When The Camellia Blooms: Episodes 21-22
Emotional walls sometimes serve as protection, and other times serve as barriers in connecting with other people. In Ongsan, we see walls begin to crumble as some people realize they’re not as alone as they thought they were.
EPISODE 21: “The Hero Appears at the Last Minute”
At the lake crime scene, Yong-shik narrates that the Joker has killed Hyang-mi and Dong-baek has gone missing. Chief Byun’s worried sick but Yong-shik is convinced Dong-baek’s alive. Hyang-mi arrived in Ongsan two years ago, while the Joker’s note said he’d left a warning five years ago. But did the Joker kill Hyang-mi to get Dong-baek’s attention, or did Hyang-mi see something she shouldn’t have?
We rewind to Hyang-mi talking to the mystery man and trying to get an invite to sleep at his house. It works, and as they walk, she laments her situation. If were she to die on the streets, no one would care. The man stops at that to look back at Hyang-mi.
Hyang-mi’s thrilled to be sleeping somewhere warm, even if she has share space with bags of cat food. She asks the mystery host to keep her stay a secret. When she picks up a dropped spoon, she notices scratches on the underside of the table and wonders aloud about them. Just then, there’s a thud and the screech of a door being opened. Startled, Hyang-mi asks if there’s someone else in the house.
Jung-sook sneaks into Dong-baek’s room as she sleeps, searching for her personal stamp (they’re used in place of signatures on documents). Unable to find it, she carefully stamps Dong-baek’s thumb onto a document.
The next morning, Jung-sook’s dressed up and making kimbap for Pil-gu’s teachers and teammates. She plans to watch Pil-gu’s game, but Dong-baek tells her not to go. Dong-baek’s never gone to one of his games so why would Jung-sook go?
Jessica shows her mother the blind item about Jong-ryeol, complaining that she’d rather die than have Jong-ryeol’s name made public. Her mother tells her to gather proof about his affair so they can squeeze him dry in the divorce. Jessica’s face falls, “What about Mrs. Kang Jong-ryeol?” she softly asks.
We learn the meaning of that question when we see her promoting a sheet mask on Instagram. Everything in her life seems to revolve around being Mrs. Kang Jong-ryeol, from her social media presence to all her media appearances.
People leave negative comments on her post calling her a nobody whose only title is being Jong-ryeol’s wife. Instead of getting angry, she sighs at how spot on the comments are and says she doesn’t know who she is anymore.
Jong-ryeol texts Seung-yeob about Pil-gu’s game and asks if parents usually attend. He’s already learned Dong-baek never goes to games and worries about Pil-gu being all alone. Jessica interrupts to tell him to put on the sheet mask for promotional photos. Her words lack their usual bite, but he fails to notice.
Eyes still glued to his phone, he refuses and lectures her about her antics on social media, telling her to just live quietly and do nothing. “What do I do then?” she asks.
She asks who he’s texting, then bursts into tears. Jong-ryeol looks bewildered at the show of emotion and Jessica cries that how her value amounts to nothing without him.
Companies don’t want Jessica, they want Jong-ryeol and Jessica. Jong-ryeol sighs inwardly, thinking that he wants to cry as well. (Did he put on the mask?!)
At the Camellia, Yong-shik tries to convince Dong-baek to go to Pil-gu’s game, without success. She doesn’t want Pil-gu to be known as the boy without a dad, or the son of a bar owner. She knows how cruel kids and adults can be from firsthand experience–her childhood nickname at school was Orphan.
In a flashback, we see how Dong-baek and a girl, nicknamed Forget-Me-Not (after the bar her mother owned), had been ostracized by parents, teachers, and students. Dong-baek says prejudice ties a person down. It prevents some from doing better, while it makes others act out.
Yong-shik says that Pil-gu is different, he has a great mother by his side and was raised with lots of love. If he were Pil-gu, he’d be embarrassed about his mom never showing up, and it’s obvious Dong-baek’s dying to see Pil-gu play anyway.
In the end Dong-baek shows up for the game with Jung-sook and Hyang-mi in tow. The trio catch everyone’s attention and while Dong-baek’s a bit embarrassed, Hyang-mi says that people are looking because they’re the hottest women there.
All the parents have cameras and signs for the kids, but Dong-baek hadn’t thought to bring anything. Hyang-mi comforts her and tells her to at least use her cellphone to take photos. They notice a drone filming the event and wonder who would go so overboard for a kid’s game.
Pil-gu is all giddy smiles when he spots his mom and he shouts he’ll hit a home run. Jong-ryeol’s there too, in incognito mode in the opposing team’s stands. He sees a familiar face coaching the other team and sneers, saying they let anyone coach these days.
