Racket Boys: Episode 13
Nationals are just around the corner, and the girls are up first. However, an unexpected situation arises, and it stirs trouble within the team as old grievances emerge between friends. While the students deal with their own struggles, a visitor from the past arrives to town, and rumors float around, some even assuming the worst. Though goals are important, there are somethings in life worth more than winning.
EPISODE 13 RECAP
Ten years ago, KANG TAE-SUN (Kang Seung-yoon) hugged a woman who appeared to be his mom and left Haenam for his first day of training as a national athlete. The coaches immediately put him against a senior player, but the game ended much sooner than anticipated—Tae-sun was just that good.
Hae-kang clenches his fist in excitement since summer vacation starts in two days, but the other boys do not share his enthusiasm because summer means all-day practices. Yong-tae asks the girls about their Nationals schedule, and Han-sol points to Se-yoon, saying that they are guaranteed to reach the finals with their ace.
Han-sol asks how the boys did in the world championship, and Yoon-dam tells her that Park Chan came in second while Hae-kang was disqualified for starting a fight. As for the girls, their matches were cancelled because of the weather, and they wonder when the championship will be rescheduled.
Yoon-dam tells the others that he invited a guest, and Jae-suk enters Grandma’s playroom. He brought along a friend, and Park Chan follows after him. He smiles at Se-yoon, and Hae-kang frowns.
The dates for the world championship have been announced, and Young-ja yells at Coach Paeng because they overlap with Nationals. He argues that she can still play in both finals, but Young-ja thinks there are too many unforeseen variables such as missed flights. As her coach, she plans to advise Se-yoon to dropout at the semi-finals.
In exchange for their new van, Ms. Shin orders the boys to pick potatoes, and the Seoul guests get roped in to help. Eyeing Hae-kang, Yong-tae wonders aloud who the best badminton player will be: the undefeated king or the rising challenger?
He assumes the number one would be good at digging potatoes, too, and his plan works like magic. Both Hae-kang and Park Chan dive into the field, desperately fighting to beat the other.
Their battle morphs into a watermelon race next, and Yong-tae enjoys his time as the score keeper. He calls it a tie and announces a new game for the boys to play. The two hotheads glare at each other, and on cue, they tackle Yong-tae. Ha!
Since the boys forgot a knife, they take turns smashing a shuttlecock at the watermelon, and the person who opens it gets a wish. While Hae-kang misses his shot, Park Chan fairs much better, lodging the shuttlecock squarely in the fruit. Though Hae-kang voids his win on a technicality, the watermelon splits right before his eyes, and even he gasps in shock over his rival’s skills.
Later that night, the kids need a volunteer to grab fruit from Mr. Hong’s place, which means another round of games. Yoon-dam pulls out a toy alligator, and Se-yoon loses on her first try. While the others rejoice, Park Chan asks if he can use his wish and volunteers to go with her.
In the meantime, Jae-suk tells the others that a scout from Seoul is visiting Haenam, and he singles out Han-sol and Yong-tae for getting overly excited. With his mind wandering elsewhere, Hae-kang claims to have a stomachache and runs to the bathroom. The boys realize the time, and all of them exclaim their disbelief in unison.
On their walk home, Park Chan asks Se-yoon about her dream, and she tells him that her goal is becoming a national athlete. She wonders why he is not surprised like everyone else, but he holds no doubts about her abilities. When Se-yoon asks about his dream, he says that he wants to be a national athlete and play alongside her.
Though Park Chan planned to keep his feelings to himself before Nationals so she can concentrate on her training, he is starting to feel restless now that a strong rival has appeared. Before he can elaborate, the popular CCM song “You Were Born to Be Loved” plays out of nowhere, and Hae-kang pops up from the side of the road. Pfft.
He quickly turns off the music and pretends to be out for some air. Noticing the two of them staring at each other, Park Chan goes on ahead by himself, and Hae-kang uses this chance to talk with Se-yoon privately.
