Her words made Soo-ho distrust adults and believe there are more bad than good people in the world. While the other student’s physical scars will eventually heal, the scars on Soo-ho’s heart won’t disappear as easily.
Once In-ha steps out, Soo-ho’s teacher apologizes to In-ha for her negligence, but she assures Teacher Ham that it isn’t her fault. In-ha approaches the other student who can’t look her in the eye, and she apologizes for Soo-ho’s action. The other student finally looks up ,and with tears streaming down her face, she apologizes, too. In-ha tenderly hugs the student and apologizes on behalf of the adults who have wronged them. The other mother looks at them in shock and sheepishly turns away.
Moo-jin takes Soo-ho outside to explain how fighting violence with violence only hurts people, but Soo-ho asks him why he’s always apologizing. He says that sometimes losing is winning, but Soo-ho disagrees: “Losing is just losing. That’s why brother lost.” Just like Moo-jin, Sun-ho believed in keeping things positive, but Soo-ho disapproves of their outlook and vows to get revenge.
Her words send Moo-jin down memory lane, and he remembers another man bumping into him while jogging with Sun-ho. Moo-jin apologized first, and the other man immediately blamed him for the accident. Though Sun-ho argued that the man won’t realize his wrongdoing if Dad apologizes first, Moo-jin confidently told his son that the man knows what he did.
Back in the present, Moo-jin drops off Soo-ho at the bakery, and Eun-joo greets him on the street. She asks him about Sun-ho’s condition, but he can’t answer, telling her instead that In-ha is at the school.
Teacher Lee guides In-ha to the classroom just as school ends, and she spots Sun-ho’s friends in the hallway. She asks if they could talk with her, and though the others seem unwillingly, Joon-suk steps in and agrees to her request. As they wait outside the classroom, In-ha grabs the contents of Sun-ho’s locker which is plastered with notes from his classmates sending him well wishes.
Moo-jin receives the log of calls Sun-ho sent and then asks the employee if she can track the phone’s last location. She easily finds the information and tells Moo-jin that the last call was made around Seah Middle School– Sun-ho’s school.
Teacher Lee stands guard as In-ha talks with the four boys. They all evade her questions, so In-ha calls out Joon-suk, specifically, since he was Sun-ho’s best friend. He admits to recently growing distant with Sun-ho, and in a shaking voice, Joon-suk apologizes.
As soon as In-ha steps away to pick up a call from Moo-jin, Joon-suk casually wipes away his tears, and Ki-chan calls him a hypocrite. Meanwhile, Moo-jin tells In-ha the last four digits of the number Sun-ho called the night of the accident, but before she can ask the boys about it, the vice principal barges in to stop her “interrogation.”
Eun-joo waits for In-ha at the bakery and learns from Joon-ha that Sun-ho’s diary is missing. Since she’s the mother of Sun-ho’s best friend, Joon-ha freely airs her complaints about the police and school, even explaining how Soo-ho is trying to log into Sun-ho’s transit pass account to investigate the case herself.
At the school, the vice principal lectures In-ha about bothering the students and argues that the school can’t sacrifice the needs of the majority for one. In-ha leaves the conservation feeling defeated, and outside, she happens upon the security guard who first found Sun-ho.
With the guards help, In-ha goes to the locked rooftop and stands in the spot where Sun-ho supposedly fell off. Just a brief glance over the edge makes her gasp, and In-ha stares at the ground, overcome with emotions. Unable to stand, she collapses to the floor, and her entire body trembles from her sobs.
Soo-ho continues entering password after password into Sun-ho’s account, but all her attempts end in failure. An idea pops into her head, and eureka–she’s in! Soo-ho rushes out of the bakery, and Joon-ha smiles to herself, knowing that Soo-ho found it.
Moo-jin takes his newly acquired information to Detective Park, but the latter dismisses all his speculations of someone being with Sun-ho before the accident. He accuses Moo-jin of interpreting all the evidence through a conspiratorial lens, but Moo-jin throws the criticism back at him, calling Detective Park’s investigation biased. Both sides grow irritated by the other, and Detective Park sends Moo-jin away since he’s busy.
In his car, Moo-jin stares at the call log and thinks to himself that he should have answered his phone that day. Flashing back to the day of Sun-ho’s accident, Moo-jin met with his school’s principal over a fight between two students. His phone rang during the meeting, but Moo-jin ignored it. Afterwards, he noticed the missed calls from Sun-ho, but he got distracted when he saw his problem student and forgot to call back.
While Moo-jin walked alongside his student, Sun-ho stood alone on the streets, holding a bouquet of flowers. While Sun-ho looks around as if he lost his way, present-day Moo-jin narrates:
“If I answered my phone that day. If I didn’t forget and called Sun-ho back. If I did, would I have been able to turn Sun-ho’s steps toward me. Sun-ho, what’s going on? What were you trying to tell Dad? Sun-ho, Dad is here. Tell me. Tell me, Sun-ho. Dad is here.”
