Run On: Episode 3
Our translator and athlete get closer this week, as work and life (and mutual interest) pull them together. Important insight on our hero and his family life goes a long way in shedding light on the man he became, and the decision that might derail his career.
EPISODE 3 RECAP
Mi-joo stares in shock at an innocently smiling Sun-kyum after his drunken kiss and declaration that she’s his girlfriend. But the moment ends when he collapses on her shoulder, just as the designated driver finally arrives. Tae-ri hilariously tells off the press that’s watching nearby, and seems glad to brush that dating scandal away.
In the morning, Sun-kyum wakes up on the rug of a sunny living room to find Mi-joo and her roomie prepping breakfast. Mae-yi greets him and offers the unrequested disclaimer that she and Mi-joo are NOT a couple. Sun-kyum introduces himself and apologizes for the previous night, before asking if he can wash up.
When he emerges freshly showered, he’s dressed in a ridiculous leopard print top and tight leather pants replete with silver chains. The ladies explain that they keep a set of men’s clothes hanging outside for safety, and he’s welcome to borrow them for longer if he likes. Mae-yi then offers him a pair of shoes, which they also keep for safety.
Over breakfast, Sun-kyum asks how he got there last night, and we see a flashback of Mi-joo literally dragging him to her house while he clings to her back like a koala. When Mae-yi lets her in, Mi-joo quips, “I found him on my way home. Isn’t he pretty?”
Sun-kyum claims he remembers nothing, but then realizes the kiss was real, and tells Mi-joo she can hit him. Mi-joo, however, brushes off the incident as a mere peck, and nonchalantly ask about his “moist and delicious” lip balm. They banter on, and Mae-yi throws a bone from her soup into the garbage can while a dramatic soundtrack plays; it gives a bizarre, fateful feeling to the entire scene.
Outside, Mi-joo acts like a weirdo about Sun-kyum’s car, and eventually it becomes clear she wants a ride. He has trouble reading her, but eventually agrees, warning her that he needs to drop by Dan-ah’s office. Mi-joo says she’ll just wait in the car, and Sun-kyum says he needs to apologize for getting angry at her the day before. Mi-joo’s curiosity piques at that, and she asks Sun-kyum if he often “gets emotional” with Dan-ah.
Dan-ah isn’t in at the office, however, so when Sun-kyum returns to the car, he tells Mi-joo that he needs to visit someone at the hospital, and then adds that he should get a plush toy on the way. It’s not until the middle of this conversation that Sun-kyum realizes he’s not driving — Mi-joo somehow ushered him into the car and took the wheel (and seems to be enjoying herself immensely). She says she knows exactly where to go, and they head to an arcade, where Mi-joo puts her sharpshooter skills to good use to win a plushie for Sun-kyum.
Mi-joo gets called for work immediately after, and prepares to leave. She’s disappointed when Sun-kyum only thanks her politely, and she finally asks if they’re really going to avoid talking about last night. But Sun-kyum only apologizes once again for the kiss, saying she can hit him or sue him — or even both. But Mi-joo only wants to know why, and Sun-kyum’s answer isn’t what she wanted to hear: he was trying to get out of the situation and would have kissed anyone he was with.
Frustrated, Mi-joo walks out of the arcade saying that hitting him sounds appealing. Instead, though, she slams a pretty forceful right hook into the punching game that’s next to her, and then storms away while the machine assesses her punch as “impressive.” (Haha I love her!)
Sun-kyum arrives at the hospital and greets Woo-shik’s grandmother, but keeps mum on the details of Woo-shik’s injuries. Woo-shik smiles to see Sun-kyum, commenting on the crazy outfit and giant plushie which Sun-kyum seems to have forgotten about entirely.
They have a conversation about the situation, and Woo-shik asks why his sunbae is so determined to help him. Sun-kyum replies that Woo-shik is a young, up-and-coming athlete who wouldn’t want to raise a fuss, but Sun-kyum himself is both financially comfortable, and on the verge of retirement. He doesn’t have anything to fear by coming forward. An emotional Woo-shik thanks him for his help, but Sun-kyum, seemingly uncomfortable with the display, quietly leaves.
