When the Camellia Blooms: Episodes 37-38
As life-altering as some goodbyes can be, daily life continues in a semblance of normality. There are lots of goodbyes this hour, but our characters try to make the best of difficult situations. With all the sadness going around, we can only hope things look up from here.
EPISODE 37: “7 Years and 3 Months of Motherhood”
Jeong-ryeol drinks and waxes philosophical to his baby about how things came too easily for him in life, which made him take people for granted. Dong-baek punched the realization into him that he’s never whole-heartedly fought for anything.
Meanwhile, Dong-baek happily watches Pil-gu sleep. Jung-sook comments he seems excited to be home and tries to convince Dong-baek to go out and have fun with Yong-shik—she’ll watch Pil-gu. Jung-sook is floored when Dong-baek shares she dumped Yong-shik.
Yong-shik had walked her home where they awkwardly parted ways, but he sprinted back to say she can always ask if she needs his help. Smiling with tears in his eyes, he said he knows she’ll be happy. With a small smile, she confessed his words always felt like a good-luck charm that changed her life. She thanked him, and he’d realized it was truly over.
After Jung-sook wonders if she plans to stay single her whole life, Dong-baek tells her about a time she contemplated suicide. As she was looking up a method online, Pil-gu had said “mom” for the first time and saved her. She’s fine living only for him. “Pil-gu is like a deity to me.” Well, that outlook explains a lot.
Bringing some sense into the proceedings, Jung-sook warns her she’ll die of loneliness. Dong-baek claims she won’t have the time. Sure enough, after the (frustrating) breakup, Dong-baek and Yong-shik both drown themselves in work. They narrate that unlike TV breakups, life goes on and you can’t just wallow in sadness.
Dong-baek and Jung-sook go to the mausoleum to visit Hyang-mi. Dong-baek reminisces about how proud Hyang-mi had been when Dong-baek had ridden the moped alone for the first time. Hyang-mi had been afraid Dong-baek would fall, so she’d chased the moped for blocks.
In the present, Dong-baek cries that Hyang-mi should’ve taken off with the money and lived happily. Outside, she admits to her mom that Hyang-mi’s death hasn’t sunk in. Jung-sook tells her to let go so Hyang-mi can rest in peace.
Dong-baek forbids her mom from dying and making her grieve twice. Now that she’s without Hyang-mi and Yong-shik, she needs her. Jung-sook still staunchly refuses Dong-baek’s kidney. Upset, Dong-baek asks to hold hands. Jung-sook thinks she’s weird to find her comforting, but Dong-baek says she likes calling her “mom.”
Dong-baek is surprised to see Ja-young waiting outside the Camellia. Ja-young orders one dish, but Dong-baek serves her three. When she smiles brightly, Ja-young calls her pretty smile intimidating seeing as everyone makes disparaging her their pastime.
When Ja-young tells her to keep smiling and prove them wrong, Dong-baek admits she used to see happiness as something that could be scored and ranked. Now, she’ll live by her own standards. Ja-young smiles at her positivity and says, despite acing everything, “no flowers bloomed” in her own heart. They drink together (hopefully beginning an awesome friendship).
Kyu-tae comes to pick up a wasted Ja-young whom Dong-baek is now calling “unni” (older sister). Kyu-tae is offended she still won’t call him “oppa.” She tells him to come by with Ja-young sometimes, and (looking pained) she’ll give him peanuts on the house.
Kyu-tae gets emotional at the peanut victory. “How about yearly rent?… A loan?” A disheveled Ja-young slaps the car impatiently and orders him to depart.
News of Jessica’s previous marriage is splashed all over the internet, even overtaking the Joker news. At the station, our cops are worried the Joker will worm his way out of a harsh sentence by claiming mental illness. Yong-shik can’t shake the feeling something is off.
He goes to visit Heung-shik who tells him he’s leaving Ongsan. Since he knew his father was faking his immobility and poisoning cats, Heung-shik feels culpable too. Yong-shik asks why he let it slide. Heung-shik claims his father couldn’t stand the cats being noisy and couldn’t help it.
Even now, Heung-shik worries about his dad, commenting he left his glasses. Noticing Yong-shik’s exasperation, he tears up as he says he hates his dad too. But even a serial-killer dad is a dad. (Is he though?) Yong-shik takes the glasses with him when he leaves.
To Jung-sook’s annoyance, Dong-baek tags along to the hospital and nags her about the transplant. Jung-sook argues she has the right to die. Dong-baek disagrees. “You were only my mother for seven years and three months!” Insurance money isn’t going to cut it. She wants 20 more years for the debt to be paid.
After hearing Jung-sook could die if she keeps missing dialysis appointments, Dong-baek confronts her mom. Dong-baek wants to schedule the transplant immediately, but Jung-sook stops her to ask if the seven years and three months were good. Dong-baek nods. She tells Jung-sook to hang in there and goes to see the doctor.
