When the Camellia Blooms: Episodes 17-18
To flee or not to flee, that is the question this hour for our heroine. Her newly minted desire to stand up for herself wars with her practiced instinct to run away. Standing at a crossroads, it’s not always easy to know whether to choose fight or flight. At least this time, our heroine has a support system in place, whatever she chooses.
EPISODE 17: “I Will Welcome Everyone”
May 3, 2013: A hopeful Dong-baek greets her first customers at the Camellia. Over the years, it becomes home, complete with Pil-gu’s height recorded by the door as he grows. Now, Dong-baek tapes a sign thanking her customers for their support on the door.
Hyang-mi thinks she should be less thankful considering the way Dong-baek’s been treated. Jung-sook looks contemplative as Dong-baek says even though the ajummas hate her, they’re always giving her kimchi—that’s never happened anywhere else. Ongsan is strange, but she’s enjoyed living there.
Elsewhere, the ajummas are playing cards and feeling bad about Dong-baek leaving. Now they regret not including her more (except Chan-sook, of course). Jae-young says she couldn’t have even lasted a year in Dong-baek’s shoes.
While shopping, Jung-sook asks Hyang-mi why Dong-baek wants to leave. Hyang-mi thinks it’s so she won’t have to face Deok-soon. Jung-sook interrupts Hyang-mi’s musings that Dong-baek should hit Jung-ryeol up for money. At that, Jung-sook sharply warns her, “Hey, I told you not to act up.” Hyang-mi looks taken aback as Jung-sook continues, “Everyone’s acting up and getting on my nerves.”
Jung-sook is surprised to learn that Hyang-mi plans to go to Copenhagen and isn’t staying with Dong-baek. Hyang-mi thinks back to Dong-baek packing both of their stuff (including her bracelet) at the Camellia, saying Hyang-mi was coming too. It was the first time a boss had cared about her.
In town, Jae-young gives Dong-baek some extra boxes and slips in a bunch of food and household items with them. Chan-sook tells Dong-baek to come pick up more boxes at her place. Another ajumma runs up and awkwardly throws a few boxes at her feet. Dong-baek starts to tear up.
Deok-soon is waiting at the Camellia when Dong-baek gets back. She tries to convince her to stay in Ongsan, which makes Dong-baek happy.
She thanks Deok-soon for being so kind to her and cries as she says walking hand-in-hand with Deok-soon made her think, “This is what having a mom must be like.”
Deok-soon frustratedly berates Dong-baek for leaving after she put her through all that with Yong-shik. She turns her back to Dong-baek as she gets emotional. Dong-baek promises to try to forget Yong-shik, saying he’ll do the same over time.
Yong-shik relentlessly continues his investigation, telling himself, like a mantra, that he has to catch the Joker so Dong-baek can stay. In the recent CCTV footage of OK Aesthetics, Yong-shik notices a window on the building next door that goes from open to closed and shows it to Captain Byun. Someone was watching Yong-shik.
At the home of our unhappy couple, Ja-young tries to look at Kyu-tae’s bank account, but he’s locked her out. She gets a text from someone saying he has the motel footage. Kyu-tae pretends to be asleep on the couch as his wife glares.
Yong-shik checks out the building from the footage, but it’s empty and looks untouched. He calls the cleaner who’s advertised there to find the landlord. Outside, he notices a bowl of cat food. We see a similar bowl of cat food across the street from the Camellia.
At the bar, Dong-baek wonders how people afford rent deposits. Hyang-mi says she should just ask Jong-ryeol for money since he’s rich. Dong-baek looks surprised and asks her to keep Pil-gu’s dad a secret.
As Hyang-mi cryptically says she’s glad she works there, Yong-shik literally jumps in to eat lunch.
Jessica continues harassing Jong-ryeol to send her to Milan or divorce her. He says he’s not like her mom who will cave if she threatens. She says they should divorce then. Jong-ryeol: “Okay. Let’s do it.” Why would he cling to someone who isn’t interested in him or their child?
As Dong-baek and Yong-shik eat, she admits it feels like “the person up there” has forgotten her. When Yong-shik assures her good things will happen from now on, she shyly says she already got lucky in having Yong-shik. His happiness is short-lived as she follows up by telling him (like a goodbye) to continue living well.
While doing dishes, Yong-shik tells Dong-baek that he knows how she feels, so stop trying to act tough. No matter where she goes, he’ll come by every day to eat her stir-fried pork.
