Angry Mom: Episode 4
With every episode, this show gets darker, more emotionally charged, and harder-hitting. It’s not without its funny moments, but the humor feels more like a necessary interlude between intense scenes, like a chance to take a breath before diving back into the grimness of reality. I’m a bit amazed to realize we’re only two weeks in, because it feels like we’ve been exploring these characters for a lot longer—that speaks to the show’s nuanced and intricate characterizations, as well as its skilled directorial hand guiding us along the way.
SONG OF THE DAY
Eco Bridge – “떠나” (Leave) [ Download ]
EPISODE 4 RECAP
At the bar, Kang-ja reels to recognize the gangster in the room with Bok-dong—he’s the same Dong-chil who blamed her for the death of his kid brother years ago. Thankfully, Dong-chil is too drunk to see her at the door.
Stunned, Kang-ja staggers down the hallway, where she runs into Noah. He’s appalled that his student would be frequenting a bar and starts to scold, but she falls to the ground. He lurches to catch her, calling her name in concern.
Inside the room, Bok-dong hears the name Bang-wool being called and heads out to confront her, barking at Kang-ja for following him here. I’m intrigued that he seems worried for her safety rather than annoyed. Then Dong-chil steps outside and Kang-ja hides her face.
Dong-chil assumes that the teacher and student are having a flirtation and leaves them with a smirk. Kang-ja darts outside, and Noah follows in worry, assuming that her supposed heart condition is acting up. He insists on calling her mother, because there’s no parent who doesn’t worry about their child.
Kang-ja mutters that he’s talking like a parent, and he replies that his students are his children. Noah thinks her a scared high school kid trying to act badass to cover her fear, and says encouragingly that being afraid is nothing to be ashamed of. “What’s important is protecting yourself,” he says. “There’s nothing in the world more precious than yourself.”
At that, Kang-ja says that parents can’t talk like that—their children are more precious than their own lives.
Bok-dong has misgivings about his orders to kill Yi-kyung, and hesitantly suggests that it’s not necessary to go that far. Dong-chil says that the orders come from above, and that their job is just to execute them. All he has to do is make it look like Yi-kyung killed herself.
Dong-chil calls this Bok-dong’s first test in his world (reassuring in a grim way, since it means Bok-dong hasn’t killed before). The appearance of suicide will deflect suspicion, and even if Bok-dong got caught, he’d serve two years at most. Dong-chil will take care of him afterward, so he’s set for life. Some life.
Bok-dong forces down a drink with shaking hands. He wrestles with the dilemma, looking angry and scared at the same time.
Kang-ja fills Gong-joo in on what happened. Gong-joo says that Dong-chil should know that Ah-ran is her daughter, and tries again to broach the topic of what happened seventeen years ago. Gong-joo’s suspicions align with ours—that perhaps Dong-chil raped Kang-ja—but Kang-ja denies that, and deflects a question about the father being (her dead ex-boyfriend) Bum instead.
Flashback. Gong-joo hides out of sight while Dong-chil beats teenage Kang-ja and orders her to stay away from his brother. Bloody and bruised, Kang-ja retorts that Bum’s dream is to become a prosecutor, but he’s already ruled it out—because he can’t go after his own hyung. She tells Dong-chil that he’s the one ruining Bum’s life, not her.
Dong-chil takes off his belt to use as a whip, and Kang-ja pulls out a knife. He taunts her to stab him, grabs her, and starts ripping her clothing off her. Gong-joo hurries out to call the police and runs into Bum and Ah-yeon outside. Bum runs in while Ah-yeon looks terrified—she didn’t believe Dong-chil’s threats, and Gong-joo blames her big mouth for everything. “If something happens to Kang-ja, you’ll die by my hand!” Gong-joo screams at her.
Since Kang-ja isn’t talking, Gong-joo orders her two minions to find out information quietly.
Kang-ja visits the hospital and watches Ah-ran sleeping, thinking of her friend’s warnings. Gong-joo urges her to quit this undercover act, because getting involved with Dong-chil is too dangerous. But that means she’d be giving up her vow to avenge Ah-ran, and that thought tears at her. She thinks, “I’m sorry I couldn’t do better” and bows her head. Ah-ran opens her eyes, not sleeping after all.