The coach, Park Yong-gil, is busy having a pre-game chat with the umpire, telling him to be a “good” umpire. He brags about his “prodigy” son Hyung-joon (the team’s pitcher) and casually mentions that he might bring some of his famous proteges, like Kang Jong-ryeol, to the restaurant owned by the umpire’s family.
The game starts and the chat had its intended effect, as the umpire favors Yong-gil’s team heavily. He calls every pitch thrown a strike, and with the Ongsan team racking up strikeouts, Seung-yeob decides to unleash Pil-gu. Pil-gu tries to be patient, even with the unfair umpire, but Hyung-joon is out to play dirty.
He intentionally hits Pil-gu with his next ball and Pil-gu falls. When Hyung-joon stick out his tongue at him, Pil-gu charges, prompting a full-out brawl between the teams.
After the fight, Yong-gil berates Pil-gu, calling him a rude delinquent unfit for sports. When Pil-gu refuses to apologize and calls them out on their cheating, Yong-gil hits him.
Jung-sook gets ready to fight and wraps her belt around her fist (was she in prison before Ongsan?) but Dong-baek stops her and goes down to the field.
The situation grows more tense, and Seung-yeob’s attempts to defuse things fail. The umpire has to hold Yong-gil back as Pil-gu cries, but stands his ground. At that moment, someone walks onto the field.
It’s Yong-shik, drone in hand. He smacks Hyung-joon upside the head before taking him to task for his behavior. Pil-gu looks up at him with puppy eyes, narrating that the hero always appears at the last minute.
Yong-gil’s raring to fight, how dare Yong-shik hit his child?! When Yong-shik throws back the question, how dare Yong-gil hit Pil-gu?!
He asks what’s it to Yong-shik, what, is Pil-gu his kid? Without a moment’s hesitation, Yong-shik says yes, taking Yong-gil off guard (even Hyang-mi swoons a little). At the same time, Jong-ryeol’s fuming at Pil-gu’s treatment, but is trapped, surrounded by autograph seekers.
With Yong-shik claiming Pil-gu as his own, Yong-gil has the gall to deny ever hitting Pil-gu. Brandishing his drone, Yong-shik says he has evidence, maybe they should take this to the police.
Yong-gil bluffs and tells him to go ahead, call the cops. Yong-shik yells back, “I’m right here! I’m a police officer!”
He threatens to use the drone footage to charge Yong-gil with child abuse, which makes Yong-gil back down immediately. Yong-shik and Pil-gu walk off the field, triumphant.
Turns out Yong-shik took a half day off from work just for the game. Sure, his drone was expensive, but he says baseball games are best filmed from the sky, which makes Dong-baek laugh. Elsewhere, Jong-ryeol takes care of Pil-gu his own way.
He confronts Yong-gil and his manner lays bare Yong-gil’s lie that they’re close. Jong-ryeol calls himself Pil-gu’s mentor and threatens to ruin Hyung-joon’s future in baseball if Yong-gil ever harms Pil-gu again.
Throwing in one last comment about having brought himself up, he leaves. Outside, Pil-gu zips past him looking for Yong-shik.
Pil-gu asks if Yong-shik would be willing to meet his friends. Yong-shik lets out a pleased laugh and puts his sunglasses on, asking if they want his autograph. Pil-gu brings him down to earth, they just want to see his drone. Yong-shik pretends to hesitate, then tells Pil-gu to choose ten kids who’ve been good to him and he’ll let them see the drone.
Pil-gu runs off all aflutter. Yong-shik tells Dong-baek he’ll show all the kids see the drone eventually but letting Pil-gu choose who sees it first will give Pil-gu some cred. Dong-baek smiles and comments that the two match well, musing that this must be how fathers play with their children.
Our group of five happily makes their way home, but Chan-sook rains on their parade, loudly wondering how Deok-soon would feel. Jung-sook sarcastically remarks that Yong-shik’s not the only one with a mother.
Jung-sook goes to Deok-soon’s restaurant and mutters about Dong-baek being too good for Yong-shik. In a glamorous slow-mo shot, Jung-sook reveals herself as Dong-baek’s mom. She says that no matter how low Madonna gets, she wouldn’t date someone like “him” and walks off, complete with a hair-flip, leaving Deok-soon dumbfounded.
At the police station, Yong-shik notes the last murder happened in 2014, but the banner outside the academy advertises the 2012 college exam. His best guess is that someone put up the banner to hide something. The old investigation may have said there was never a security camera there, but street view photos indicate otherwise. Yong-shik’s been digging through the photos and in 2012 the building’s exterior had nothing, while a 2013 photo shows what looks like a security camera.
After some deliberation, Chief Byun gives Yong-shik a gun. He’s uncharacteristically serious and gravely tells Yong-shik to shoot, not fight, if he finds the Joker.