While driving back, Sun-kyum smiles fondly towards the vacated passenger seat thinking of Mi-joo. But a reminder dings on his phone. He has a family gathering the next day, and the thought wipes the smile off his face.
Meanwhile, Mi-joo is reviewing the questions for an upcoming joint interview with pro-athlete siblings Eun-bi and Sun-kyum, but she calls the boss to complain that the interview is one-sided, and practically ignores Sun-kyum in favor of his sister. She requests that the interviewer revise the questions to be more inclusive.
The next day, a dapper Sun-kyum runs into his elegantly dressed sister in the hotel elevator, and she teases, “Oh hey, it’s the athlete that committed assault!” On the car ride to their parents’ house, they briefly catch up over their respective dating lives until Eun-bi sees their father’s campaign ads plastered on the side of the road. She says she’s tired of being put on display like an animal in a zoo for their father’s career. She wishes he would stop, but Sun-kyum doesn’t see why he would, “since that’s the only reason we exist.” Oof.
They arrive just in time to join their parents’ photo shoot, and the four of them go through the visibly painful exercise of trying to pass themselves off as a happy family for the camera. In a strong contrast to his coldness with his own parents, Sun-kyum literally glues himself to their cook, who seems like a grandmother figure to him. She made his favorite dish, japchae, knowing he would be at lunch.
While Sun-kyum tastes the japchae, Mi-joo’s at work tearing into a corndog and looking over her next translation project from Mae-yi. She’s busy grumbling about how much she hates musicals, but while doing some research, comes across Sun-kyum’s family photo taken the same day, as Assemblyman Ki is trending online.
She notices Sun-kyum’s wan, forced expression, and contrasts that to his shy, happy smiles from the night before. She then conducts a mock interview (with her corndog as the mic), asking him why he looks so unhappy in the photo.
At the family dinner table, Assemblyman Ki delivers a falsely pious prayer that rings even more hollow upon his subsequent verbal abuse of Sun-kyum. He berates his son for everything that’s happened in the last few days, from being photographed with a “tacky actress,” to his trip to the police station. Lastly, he compares him to his sister, who’s managed to be both a number one athlete (not number two) and stay out of the press. Then his father says he’ll “take care of” the disciplinary committee issue.
Sun-kyum refuses this assistance, and says he intends to take the punishment. This infuriates his father, who picks up his empty wine glass and hurls it towards Sun-kyum. The glass explodes, and a shard hits Sun-kyum across the face. While their father shouts, Eun-bi stealthily moves his other glass out of his reach. Sun-kyum restrains his anger and announces that he’ll leave before he ruins their meal even more. He pauses, though, and says “Happy anniversary” before he leaves.
Eun-bi catches up to her brother on his way out and gives him the japchae. He attempts to apologize, but Eun-bi brushes him off, saying the only reason he should apologize is for not introducing her to his new girlfriend. He smiles, despite his clear distress, and promises to introduce her next time.
Mi-joo is a teary mess by the end of the musical, and gives herself a nasty paper cut while gathering her notes and trying to compose herself. On the way home she stops at a local pharmacy to get some ointment and bandages for her finger, and further on her way, notices Sun-kyum sitting on some public steps in her neighborhood. He’s eating his japchae in peace and staring out into the sunset.
Mi-joo approaches, and wonders if he was waiting for her. He admits that he was, and that he couldn’t find a good excuse. Mi-joo asks why he just didn’t call her, but she’s soon distracted by the cut on his cheek. She offers her ointment and points on her own cheek to where his cut is while mentioning she saw the family picture from earlier today. She thought he said he didn’t have a home.
While she’s saying this, Sun-kyum notices the cut on her finger and gently reaches for her hand and spreads the excess ointment across her cut. He does this off-handedly, while answering that he only has a home on days like today, and that, “A home is a place you can come back to.”