At the regional station, Yong-shik is blocked from meeting with the Joker, Seok-yong. He threatens to report them for human rights abuses since they won’t allow him or Heung-shik access even to give the Joker his glasses.
Inside the room, Yong-shik insists the cameras be turned off. When they’re alone, he tells Seok-yong that Heung-shik is leaving Ongsan. Seok-yong asks if he’s being harassed for being a killer’s son.
Yong-shik tells him, despite making Heung-shik look guilty and refusing to confess, Heung-shik still considers him a father. He should pay for his crimes for Heung-shik’s sake. “They were acting up!” Seok-yong’s calm façade breaks as he says that’s why they all died.
At the apartment, Jessica cries to Jong-ryeol that the posted pictures are fake. He calmly advises her not to go online for a while. She thinks he must be happy now that he’s got a reason to divorce her, but he says he won’t abandon her when she’s down. For the sake of their daughter, he’ll take care of things.
In a flashback, we see he made a call to his agency’s president, asking for help getting the photos taken down. He offered to renew his contract and do whatever they want. But he’ll retire if they refuse.
Presently, Jessica claims her lies are still better than his secret kid. In a surprising show of sensitivity, Jong-ryeol agrees and says he already knew, so she doesn’t need to feel bad. She sobs.
Back in the interrogation room, Seok-yong goes on about how those he killed couldn’t do anything for themselves yet acted like they were something. Two of his victims were ungrateful and acted like he was dirty after he’d helped them. Another victim, a little boy, had dissed him to his friends.
Seok-yong claims, in these types of situations, he hears a noise that won’t stop until he kills. (So, his defense is… tinnitus?) Dong-baek’s friend Geum-ok badmouthed him after he’d leant her an umbrella. The delivery guy had been frustrated he’d had to deliver in the pouring rain. As for Hyang-mi, Seok-yong had thought she was Dong-baek.
Seok-yong had expected Dong-baek to make the delivery but got Hyang-mi instead. When he threw her in the lake, he got scratched, hence the DNA under her nails. Yong-shik barely holds it together as he asks why he wanted to kill Dong-baek. Seok-yong answers she kept annoying him.
The cops in the observation room are impressed. They’d sent Yong-shik in to get a confession, coaching him on using Heung-shik as a way in.
Now that he’s confessed, Yong-shik tells Seok-yong he’ll make sure he’s punished for everything. Seok-yong smirks as villains are wont to do. Yong-shik doesn’t buy that he just killed on impulse and warns him not to use excuses to reduce his sentence.
At the hospital, Dong-baek speaks with Jung-sook’s doctor about the transplant process. We flash back to when he had discussed it with Jung-sook and assured her the procedure was safe for the donor. But Jung-sook was horrified to learn the disease was hereditary with a fifty percent chance of inheritance.
He had told her she’d die without a transplant, and it’d take at least five years to find another suitable donor. But she had refused to involve Dong-baek. In the present, Dong-baek tells the doctor she’ll do it. There’s no way she’s unlucky enough to have the disease.
She returns to find Jung-sook took off without finishing her treatment and calls Yong-shik for help. As she waits at home, Dong-baek finally realizes why her mom had been so adamant they eat healthy and watch their salt. She hugs Pil-gu to her when he wakes, thinking of how much her mom has done for them.
Jung-sook sits alone in a motel room and thinks back to when she left instructions for the insurance money with Yong-shik. He had passionately argued she should be trying to survive, not worrying about money. She’d told him the money was all she could give Dong-baek and was a symbol of her regret.
She’d left him two more instructions: make sure Dong-baek gets a checkup every year, and don’t break up even if she gets sick and asks him to. If they stay strong, things will work out. He assured her he’d wait for Dong-baek even if she tries to break up with him. Jung-sook tearfully asked him not to let her be lonely anymore.
In bed, Jung-sook sobs she never should’ve come. It’s making her want to live. (Sidenote: why is her motel room lit like a noraebang?) She recalls happier days when little Dong-baek came running up to excitedly tell her about an aunt’s dog’s newborn puppies. Jung-sook told her how happy she was that Dong-baek had been born.
In the middle of the night, Dong-baek wakes to the doorbell. She finds Yong-shik and Chief Byun outside looking somber. In the police car, they tell her Jung-sook was found in a motel. Dong-baek holds her mother’s bag containing the insurance policy and a letter.
Jung-sook writes that she left Dong-baek’s father after he drunkenly threw a soju bottle that hurt baby Dong-baek. She started working as a cook in a nightclub, but it broke her heart to hear Dong-baek refer to the men who frequented as “oppa.”
She also started working as a maid for the women at the club. When one of the ladies had told Dong-baek that she’d give her a job as a hostess when she got older to pay off their debt, Jung-sook lost it. She took Dong-baek and left.
Dong-baek was always hungry, and Jung-sook couldn’t even afford to buy her ice cream. They kept having to move from place to place until one day they had to sleep at Seoul Station. That was when she decided to give her up.
