Extracurricular: Series review, part 2
The criminal extracurricular activities continue into darker territory, with rumblings of the exposition discussed in part one taking a steep climb to the climax in the second part of the series. As retribution in all forms catches up to the perpetrators, the pace and violence pick up dramatically. Be warned that there is plenty of bloodshed as the violence comes to a head. Vengeance and desperation extinguish any remaining innocence left in these youth, and severe consequences for the criminal extracurricular activities await.
SERIES REVIEW, EPISODES 7-10
Shit has hit the fan: Ji-soo is taken into custody by Gangster Ryu Dae-yeol, Mr. Lee is drugged and beaten to a pulp, and Min-hee is a witness to this all. In utter shock, Min-hee manages to call Officer Lee Hae-gyeong for help, and as Mr. Lee gets hospitalized, she belatedly remembers Ji-soo’s abduction and spirals into panic. Officer Lee tries to persuade Min-hee to start talking, but her tactics are incompatible with Min-hee’s fragile state. She triggers more intense panic from Min-hee as she speculates the worst case scenario for Ji-soo, and fortunately, Teacher Cho saves Min-hee from further investigation.
Officer Lee’s attempts to coax information from Min-hee are rooted in good intention but her urgency comes off as unsympathetic. On the contrary, Teacher Cho is acutely aware of his students’ comfort zones and communicates with them in a balanced manner. He never forces his students to open up, but he remains unconditionally supportive. He’s as concerned, if not more, about Ji-soo as Officer Lee is, but he manages to embrace Min-hee in the process, not corner her. His protectiveness of his students is a strength but also a trait that blinds him from the truth.
Speaking of Ji-soo, we find him with his limbs tied and mouth taped shut in a plastic-lined room at Banana Karaoke. When it comes to Dae-yeol, plastic lining = murder. Dae-yeol briefly explains why Ji-soo must die — for sleeping with his future wife — and Ji-soo nearly gets his arm sawed off. His arm (and life) is saved by an unexpected visit by Mi-jung, Banana Karaoke’s owner and Dae-yeol’s girlfriend, who stopped by the room with real estate brokers, and she’s pissed at the sight of Dae-yeol’s plastic activities. Dae-yeol quickly tries to clean up the room, but Mi-jung is already enraged.
Mi-jung controls this relationship and seems to be emotionally abusive. She belittles Dae-yeol for his repulsive behavior, and even though Dae-yeol funds all of Mi-jung’s endeavors and slavishly seeks her approval, she only treats him with disrespect. He’s totally emasculated by her authority. Their relationship is one of three main dysfunctional relationships highlighted in this second half, the other two being Min-hee/Ki-tae and Gyu-ri/Ji-soo.
Mi-jung doesn’t recognize Ji-soo, so Dae-yeol stops his killing rampage. To further convince Dae-yeol of his innocence, Ji-soo shows him the transaction app and lies that he’s merely the messenger working under a pimp boss. Once they start talking business, they’re speaking the same language, and Dae-yeol’s excitement about Ji-soo’s intelligence is amusing. He nicknames Ji-soo “AlphaGo” (lol), but the gangsters soon realize that keeping Ji-soo alive is a liability. The swinging pendulum of hilarity and fear is a brilliant kind of whiplash that keeps us on our toes and stops me mid-chuckle a few times.
Survival instincts in full gear, Ji-soo calls his other Uncle phone in Gyu-ri’s possession. After tracking down Min-hee’s location to the hospital, Gyu-ri already knows they’re in trouble, so she’s visibly relieved to hear Ji-soo alive on the other end. Her wheels start to turn as she assesses the situation with Dae-yeol and his trafficking business under the Banana Karaoke façade. With the recent exodus of their sex worker network, Gyu-ri proposes a partnership deal to Dae-yeol with Ji-soo as her bargaining chip. From her perspective, she’s killing two birds — saving Ji-soo and the business — with one stone.
Ji-soo completely disagrees and accuses Gyu-ri of treating this life or death situation with levity. He blames Gyu-ri for making a deal with the devil and yells at her for blowing this out of proportion. Having experienced the wrath of their partners, Ji-soo is terrified of where this could lead, but is that fear greater than his fear of exposure? Even though Ji-soo now carries trauma about this near-death experience, his fear of exposure remains his prime motivator. Ji-soo’s self-preservation instincts reemerge when he hears about the exodus of employees, and he continues to encourage Min-hee to keep silent about her sex work, fearful of his exposure and the consequences.
