When the Camellia Blooms: Episodes 35-36
The temporary separation between our heroine and her son unearths some unsettling truths. An eight-year-old can only endure so much and between dealing with the father that he never knew and a serial killer on the loose, the kind neighborhood cop who’s in love with his mother may prove to be too much. As the net closes in on a killer, what does the future look like for our cop and his lady love?
EPISODE 35: “Life of an Eight-Year-Old”
Jong-ryeol is quiet while Dong-baek and Pil-gu argue about whether or not he should move in with his dad. Dong-baek is taken aback when Pil-gu asks, “Do you only care about yourself? What about what I want?”
After asking if he can refuse the DNA test, Heung-shik allows his cheek to be swabbed. A detective finds Heung-shik’s dad when he opens the bedroom door and after learning that he can’t walk, he sees the wheelchair in the room.
The forensic officer asks if he should collect his DNA but the detective shuts the door. Heung-shik’s dad applies ointment to his scratches and mumbles, “If one more dies, they’ll be scared out of their wits.” When the detectives leave, Heung-shik locks the building, unaware that the garbage man picking up his trash is actually Yong-shik.
Kyu-tae chomps on tofu after his release, not at all happy that his mother came instead of Ja-young. When his mother suggests a blind date, Kyu-tae insists that he’ll never remarry and then leaves, announcing that he’s found his calling.
When Chief Byun and the others return to the station, they find Yong-shik and Kyu-tae sorting through Heung-shik’s trash. Yong-shik hands the chief some hair samples for his friend in the crime lab but learns that he was disciplined for secretly testing the blood from Kyu-tae’s steering wheel.
Dong-baek informs Yong-shik that Pil-gu will be living with Jong-ryeol until the Joker is caught. Yong-shik shares his suspicion that their culprit is Heung-shik but Dong-baek disagrees with him. Determined to bring Pil-gu home as soon as possible, Yong-shik pledges again to catch the Joker.
In the building where Hyang-mi made her delivery, Yong-shik takes in the luminol glow of the blood residue. In a flashback to the night she was killed, we see Hyang-mi carrying in the plate of food, still wearing the helmet. Yong-shik narrates that Hyang-mi’s accident made her late, agitating the killer and causing him to mistake Hyang-mi for Dong-baek.
During a meeting with Chief Byun’s friend at the crime lab, Yong-shik slides the hair samples toward the pile of evidence to be tested. The doctor reports that Hyang-mi was stabbed once in the neck and that something bright yellow was found in her throat. Another flashback shows Hyang-mi bleeding on the floor with something yellow in her hand as the doctor concludes that she swallowed it deliberately.
When Jung-sook saw the truck hauling the scooter, Hyang-mi was under a tarp in the back. The doctor estimates that Hyang-mi was alive for around 30 minutes and she still had the yellow item in her hand as the truck pulled away.
Dong-baek wheels Pil-gu’s suitcase as they leave his school and when he suggests thinking of his move as studying abroad, she starts to cry. Jong-ryeol is waiting and when Pil-gu climbs into his car, Dong-baek protests that he’s leaving without a hug.
When she strokes his hair, Pil-gu announces that he’s getting a headache and raises the window. After Jong-ryeol drives away, Dong-baek complains that Pil-gu didn’t look back once but that’s because he’s sobbing in the car.
Jong-ryeol asks why Pil-gu pretended to be so cool and he blurts out, “I’m not leaving because I want to…If I’m going to be anyone’s burden, it’ll be better to be yours.” Pil-gu cries that Jong-ryeol was able to get married because he was childless and now his mom can marry Yong-shik. Pil-gu’s sobs harder when he asks, “Aren’t I enough for you guys?”
While Jessica packs, her father warns her mother that if she moves back he’ll kick them both out. Tears fall from Jessica’s eyes as she listens to her parents blame each other for her problems.
Jessica’s mom helps move her daughter’s things to Jong-ryeol’s building, which is in the same complex. Mom reminds Jessica that being twice-divorced isn’t anything to be ashamed of and urges her to divorce Jong-ryeol if that’s what she wants. Jessica complains that her mother shouldn’t feel intimidated because of her.
In the elevator, a young boy stares as Jessica sobs over leaving her mom while her mother cries outside. At home, Dong-baek sobs into one of Pil-gu’s dirty socks as Yong-shik narrates that children always want more from their parents and that parents are heartbroken when they don’t have more to give.
