Iron Man: Episode 2
I know this may sound surprising, but just hear me out: Maybe Iron Man isn’t actually batshit insane. Maybe it’s surprisingly funny. Maybe I even liked it?
But the drama did commit a cardinal sin in starting with a ridiculous (and worse, impenetrable) premiere episode when it really should’ve just kicked off with Episode 2, which clarified a lot of Episode 1’s scattered plot elements and steered the story along in a direction that’s much more clearly defined. That’s why I’m writing this Episode 2 recap, because even though HeadsNo2 did an admirable job trying to make sense of the disjointed premiere, that episode ultimately felt like an incomplete introduction. (Sorry, Heads!)
I will fully allow that Iron Man may not be your cup of tea anyway, but I’ll suggest that Episode 2 is a necessary piece of the setup, to determine what the show is even going for. As for me, I found myself very surprised at how laugh-out-loud funny the show was, once I could make sense of who was who and why. (And, as our hapless Secretary Go would hasten to include, also when, where, how, and doing what.)
So while I do have reservations that the show could go sideways from here (…although let’s be honest, even from a positive perspective it’s already plenty sideways), I do also respond to its whimsical, comic book-y feel and especially the dry, deadpan humor. We most likely won’t be continuing recaps with the full series, but I’m definitely staying tuned for more of the in-your-face quirk. At least until it goes completely off the rails (…again, I mean). And even then, maybe the trainwreck version will still be worth a rubberneck.
SONG OF THE DAY
Sweet Sorrow – “멋진 날” (Fine Day) [ Download ]
EPISODE 2 RECAP
As our heroine, Se-dong, carries the abandoned boy home, she finds our hero, Hong-bin, waiting outside her place. Once again, he’s hit with that supersensory feeling of familiarity—he closes his eyes and registers her scent, waving it closer, balancing on one leg like a graceful, balletic smelling machine. It’s absurd and oddly hilarious.
Se-dong brings the boy (named Chang) inside, tucks him into bed, then starts to head back outside. But Chang grabs her ankle, giving her sad puppy-dog eyes, and she can’t leave him alone. So Se-dong calls out to Hong-bin through her basement-room window while Chang keeps holding onto her ankle. It’s sweet and heart-tugging.
Hong-bin’s annoyed when she tries to send him off with the offer to see him tomorrow instead. He grumbles about looking down through her basement window, while she points out that it’s worse for the person below to look up. Impatient to get to the point, Hong-bin just drops to his hands and knees right there, demanding to know why she stopped by to see him earlier.
When she takes issue with him using banmal, he rattles off his age and university class year to prove how much older he is. Realizing they’ve got the same alma mater, suddenly she shifts to a deferential “Yes, sunbae!” Ha.
He asks again why she came to see him, and Se-dong requests, “Please give me Monstro.” That’s the game she and her five hoobaes have been working on—they didn’t know their owner sold the company to Hong-bin, and now they’re penniless and nearly homeless. If they can get Monstro back, they intend to wrap up its final development, make a mobile version, and launch a messenger app using the game’s characters. She fears that he’ll take Monstro and just churn it out with a minimum of effort.
Just then, she cuts herself off—Hong-bin is doing that eyes-closed smelling thing again. Creeped out, she shuts the window gate (literally ON his head) and hurriedly says goodnight. Then she texts her friend Seung-hwan a warning not to let the boys drink too much, and adds that Global Games’ CEO is a total pervert.
In the morning, Hong-bin bolts out of bed disgusted at the smell of himself and beelines for the bathroom, shedding a trail of clothing in his wake. Can I say, any superpower that keeps a hero shirtless and ab-ready at all times is okay by me.
Se-dong takes a call during breakfast, and although she says nothing telling, Chang reads into her unease and starts cleaning the floor with a rag. He offers to do all the cleaning and errands: “I won’t even cry that I miss my mom, and I won’t try to follow you when you go anywhere. I’ll stay home quietly. Don’t send me away.”
Se-dong admits that she doesn’t want to send him away, but before she can add on the “but I have to” part of that thought, he lights up and hugs her. She doesn’t have the heart to finish her sentence.
Hong-bin is alerted to graffiti painted onto his property, labeling this “HOME OF A THIEF.” The culprits have been identified as Se-dong’s hoobaes, and Se-dong receives this news from Seung-hwan with dismay—the boys had gotten drunk despite her warnings, tagged that wall, and were caught by police. Frustrated, she exclaims that she has no money, and it’s unlikely that the CEO is going to let them settle this easily anyway.