Hae-kang tells Se-yoon that he is a scaredy-cat, but despite his fears, he waited for her outside this entire time because she was with Park Chan. He takes a step in her direction and then says that even if she took longer to come back, he would not have been bored waiting for her.
Slowly closing the gap between them, Hae-kang says that he can pick her out from an audience in a heartbeat and asks if she remembers the secret he promised to tell her after Nationals. He stares into her eyes and continues, “I’m going to confess to you. I couldn’t hold back these words today.”
The Seoul coach drops by to scout out the badminton boys and pulls Hae-kang aside to offer him one of the four spots on his team. He plans to recruit Park Chan as well and hopes to take the two boys to the national level.
In the gym, In-sol wonders if this means Hae-kang will move to Seoul and asks if the others feel upset about it. While they would like him to stay, the boys will support Hae-kang’s decision since the Seoul team has better connections and opportunities.
Young-ja sits with Se-yoon in the yard and tells her not to worry about Nationals since the world championship is more important. Se-yoon wants to play at Nationals, though, because her mom is coming to watch, but in order to do so, she needs to win the final match of the world championship in twenty minutes to catch her flight.
Se-yoon tells Young-ja that winning Nationals has always been her goal and explains how winning will help her teammates get into better high schools and give the coaches a bonus as well. Young-ja advises her to be selfish, but Se-yoon says that this is the only way she can repay her friends.
In order to save a spot for Hae-kang, the Seoul coach asks for his resolve, telling him to always win because no one remembers second place. He will wait for his response until after Nationals, but Hae-kang already has his answer.
Head Coach Bae has prepared a special training for the boys to help with Nationals and calls Hyun-jong to let him know. Today’s schedule even includes cheers and jeers, which comes courtesy of their classmates.
The girls cheer for Yoon-dam while the boys chant Woo-chan’s name, but above all else, both sides agree that Hae-kang sucks. However, their taunts have the opposite effect on him as he soaks in the crowd’s animosity and riles them up more like a true attention-seeking king. Heh.
The Seoul coach visits the girls’ team, too, and asks to meet Se-yoon. He mentions her role model who happens to be his student and tells her that they can practice together in Seoul with Na-ra as her new partner. He says that Young-ja even approved of his offer by letting Se-yoon make the final decision herself.
Grandma has a new helper around the farm, and Mr. Hong’s younger brother finds himself shoveling cow poop all morning. She takes him to her smaaaaaall corn field next, but apparently, Grandma has a very different definition of the word. Pfft.
Mr. Hong’s brother fixes the city couple’s sink as well, and they thank him for all his help. He asks how they are adjusting to the countryside and advises them to apply for support funds. The city husband comments on how all the villagers seem happy, but Mr. Hong’s brother disagrees—the people in this small town are just poor. He asks if they plan to raise their kid here, and the couple cannot answer him.
The head coach makes his players stand on a box and share their role models to the class. When it is Hae-kang’s turn, he chooses pitcher Yang Hyun-jong to no one’s surprise, but then he adds another person.
Back when Hae-kang was still playing baseball, he went to find his dad who was consoling a junior badminton player. The junior apologized for losing, but Hyun-jong told him that it was alright to lose. Those words moved Hae-kang since it was the first time he heard an adult say losing was fine.
As Head Coach Bae wraps up Hae-kang’s speech, Hyun-jong walks into the gym at the perfect moment, and the students applaud him. Woo-chan asks if it is alright to lose, and Hyun-jong scowls, lecturing them on the importance of winning and studying. The kids boo him while In-sol nods in agreement. Heh.
During his meeting with the Seoul coach, Hae-kang turned down the enticing offer and vowed to prove that their school was the best. More than that, he wanted to play on a team where losing was fine and teammates rooted for each other.
The coach asked if they coordinated their answers, and we see that Se-yoon said something similar. She refused to move as well and told the coach that her real role model was Young-ja. Also, she did not need a new partner since she already had the best one here.
Before bed, Yoon-dam looks for a birthday gift for Head Coach Bae, and Hae-kang complains about the heat. He asks Yong-tae to turn the fan, but he ignores Hae-kang and pretends to sleep. The others block Hae-kang from getting up, and they ask him about his meeting with the Seoul coach.