When she says “another Dong-baek” may move in, he claims he wouldn’t even fall for Im Soo-jung if she came selling dumplings.
Jong-ryeol comes by to give Dong-baek the abalones (with a side of cash). To his surprise, she agrees to take the money. She’ll count it as backpay from cleaning and cooking for him when they dated. She starts to cry, saying as a mom, she can’t afford pride.
Hyang-mi catches Yong-shik bringing Dong-baek flowers and warns him it’s a bad time. He should let them work things out.
Inside, Dong-baek tells Jong-ryeol she’ll pay him back. He gets upset and starts to ask, if he gave up everything? “Don’t. I won’t take you back.” Yong-shik walks in just then and sees them hand in hand.
Yong-shik stares at the two of them, then calmly asks Dong-baek to come to him. Jong-ryeol literally holds her back from going and tells her to think of Pil-gu (Seriously?).
Yong-shik says the Dong-baek he respects and cares for isn’t the type to let others control her life, so she should do whatever she wants. She turns to Jong-ryeol and Yong-shik’s face falls. Jong-ryeol says he’ll figure out things as soon as possible, but Dong-baek quietly cuts him off–“Let go. Or I’ll kill you.”
As Jong-ryeol leaves, Hyang-mi pesters him again, showing him pictures of him with Dong-baek. Over coffee, he tells her to make them public—he’s got an agency and lawyers to block this sort of thing. She says they’ll see who’s faster, her or his lawyers. “Don’t act up,” he warns.
Ja-young discovers Hyang-mi, receiver of the eye cream, in the motel footage. She watches Kyu-tae sleep and wonders, “If I end it all here, would I be able to wipe the wall clean?” She fantasizes about bashing his head in but goes with dumping water on him instead, leaving him to shake the water out of his ear. Heh.
At home, Jung-sook frantically searches for something and heads out, while Pil-gu seems in a funk. On their way out, Yong-shik pops out of nowhere and practically accosts Pil-gu with a bouquet by accident. There’s no cool way to play it off, so he congratulates Pil-gu on going to school and hands it to him. Smoooth.
Pil-gu proclaims he’s firmly against Yong-shik being with his mom (Yong-shik clutches his heart.). Dong-baek asks Pil-gu why he always wants Joon-gi on his team for games, to which he replies Joon-gi isn’t very smart, but he’s strong. “So you understand how I feel, then.” HA!
Pil-gu argues he’ll be a teenager soon, and they’re scarier than the police (fair point), so they don’t need Yong-shik.
Distracted by the terrifying thought of her son during puberty, Yong-shik has to yank Dong-baek out of the way of an oncoming car BY HER HAIR.
He argues that he wouldn’t dare grab her hand, since they’re not officially dating yet. If he respects her, everyone else might too. Aww.
On the team bus, Jong-ryeol reads about an athlete, referred to as “K,” who supposedly has a mistress. Looks like Hyang-mi was faster. His teammates wonder who the athlete is while Jong-ryeol looks nervous.
Outside the Camellia, right as Dong-baek wonders where her mom went, Jung-sook comes up behind her and slaps her back. She tells her to stand tall and not look so intimidated. They head inside, and Dong-baek gets a phone call from Jong-ryeol, who wants to meet.
Meanwhile, Chief Byun and Yong-shik go to investigate the fire at the school. Yong-shik posits the fire could’ve been arson and seems to want to link it to the Joker, but Chief Byun thinks he’s going overboard. Not everything is like CSI.
At dinner, Dong-baek won’t tell Jong-ryeol where she’s moving. Annoyed, he asks why Pil-gu has to live worrying about money and sleeping at a bar. He found a good school for Pil-gu in Boston, so she and Pil-gu should move there. He’ll financially support them.
Dong-baek bristles at him trying to control their lives, but Jong-ryeol says he’s worried about Pil-gu getting labeled as his illegitimate son. Dong-baek states, “Pil-gu isn’t your illegitimate son. He’s just my kid.” Jong-ryeol acts like it’s all Dong-baek’s fault for leaving in the first place, which makes Dong-baek scoff.
We flash back to when they dated, and they both only cared about him. He constantly moved forward, while she sat in his apartment alone, watching him on TV. Dong-baek knew he didn’t want a baby, so she faked a negative pregnancy test result and finally left him.
She went to the hospital but couldn’t go through with an abortion. Instead, she decided to protect her baby twice as much. Jong-ryeol cries as she says his only child is his daughter; Pil-gu is hers alone. He asks how he can ignore Pil-gu when he’s already seen him, but she says she’ll give back the money, so stay out of their lives.