Dong-baek hears someone at the door and is surprised to see Jung-sook, who explains that she returned because Pil-gu asked her to. Dong-baek peppers her mother with questions and when Jung-sook asks if she ate dinner, she demands to know, “Did you eat when you abandoned me?”
As she unpacks, Jeesica informs Jong-ryeol that he can’t get a divorce because he’s the one with the son. Pil-gu stares at the happy family photo on the wall as Jong-ryeol and Jessica argue.
Later, Jong-ryeol shows Pil-gu his new room and the boy takes it in stride when his dad explains that Jessica will be staying with them. Pil-gu feels bad when he learns that his sister isn’t home and that she often stays with one of her grandmothers. Jong-ryeol wonders if Pil-gu feels that way about his own situation and the boy admits that he does.
Before Jong-ryeol can offer to sleep with Pil-gu on his first night, he realizes, “I guess sleeping together would be weird.” That’s how Jung-sook feels as she paces outside of Dong-baek’s room clutching her pillow. When Dong-baek guesses that her mother plans to sleep with her she calls it weird but Jung-sook walks into her bedroom anyway.
As they lay awake, Dong-baek asks her mother how she could abandon her when she can’t stop worrying about Pil-gu. Jung-sook softly explains that she went crazy the day that she left Dong-baek.
Dong-baek surprises Jung-sook when she joins her on the floor and asks, “Don’t die, Mom…That kidney or gallbladder, whatever it is, I’ll give you mine.”
Jung-sook insists that she’d rather die than accept Dong-baek’s offer but she argues, “I can hate you all I want while giving you what you need. If you die because I don’t give it to you, how do you think I would feel?”
Jung-sook can’t understand how Dong-baek grew up to be so kind and it’s not a compliment. After Dong-baek explains that she’s tired of good-byes, Jung-sook complains, “…I really can’t bring myself to die now.”
Ja-young hums in the office, stopping long enough to inform her colleague that lie detector tests are up to 94% accurate. She looks up when someone walks in, surprised to see Kyu-tae’s mother with a cake box in her hands.
When the women sit down together, Ja-young gently reminds her ex-mother-in-law that she doesn’t like cake. As they talk, Kyu-tae’s mother can’t refrain from criticizing Ja-young, who sums up their troubled relationship, “You stab me, I stab Kyu-tae…Kyu-tae would get scared of me. Then you would stab me again.” Offended, Kyu-tae’s mother storms out, taking the cake with her.
During a video call, Dong-baek senses Pil-gu’s anxiety when he gets up to lock his bedroom door. Pil-gu shares that he met his sister and when asked if he’s made any friends, he tells Dong-baek that city kids are “weird”. Dong-baek has to suppress a smile as she thinks, “I thought he didn’t take after me.”
In the morning, Pil-gu sits down to the breakfast that Jong-ryeol left for him but there’s milk on his cereal, which he can’t drink. Pil-gu gets up to search the refrigerator while Dong-baek narrates, “He keeps feeling self-conscious, and he keeps getting gloomy.”
At the Camellia, Dong-baek asks Jung-sook how old she was when she started talking. Jung-sook admits that she was a late talker and Dong-baek recalls that Pil-gu was too. She took Pil-gu out every night to practice greeting people but instead, they expressed sympathy because he had a single mother.
Dong-baek admits she’s worried because she’s just realized how much Pil-gu takes after her. Jung-sook looks relieved when Yong-shik walks in with dumplings and a rose for Dong-baek.
When Jessica finally wakes up and finds Pil-gu in the kitchen, they end up eating together. Jessica explains that she doesn’t want to be an evil stepmom and compares their living arrangement to a share house, so Pil-gu can ask her for food if he’s hungry.
As Dong-baek picks at a dumpling, Yong-shik narrates that she’s been like an alien without Pil-gu. Jung-sook nags her daughter to eat but Dong-baek confesses that with both Hyang-mi and Pil-gu gone, she can’t taste anything. Complaining that she’s tired of goodbyes, Dong-baek begs Jung-sook to set a date for her operation.
Yong-shik narrates how weary Dong-baek became from life’s blows as she stumbles through her days. Worried when she steps in dog poop and doesn’t care, Yong-shik adds, “She didn’t cry or smile. She seemed like she lost her soul.”
Yong-shik sets out Dong-baek’s freshly washed shoes while Jung-sook takes down old posters. She mentions what she hates most about dramas, “‘We’re breaking up because I love you.'” Jung-sook argues that people should just be honest, “I like you, but…I don’t want all these other things that come with you.”