Mi-joo reacts to his (unintentionally?) swoony move by balking, “Did you just touch me?” But Sun-kyum merely says he had extra ointment on his finger and didn’t want to waste it. These two! They bicker about the ointment, but then Mi-joo tells Sun-kyum that even if he doesn’t have a home, he can still find a place to go home to, just like she did.
The next day, Young-hwa sits in the café where his art is displayed, tutoring a female high school athlete who is falling behind in math. It seems she’s crushing on him, though, because she’d rather ask Young-hwa about his love life. He’s reluctant to share, but she presses on, wishing to know about his first love. He confesses he’s never had one, much to her surprise.
Later, Dan-ah corners Eun-bi at the hotel gym, pitching a new brand line of athletic wear for her to model. Eun-bi is annoyed at her persistence. She accuses Dan-ah of using her brother, and Dan-ah doesn’t deny it (and seems to really enjoy teasing Eun-bi). Eun-bi asks how Dan-ah is handling Sun-kyum’s assault fiasco, and Dan-ah shrugs it off, saying Assemblyman Ki will handle it quickly enough.
Dan-ah ponders for a moment before asking Eun-bi if she’s ever fought with Sun-kyum. Eun-bi says no, and adds that they haven’t spent enough time together to fight. But she volleys the same question back to Dan-ah, who isn’t sure. She admits he’d gotten angry with her, but she isn’t sure whether he was overreacting, or whether she’d provoked him somehow. Eun-bi retorts that her brother doesn’t get angry without reason.
Eun-bi knows her father’s interference in the assault case is morally wrong, but understands why he would do it, since Sun-kyum’s career is on the line. Dan-ah scoffs at that. “An assault charge isn’t the end of the world,” she says.
Sure enough, we see Sun-kyum, Gyu-duk, and Ki-bum sitting in the somber disciplinary hearing. But the two “victims” insist that the situation is being blown out of proportion, stating that Sun-kyum was only disciplining them. The committee members are satisfied with their testimony, but Sun-kyum insists that he should be punished for his actions. Things grow heated as the committee accuses him of stirring up unnecessary trouble, and Sun-kyum abruptly leaves, frustrated that they care more about a happy ending than the actual abuse taking place.
In the hall outside, Sun-kyum furiously confronts his coach, demanding to know what he did with Woo-shik’s evidence. The coach brushes it aside as nothing, echoing the sentiment that Sun-kyum should have kept his mouth shut. The argument continues, and incensed, the coach moves to strike Sun-kyum, but the assistant coach stops him, fearful of who could be watching. The coach stares Sun-kyum down, and then slaps the assistant coach instead.
Gyu-duk and Ki-bum are left in the hallway with Sun-kyum, and things quickly get heated. They don’t think they did anything wrong to Woo-shik, and more than that, Gyu-duk calls Sun-kyum a hypocrite who can get away with anything because of his father. Gyu-duk sneers that they’re the same, but Sun-kyum shakes his head, “No, I’m worse,” he says. “I gave him hope.”
Mi-joo meets up with Assemblyman Ki, who’s requested to see her. He cuts right to the chase, saying he wanted to greet her since she’s “looking after” his son. She says he must be a great father, as her assignment is only for a week, but the assemblyman laughs and confides that Sun-kyum got himself into trouble because his anger issues resemble his father’s.
Assemblyman Ki says that as an interpreter Mi-joo must know how to sugarcoat things, and all but asks her to follow Sun-kyum around (for professional, not personal reasons) and basically keep him/his image in check. He then hands her the infamous white envelope of cash. To her credit, Mi-joo is taken aback at the obvious bribe. Assemblyman Ki tells her to think of it as a charitable donation, as he’s learned that Mi-joo is an orphan raised in difficult circumstances. She reluctantly accepts it.
After he leaves Mi-joo crumples the envelope in her fist, humiliated by the demeaning exchange.
The next day, everyone arrives at Jeju for the upcoming exhibition meet. Mi-joo waits for a taxi, but a car pulls up and Eun-bi greets her and tells her to get in. It turns out that Sun-kyum is driving — he spotted her on the sidewalk — and he leans over from the driver’s seat and gives her a weird but swoony greeting.