Jong-ryeol wonders when she got so strong. “Was it that cop?” He asks how she can want to be with someone after all she’s been though. “Why do you assume that I won’t be able to have a normal, happy life?” He may think of her as just unfortunate, but Yong-shik sees her as someone who deserves happiness.
Jong-ryeol chases Dong-baek outside, telling her to think about what’s best for Pil-gu. Can’t they just go to Boston? She wasn’t like this before. Dong-baek is tired of lowering herself and thinks about her mom and Yong-shik telling her to stand tall and face things head on.
Dong-baek tells Jong-ryeol she’s grateful for him showing her what a great person Yong-shik is. Being in this position again has made her realize there’s no escape even if you run. She’s done running away, “so all of you need to stop acting up.”
Dong-baek walks home, passing a drunk man in an alley. When he approaches her, she gets nervous but stands firm and confronts him. She (politely) tells him to come to his senses. “Do you think I’m a pushover?” He’s so taken aback he politely apologizes. They bow goodbye, concluding the nicest confrontation ever.
Dong-baek sees Yong-shik outside the Camellia and runs up excitedly with a huge smile. Out of breath, she says she gets it now. People were mean because she was a pushover! After emphatically rambling about how lions go after the weak, she marches up to the Camellia’s door, rips off the farewell sign, stomps on it and puts back the welcome mat.
Yong-shik is overcome with a case of cute overload and can barely contain himself. Dong-baek grabs his hands, and they laugh.
Caught up in excitement, she kisses his cheek. He freezes, and she starts to panic. Yong-shik just stares and says, “You did it first.” He kisses her.
Cue eerie music as someone whose face we don’t see plays with a lighter, saying he’s annoyed. Dong-baek greets him familiarly as he enters the Camellia. She smiles and informs him she’s open for business again.
I’m so over Jong-ryeol’s entitlement. He needs to take a step back and stop being so selfish. I especially hate the way he’s using Pil-gu to guilt Dong-baek. You just met the kid five minutes ago, and you really think you know better than the mother who raised him? The way he keeps criticizing Dong-baek’s parenting and lifestyle is out of line. Who is he to call her life pitiful? Has he once asked if they’re happy with their life? Pil-gu is obviously not being mistreated, so he has no right to interfere. It’s clear he’s used to getting his way and doesn’t know what to do with the unleashed Dong-baek. Even now, he assumes Yong-shik is influencing Dong-baek. God forbid she be strong on her own.
Yong-shik serves as such a contrast to Jong-ryeol in how he treats and thinks of Dong-baek. That moment in the bar when Jong-ryeol kept literally holding her back, while Yong-shik left everything up to Dong-baek and trusted her to know what was best for herself perfectly sums it up. Yong-shik respects her decisions and treats her like the grown person she is. Overall, I like their relationship progression; they’ve gradually built mutual respect, trust and affection in a believable way. They make a good team, and it’s nice to see Dong-baek allowing herself to be happy with him.
I find Jung-sook a bit suspicious. Besides her secretive trips, she pays close attention to the conversations around her and almost seems to be gathering information. It’s hard to tell how mentally aware she is. I don’t think she’s faking her dementia, but I do wonder if she’s lucid more frequently than she lets on. It seems like she has a goal, so I’m curious to know if she’s up to something. It was nice to see the ajummas finally admitting they could’ve been better to Dong-baek. Although it doesn’t make up for the bullying, I’m glad they reached out to help Dong-baek a little. Hopefully, now that she’s decided to stay, they can start fresh. All she wants is to feel respected and not like an outsider.
Interestingly, three people in these episodes used the Joker’s “don’t act up” phrase: Jung-sook, Jong-ryeol and even Dong-baek. Two of those times it was said to Hyang-mi, which seems like foreshadowing. Combine that with the fact that Dong-baek is no longer wearing the bracelet and it seems more and more likely that Hyang-mi could be the future victim. As for the Joker himself, it does look like the Joker’s a man as whoever walked into the Camellia was a regular and (as far as we know) the town’s women don’t frequent the place. I wish we knew a little more about his motivations. All we know right now is that he gets annoyed easily and offs people who “act up,” whatever that means. Oh, and he likes cats. I’m glad we’re integrating the mystery more into the present as opposed to the flashforwards, but I still don’t feel like it’s totally necessary to the story. I’d be fine without the criminal element, but what can you do?
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