Yong-shik catches on and insists that he’s not rejecting Pil-gu or breaking up with someone that he likes. After Yong-shik promises that he’ll never break up with Dong-baek, Jung-sook asks to leave her will with him.
The women of Ongsan discuss how out of it Dong-baek seems without her “burden,” forgetting that Deok-soon is nearby. Jae-young assures Deok-soon that Pil-gu didn’t leave because of what she said but she knows better, “It’ll stay with him for life…”
Deok-soon pays Dong-baek a visit at the Camellia to ask about Pil-gu and is surprised that he didn’t tell his mom that she called him a burden. When she follows Dong-baek outside, Jung-sook watches as her daughter confronts Deok-soon, “How can you of all people say that to him?”
Having been called a burden when she was a child, Dong-baek can testify that the memory will stay with Pil-gu for life. After Dong-baek walks away, Jung-sook asks Deok-soon how she plans to make up for her mistake.
After getting the DNA results, Chief Byun takes down the evidence connected to Heung-shik. Yong-shik insists that Heung-shik must be the Joker but Chief Byun yells that the composite sketch doesn’t look like him. When more detailed composite sketches are transmitted and put up on the board, Yong-shik recognizes the face and runs out.
Chief Byun’s friend calls to report that while one sample didn’t match the Joker’s DNA, the other did, asking, “Where did you get that…hair?” Meanwhile, the official regional team piles into vans and speeds away.
Yong-shik runs as fast as he can while we hear him explain, “I needed to think why he stopped murdering people instead of why he murdered them.” In a flashback to five years earlier, the police gathered evidence at the Camellia while the news reported that a man fell from a building while installing an air conditioning unit.
When Yong-shik reaches the hardware store, he recalls, “Five years ago, someone got into an accident.” Yong-shik walks past Heung-shik who stops him as we flashback to his childhood. Heung-shik watched as his father hit his brother for bringing home another cat, confessing that he’d thrown out latest pet and would do so again and again.
Yong-shik opens the door to the bedroom and when he sees Heung-shik’s father, he continues, “While he was away in the dark for five years, everyone had forgotten about him…and…excluded him for good.”
Heung-shik promises that he’ll never forget to lock his father inside, tearfully reminding Yong-shik that his dad is all he has. When Yong-shik quietly orders Heung-shik’s father to stand up, he does so without any problem.
Dong-baek takes a bus to the city and arrives at Pil-gu’s school where she asks some boys from the baseball team about Pil-gu. Calling him “Pickled Radish,” they direct Dong-baek to the cafeteria where Pil-gu is quizzed about his meager lunch when his “uncle” lives at such an upscale address.
Pil-gu eats his pickled radish and announces that it doesn’t matter what he eats as long as he gets into the Major Leagues. When Pil-gu looks up, Dong-baek is staring at him as the adult Pil-gu narrates, “I had never seen my mom so angry before.”
Dong-baek takes Pil-gu by the hand and walks him out of school as the narration continues, “But now that I think about it, she was just sad.” When Dong-baek forces Pil-gu to choose between her and a career in the Major Leagues, he’s quiet. Dong-baek spanks Pil-gu in frustration because he won’t be honest with her.
When Dong-baek threatens to leave, Pil-gu tearfully confesses that he lied about wanting to join the Major Leagues, but only because she lied first, “You told me that I’m all you need!” Dong-baek is speechless when Pil-gu asks, “Do you even know how it feels to watch your own mom get married?”
Forced to choose, Pil-gu picks his mom but as they leave the school, Jong-ryeol pulls up. When he demands to know where they’re going, Dong-baek punches Jung-ryeol in the nose, explaining, “I don’t need his uncle to worry about him.”
Dong-baek warns Jung-ryeol that if he doesn’t leave them alone, he’ll be hit with a paternity suit. Pil-gu looks at his mother with pride as they walk away and she narrates, “I was the one whom I needed to destroy, not the Joker…I’m a fighter who’s able to protect my own kid.”
As the arrest hits the airwaves, Heung-shik’s father is swarmed by reporters as he’s taken to the regional station. They’re suddenly quiet when he speaks, “What’s the big deal about murdering someone? Stop causing a big fuss.”
After being completely ignored by the reporters, Chief Byun, Yong-shik and Kyu-tae walk away. Noticing that Kyu-tae is well dressed, Chief Byun guesses that he was hoping to be interviewed. Yong-shik tries to call Dong-baek and can’t figure out why she’s not answering.