Yi-kyung musters up the courage to tell her mother everything, but loses the moment to a phone call. She goes online to the government education website and considers filling out a form there.
In the morning, Chairman Hong is cranky over breakfast (or maybe he’s always cranky?) and snaps at his son over petty things, like holding his chopsticks a certain way. Sang-tae just remains silent and excuses himself, used to this kind of treatment.
Ae-yeon brings in the mail for the chairman, and suggests nervously that he read a letter from the States. Chairman Hong makes her read it to him, and the reason for her fear becomes apparent: It concerns his divorce proceedings, and as anticipated, the chairman blows up mid-letter and throws things at her, cutting her forehead.
Sang-tae doesn’t say anything, but he doesn’t look happy about his father’s latest bout of violence. It’s an ongoing thing, judging from the bruises covering Ae-yeon’s back, and she thinks of Jung-woo’s offer to help. She tries to remain stoic through her daily duties, but the tears keep flowing.
At school, students are allowed a study hall period while Noah conducts individual career counseling sessions with his students. With his trademark eagerness, he quotes poetry and tries to get Yi-kyung to open up to him. She doesn’t say much, and he jots a note to himself to help her make friends. When he asks Bok-dong about his brother being in prison, Bok-dong swears up a storm and Noah notes that he’ll have to teach him nicer language.
Sang-tae, meanwhile, tells Noah plainly that no kids are going to open up about their weaknesses to their teacher. And if he can’t solve their problems, he’s better off not finding out what they are. Noah decides that Sang-tae shows signs of leadership… maybe.
Sang-tae returns to class and tells Kang-ja it’s her turn next. She just rests her head on her desk for a nap and says she’s going to skip gym class ’cause she’s on her period. Instead, she watches from the sidelines, staring fixedly at Bok-dong, thinking of his connection to Dong-chil.
Yi-kyung comes up to Kang-ja just as Jung-woo walks by, and he takes note of their exchange. Kang-ja guesses that Yi-kyung kept silent because she was afraid of whoever is ordering Bok-dong around. Yi-kyung assures her not to worry because that person won’t bother Ah-ran anymore; she’ll make sure to protect her.
Kang-ja presses for an explanation of why Bok-dong would hurt Ah-ran. Yi-kyung decides to confide everything, and Kang-ja leans in to hear the answer—but Jung-woo interrupts, and Ah-ran is so spooked she hurries off immediately. She runs headlong into Noah, who looks at her in concern, and she hesitates. To tell, or not to tell?
Kang-ja whips up a story on the spot to explain her connection to Ah-ran, saying they grew up in the same neighborhood as children, and that she heard about Ah-ran’s condition through friends. She thanks Jung-woo for insisting that school violence was intolerable, and that she felt sorry for snapping at him.
He asks what Yi-kyung told her, intent to know if she spilled anything she shouldn’t have. Kang-ja says that Yi-kyung just wants Ah-ran to return to school, though she’s not sure that’ll happen. She repeats the words she overheard him say, about the school being a protector for the students, and asks if that’s really possible. He replies that it’s his job to make the students believe in it.
Noah picks up on Yi-kyung’s desire to say something and sits her down, prodding her to confide. But his tone is overly light—he says that it’s normal at her age to feel that everything is grave, but that you grow up and realize that it’s all fleeting. She clams up again and says bitterly that the world may be like poetry to him (which he keeps reciting), but to her, it’s hell. She leaves the room upset.
Bok-dong grabs her outside and pulls her aside. She stands up to him today, threatening to fight back if they keep messing with her, informing him that she has Jung-woo’s Achilles’ heel. He says she’s dug her own grave, and then gapes incredulously when she adds that she’s reported it to the education bureau—ah, that’s what she was doing on their website. He yells that she’ll die, then leans in and tells her, in an almost brotherly way, to tell her mother everything and move away.