Min-hee keeps her secret from the police, but she finally comes clean to Ki-tae. Beyond the phase of mortification, she admits that all the money that bought his cigarettes, alcohol, gifts, and condoms were from her transactional sex earnings. She asks if Ki-tae still likes her, and she seems resigned to the expectation that Ki-tae will find her revolting. Instead, Ki-tae is irritated. He already knew Min-hee’s secret and asks why she’s disclosing this to him now. He’s bothered by the inconvenience — that he can’t just ignore the truth now. Incredulous, Min-hee breaks up with Ki-tae, and when he threatens to expose her secret, she calls bullshit. Good riddance.
With this toxic relationship behind her, Min-hee dedicates her efforts to tending to Mr. Lee. As unconscious Mr. Lee lays in the hospital, Min-hee gingerly holds his finger, and it’s a gesture of genuine care and concern. They’re both protective of each other, and I adore Min-hee for feeling this obligation toward someone literally twice her size. Mr. Lee is possibly the only person in recent memory who cared for her wellbeing, and she’s trying to return the favor. In this world of transactional relationships, their mutual care feels particularly sincere and unconditional. Even in her minimized and broken state, Min-hee does her best to protect Mr. Lee, and that protectiveness only grows as Mr. Lee recovers.
When Mr. Lee wakes up, he asks Min-hee to find his phone in his car, and Officer Lee overhears this conversation. Officer Lee retrieves the phone and calls “Uncle” with the suspicion that this is a complex case in disguise. Ji-soo picks up the call from Mr. Lee but quickly hangs up when he receives a message from Min-hee that the police have Mr. Lee’s phone. Officer Lee correctly deduces this casualty case is a larger sex trafficking case, but she can’t investigate this phone any further. Ji-soo is freaking out, but rational Gyu-ri makes this same conclusion as Officer Lee: The police have no basis to investigate a victim’s phone.
Gyu-ri goes back to business and asks when Ji-soo plans to meet up with their psycho business partners, who’ve been bothering her about next steps. Bothered by Gyu-ri’s nonchalance, Ji-soo berates her for doing all the easy work in the shadows. As Ji-soo diminishes her for remaining distant enough to keep safe from punishment, Gyu-ri’s eyes water in anger, and she decides to handle their psycho partners.
Though Ji-soo projects blame onto Gyu-ri, he still tries to protect her from harm. When Gyu-ri sets up a meeting with the psycho partners, Ji-soo intervenes and attends in her place. In the meeting, Dae-yeol instructs him to drop out of school to work at their brothel full time, and Ji-soo numbly confronts his new reality. He breaks down upon realizing that they’re taking control of his life and his dreams, and he begs Gyu-ri for help. Gyu-ri genuinely cares for Ji-soo and tries to keep the business afloat because she knows that Ji-soo’s livelihood depends on it. She becomes Ji-soo’s scapegoat for everything that’s going wrong, accepts Ji-soo’s stinging words, and responds to his plea for help.
I’d been wondering if Mr. Lee knew Ji-soo was Uncle, and I think the answer is yes. Though Mr. Lee claims that he has no idea who Uncle is, their conversation in the hospital indicates that he knows Ji-soo’s alter ego. In the brief interaction, he stares at Ji-soo intently and says that they got unlucky with the gangsters. The vague solemn delivery of that message feels intentional and brimming with subtext. I suspect that Mr. Lee knew about Ji-soo’s real identity for a while, maybe even since the beginning.
The history of Mr. Lee and Ji-soo goes back to one year ago when Ji-soo had already started his business. At the time, Mr. Lee was a homeless man camping out in a tunnel where Ji-soo happened to pass through with bullies trying to steal his loads of cash. Mr. Lee beat up the bullies and proceeded to ride away on his bike, uninterested in the money. The next day, Ji-soo left a phone next to sleeping Mr. Lee, and their business partnership began.