Yong-shik questions the local realtor and learns the banner stayed up for two years after the academy closed. Suspiciously, the academy’s director had huge gambling debts, but one day he managed to pay a year’s worth of rent in one go.
The realtor remembers another tidbit–the man was close to Kyu-tae. Yong-shik touches his gun, thinking that all roads seem to lead to Kyu-tae.
Kyu-tae is at the Camellia and basically begs Dong-baek to fire Hyang-mi (using formal speech). In return, he’ll renew her lease without increasing the deposit. But Dong-baek doesn’t even consider it over. She’ll be moving to another building and taking Hyang-mi with her and that’s that. Unable to change her mind, Kyu-tae leaves her with a warning about Hyang-mi.
Ja-young waits outside the Camellia, seething at seeing Kyu-tae’s car parked there. She spots Hyang-mi then intentionally revs her engine and does a sorry-not-sorry for nearly hitting her. Ja-young orders Hyang-mi to get in the car.
At a coffee shop, Ja-young observes Hyang-mi steal a spoon and sighs internally that she doesn’t even want to beat her. Ja-young asks Hyang-mi if she knows what a marriage is. Hyang-mi expects a “possessive wife” lecture, so she’s taken aback at Ja-young’s next statement. She says a marriage is when you pick a man thinking he’s a gold ring, but later realize he’s not even a brass ring, yet his mother thinks he’s a diamond ring.
She continues she could completely ruin Kyu-tae’s life, as well as Hyang-mi’s…but that wouldn’t be fun for her. She wants them to work towards a happy ending for everyone, confusing Hyang-mi. She’s not the only one as Kyu-tae enters just then, and stops in his tracks.
Dong-baek stares at the box of abalone, Kyu-tae’s warning, “Hyang-mi’s a bloodhound when it comes to money,” ringing in her ears. Jung-sook urges her to check since she’s already suspicious, but Dong-baek remembers her younger self crying over being wrongly accused of stealing and puts the box back without opening it.
Jung-sook tells her that kleptomania is incurable, that it becomes one’s nature. But Dong-baek would rather believe that Hyang-mi isn’t that kind of a person.
At the coffee shop, Hyang-mi and Kyu-tae start to say that they never crossed a line, but Ja-young shuts them up–they don’t get to decide what the line is. Hyang-mi realizes that she’s no match for Ja-young and grows scared. Talking about Kyu-tae like an object, she tells Hyang-mi that she’d be more than grateful to give him to her.
Yong-shik has lunch with the ajumma squad and brings up his suspicion that Kyu-tae is the Joker but they brush it off. Kyu-tae just doesn’t have the guts for that. Plus Kyu-tae’s close with everyone (except Yong-shik) so his friendship with the academy director doesn’t mean much.
Looking at the photos of the building, Jae-young notices the windows are covered with cardboard boxes, and speculates it was to stop people from being able to look inside.
They notice Yong-shik furiously scratching his fingers (ew, they look raw and red) and tell him to get that checked, teasing he might give Dong-baek an infection.
After a trip to the bank for an international wire, Hyang-mi tells someone over the phone that she sent all the money that she had. Apparently, it’s not enough for them. Inside the Camellia, she stares at the box of abalone, saying that Dong-baek shouldn’t have hired her.
We go back to a snowy night two years ago. Hyang-mi was dressed too lightly dressed for the weather, with open-toed heels and bare legs.
She’d stared at the door sign calling for part-timers, and the animal stickers on the door had reminded her of another place–the Forget-Me-Not. Aha, so she and Dong-baek do have a history.
Inside, Dong-baek had been welcoming and friendly. Hyang-mi found Dong-baek familiar but couldn’t place when they’d met before. She invited Hyang-mi to stay for dinner, all sharing one big pot. It had stunned Hyang-mi, whose previous boss had treated her like a leper.
She decided to work at the Camellia then, despite the low pay, and had told Mi-soon (moped Mi-soon) to tell Nak-ho they’d cut ties if he ever came looking for Hyang-mi. Mi-soon couldn’t understand it, the Camellia’s just a regular bar–all you get is an hourly wage. Why would Hyang-mi work there? Hyang-mi had replied that she was exhausted.
In the present, Hyang-mi takes out the money and stares at it, conflicted, remembering Mi-soon saying that her old life would come looking for her. She hears the bell ring and puts the money back to greet the customer but freezes. It’s Nak-ho.
Nak-ho and Hyang-mi sit down for a talk as Dong-baek peels bellflower roots, her eyes on them. Hyang-mi radiates a palpable fear as Nak-ho starts off with a chilling, “I want to sell alcohol, not humans.” He calls her too easy, having no friends or family.