Chairman Hong departs for the States, and reminds Ae-yeon to keep an eye on Jung-woo while he’s gone. She promises with a smile, then sneers behind his back and calls Jung-woo. But Chairman Hong notices, and takes note of her reaction.
After school, Kang-ja demands a chat with Bok-dong, and this time she drops Dong-chil’s name. That gets him to follow along, and the other students mistakenly assume they’re finally going to fight it out for school supremacy. Noah overhears and demands to know where they’ve gone, but gets not information. So he gives her “mother” (Gong-joo) a call to request that Kang-ja call him as soon as she gets home.
Kang-ja takes Bok-dong to her restaurant, and while she’s cooking he looks around suspiciously. It’s adorable the way he expects something sinister and flinches at the sight of cabbages, and how he recoils when Kang-ja darts out with knife in hand.
She sits him down for a meal and has three questions for him: Why’d he do that to Ah-ran? Is he going to do it again? And why is he working under trash like Dong-chil?
His face twists, and he bites out, “Because I’m trash too.” He warns her to stop messing around, because as trash, he’s capable of anything.
Kang-ja just puts a spoon in his hand and tells him to eat. She sees right through Bok-dong’s tough act, and it makes her hate Dong-chil all the more for what he’s doing to the kid. And for all his protests, Bok-dong sits down and starts to eat.
“Today, for the first time, I had the thought that maybe Go Bok-dong might be a pitiful guy too,” Yi-kyung says to Ah-ran. She points out that they have to obey their elders and do things they don’t want to, or things they don’t understand—maybe that’s just what Bok-dong is doing.
Ah-ran replies that there are things you shouldn’t do regardless of what you’re told. Yi-kyung concedes that she’s right, but says ruefully, “But I did. I followed what he said to do.” We see Yi-kyung being bullied at school as she continues, “When there was nobody on my side, when nobody helped me, he saved me.”
It’s Jung-woo who stops the bullies, and that relationship develops quickly until they’re giggling together in the candlelight. Jung-woo presents Yi-kyung with a birthday cake and present, and she narrates, “If I just listened to him, I thought he would take care of me and protect me forever.”
Ah-ran tells her that she knows that’s not true now, and Yi-kyung nods. She’s learned that being obedient doesn’t ensure anything, and that she’s the only one who can protect herself. She allows a concession for Ah-ran, who’s on her side no matter how much she doesn’t listen.
Yi-kyung hugs her friend and thanks her for sticking with her.
Jung-woo wines and dines members of the educational bureau, and takes a moment to speak privately with Ae-yeon. She asks him frankly what he wants of her, and he says he wants a list of the chairman’s opponents and their Achilles’ heels. He leans in to whisper something in her ear that widens her eyes.
She agrees to whatever he proposed, and asks what he thinks she wants. He reaches up to brush aside her hair, revealing the bandage on her forehead. “I’ll pull you out of hell,” he offers, and kisses her.
The education bureau receives word of an anonymous report, and calls for Jung-woo. Dong-chil goes to retrieve him, and although the kissing couple breaks apart before he gets there, he’s quick to guess what’s going on. He thinks she’s crazy, while she confirms the whispered secret—that Jung-woo is the education minister’s illegitimate son.
The bureau director fills Jung-woo in on the anonymous report of a teacher-student sex scandal at Myeongseong High School. No names were used and he was able to bury it because of its anonymous source, but the director (who doesn’t appear to know that Jung-woo is involved) warns Jung-woo to be careful and ensure that no more rumors leak.
Jung-woo’s father calls him immediately, having received the same tip. The minister warns that he won’t cover anything up or back him up. Jung-woo immediately calls Yi-kyung, and gets antsy when she doesn’t pick up.
After dinner, Bok-dong gruffly tells Kang-ja to get to her point, since she clearly made him dinner to get something out of him. She asks if Dong-chil only gives him food when he wants something from him: “That’s not food, that’s animal feed. That’s what you give a dog.” She tells him to eat people food from now on, instead of dog food.
She asks if he can apologize to Ah-ran. He snaps, “Why would I?” She replies, “I’d like it if you did.” He grumbles, “I’ll think about it.”