At the hospital, Ji-soo also interacts with Min-hee and insists that she keep her secret. Ji-soo warns Min-hee that she may be targeted by Uncle if she doesn’t lie to the police, and that concealed threat feels more menacing coming from innocent-faced Ji-soo. Although Min-hee seems ready to tell the truth to charge Uncle with his crimes, she hesitates to put Mr. Lee in danger. When she sees Officer Lee at the hospital with back-up, she swiftly escapes with Mr. Lee.
Another disappearance: Gyu-ri. After his breakdown, Ji-soo leaves behind the bundle he received from Dae-yeol. Upon opening the bundle and discovering the money, Gyu-ri takes the money chest to school to stash it under the couch cushions in their club room, their hiding spot for business money. Little does she know, Dae-yeol attached a tracking device to the bundle. He tracks her down to the school, abducts her, and calls Ji-soo. When Ji-soo realizes that Dae-yeol kidnapped Gyu-ri, he loses it, shedding his meek innocent façade and exploding in anger.
Gyu-ri once again is the impetus to action. Until this point, Ji-soo refused to confront the consequences of his exposed business. He took the cowardly route, choosing to blame Gyu-ri and silence Min-hee to escape punishment. But his self-victimization ends when he realizes that Gyu-ri is in danger, and he lets the gangsters take him hostage. While unconscious and kidnapped, Ji-soo dreams about the people that influenced his vices (Dad, Gyu-ri, Min-hee) with Teacher Cho as the moral judge. He shares his simple dream of living a normal life to Teacher Cho, and then his world morphs into a kaleidoscope of money. It’s a trippy dream that reflects the warped reality he’s living in.
Mr. Lee and Min-hee escape to an old car repair shop owned by a fellow army veteran, who patches up Mr. Lee’s injuries and worries about the war he’s continuing to fight on his own. Mr. Lee asks his friend to track down a car covered in anime (Dae-yeol’s car), determined to finish this war. Min-hee tries to take care of Mr. Lee, sweetly offering her vape and attaching the gauze on his forehead. When Mr. Lee asks her to buy food, she gets excited about something she can help with, but she quickly turns around, catching on that Mr. Lee plans to abandon her and track down the gang with his broken body. She takes the car keys and angrily tells Mr. Lee to order delivery food.
When Gyu-ri stirs awake, she spots the knife that she hid in her wallet in preparation of the meeting with the psycho partners. The next time Dae-yeol checks on her, she stabs him multiple times and debilitates him. She then takes Mi-jung hostage with the knife at her throat and demands to know where Ji-soo is. This girl is smart and ruthless. She gets her response in the form of a racing car that crashes into Dae-yeol’s van. Ji-soo electrocuted his abductor with his trusty taser and carjacked his abductor’s vehicle. Gyu-ri and Ji-soo manage to escape by the skin of their teeth and burn the car to destroy any evidence.
Every questionable move from these two was instigated by the other. Each action from Ji-soo was followed by a response from Gyu-ri, then counter response from Ji-soo, each move dragging the couple further down this rabbit hole. They resemble and bring out the worst in each other, but this sinister chemistry is also coupled with some actual chemistry. After successfully escaping the gangsters, Ji-soo and Gyu-ri check into a motel — the only place where they can remain anonymous and untraceable. Finally having a moment to breath, they ask each other why one risked their lives for the other. The tense question sits between them, and it’s clear that the extreme measures from both of them exposed their mutual growing interest.
Gyu-ri reaches out to gently stroke Ji-soo’s face, and Ji-soo also reciprocates the affection. Ji-soo leans in for a kiss, but Gyu-ri stops him at the sound of sirens. She quickly realizes that it’s ambulance sirens, not police sirens, and they laugh. The mention of the police grounds Ji-soo back in reality and he laughs in delirium, unsure of what to do next.
Ever the problem-solver, Gyu-ri sneaks into Banana Karaoke the next day and attempts to frame Dae-yeol. She replaces Dae-yeol’s “AlphaGo” labeled phone with the Uncle phone, and she nearly makes it out. Sensing an ominous presence behind her, Gyu-ri turns around to find scornful Dae-yeol, who whacks her leg with a metal bar. He finds her despicably similar to Mi-jung and starts to choke Gyu-ri. The act of vengeance is interrupted by a rowdy group of high schoolers led by Ki-tae, who yells for Banana Karaoke’s owner. How the hell did he get there? Problem-solver Gyu-ri, of course.