Jung-sook had bought her a meal and told her to say she was seven and wanted to go to school next year. They’ll give her necessities like clothes and food. She only needs to tell them her name and age. Jung-sook promised to earn money and come back for her in a year.
After she’d left Dong-baek, she’d been willing to do anything. She started working at a bar and entertained men while they drank. But poverty was a vicious cycle that she couldn’t break.
When she went to the orphanage to retrieve Dong-baek, they’d told her she immigrated to the U.S. with her adoptive parents. Jung-sook flipped out, asking how they could send her away. They pointed out she was the one who had left her there.
Before leaving the orphanage, Dong-baek had asked if people who can’t ride taxis can ride airplanes. (Jung-sook had claimed to get carsick.) Upon hearing this, Jung-sook sobbed.
Later, Jung-sook had seen the woman who had adopted Dong-baek on TV talking about her daughter growing up to be a human rights activist and attorney. Jung-sook thought, then, that she’d made the right choice and even met with the woman to thank her.
The woman claimed her daughter wanted to meet her, but when Jung-sook went, it wasn’t Dong-baek. The daughter had said those like her had to work harder to receive love because their situation was tenuous. If they weren’t loved, they could get sent back like Dong-baek had been.
Jung-sook approached the woman, asking why she sent back the first child. She answered that Dong-baek had a dark side and stage whispered that she’d been raised at a bar where she presumed the mother had worked. Clearly more concerned with her sense of propriety than not being a terrible human, she had sent her back.
Jung-sook snatched the hat she’d gifted the woman right off her head and stormed out. When she finally located Dong-baek, she’d been heartbroken to realize she was just like her—running a bar as a single mom. But unlike her, she could still smile.
She had wanted to be there for Dong-baek, but instead, Dong-baek had been there for her. She isn’t telling this story to be forgiven but so that Dong-baek can overcome her past and live confidently. “It wasn’t only for seven years and three months. I’ve loved you every day for the past 34 years.”
Dong-baek heads into the hospital to see her mom. Inside, she cries as she repeats the word “mom.”
We flash back to when they visited the hospital together. Dong-baek had turned around to ask, “What about you? How were the seven years and three months?” In a life that had felt like punishment, getting to see Dong-baek again made everything worth it. Dong-baek had scoffed at that being enough for her mom when it wasn’t for her, making Jung-sook laugh. They smiled as they held hands.
So what was the point of that time jump last week if we were going right back where we started? I guess they were just rounding out Pil-gu’s side of things, but why not wait until the final episode if that’s the case? Although, I am glad we didn’t skip ahead, since there were lots of things to wrap up.
The details of the Joker’s crimes come to light and it’s… underwhelming. It’s a shame since I think exploring the father-son dynamic could have proved interesting. I would have preferred to focus on what Heung-shik had been through with his father rather than using him as a fakeout villain. I had hoped the Joker’s motivations would at least prove interesting, but they went the generic they-disrespected-me route. Overall, I’m not sure why this subplot was even necessary—the story wouldn’t have been much affected if it were taken out.
Jung-sook’s story was heartbreaking, as I knew it would be. I’ve found her story to be the most affecting and raw, reflecting the frightening, relentless nature of poverty. No matter how hard she worked, nothing changed. It’s horrible to be stuck in that never-ending cycle, especially when you have a child to support and don’t have friends or family to help. Watching her struggle to survive, desperate to get her child out, was rough. And to top that all off, she then has to deal with a fatal illness. Shout out to Lee Jung-eun who’s done a fantastic job with her portrayal.
Overall, I’ve enjoyed the slice-of-life vibe of the show with its realistically flawed characters and the issues they face. One thing I have to mention – and I know it’s been discussed in the comments – is the odd direction the show took when it comes to the depiction of motherhood. In the beginning, it seemed like we were headed towards a story that showcased how a single mother could live a full life and allow herself happiness. Instead, the show seems to be promoting the unhealthy idea that a mother has no identity outside of her child. Not only is this unfair for the mother, but it puts too much responsibility on the child. Just look at how much Pil-gu has given up because he feels responsible for his mother’s happiness. Codependency does no one any favors.
This plays into the handling of Dong-baek and Yong-shik’s relationship. It’s baffling to me that Dong-baek never sat down with Pil-gu and discussed her relationship with Yong-shik and what it could mean for their family. Bringing someone new into the family doesn’t equate to replacing existing bonds, but an eight-year-old doesn’t know that. If you want him to be okay with you dating, you need to include him and make him feel safe with this new person in your lives. Of course, a kid is going to feel insecure in this situation, and you shouldn’t ignore their feelings. However, that doesn’t mean you just go, “Oh well. Guess I’ll live alone forever.” Pil-gu clearly likes Yong-shik as a person, so all they need to do is help him feel comfortable with the situation. It’s upsetting that the idea of a blended family is portrayed as something that is unfair to the child when it can be a wonderful thing. Fingers crossed they’ll remedy this in the final episode.
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