Mi-joo sits with the siblings and a reporter on the lawn of the resort, and interprets for them. At one point the interviewer critiques Eun-bi’s choice to speak Korean despite being a fluent in English. Eun-bi responds that since the #1 golfer is Korean, she should use her native language.
Mi-joo is also frustrated with the bent of the interview, and the clear preference for Eun-bi over Sun-kyum. In English, Mi-joo reminds the interviewer of her email asking for both siblings to be treated fairly.
During this exchange between Mi-joo and the interviewer, Sun-kyum sits back in his chair and whispers in awe to his sister about how cool Mi-joo is. Eun-bi teases that he doesn’t even know what she’s saying, but then adds that he should treat Mi-joo well because she’s looking out for him.
It’s such a great scene, and Sun-kyum is obviously a bit enamored of Mi-joo at this point, and jumps up to follow her when she heads inside, but he’s delayed by another reporter. Later, in her hotel room, Mi-joo acknowledges that she can’t punish Sun-kyum for his father’s actions, but the bribe still makes her feel uncomfortable around him.
That night, Mi-joo asks the receptionist for Assemblyman Ki’s room number, intending to return the money, but Eun-bi overhears from her seat in the lobby, and says he hasn’t arrived yet. She is curious about what Mi-joo needs to give to her father, but notices Mi-joo’s discomfort and drops the question.
As she’s walking back to her resort building, Mi-joo hears running footsteps approaching from behind. She picks up her pace, clearly frightened, but drops to a panicked crouch when a hand falls on her shoulder.
It’s only Sun-kyum, out for a run. He’s both confused and dismayed at the sight of Mi-joo crying from fear. He takes her to the racetrack, seating her along the sidelines, and crouches down next to her, gently asking if she’s okay and apologizing for scaring her. She asks why he was running like a lunatic in the dark, and he says he had a lot on his mind.
Sun-kyum asks her to wait while he finishes his run, and Mi-joo calms herself while he flies down the track. When he circles back around, he stands in front of her from his spot on the track. He looks at her, and then his gaze shifts to the right where he imagines his father, Dan-ah, and all the other stakeholders that are pressuring him. Then he looks further to the right and imagines his teammates lined up at the starting line. Mi-joo turns to see what he’s looking at, but doesn’t see anything.
Sun-kyum brushes the visions away and jogs over to Mi-joo, adorably crouching over her again, and asks if she’s feeling better. She tells him she would have shot him if she had a gun, and he asks if the lighter gun was for self-defense. She answers vaguely but asks if he has it with him. He left it at the training center, but can’t retrieve it because he’s been temporarily banned for assaulting his teammates.
While they walk back to the resort, Sun-kyum takes the time to fully verse Mi-joo on the assault situation. He says he’d hoped to be punished so that Woo-shik’s attackers would be as well. But alas, his plan failed. He’s always used his running to escape when times got tough, but he can’t just run away from this.
Mi-joo says he shouldn’t have to do something if he doesn’t want to, but immediately notes the irony of that statement, since she came to Jeju when she didn’t want to. Mi-joo quickly assures Sun-kyum that her aversion had nothing to do with him, though, and he’s relieved to hear that — he says he was very happy to see her, and he still is. Gah! They play off the awkwardness by introducing themselves, officially, as work colleagues with a cordial handshake.
The next day, during his morning jog, Sun-kyum comes across Woo-shik sitting on a bench outside. When Sun-kyum questions his presence, he says the coach was “considerate” enough to let him come despite his injuries. Sun-kyum scoffs at the word. Woo-shik says that since the whole team is there, he assumes no one was punished by the disciplinary committee. Sun-kyum looks agitated, but Woo-shik is as sweet as ever and says he’s glad his sunbae is okay, and he has no regrets. But, echoing Mi-joo’s sentiments from the night before, Sun-kyum tells Woo-shik he doesn’t have to forgive them if he doesn’t want to.