As he leaves, Dong-chil calls to check in on his progress. Bok-dong lies that he lost track of Yi-kyung, and Dong-chil screams at him to get her.
Despite assurances that the report was anonymous and lacked evidence, Jung-woo worries about Yi-kyung. Recalling that she saw the hidden chamber in the library, he realizes that she might go off in search of evidence. And if she gets her hands on it, they’re all dead.
Sure enough, Yi-kyung heads to school that night and makes her way to the library.
Bok-dong races to school on the hunch that she might be here and starts scouring the building.
Yi-kyung takes video on her phone as she triggers the latch, and the door slides open… and out steps Jung-woo, smiling menacingly down at her. Eek! Meanwhile, Dong-chil pulls on leather gloves, ready for some action.
At home, Noah writes a letter addressed to Yi-kyung. His voice narrates as Yi-kyung runs scared through the dark library, pursued by Jung-woo: “Yi-kyung-ah, the world isn’t only beautiful things, but it’s not only cruel things either. Just as not all poems are beautiful but can still be moving, I hope that you can find a poem of your own.”
Yi-kyung races up the stairs and out onto the rooftop. Jung-woo follows.
Kang-ja sits near Ah-ran in the hospital and thinks, “I’m sorry, my daughter. I’m sorry for only amounting to this. The world is too big for me to protect you from everything. I’m too small and powerless. The only thing I can do for you is enduring and forgiving and praying…”
Bok-dong looks over the railing in shock.
Kang-ja fills out a form to drop out of school and continues: “…praying that these terrible things won’t happen again, that you’ll forget all the bad things and only remember the good. I’m sorry, my daughter, that your mother couldn’t protect you.”
Blood flows on the pavement.
In the morning, Kang-ja arrives at school with her drop-out letter in hand, which she hides when Noah pops up to ask what she was doing yesterday. He scans her for scans of fighting or injury, puzzled when she’s fine, and wonders if Bok-dong’s the one in bad shape.
He insists on continuing their career consultation, and she retorts that she doesn’t intent to stay in school anyway. They bicker back and forth on their way in, until they stop short in front of the main building—police have cordoned off an area and a stain is being cleaned up off the ground.
Jung-hee bounds up to deliver the news: Yi-kyung committed suicide last night. She even left a letter behind saying that the bullying drove her to it, naming Bok-dong specifically.
Yi-kyung’s mother is in the teachers’ office, wailing out her grief. Kang-ja exchanges only a brief look with Bok-dong before he’s escorted out by police officers.
In the hospital funeral hall, Yi-kyung’s mother receives mourners alone, and schoolmates and teachers trickle in to pay their respects. When it’s Jung-woo’s turn, though, Mom flings his flower offering back at him and accuses him of killing Yi-kyung. But she means it metaphorically, calling it homicide committed by society, holding the school responsible for turning a blind eye while her daughter was being tormented. Mom swears to fight back to ensure that nobody ever suffers like her daughter.
Kang-ja overhears the exchange and goes up to Jung-woo afterward to lend a sympathetic ear. She confides that she doesn’t think Yi-kyung killed herself because of Bok-dong, however, which certainly grabs his interest. She recalls how Yi-kyung had assured her that Bok-dong wouldn’t bother Ah-ran anymore, and can’t understand why she’d then kill herself.
Jung-woo just feigns concern for her well-being and says she shouldn’t think too hard on it.
Noah reads over the letter he’d written Yi-kyung, replaying his last conversation with her when she’d said her life wasn’t beautiful like a poem, but hell. He understands a bit better how she must have felt, and crumples his letter while fighting back tears.
Kang-ja finds him crying quietly to himself and says, “You said your students were your children. Your child has died—and is this all? What kind of teacher are you?” She says it without heat, but tells him to talk to the police, who have the results of the autopsy. He should hear it.
She tries to help him up, but Noah falls at her feet. He cries, “Because of me… because of me…”
Jung-woo also receives the autopsy findings from the cops: Yi-kyung was three months pregnant. Gackkk. He manages his stunned reaction and convinces the officers that telling Yi-kyung’s mother would push her over the edge, and offers to break it to her gently.