Though Ki-tae’s reaction to Min-hee’s confession was demeaning, the confession broke his willful ignorance. He suspected that a pimp was managing Min-hee’s transactions, and he was determined to find and punish the pimp who took advantage of his girl. Putting his underlings to work, Ki-tae scoured through all the trafficking sites and finally got a response to meet at Banana Karaoke. Before planting the phone in Dae-yeol’s room, Gyu-ri directed Ki-tae to the final battleground.
While Dae-yeol is distracted by Ki-tae, Gyu-ri slips away and blasts the fire extinguisher at Dae-yeol before fleeing. Ki-tae and his high school bully gang incite a fight at Banana Karaoke, and Dae-yeol chases after Gyu-ri with Ki-tae on his tail. Another player arrives at the Banana Karaoke battleground seeking vengeance: Mr. Lee. After confirming the location of the anime car, Mr. Lee left Min-hee behind to fight his final battle. Upon realizing that Mr. Lee left to fight to his death, Min-hee reports the anime van to Officer Lee, who quickly searches for the van’s whereabouts.
Ji-soo arrives at Banana Karaoke just in time to save Gyu-ri, and just as the gang overpowers them, Mr. Lee emerges. Mr. Lee slowly makes his way toward Dae-yeol, and his terminator-like domination has Dae-yeol scared shitless. Before Mr. Lee follows Dae-yeol, he turns to Ji-soo to bid farewell, stating that it would be best not to meet again. With that, Mr. Lee marches up to the attic, where he fights Dae-yeol in a bloody battle to their deaths.
When Officer Lee arrives, the students and gangsters are arrested, and we see Ki-tae looking numb after finding Min-hee’s gifted cap at Banana Karaoke. Backstory on the cap: Min-hee bought the cap as Ki-tae’s birthday gift in the place of the stolen expensive phone case. Pissed at Ki-tae’s ungrateful acceptance of the gift, Min-hee donated it to Ji-soo instead. So when Ki-tae finds the cap, he assumes Min-hee was there when it was actually dropped by Ji-soo.
At the police station, Officer Lee tries to figure out the relationship between Mr. Lee and the high schoolers. She thinks that the high schoolers were part of Mr. Lee’s gang. Frustrated by the misinformed conclusion, Ki-tae reluctantly shares his motive for wreaking havoc on Banana Karaoke: Min-hee. Mi-jung and the rest of the gang are investigated simultaneously, and Mi-jung claims innocence by disassociating with Dae-yeol entirely. When the police officer shows her the Uncle phone with all the sex trafficking records, Mi-jung checks for the label on the back. It doesn’t have a label, so she knows that this phone doesn’t belong to Dae-yeol, but she continues to feign innocence.
Gyu-ri destroys Dae-yeol’s “AlphaGo” phone with their records and tries to talk business again. Ji-soo is scared out of his mind to reengage in any business as one should be, but Gyu-ri looks unfazed. Exasperated by Gyu-ri’s insistence, Ji-soo shakes her, trying to get her back in touch with her senses. He’s realized that the two of them together are extremely dangerous and calls it quits. But Gyu-ri can’t quit because her desensitized opulent life is unlivable. This is the main thing keeping her alive, so she takes the Uncle phone to continue on alone.
Min-hee also realizes that she’s alone once she hears that Mr. Lee died in the fight. She takes a moment to confirm with Officer Lee that it’s all over, and she breaks into tears. Mr. Lee had bid farewell to his army friend and even to Ji-soo at the very end, but he never had a proper parting word with Min-hee. There was no way for him to say goodbye to Min-hee because she would have never let him leave. Anger quickly follows the grief, and Min-hee blames Ji-soo for silencing her. She regrets not telling the police earlier because she believes that her confession could have saved Mr. Lee’s life. With the belated reveal of the truth, it’s not the alienation and dirty looks at school that bother her — it’s the death of Mr. Lee that hurts.