Dong-hee walks home when her older brother, Han Dong-soo, calls her name–it’s Moo-jin’s problem student. He’s off to his part-time job, but before he goes, he asks Dong-hee if the attempted suicide student is named Park Sun-ho. When she confirms it, Dong-soo mutters under his breath about Moo-jin being unable to care for his own son, but Dong-hee says that Sun-ho wouldn’t have committed suicide.
Elsewhere, Soo-ho retraces Sun-ho’s steps to a flower shop, and the owner recognizes him. He assumes she’s looking for her runaway brother and speculates that Sun-ho got his heart broken. The owner remembers Sun-ho looking for flowers for a friend, but an hour later, he passed by the flower shop again, still holding the bouquet and looking downtrodden.
Soo-ho exits the flower shop and sees past Sun-ho standing on the sidewalk. She asks him about the flowers he couldn’t deliver, and he smiles at her with a melancholic expression. Soo-ho jokingly berates him for his password, but as the camera pans across, she is left standing alone on the sidewalk.
By the time In-ha arrives at the bakery, Eun-joo is already gone. Joon-ha asks when she’ll tell their mother about Sun-ho, but In-ha thinks that it would just cause her to worry. While Joon-ha attends to a customer, Teacher Lee calls In-ha to let her know that the number belongs to a student named Jung Da-hee. He offers to talk to her parents first and let them know about In-ha’s situation.
Ki-chan’s mother shares the latest gossip about Moo-jin’s infidelity to Young-chul’s mother, but Young-chul’s mother yells at her for spreading rumors. She asks if Ki-chan’s mother knows Sung-jae’s mother, and wants all of them to meet to discuss an important topic.
The day turns to night, and Soo-ho stands by herself in the hospital corridor. She lies to In-ha that she’s almost home, unaware that Moo-jin is standing right next to her. Moo-jin asks if she came to see Sun-ho, but Soo-ho denies it. However, a nurse informs Moo-jin that Soo-ho comes every day and waits outside for an hour.
As Soo-ho leaves, Moo-jin runs up and grabs her hand. She assumes he’s here to bring her back to see Sun-ho, but he just wants to escort her home since there’s still time left until visiting hours. She wonders why he came so early, but Moo-jin guesses his reasons must be the same as hers. Soo-ho finally cracks a smile at Moo-jin’s antics to hold her hand, and she tells him that Sun-ho bought flowers the day of the accident.
The three teachers share drinks after work, each expressing their opinions about the recent incident and their responsibilities as teachers. Teacher Shin says that they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place while Teacher Ham believes they should be actively involved. Teacher Lee seems conflicted, though he ultimately chooses the side of getting involved by answering In-ha’s call.
In-ha wants to meet Da-hee in person, but Teacher Lee tells her that Da-hee’s parents refused contact. Da-hee is actually unable to attend school because of a panic disorder, and her parents believe hearing Sun-ho’s news will only worsen their daughter’s condition. However, Teacher Lee offers to talk to her parents again.
To the surprise of In-ha and Moo-jin, Eun-joo pops up at the hospital to visit Sun-ho, and they allow her to see him alone. As she stands by his bedside, her hand slowly reaches up towards his breathing tube, but Eun-joo suddenly jerks away, as if waking from a trance. She gasps in horror at what she almost did.
Eun-joo exits the ICU in tears, and In-ha thanks her for visiting. Eun-joo waits to the side as the two parents talk with the doctor and overhears the news about Sun-ho’s transfer to the general ward. Though the doctor tells them that it’s still hard to tell if he’ll wake, both parents take the improvement as a good sign while Eun-joo pales at the news.
On her way to pick up Joon-suk, Eun-joo thinks back to In-ha’s favor at the hospital. In-ha asked if she could talk to Jin-pyo about interviewing the students again, and Eun-joo agreed. Back in the present, Eun-joo calls someone (addressing the person as “teacher,” a generic honorific title) and asks if she or he has Sun-ho’s missing phone and diary. Neither of them has the items, though, so Eun-joo tells the person that they’ll never talk again and hangs up.
In-ha watches Soo-ho sleep in the backseat, and wonders why Teacher Lee still hasn’t called her back. Looking out the window, In-ha spots the three mothers standing together, and while she finds it an odd sight, she doesn’t dwell on it for long.
Now that the other mothers know, the students gang up on Young-chul for ratting them out. Joon-suk thinks that they’ll be fine, though, since no mother would report her son. However, he does warn the others, particularly Ki-chan, to shut their mouths about his involvement; otherwise, he’ll release the video.
