When the Camellia Blooms: Episodes 11-12
With the arrival of an unwelcome reminder of her past, our heroine is forced to face unpleasant childhood memories and how they have shaped her. It’s getting harder and harder for her to repress her emotions and cut herself off from those around her, especially with our resident puppy in human form refusing to leave her side. It looks like our timid heroine might finally be coming into her own.
EPISODE 11: “1986.08.29 Born to Be a Hippo”
Yong-shik spots someone lurking in an alley near Dong-baek’s place and gives chase. He manages to catch up to them, yanking them around by the wrist to stand face-to-face.
The next morning, Dong-baek turns off the news during a report of an attack on a man in his 30s (dressed similarly to Yong-shik) the previous night. When she tells Pil-gu to stop eating at Deok-soon’s restaurant, he asks if she’s no longer on their side. Dong-baek replies it’s always been just the two of them.
Meanwhile, Deok-soon can’t get through to Yong-shik, who didn’t come home the previous night. She heads to the Camellia but feels awkward once she gets there. Just as she’s about to leave, she runs into Dong-baek and Pil-gu.
Hyang-mi gets a threatening text from a man saying he’ll come after her for taking his money. Nearby at the mudflat festival, Kyu-tae gets the governor to take a picture with him (by throwing a fit). To Kyu-tae’s horror, Hyang-mi runs up yelling, “Oppa!”and coos how great it is to see him out, acting the girlfriend.
At the station, the officers are surprised to find Yong-shik asleep on the couch. Apparently, he crashed there after bringing in the lurker the previous night. We’ll later learn her name is JO JUNG-SOOK (Lee Jung-eun). Chief Byun immediately assumes Yong-shik drunkenly kidnapped the person in question and brought them to the station. HA.
The cops all think she looks familiar, but she isn’t talking. Since her fingerprints have even been worn off, the only clue to her identity is her bracelet (common for dementia patients) with her name and a phone number engraved on it. Yong-shik’s cell died, but when they charge it, they realize the number is for the Camellia.
Back at the bar, Dong-baek and Deok-soon have a heart-to-heart. Deok-soon feels bad for rejecting Dong-baek as a lady suitor for her son, but Dong-baek, as usual, is understanding. She wishes she had a protective mother like Deok-soon. Their conversation is interrupted by a call from Chief Byun about the woman at the station.
Flashback to 27 years ago when Dong-baek was seven, and her mom abandoned her. She told her to say her name was Dong-baek and that she didn’t know her mom’s name if asked. Present day at the station, Dong-baek continues to follow her mom’s instructions, saying she doesn’t recognize the woman.
As she goes to leave, her mom smiles innocently and wets herself. Dong-baek can’t just leave and admits that Jung-sook is her mother. Yong-shik says they’ll try to get in touch with her guardian. Dong-baek is brimming with anger, even ripping the drink her mom has been steadily drinking from her hand, saying it makes her sick.
Hyang-mi needs a place to stay, so she coerces Kyu-tae into paying for a motel room by reminding him the governor will be around for a few more days. He agrees to pay for her to stay a few nights. As Kyu-tae leaves the motel, she pays close attention to the CCTV camera above.
Dong-baek sits with her mom at the bus station, wondering how she could look so good after abandoning her. She says despite being bullied her whole life for being an orphan, she tried to understand her mom. But after becoming a mother herself, she can’t forgive her.
When Dong-baek tells her mom to leave and never contact her again, her mom calls out to her, speaking for the first time. She smiles and says Dong-baek looks pretty. Her cheeks are rosy like a woman who’s loved.
At the bar, Hyang-mi tells a worried Yong-shik that Dong-baek has been working like crazy since she got back. Yong-shik smells smoke, so they rush to the kitchen where Dong-baek has absentmindedly left the stove on. Looking spaced out as Yong-shik fusses over her, she says she got her revenge by abandoning her mom today.
Jung-sook is still sitting at the bus station. Frustrated by her silence, the staff tell her the last bus already left. When Dong-baek shows up and yells at her mom for not talking, Jung-sook smiles to see her. Dong-baek takes her home, thinking that now there’s something else for the neighborhood ajummas to gossip about.