Then he gets on the phone and barks at Dong-chil to get Bok-dong right away. Moments later, Ah-ran grabs him and faces him with blazing eyes. She accuses, “You killed her, didn’t you? You killed our Yi-kyung!”
Things just get increasingly grim, don’t they? We knew Yi-kyung was heading toward this end since we saw a glimpse of it in the last episode, but this episode took a few twists and turns in showing us exactly how we ended up at this point. I appreciate the complexities of the plot progression, which are built skillfully to crescendo at just the right emotional points. (This show is an example where I think it’s more difficult to follow the plot while reading the recap because there are so many names and agendas flying around, while these nuances are conveyed more efficiently onscreen with a dark look or an appropriate music cue.)
I like that the show is taking its time exploring the question of culpability, not just in examining the motives of the evildoers but in fleshing out all the people who are involved, even if that’s only indirectly. Yi-kyung’s mother had it right when she charged all of society for being guilty, which includes people who never laid a hand on her daughter but were negligent in their duties to protect her. The mean girls weren’t the ones causing all the trouble, but they contributed to the harassment, and Yi-kyung herself assumes responsibility for her part in keeping quiet.
I presume that the thing actually driving Jung-woo is not just fear over his affair coming to light—not that that wouldn’t be damning enough, given that he has lofty connections and she’s a minor in his care. But he was sending his gangsters after her before he had reason to fear the affair would be exposed, and he made reference to Yi-kyung being overly curious and knowing too much. So I presume that over the course of her affair with Teach, Yi-kyung accidentally became privy to dangerous information, and thus became a loose end needing tying. Given that Chairman Hong seems to be up to no end of nefarious activities (as evidenced by his literal chamber of secrets), I can imagine that whatever she found out, it was highly volatile information. While Yi-kyung was on good terms with Jung-woo, i imagine this wasn’t a major concern—but it’s obvious that she could very well become his weakness.
Bok-dong is fast becoming my favorite character, thanks to both the layered writing and the excellent portrayal by young actor Jisoo (he’s very new and only has a handful of credits, like Han Gong-ju, and made his debut in a theater play. I’m betting he’ll be breaking out in no time). I want so badly for him to be saved, and for Kang-ja to get through to him to be the person she didn’t have when she was in his place. She was perhaps stronger than he was in that position since she, like Ah-ran, doesn’t falter in doing the right thing even when it hurts herself, but he’s not just some weak kid who fell off the straight path. I feel the crux to his character (and to saving him) lies in his relationship to his brother, which feels like a tangled web of self-sacrifice and guilt. Until we’re told what happened to the brothers we can only guess, but something tells me that’s a whole hotbed of conflict right there.
More than anything I want for him to escape Dong-chil’s clutches, because Dong-chil has claimed too many souls. I actually don’t think he raped Kang-ja, which makes him ever so slightly less terrible than when I thought he did, so I’m hoping that turns out to be the case—it would just be too horrible for him to be Ah-ran’s father. (I’m pinning my hopes on the possibility that he found out Kang-ja was pregnant with Bum’s baby and beat her—kicking her in the stomach specifically—in retaliation. Which still makes him Ah-ran’s uncle, but at least it’s not as horrible.
The writing thus far has been the most captivating aspect of Angry Mom for me, but I do think everything is elevated by the moody, eerie, and sometimes stark directing. It’s not just a directing style that makes everything look pretty, either—although pretty is always nice—but one that has a role in shaping narrative. Intercut scenes are well-done to tie in themes across scenes and characters, and moods are established, built, and undercut constantly. You can feel the director editing together shots and sequences to have an emotional effect, and you can see the thoughtfulness behind his choices. For instance, Ae-yeon’s battering is interplayed with the chairman’s opera singing, at once lovely and ghastly, providing a sardonic contrast. And the sequence toward the end as Yi-kyung was meeting her end packed a punch for the way everyone was addressing her or thinking of her, bringing poignancy to her last moments.
All that and we’ve barely scratched the surface. We still have so much more ground to cover, and I’m excited for what comes next.