On the bus ride home, Dong-baek ignores Yong-shik’s call and smiles down at Pil-gu, asleep in her lap. She tells herself that he’s still a baby even though he’s been protecting her all of his life.
When they get home, Pil-gu runs inside to see Jung-sook and Dong-baek finally answers Yong-shik’s call, narrating, “I betrayed him and was busy being in love.” An excited Yong-shik can’t wait to see Dong-baek so she directs him to meet her at the place where she first fell for him.
Yong-shik finds Dong-baek waiting in front of the train depot and runs up to kiss her. He remembers how his heart fluttered back then and calls it a miracle that they’re now close enough to kiss.
Yong-shik’s great mood disappears when Dong-baek starts to cry, explaining, “I’m so bad at saying goodbye.” Minutes later, Dong-baek is bawling her eyes out while Yong-shik notes, “My gosh, who dumps someone and cries like a baby at the same time?”
Dong-baek tells Yong-shik that she doesn’t want to hurt Pil-gu so that she can be happy. Yong-shik tears up at the thought that Pil-gu hates him, but Dong-baek is more concerned that like her, he’s walking on eggshells.
Yong-shik pledges to win over the boy but Dong-baek calls it wishful thinking. Yong-shik wipes away his tears as he thinks to himself that he never appreciated the importance of timing. Dong-baek tells us, “I already knew what I needed to say to make this kind Hulk give up on me,” and confesses, “I just want to be a mom.”
Yong-shik protests, “You’re so mean. What am I supposed to say to that?” Yong-shik tells us, “I didn’t know how I was going to break up with Dong-baek, but I didn’t know how to hold onto her, either.”
As Dong-baek and Young-shik sit in front of the depot crying, the adult Pil-gu weighs in, “That’s how my mom’s miraculous spring day came to an end. And with her love and affection, I finally grew up.”
Wearing a suit, a grown up Pil-gu (cameo by Jung Ga-ram) tells Dong-baek over the phone to stop calling because he’s busy, while promising someone else, “I’ll be right there.”
I’m pretty disappointed in the direction that the story took in this hour because while Dong-baek takes away increased confidence and strength as she ends things with Yong-shik, what does he get? Other than red, swollen eyes and a broken heart, not much. It’s patently unfair for a man who’s been so open and kind, willing to fight for the right to love Dong-baek in spite of many obstacles. That look on Yong-shik’s face when Dong-baek made the one argument that he couldn’t overcome just gutted me.
That said, I can’t disagree with Dong-baek’s decision because of the scars that she’s had to bear after Jung-sook’s abandonment. Dong-baek is the definition of “traumatized child” and her decision was made once she recognized the telltale signs of trauma in Pil-gu. She can’t do anything about the fact that Jong-ryeol is his dad or take back that they now know each other. And Pil-gu made a valid point, he has the right to have a father in his life instead of continuing on as a fatherless child. The presence of the Joker in their lives is also out of Dong-baek’s control, but she can do something about the suitor that is proving to be too much for Pil-gu to deal with.
As much as I enjoy some time jumps, I’m not sure I’ll be enjoying this one. What does a grown up Pil-gu mean, that Dong-baek and Yong-shik parted ways for good? Now that he’s grown up, does that mean that Dong-baek can finally get married, at what, the age of 50+? That would mean any hopes that Yong-shik and Dong-baek might have children of their own are dashed. Honestly, if anyone was meant to be a father it’s Yong-shik. I’ll just have to wait to see what the final week brings, but for now, I’m bummed.
The break-up made the end of the Joker case less satisfying than I expected. Heung-shik’s dad is finally caught, thanks to some spectacular sleuthing from Yong-shik. When Heung-shik’s dad shrugged that murder was no big deal in front of a throng of reporters, I had to ask myself why it took so long to catch him? I suppose Heung-shik’s enabling is the answer because he basically became an accomplice to protect his father, but I still felt sorry for him. Heung-shik is not just the son of a murderer, but of a monster.
The question about the yellow item that Hyang-mi swallowed was never answered and I find that loose end to be very unsettling. It makes me wonder if the Joker case is really, definitively solved. And what of Jung-sook, who needs Dong-baek’s kidney…like yesterday? There’s still lots to wrap up as we learn what’s transpired in the years between the eight-year-old Pil-gu and the grown up version. The time jump does leave us with one consolation, Pil-gu looks as if he grew up well thanks to his mother’s love and sacrifices, which is what Dong-baek always wanted.
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