At home, Ja-young tries to sneak a peek at her husband’s phone, but he intercepts her. He runs off to his room, making sure Ja-young doesn’t see the photo Hyang-mi sent of the two of them in the motel lobby. Ja-young muses, “Should I just kill them all?”
Kyu-tae meets up with Hyang-mi to ask about the picture. She says it’s not a threat, but she knows he likes to donate after taking photos, so why not think of this as a donation opportunity? It would help her get to Copenhagen.
Chief Byun and Yong-shik worry since the Camellia has been closed lately—a rare thing, since it wasn’t even closed after the Joker incident. We cut to Dong-baek eating with Pil-gu and her mom, who doesn’t seem to know what year it is and is stuck in the past (although Dong-baek doesn’t fully believe her). Dong-baek is miffed to see Jung-sook doting on Pil-gu when she never did that with her.
As Pil-gu and his friend walk to school, Yong-shik comes up, yelling “Pil-gu!” and lifts him in the air. Pil-gu is elated but then stands dumbfounded after being put down, making Yong-shik worry he lost more points. But Pil-gu gets a huge smile and asks Yong-shik to do it again. Aww.
At home, Dong-baek’s mom busies herself doing household chores. She turns to Dong-baek, referring to her as her boss, and tells her she’s getting off work now. She does this day after day, which leads Dong-baek to assume her mom worked as a maid after abandoning her.
Jong-ryeol goes to the Ongsan real estate office to inquire about buying Dong-baek’s building, but it’s not for sale. However, since Dong-baek is being kicked out, the space is for lease. Concerned after hearing the Camellia has been closed for five days, he uses the excuse of needing to look around the place to get the realtors to call Dong-baek.
When she gets off the phone, Dong-baek looks dejectedly at her calendar, noting that “that day” is coming up. Her mom calls her over and pulls out her secret stash of cash (her “pay” from Dong-baek). She gives it all to Dong-baek, telling her to buy a house or a car with it.
Brace yourself for the ajummas. Chan-sook says Deok-soon should be careful Yong-shik doesn’t get stuck taking care of Dong-baek’s mom. Jae-young pities Dong-baek’s misfortunes, but Deok-soon says life can’t win against Dong-baek—she always finds a way.
Yong-shik is studying up on psychopaths in order to catch the Joker. Chief Byun tells him to stop trying to understand those difficult texts and just go to the Camellia. It’s open again.
At the Camellia, where Dong-baek has decided to hire Jung-sook, Hyang-mi laments Dong-baek’s tough life. Dong-baek claims her life has been like “cotton candy” lately, but her mom showing up brought her back to reality.
Yong-shik’s attentions did move her, but it’s all over now. Yong-shik is “too cute” to let him get involved in her messed up life.
Right on cue, Yong-shik bursts in, carrying tons of supplies (like adult diapers) and throws a full-body tantrum about how much he missed Dong-baek. After Hyang-mi and Jung-sook leave, Dong-baek says she hates that Yong-shik sees her at her worst, but he’s unconcerned. Even if she dislikes him, he can’t leave her in a minefield alone.
As Yong-shik leaves, Dong-baek says if she dates, it’ll be with someone who doesn’t know her past. It can’t be Yong-shik, who knows too much and will always see her as pitiful. She asks him not to come back. Looking like a kicked puppy, Yong-shik says he gets it, so she can stop hurting him. Dong-baek thinks, “The curse of the 29th sent Yong-shik away, too.”
Dong-baek asks her mom if she’ll make her seaweed soup for her birthday tomorrow (August 29th), although she remembers her real birthday is sometime in winter. In order to register her, the people at the orphanage picked the day she arrived as her birthday. Well, that’s upsetting.
Her mom looks surprisingly lucid and says she’ll be sure to do something for Dong-baek before she leaves. “Sure. Do whatever you can for me. I need to receive something from you.” Her mom fights back tears.
Hyang-mi goes shopping on Kyu-tae’s dime. She tells him he should be grateful, since he’s getting off easier than if his divorce attorney wife found out. He thinks, “I got caught by the worst,” but Hyang-mi says he brought this on himself. Good guys wouldn’t fall for her.