Ji-soo learns about Mr. Lee’s death through Min-hee, and he has another nightmare. He’s burying Min-hee as Teacher Cho reads off his charges in the form of a report card. For Ji-soo, everything has been justified as a means to the end goal of living a normal life, and that jarring conversation between teacher and student shows how he consciously and unconsciously normalizes his crimes. In the process of burying Min-hee, the roles suddenly switch, and Min-hee is burying Ji-soo while repeating Mr. Lee’s last words. The content of this dream, including the white butterfly omen symbolizing death, foreshadows the grim future events.
Gyu-ri doesn’t actually conduct business on her own and instead cleverly uses the Uncle phone to blackmail her parents. She plays the recording of the idol trainee Lee Tae-rim agreeing to engage in sex work. Knowing that this recording could ruin the company’s upcoming investment deal, she demands their biggest offer. Gyu-ri ironically gets the money to fund her financial freedom from her parents, and she offers to take Ji-soo along. Ji-soo only briefly entertains the idea, as the guilt of his crimes weighs heavy on his shoulders, and he rejects Gyu-ri’s offer. Gyu-ri stops herself from comforting Ji-soo and reminds him to check their hiding spot in the extracurricular club room.
At school, Ji-soo finally checks under the couch and discovers the cash in the bundle from Dae-yeol. He quickly covers up the spot before Teacher Cho arrives, and he solicits advice from his supportive teacher. Ji-soo asks about Teacher Cho’s observation of him — that he endures too much on his own — and asks if Teacher Cho personally experienced this. Teacher Cho shares that he did and eventually exploded, but fortunately, he had someone who always handled this explosion. He admits that he never realized that this person was at his side until then. For Ji-soo, this was always Gyu-ri. Teacher Cho offers to be that person now, and Ji-soo eagerly accepts.
They agree to meet after class to talk, but that plan quickly goes awry when Officer Lee arrives at the school. She’s brought along the box of Dae-yeol’s phones, and one of the phones rings with a tracking notification for the money. She follows the tracking app to the couch and discovers the money. Teacher Cho leaves class to accompany Officer Lee, and Ji-soo quickly realizes that he’s on his own.
Ji-soo rushes home and manically drafts apology letters about his crimes. He shivers in panic and considers calling Gyu-ri for help. Then, he gets a call from Min-hee to meet. Min-hee was confronted by Ki-tae earlier about the cap he found at Banana Karaoke, and she realized that Ji-soo may have a larger role in the organized crime that exploited her and resulted in Mr. Lee’s death. Min-hee presents the cap found at Banana Karaoke and demands the truth from Ji-soo. Suddenly exposed, Ji-soo dwindles into panic and profusely apologizes to Min-hee.
In the process of fishing for more information, Min-hee learns that Ji-soo is Uncle. Ji-soo accepts responsibility for the crimes and claims that Gyu-ri wasn’t substantially involved, that she just considered this a joke. The fact that her dignity was a joke to Gyu-ri hurts Min-hee even more, but she swallows her anger and decides to forgive them for this unfathomable crime. Min-hee’s apparent mercy is a huge relief for Ji-soo, but he’s not off the hook. Min-hee recorded the full conversation, and Ji-soo overhears her replaying the incriminating conversation.
Ji-soo begs Min-hee to delete the evidence and vows to turn himself in, but Min-hee isn’t feeling the least bit merciful. She wants justice and punishment for Ji-soo and Gyu-ri. At the mention of Gyu-ri, Ji-soo becomes protective and curses at Min-hee for not accepting his sole responsibility. Min-hee isn’t moved by Ji-soo’s “noble” gesture and fights for her phone. In the scuffle, Min-hee gets pushed and rolls down the stairs. With blood pooling around her head, Min-hee gasps weakly, and Ji-soo apologetically takes her phone before running away.
Post-explosion, Ji-soo seeks help from the only person he can rely on to handle this mess. He begs Gyu-ri to save him, and he packs up his things to run away. As he’s about to leave, he’s met with an unexpected guest, Ki-tae, who learned from Mi-jung that Ji-soo and Gyu-ri sold Min-hee. Ji-soo pretends to be innocent, but when Ki-tae calls Min-hee, the phone rings from his backpack. Ki-tae finds the bloody phone and begins to beat up Ji-soo. He then takes scissors and stabs Ji-soo multiple times, and before the fatal stab, Gyu-ri knocks Ki-tae unconscious.