As she goes off on Seung-hwan for letting this situation get out of hand, little Chang looks more and more worried, so Se-dong calms down and promises not to yell. Chang gets out his wallet and hands over two American dollars: “Take it. You were mad because you don’t have money.” Aw.
She declines the money, so he hands over a lollipop instead, which he calls very special. She gives him a toy in exchange—a sample of the first character she ever designed. Chang hugs her and declares, “I’m gonna marry you. My mommy told me that if I met a good woman after her, I should marry her.” Se-dong tells him he’d better not back out of that promise.
Hong-bin’s groundskeeper alerts him to an oddity on the estate: an unnaturally sliced tree, perfectly cut lengthwise. Secretary Go whispers to the groundskeeper that he should have been alerted first, gulping when Hong-bin declares that he finally understands what’s going on around here. It’s because of stuff like this that he’s having all those disturbing nightmares! Ha, and I thought you were supposed to be smart.
Back in Se-dong’s neighborhood, police officers arrive to take Chang off her hands. He’s crying and inconsolable, and she asks if she can keep custody until his guardian is found. But that doesn’t fall within protocol, so the officer won’t allow it.
At Hong-bin’s mansion, the maids cower in fear while upstairs, Hong-bin lets out his ire on Secretary Go, who has lied about cameras being broken to keep Hong-bin from seeing footage of that tree-slicing. We hear punching and screaming, and then Secretary Go goes falling down the staircase, ass over heels, hitting each step sharply—and then rolling to a stop like a badass ninja cat, nary a scratch on him. He even gives us a conspiratorial smile. And then the second he hears Hong-bin heading down, he resumes his downward roll, faking painful grunts. I love Secretary Go.
Se-dong visits her friends in jail and is horrified to hear that their graffiti stunt would cost a whopping 100 million won (a hundred grand U.S.) to settle. The whole slab of stone would have to be replaced, and as it happens, that type of stone isn’t available in the country. Of course it isn’t.
They boys hang their heads, but practical Se-dong only sighs for a minute before switching into problem-solving mode. She heads out to meet the victim, pick up meds, and bring them food, and the brat pack chimes in with additional snack requests. Good god, she is a saint not to slap them silly on the spot.
Madam Yoon calls Secretary Go to inform him of that woman with the child, and that Hong-bin should recognize the mother’s name, Kim Tae-hee.
Se-dong arrives to see Hong-bin, and Secretary Go gives her the warning to keep Hong-bin from getting too angry. He does a terrible job of explaining why, stammering about chances of rainfall and mood-related weather changes, and finally gives up and shows her in. Haha.
They hang back while Hong-bin finishes a round of his game, which takes a very, very, very long time. When he finally gives her his attention, she starts by offering to clean up the wall perfectly, since she has no way to rustle up 100 million won. She’s hesitant and the offer is hardly convincing, and Hong-bin scoffs.
Then he criticizes her and her “kind”—people who pretend they’re taking the high road and keeping the peace when really, they’re just scared to stand up and fight and run away at the first chance. So instead of fighting him fairly, they snuck onto his property to deface his wall as a lame revenge.
I’d say he’s sized up the boys pretty well, actually. And maybe he’s got her number, too, because he points out that she’s conflating the issue of Monstro with the wall, as though she’s trying to do a bait-and-switch to wriggle free with everything she wants. Hong-bin refuses to budge on his demand.
Se-dong glares at him, her indignation mounting as he just talks on and on. Finally she tells him to shut up for one minute so she can think. He shrugs and sets his monkey clock alarm to one minute. Tick-tock.
Se-dong stands there deep in thought as the seconds wind down. The alarm goes off, the monkey dances—and Se-dong has an idea. She starts with Monstro, saying that she and her boys will finish up the last touches—it’s their creation, they know how to do it, and he couldn’t do it any better. She offers their work without pay, in exchange for the copyright; once the game launches, they’ll repay the wall fee and split the profits with him fifty-fifty.
It’s a ballsy proposal (or maybe just naive), prompting Hong-bin to laugh in her face, then flatly refuse the offer. She pleads with him to think it over, so he agrees—and then thinks for about two seconds and refuses again.
Well, that’s that. Se-dong accepts the answer, then turns to leave. But it’s Hong-bin who stops her, curious to know what she means to do now. She replies that she’ll have to get her head wet (her go-to procedure for thinking of ideas) and figure out a solution.