While everyone else sleeps, In-ha sits in Sun-ho’s room and scrolls through family photos on her phone. The pictures of Sun-ho, alive and well, make her cry, but In-ha holds back her tears and gets ready for bed. She suddenly gets a message from an unknown number but hesitates to delete it.
In the end, In-ha decides to open the message, which contains a video attachment. She plays the clip, and drops her phone in fright. She scoots away from the fallen phone, but her eyes remained glued to the screen. In the video, Sun-ho lays on the ground while other students repeatedly kick him despite his screams at them to stop.
Though the reveal of Sun-ho being the victim of school violence wasn’t surprising, the video of him curled on the ground while his “friends” kicked him was nonetheless shocking and upsetting. The cruelty on display makes my stomach churn because the bullies’ actions are deliberate and calculated. This doesn’t seem to be a spur of the moment event that went too far due to the mere fact that a video exists. The angle of the camera zoomed in on Sun-ho’s face was a choice made by the bullies to capture their victim’s pain, and it’s disturbing to witness the brutality these teenagers are already able to commit. Worse yet, the students’ responses to getting caught shows their lack of remorse for their crime. They describe their actions as a prank and are more worried about the repercussions they may face than the fact that their bullying caused someone to commit suicide. To them, another student’s life is meaningless, and they’re just as willing to turn on one another if it means saving themselves.
While it’s only been two episodes, the show does a marvelous job at creating fleshed out and consistent characters, and as a result, I already feel like I know a lot about them. For the bullies, Ki-chan is the physical one who acts first before he thinks. He says what’s on his mind and is usually the one in front doing things–whether that be calling meetings or threatening Young-chul. Sung-jae is the spectator, fully aware of his involvement but always a step back from the group. Unlike Ki-chan, he doesn’t speak first, nor does he show his thoughts as obviously. Young-chul is the timid one and most likely the bottom of the hierarchy. He constantly lowers his head, and though he seems to be the tallest in the group, he looks up to the others when he speaks. As for Joon-suk, he’s calculative and manipulative. Acting as the unofficial leader, he’s the one that takes charge but avoids responsibility. He knows how to use his appearance and social status to convey a carefully built image, and is fully aware of how his partial truths are interpreted by the adults around him. Even the three teachers come across as realistic humans with their own set of principles, and they barely get screen time. In contrast, Sun-ho feels like an enigma, and I think the air of mystery surrounding his character is deliberate. He seems like the doting son who hides his problems, but unlike the other characters, I can’t quite place him. There are layers to Sun-ho that have yet been revealed, and the more we see him through other people’s memories, the more I question who the real Sun-ho is. The choice to portray Sun-ho this way places the viewers in the family’s shoes as we wonder, just like In-ha, if we know Sun-ho at all.
Two scenes stuck with me this episode. The first was Moo-jin’s memory of Sun-ho and his backstory of that day. Like In-ha last episode, Moo-jin harbors guilt and blames himself for his son’s accident. He wonders, again and again, if he could have stopped this tragedy if he just picked up his phone or even remembered to call Sun-ho. Coupled with Soo-ho’s criticism of his unilateral apologetic approach, Moo-jin feels like he’s the cause of Sun-ho’s accident and probably thinks he unknowingly pushed his son away when he needed him the most. Besides asking Sun-ho what’s wrong, Moo-jin repeats in his narration to his son, “Dad is here.” He doesn’t tell him that he’ll take care of things or solve his problems. He merely wants to let his son know that he’s there for him, and I think this wish he has reveals what is tormenting him the most. It also makes me think back to the previous episode when Moo-jin comforted In-ha who blamed herself, and his words back then could have been meant for him just as they were meant for his wife in that moment.
The most powerful scene this episode for me, though, was the encounter with Soo-ho’s classmate and her infuriating mother. In-ha was an incredible ally to Soo-ho, defending her daughter and telling the other mother that she should be ashamed of herself, but what really stuck out to me was In-ha’s response to the classmate. Without a hint of malice, she approaches the young girl and apologizes first. Not only does she apologize for her daughter’s action, but she also says sorry for the collective failure of the adults around her. Just as the adults hurt Soo-ho and made her distrust people, In-ha recognizes that the classmate is also a product of the same world that hurt her children. Rather than lash out like the other mother, In-ha is kind and empathetic. As a result of In-ha’s sincerity, the classmate responds in kind. Throughout the event, the classmate was illustrated as someone who avoided her mistakes. She refused to apologize to Soo-ho in the bathroom when caught gossiping, and she continued to hide behind her mother during the confrontation to avoid admitting her faults. However, only when she receives In-ha’s apology does she accept responsibility for her actions and apologizes back. It’s a powerful moment depicting the influence of adults and how children act as mirrors. I applaud In-ha for being able to see the situation from the other’s viewpoint–something most characters haven’t been able to do–and even though she’s going through unimaginable pain, she never lets her suffering become an excuse to attack others and bring undue grief.