Later, all the sponsors and press are gathering for the meet. Dan-ah stops Sun-kyum in the lobby, saying he has another photo shoot with his sister later. He dislikes the idea, saying she just wants to dress him up, but doesn’t fight too much. Dan-ah asks Sun-kyum if he’s still angry, and he says he was never angry at her, but at everyone involved in the cover-up. And he intends to stay that way.
The track is all in a bustle, and while he’s getting warmed up, Sun-kyum sees his father talking to Gyu-duk and Ki-bum. Sun-kyum marches right over when they leave, and confronts his father, demanding to know if he bribed them, hoping it’s not true. Assemblyman Ki admits to it, and warns his son not to cause any trouble this afternoon, since there are a lot of people watching. Sun-kyum isn’t intimidated. He tells his father if he didn’t want trouble, he shouldn’t have let him attend. “I gave you a chance,” he tells his father before walking away.
As the runners ready themselves, Mi-joo watches with concern, noticing how burdened Sun-gyum seems to be. She wonders to herself what could be on his mind, and thinks about his running last night, and how even when he’s not racing, he seems to run with all of his might. Sun-kyum catches her gaze from a distance, and meets it for a long moment, before turning away.
The race is about to begin, and the runners take their starting marks. In a voiceover, Sun-kyum says: “In track and field, one must begin. At the start line, an athlete can make a decision whether to run until the finish line, or not run at all.”
The gun goes off. Runners fly down the track. But one lone figure remains crouched on his mark. “I chose not to run,” Sun-kyum’s voiceover continues.
With everyone watching, Sun-kyum calmly stands and approaches the horde of reporters demanding to know why he didn’t run. “I couldn’t run because I assaulted my teammates,” he says. The crowd reacts, cameras flash, and Sun-kyum looks up at Mi-joo in the stands.
Whew. I feel like we covered a lot of ground in this episode. Sun-kyum’s noble cause of defending his younger, more vulnerable teammate was relatable insomuch as it was the humane thing to do, but it’s rarely interesting to be told that a character exhibits certain behaviors just because they are a fundamentally good person. This episode, however, tapped into the specifics. It makes complete sense that Sun-kyum came from an abusive background himself and has clearly grown into a man who has had to fight for every scrap of confidence and strength that he has. His father no longer frightens him, as he sees him for what he is.
But though his wounds have clearly scarred over, he’s still navigating life in their aftermath. His loneliness and lack of a place to call home echo that fact. But he’s mature enough to recognize the way hierarchical systems function, and to be furious when he sees others, like Woo-shik, subjected to the same kind of abuse he’s been subjected to.
The dinner scene was an excellent microcosm of the dynamics playing out in the Sun-kyum’s athletic organization, because there was an unsettling disconnect between Assemblyman Ki’s violence towards his son and everyone’s reaction to it. Everyone is aware of, and uncomfortable with, the abuse, but no one really steps up to directly challenge it, whether from fear, or even more troubling, an acceptance that is unfortunately all too common. In an echo of Woo-shik in the first two episodes, blatantly bleeding wounds were being ignored in favor of maintaining a veneer of peace.
So, it’s no accident that Mi-joo was the first person to verbally acknowledge Sun-kyum’s wound. Both characters are extremely empathetic, and their empathy seems to spring from a deep well of trauma. I really appreciated the scene where Sun-kyum comforted Mi-joo after her scare. Some shows might have played her fear for laughs or written off her tears as an overreaction. But I’m glad her fears were validated, and that Sun-kyum carefully acknowledged the threat of violence that had terrified her. I hope that the show develops Mi-joo’s back story, as I strongly suspect that whatever happened to her parents led to what appears to be hyper-vigilance as an adult.
I’m still looking forward to more development from the other characters. I adored Eun-bi in this episode. She’s also living life in the aftermath of abuse. Regardless of whether she directly experienced it, she still had to function in an environment where violence was expected, and her careful removal of her father’s water glass was a painful reminder of that.
I’m a bit concerned about Young-hwa, by contrast, as he’s yet to come off as more than an ideal romantic second lead. However, it’s always interesting to feature a romantically inexperienced male character, and I hope the show can tackle that journey respectfully.
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