Just then, his stomach growls. Guessing that he skipped breakfast, she suggests that he try a particular menu to clear his head and settle his temper. Then she leaves, and he just stares after her in confusion, not knowing what to make of her. I love how Secretary Go stops her to ask about that menu, and jots down notes.
Se-dong proceeds to do some shower-time thinking, which seems to have a beneficial effect—that is, until she gets an upsetting call.
Secretary Go beams in satisfaction as he watches Hong-bin eating that lunch menu heartily. His reaction is adorable, as is the sudden dismay that replaces his glee once Hong-bin bites down on something hard. All of a sudden Hong-bin goes from happy luncher to stone-faced boss, and he silently flips his plate. I can’t pinpoint the exact source, but the overall deadpan tone of this show is totally cracking me up.
A call brings Hong-bin to the police station, where he finds a group of beat-up schoolboys sitting with a police officer. They’ve clearly been brawling, and one looks abashed to see Hong-bin, whom he calls hyung.
This is his high schooler brother HONG-JOO (Lee Joo-seung), who says that the other guys wouldn’t believe that his brother is the one who made the game he was playing, and the others ask if Hong-bin is really the CEO of Global Games.
Hong-bin hands over his card and identifies himself as that CEO, then adds, “But I have no little brother.” Aw. Hong-joo looks crushed as his hyung walks out of the station, just as their father arrives. Hong-bin and his father pass by each other without any acknowledgment, and Dad beelines for Hong-joo and slaps him so hard he falls to the ground.
Then Dad starts thumping Hong-joo on the head, berating him for his fixation with those stupid games. Suddenly, his hand gets caught in another’s grip—Hong-bin has returned.
At first I’m relieved to have him standing up to their domineering father, but there’s something not quite right with Hong-bin’s mood. Trembling in rage, he says very intensely, “People are watching. His friends are all watching! You’re in front of his friends!”
Secretary Go looks alarmed as the weather darkens outside. Hong-bin continues to challenge his father, asking if Dad finds everybody—Mom, Hong-bin, Hong-joo—so pathetic, and whether Dad is satisfied with anybody at all.
Dad derides one son for making dumb games, and the other son for being so caught up in those games. As his fury mounts, knives start poking out from Hong-bin’s back, and we can see that under his thumb, his father’s hand is bleeding.
Hong-bin doesn’t even register his transformation and growls, “How could you be this way? How much more must you kill? Is it not enough to have killed me? Is that why you’re going to kill him now too?!” It’s cryptic, and I’m intrigued.
But we’ll have to wait to find out what he means, because Secretary Go intervenes, and I LOVE that his method of interruption is to give Hong-bin a literal kick in the pants. Thwump. Hong-bin collapses.
Secretary Go takes him to the boxing gym and waits. And waits. And waits.
Back to Se-dong, who has taken her injured hoobae to the hospital. After skipping his medication and spending his jail time in uncomfortable positions, his back has become twisted enough that he requires surgery. Again, she tells him not to be so down and assures him that she’ll take care of the surgery bill.
Next, she spends the evening working at her uncle’s restaurant, serving and clearing tables. Her aunt complains the whole time, huffing that she’s only doing it to then ask for money (inasmuch as they haven’t repaid the loan her father gave them before he died). She just keeps working with a smile on her face.
But at the end of the night, she’s finally at her limit. She informs them that she’s not here because of her father’s money—it’s that she has nobody to lean on but her aunt and uncle. Her father’s dying wishes were for her to never ask for that debt, so she wants to set them straight on that.
Se-dong leaves in tears, but it’s raining and maybe what she said was true about water on her head being good for thinking, because the more it rains, the better she looks. She runs to the jail, and finally tells her hoobaes what I’ve been dying for her to say: that they’re on their own.
“You did it, so you take responsibility,” she says. She’ll look into public legal services to help them, but if they can’t fix it, “Then just go to prison. I’ll visit you often.” This time, when they call her back to whine for snacks, she continues walking. I’m doing a little cheer-dance in my chair.
Next, she texts a friend to cash in her insurance policy. Seeing Chang’s lollipop left in her room, she smiles—just one more thing to take care of.
Secretary Go wakes up in the morning alone at the boxing gym. Ruh-roh. You can’t leave the clueless Mr. Porcupine to roam around on his own!
Thankfully, he’s relieved to hear the shower running. But there’s another issue at hand: Madam Yoon calls to inform him that she received another call. She doesn’t like the idea of these calls continuing, so she urges Secretary Go to bring up the topic with Hong-bin—gently, so as not to upset him, “as though it’s almost funny.”