This ordeal sends Kyu-tae to a psychiatrist for sleep medication. The doctor says it could make him violent or impulsive, and he shouldn’t drink while on it. Kyu-tae muses to himself that he should do away with the root of the problem.
Yong-shik excitedly greets Jung-sook and Hyang-mi at the market. He’s shocked to learn today is Dong-baek’s birthday, albeit her “fake” one. Jung-sook seems less excited and blatantly tells a shocked Yong-shik and Hyang-mi that this is merely the day Dong-baek was abandoned.
Kyu-tae stops by the Camellia to see Dong-baek, and he’s surprised to learn that his wife told her to move out when the lease expires. Dong-baek had expected him to let her stay… “You had expectations of me?” He gets overly excited at that and frustratedly says she should have treated him better so this wouldn’t have happened. *Sigh*
Kyu-tae downs four bottles of soju (uh-oh) before whining that his wife looks down on him, Dong-baek never gives him peanuts and now he’s even being extorted for 100 million won. (Just gets you right there, doesn’t it?) Dong-baek tells him to go home, but he grabs her wrist and continues his pity party. Dong-baek threatens to put up a “No Kyu-tae Zone” sign out front if he doesn’t let go.
She reminds him of the Clinton scandal, saying he shouldn’t keep hitting on her if he wants to go into politics. Heh. He gets more belligerent and starts insulting her. She remembers Yong-shik’s words not to look weak and starts to yell back but can’t go through with it.
Right as Kyu-tae grabs her again, an angry Yong-shik shows up. He throws Kyu-tae’s insult back at him before delivering a running kick. They full-on brawl, leaving the bar a mess.
Dong-baek watches in exasperation as they childishly insult each other.
In full view of all the neighbors, Chief Byun comes and takes Yong-shik in, making him sit in the back of the police car. Pfft. Like clockwork, the ajummas blame Dong-baek again.
As Dong-baek, her mom and Hyang-mi clean up the bar, Hyang-mi tries to convince Dong-baek to go help Yong-shik. But Dong-baek is sick of it all. Even after Hyang-mi checks in with a cop and finds out Yong-shik won’t talk, Dong-baek refuses to get involved.
At the station, Kyu-tae is ranting to his lawyer (wife) about Yong-shik attacking the “future governor.” Chief Byun tries to get the story out of Yong-shik, but he won’t talk; he doesn’t want to cause more trouble for Dong-baek, even if that means more trouble for him. Deok-soon shows up, and Yong-shik can’t meet her eyes.
Kyu-tae continues his tirade and even yells at his wife when she tells him to be quiet. “Are you on drugs or something?” Ja-young asks. Yong-shik looks physically pained when Kyu-tae insists he’s innocent, but Yong-shik continues to assert he beat Kyu-tae up just because.
In the Camellia’s kitchen, Dong-baek finds an arrow Yong-shik taped on the floor, leading out back. She follows the trail and…holy crap. Everything is covered in lights and flowers. He even created a pathway with camellia petals and candles leading to a birthday cake and wine. Next to the cake are adorkable pictures of Yong-shik and a card:
If you don’t know your birthday, every day can be your birthday. I’ll make each day worth celebrating. You’ve been doing great for the past 34 years.
As Dong-baek cries, Jung-sook walks up, saying there were camellias everywhere the day Dong-baek was born. Dong-baek takes out her frustration on her mom, asking why she abandoned her and made her feel worthless her whole life. She sobs that Yong-shik makes her feel like she’s worth something, which makes her not want to hold back her anger.
Dong-baek marches back into the bar and grabs a ledger, telling Hyang-mi to close up for the night. She literally lets her hair down and strides toward the station. Hyang-mi tells Jung-sook that Dong-baek was born to be a hippo, “and when the hippopotamus gets angry, it’ll take over Ongsan.”
Yong-shik jumps up in surprise when Dong-baek enters the station. Chief Byun rushes to her, but she says she’s not there as a witness—she’s there to press charges. Whaaat?! She whips out her ledger and starts reciting Kyu-tae’s numerous harassments of her from 2016 forward. To top it all off, he didn’t pay for his peanuts. Hah! Yong-shik’s lip quivers with pride.