Hyang-mi says that Sook-hee will report him to the police if she goes missing–but Nak-ho informs her Sook-hee was the one who told him where she was hiding. “Even if you’re found dead tomorrow by the lake, there’d be no next of kin to contact,” he says smugly.
Yong-shik is at the doctor’s, who assumes he’s been out to Yeong-shim’s place. Yong-shik, says no, of course not, he’s been busy with other things. The doctor says he has the same symptoms as Yeong-shim, it’s a reaction to pesticide. Walking down a road, Yong-shik wonders at how he could have touched pesticide and sees cat food. Realization dawns on him, he’s been touching cat food all over Ongsan.
Nak-ho squeezes Hyang-mi’s shoulder, telling her that she needs to work for him for the rest of her life. He tells her to get up and leave with him right away. Hyang-mi tries to stall but to no avail.
Dong-baek suddenly sits at the table next to them, and Nak-ho asks what she’s doing. Dong-baek says she wants to be near Hyang-mi. She also corrects him, Hyang-mi does have a friend, one who’ll report him to the police if something were to happen to Hyang-mi. Nak-ho blinks, then laughs and resumes his creepy shoulder massage. Dong-baek tells him to take his hand off Hyang-mi’s shoulder but Nak-ho responds that he owns Hyang-mi’s body.
He threatens Dong-baek and tells her to get lost, but she returns his threat. Hyang-mi thinks that whenever her life turned into a mess, no one ever protected her. A slight smile turns up corners of her lips when Dong-baek stands up and tells Nak-ho again to get lost.
Ja-young walks out of her house, luggage in hand. Kyu-tae tries to explain himself but trails off when she faces him. She has tears in her eyes, and for the first time, we can really see the hurt in them.
She slaps him. Not sleeping with another woman doesn’t absolve him. She tells him that she’ll never be able to forget this and drives away. Kyu-tae stands still, shaken.
Jong-ryeol’s confronted by an angry Jessica who shows him pictures from the baseball game. Throwing her phone, she screams at him, asking him what “that kid” is to him.
At the Camellia, we hear Hyang-mi being taken away by Nak-ho as Dong-baek stares at her peeling knife and bowl. Nak-ho throws Hyang-mi to the ground just as Yong-shik arrives. He’s about to step forward, but it’s Dong-baek to the rescue.
She whacks Nak-ho hard with the metal bowl, screaming that she has a temper. Hyang-mi stares at her, mouth open in shock, thinking that the hero always appears at the last minute.
Yong-shik also thinks to himself that the big baddie also always appears at the last minute, his eyes fixed on something beyond Dong-baek. A man walks out of the alley, holding a big bag of cat food. It’s Heung-shik.
Hyang-mi, Ja-young, and Jessica stole the show for me this episode. While I’d always been intrigued by Ja-young and Hyang-mi, Jessica had been a character I was very curious about too. Camellia’s shown us that every character is multidimensional, so I’d always felt that there was more to her than what we were being shown. I was thrilled to see the show finally peeling back some of her layers. And my, does it just make me dislike Jong-ryeol even more. He is so self-centered and it is not a good look. Jessica seems to suffer from a lack of purpose and sense of self. It’s also interesting that she’s adopted an English name and calls herself a New Yorker, but when she’s alone with her mom, you can hear their satoori slip out. When she started crying in front of Jong-ryeol, she also referred to herself by her Korean name. When did she start to live with that facade and has it hindered her ability to figure out who she really is? Who knows, her fixation on fame may be a by-product of no one ever taking her seriously (not even her own family).
My heart went out to Ja-young when we saw just how much Kyu-tae’s actions had hurt her. We have only ever seen her as a fierce figure who seemed like she could walk through a storm and come out the other side without a hair out of place. When she finally showed her vulnerability, it hit me so hard. Similarly, seeing the always dispassionate Hyang-mi almost quaking in front of Nak-ho made me want to protect her. Whatever she is running from, it must be absolutely horrible, and that scene made me understand her problematic actions and behaviors better, even when she kept thinking about stealing from Dong-baek.
All this just reminds me again of what I love the most about this show, its strong portrayal of fleshed out, three-dimensional women. Jessica could have easily been drawn as stereotypical brat, but no, the show took us a step beyond. Sure, she’s a bit of an airhead, and a brat, but she’s much more self-aware than anyone gives her credit for. I absolutely dig the fact that these women’s stories don’t just revolve around the men in the drama, it’s more like they’re all a part of each other’s stories.
As for the murder mystery, I am wondering if the reveals in this episode are all red herrings, even Hyang-mi’s death. It looked like they were identifying her as Hyang-mi based on her belongings, so there might still be hope about her being alive at the end. Finally, someone please drag Yong-shik to Yeong-shim’s place! With how much the show has been mentioning her, she must hold the key to some revelation.
- 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