Secretary Go hurries out to replace Hong-bin’s slashed-up clothing, and when Hong-bin emerges from the shower, he just stands there in the studio with his arms out like Jesus. It’s hysterical. Secretary Go clothes our Porcupine Jesus, and then it’s time to return home. Hong-bin can’t remember anything, of course, so Secretary Go explains that he got so worked up at the police station that he collapsed, and he brought him to the gym because he hated the smell of the hospital.
Hong-bin exclaims, “What if I died?!” Secretary Go: “I would follow you in death.” Lol. It makes no sense, but on the upside, it calms the budding outburst. Hong-bin finds his constant collapses problematic, but I’m amused at how he seems to accept his staff’s unperturbed reactions—it’s disturbing, but not so disturbing that he’ll actually insist on going to a doctor.
On the drive home, Secretary Go broaches the “light, almost funny” topic and explains how a very funny call came yesterday regarding a child left at the airport whom they should go find. But of course, in trying to downplay its alarm factor, now this story has no relevance to Hong-bin at all and he tells Secretary Go not to bother telling a story if he can’t follow the principles of the 5 W’s (and H): who, what, when, where, why, and how.
They stop by Hong-joo’s school that morning to catch him before he heads in, but Little Bro either doesn’t see or ignores his brother, who raises a hand in a sad little wave.
Endearingly dim Secretary Go mulls over those principles at home (misspelling them; think something like princeypulls), and thus begins my favorite sequence of the episode, which plays with captions and chyrons in an amusingly dry way. You kinda have to watch it unfold, but to describe it in a nutshell, Secretary Go’s laboriously slow thought process is reflected graphically in the words that are typed onscreen (and then crossed out and revised).
Armed with the six principles, Secretary Go again presents his “almost funny” story to Hong-bin, barking the story like a drill sergeant: “Who? A woman. When? Yesterday afternoon. Where? At the airport. What? A child. How? Suddenly. Did what? Abandoned it?” (The last is a question, he explains, because he’s not sure whether the account is true.)
And yet, this story is still irrelevant to Hong-bin’s interests. Secretary Go is dismissed.
He leaves the room trying to puzzle out this conundrum. Then he recalls an important piece of information that Madam Yoon mentioned: The woman’s name was Kim Tae-hee. Aha!
Secretary Go revises his six-principled list and returns to give the almost-funny story another telling, and this time he starts off with the relevant name. Kim Tae-hee, yesterday at the airport, suddenly abandoned a child?
And this time, the music turns dire and Hong-bin suddenly appears directly behind Secretary Go wearing a thunderous expression on his face. Meep.
He heads directly to the police to examine airport security footage, though he doesn’t recognize the boy or the woman who accompanied him. He only wants to know about Kim Tae-hee, but there’s no information about her anywhere. Apparently that other woman has cared for the boy for a while, having been Tae-hee’s neighbor.
The officer asks what Hong-bin’s relationship to Tae-hee was. It flashes him back to a happy memory, wherein Hong-bin lies next to Tae-hee (Han Eun-jung) on the grass, both of them perfectly happy and in love.
Hong-bin asks where the boy is now. The officer answers that he was so tearful and distraught that they returned him to someone’s keeping—and we see that Chang is now back safely with Se-dong.
She tells him he saved her, because she had cashed in her insurance to pay for a friend’s surgery and was left utterly penniless. But she’s receiving compensation to care for Chang, and she calls him her angel.
“I’m not an angel,” he says. “I’m your husband.” Adorable.
They step out to the neighborhood market for provisions, and as he waits outside, he sees a police car driving by. It spooks him and he runs in fear, and when Se-dong emerges, he’s nowhere in sight.
The police car deposits Hong-bin in the neighborhood, and the officer leads him to the house in question. They arrive just as Se-dong runs by shouting Chang’s name, and the search goes on for a while. Still no sign of the boy.
Hong-bin has put together the facts and corners her to take her to task for losing the child—just as they hear a boy’s voice singing a child’s song. “Rain, rain, go away, come again another day…”
It’s Chang, huddled by a wall, blocking out the world with his hands over his ears, almost shouting the song. Hong-bin holds Se-dong back and approaches first, slowly, as a memory floods his brain:
It’s Tae-hee back in that grassy field, telling him that she wants to name their future baby Chang—window, to shine light everywhere. Hong-bin jokes, “Then our second will be Shield?” She giggles, and the sound rings in his ears as he approaches his child, haltingly, full of emotion.