Chief Byun wonders if that ledger contains infractions by all the neighbors. “There’s going to be a bloodbath.” Oh, this is fun. She lists the charges she’s pressing against Kyu-tae: sexual harassment, verbal abuse and refusing to pay.
Ja-young looks at Dong-baek anew, realizing there was no affair. Deok-soon watches helplessly as Dong-baek defends Yong-shik: “They’re going to end up liking each other.” Dong-baek frustratedly asks Yong-shik why he’s in the corner like that when he didn’t do anything wrong. Lips trembling as he holds back tears, he asks if she’s defending him. “Are you crying?!” she asks through tears. Pfft. This is a mess.
Lest things get too happy, we jump forward to the crime scene. A cop brings the victim’s wallet to Chief Byun to identify the body. Yong-shik sits on the ground muttering in disbelief, refusing to believe the person is dead.
Since we still have no concrete evidence that the victim is Dong-baek, I can’t help but feel it’s a red herring. Frankly, I’m not a fan of the fake-out, but I also don’t want it to be Dong-baek, so I’m conflicted. Either way, I do hope it’s not dragged on too long. I find it frustrating that we keep being shown essentially the same scene without much new information.
This episode really centered around Dong-baek and her mother. I didn’t expect her to show up like that – or at least not so soon – but I think it’s the perfect timing for Dong-baek. She’s at her breaking point with all the injustices heaped upon her, and she needed something that would make her address her past. She goes through life repressing her emotions, hoping to fade into the background and not be a target. But in some ways, that makes her seem like a doormat and, therefore, more of a target. With her mom, her anger and loss are too strong; she can’t pretend it’s all okay and be forgiving. This crack in her sweet veneer gives her an edge, making her feel more complicated and real.
Of course, Yong-shik has had a hand in Dong-baek learning to be truer to herself. I’m glad she was able to admit the effect he’s been having on her, particularly in making her feel more valuable. It just goes to show how important it can be to have even one person who values you, despite seeing you at your worst. Just having Yong-shik tell her she’s important and strong helped her believe she might be worth it. Yong-shik started to win me over in episode 8 (or 4, if you’re watching on Netflix) when he told her she was brave and had accomplished amazing things so far. It’s great to see a male lead who’s respectful, supportive and likes a woman without feeling entitled to her love.
Although I’m frustrated with Deok-soon for opposing their relationship just because Dong-baek is a single mom, I’m glad she didn’t entirely drop her as a friend. Even though it’s culturally stigmatized, I had hoped she’d be able to see beyond that since she knows Dong-baek so well. At least she still cares about Dong-baek and treats her well, and I have a feeling she’ll come around to the idea of her being with Yong-shik. Deok-soon loves Dong-baek and Pil-gu both, and she already feels bad about interfering. Since it seemed like she realized that she underestimated the feelings between the not-quite-couple, and there’s no stopping this train, I think she’ll cave.
That showdown at the police station seemed to catch everyone off guard. How awesome was it to see Dong-baek asserting herself? I’m so glad Dong-baek finally took Kyu-tae to task for his disrespect and harassment. She’s put up with that for way too long. Kyu-tae is like a bad kid that whines until he gets his way, and unless there are tangible consequences, he’s not going to stop. Between this and the situation with Hyang-mi, I hope he learns something.
I knew Hyang-mi could be reckless and selfish, but she’s more calculated than I had originally assumed. She’s problematic, and it’s messed up how manipulative she’s being, but I do appreciate how up-front she is about it. She doesn’t pretend to be nice or someone other than who she is. And it seems like she targeted Kyu-tae because she feels like he deserves it. Although I don’t condone extortion, I do find him to be an insufferable misogynist, so I’m not exactly sad to see him pay for it.
- Premiere Watch: Flower Crew: Joseon Marriage Agency, When the Camellia Blooms, Secret Boutique, Running Investigators, Vagabond, Pegasus Market
- Kang Haneul becomes shy for Gong Hyo-jin in new promo for When Camellia Blooms
- Character stills for When Camellia Blooms with Gong Hyo-jin, Kang Haneul
- Lee Sang-yi joins the cast of When Camellia Blooms
- Kang Haneul is back and signed up for post-military comeback drama
- Gong Hyo-jin considers becoming single mom for KBS rom-com thriller