Teacher Cho, who’s always a strong advocate for his students, defends his students at the police station. He sincerely believes that they’re innocent, and Officer Lee admits that this case has inflated to be quite serious. Noting Teacher Cho’s concern, Officer Lee assures him that he shouldn’t worry too much, but those comforting words are spoken too soon. After meeting with Officer Lee, Teacher Cho gets a call about Min-hee’s injury. He rushes to the site, and it seems that Min-hee is still alive but critically injured.
Ji-soo also looks severely injured as Gyu-ri helps him out of his apartment. When they reach the escalators, Ji-soo resorts to the stairs and tells Gyu-ri to leave him there. He pleads that she save herself, but Gyu-ri refuses. Then, Ji-soo looks to the top of the stairs. Is someone there? We never know. By the time Officer Lee arrives at the apartment, it’s emptied out. She follows the bloody handprints to the stairs and only finds one shoe at the site where Ji-soo and Gyu-ri were. The loss and regret look heavy in her eyes.
The ending is the epitome of the whole series. Just when you think it’s over, our characters manage to make another wrong move. I thought they had already reached the pits of their despair, but I guess there’s always room to dig yourself deeper into trouble. In the midst of their messy escape, I was surprised to find the partnership and loyalty between Ji-soo and Gyu-ri touching. Even though they are largely dysfunctional, their simultaneously discordant and compatible partnership somehow still works. I think a similar juxtaposition also worked well in the storytelling. Though the chaos and bloodshed were shocking to watch, the story unfolded quite elegantly. Each piece of the chaos was crafted and timed so that the climactic moment at Banana Karaoke felt like a proper accumulation of all the players.
This second part of the series is when I found Min-hee incredibly compelling because she sheds the helplessness and takes control of our own voice. Ji-soo’s relentless silencing really bothered me because he was only ever looking out for himself. Once Min-hee realized the power in her own voice, she reclaimed control of her life and even wielded power over Ji-soo. The reversal of power dynamics was satisfying, though it did end poorly for both Ji-soo and Min-hee, as foreshadowed in Ji-soo’s grave-digging dream. I noticed the show referencing the white butterfly at the end — the same one from the dream sequence — and I wonder who that death omen is directed at: Min-hee or Ji-soo? Is it both? Or is it simply hinting at the near-death experience they’re sharing?
I commented on the praiseworthy acting in the previous review post, but I’m going to do it again. These young actors tackled a difficult and heavy issue, and they all approached their roles and the story with the attention and awareness it required. They’re all antagonists in this story, yet they all depict their antagonism with a sense of humanity. It’s clear that this cast has thought through the intricate complex backstories of their characters and how to weave in those elements into their acting. They’ve all mentioned how this series has literally been a “life lesson” (the literal translation of the title in Korean) for them because of the challenges in acting and with the content. For these actors, this show is going to be a turning point in their careers.
In the promotional interviews for the show, I’ve seen comparisons of the story with the Nth room scandal in Korea, a big sex trafficking scandal that was recently exposed. Though this series did not adequately highlight the gravity of these crimes, I think the entire production team was well aware that this series would draw attention to the topic and ensured that they were responsibly prompting discussion on sex trafficking. A larger conversation on sex work and exploitation are important, and for a topic that is often intimidating and unapproachable because of its overwhelming and triggering nature, the facilitation of that conversation can be aided by a medium like TV. Within the realms of the genre, I think this show did a laudable job in presenting the issues and consequences surrounding sex trafficking.
It’s too soon for any news on a second season, but the ending naturally opens the door to a follow-up season to answer all the questions that arise from that ending. What lies ahead for Gyu-ri and Ji-soo? I think (and hope) that Min-hee is still alive, so what will she do? Where did Ki-tae go? I think there’s plenty of content to cover in a second season, but my desire for a second season doesn’t diminish the valuable commentary from this ending. Our last glance at the characters encapsulates the cyclical nature of crime, perilous partnerships, and the dangers of allowing others to silence your voice. Here’s to hoping for redemption, healthy partnerships, and Netflix listening to our demands for a second season!