When the promos came out for Iron Man, I had no idea how this show was going to work, or what tone it would strike, or whether I would even understand it, much less like it. And I’m not going to absolve the show of any blame for putting forth a messy introduction that actively hindered comprehension rather than smoothing it along. When you’re world-building and presenting an alternate reality where rules are required, you need to take extra care to initiate the viewer into those rules, otherwise it’s just an anarchy of understanding.
I do feel like Episode 2 is really what the show is about, though, and showcased much more of this offbeat humor that took me by surprise by how much it floats my boat. There are elements of the show that I’m still not sure about, but on the tonal and humor front, I find it a breath of fresh air. In a dramaland that’s so jam-packed with the familiar, finally we have something that’s legitimately different—and okay, different in a bizarre way, but also, different!—and once I settled into the feel of this whimsical fantasy world, I really enjoyed it. It’s definitely very stylized and felt like a quirky comedy film, in the way that Park Chan-wook movies take place in their own universe and are populated by people who are more like aliens than humans known to you or me. But you can appreciate it for its style-driven narration, with a kind of comedy that is sometimes aggressively in-your-face and at other times is so dry as to risk being missed.
In this case I think the elements click together, in a much more cohesive fashion than I thought was achieved in Sword and Flower, this director’s previous drama. I thought that show tried for a similar flair but did not even come close to succeeding—but you know, maybe this style is really meant for comedy and not Romeo-and-Juliet tragedies.
I’ll even give some credit to Shin Se-kyung, whom I have not liked since… ever, really, but whose character I’m warming to here. I still can’t say that she’s an actress I find appealing, but I’m okay with the character of Se-dong in the way she stands up to Hong-bin in a matter-of-fact way, and how she thinks her way out of her own problems. She’s not whiny, she’s not petulant, and she’s not tragically woe-is-me. These are great strides for Shin Se-kyung.
Lee Dong-wook is once again prone to overacting the big dramatic moments, which is a shame since I find him hilariously dry when he’s doing the understated part of the character. I love his silent reaction shots, and he’s got this weird out-of-this-world facet to the character that I enjoy—it’s just that his bulging eyes and shouty scenes can be a bit much. To play apologist just for a second, however, I might be willing to allow that this kind of Hulkian response feels apropos to the comic book-y rage machine he becomes, in which case the exaggerated facial expressions aren’t as out of place here as they are in his other dramas.
But let’s be honest: We’re watching this for Han Jung-soo, right? Is Secretary Go not the best character to grace dramaland in months, perhaps even years? He’s simultaneously uber-proficient and bumbling, fast on the uptake and hilariously slow to compute, strong but hapless, and just all-around adorable. I luff him. He’s the best sidekick ever, and a perfect foil for Hong-bin’s explosive qualities.
I’m still not quite sure where we’re going with this whole knives-in-the-back thing, and that’s a pretty big thing to leave us in the dark about. But I no longer feel like it’s a black hole of crazy-stupid; I feel like they’re working it in to the greater story, and for now it’s silly enough that I can enjoy it even when it comes off a little cheesy. Plus, the fact that the hero doesn’t even know that he’s turning into an alter ego is intriguing, and I’m amazed that his staff thinks they can get away with keeping him in the dark about his own identity. (Not that I blame the staff; I’m sure it’s Dear Daddy pulling the strings.) It seems absurd to even try, and yet they’ve managed thus far.
Overall it’s still early for me to get a sense of what I think of the plot; if we’re talking comic books, we’re barely into the origin story so there’s a lot more ground for this story to cover. So it’s really the tone that grabs me and ensures that I’ll be coming back, because I’m in the mood for a different kind of drama, and one that keeps me guessing the whole way through rather than feeling that I could predict the next five steps ahead of time. The comedy’s a little absurdist, but I don’t actually think it’s too terribly inaccessible; it’s just not quite the drama we’ve gotten accustomed to seeing, which needn’t be a bad thing, really.
- Iron Man: Episode 1
- Iron Man’s hero and his literal knives of pain
- Han Jung-soo cast as Iron Man’s loyal bodyguard
- Lee Dong-wook becomes Iron Man
- Park Shin-yang offered lead in Iron Man
- Ji Sung decides not to become Iron Man
- New KBS drama Iron Man casts Ji Sung, Shin Se-kyung
- New drama Iron Man to follow Joseon Gunman on KBS this fall