He tells them that the coach offered to make him a national athlete, but he turned it down, lying about not wanting to let Park Chan be the captain. The others smile at his silly reason, and Yong-tae shares the fan with Hae-kang.
As Se-yoon gets ready to sleep, she asks Han-sol to turn off the lights and starts talking about the Seoul coach. Han-sol cuts her off, saying that she is not interested, and asks if she has hands. She is tired of acting as her secretary and accuses Se-yoon of keeping her around to make herself look better.
Se-yoon returns fire, wondering why she is attacking her out of the blue right before the world championship, but Han-sol points out that she has a game tomorrow, too. Before storming out of the room, she asks Se-yoon if she even considers her a friend.
Hyun-jong tells Young-ja about the boys’ role models, and she finds some of their choices odd since they are older players. He wonders if they share something in common, and Young-ja remembers that those four were friends since elementary school and remained that way even after becoming professionals. Hae-in asks if this means they will stick together as well, and they overhear the boys do their “racket boys” chant.
At the crack of dawn, Se-yoon gets up to leave for her flight and looks over at Han-sol with a downcast expression. Once the door closes, Han-sol opens her eyes, having been awake the entire time.
In the gym, the boys rub their hands in anticipation as Hyun-jong unveils their new uniforms. Their excitement dies down when they notice the tacky sweet potato mascot, but Coach Bae says that they have another option: an even worse mascot of salted oysters. The boys choose the potato. Ha!
Head Coach Bae reminds his players that they win together, lose together, and thanks them for everything. Yong-tae teases him for making a farewell speech, and Hyun-jong explains that he is. The head coach will not be attending Nationals with them and has taken a semester off.
Yoon-dam does not take the news well and yells at the head coach for abandoning them. He asks if his mantra means nothing and says that his dream was playing at Nationals with the head coach. He pulls out the gift he prepared and calls it all pointless. Head Coach Bae reminds Yoon-dam that he has his teammates and Hyun-jong by his side now. He hugs his young captain and accepts his present.
The various teams from across the country gather for Nationals, and Han-sol plays their first match against Busan. Meanwhile, Se-yoon plays at the world championship and wins her first game.
Hyun-jong holds a meeting with Woo-chan and asks how he is doing. He describes him as hardworking and kind, but his expression looks somber. Woo-chan already figured out why he called him over and says that he knows he is not skilled enough to play at Nationals.
Mr. Hong brings some PPL tonics to Grandma and Grandpa, who then do the customary smile-at-the-camera pose (heh). He asks if he can help them with anything, and they tell him that his brother already came by. Mr. Hong warns them about the “bats” who are coming down to build a golf course over their village, but Grandma asks if he really does not know.
Rushing back home, Mr. Hong confronts his brother about being a bat. His brother claims that everything is for the villagers’ wellbeing since their small neighborhood will eventually disappear because of the dwindling population. His words stun Mr. Hong who cannot argue back.
News about Nationals reaches the girls at the world championship, and they learn that Han-sol managed to secure a win for her team. Na-ra says that it is futile since her team is guaranteed to win as long as Se-yoon is not playing. She advises her rival to concentrate on the championship, and the other girls head out to return to Korea.
Young-ja bumps into Han-sol in the living room and congratulates her on winning against Busan. Han-sol points out that they used to win three straight matches before and expresses her doubts about their future games. Young-ja says that they will not know until they try, but Han-sol describes Na-ra as her “Se-yoon” (aka, an undefeatable opponent).
Before the world championship semi-finals, Coach Paeng tells Se-yoon to do her best since she can still play at Nationals afterwards. Once the game starts, the coaches notice a change in her playing style and wonder what she is planning.
Back in Korea, Han-sol plays in the semi-final matches, but her teammates do not have the energy to cheer for her. Na-ra smirks at them since they will inevitably lose to her team, and her taunts dampen the mood even more. Meanwhile, Se-yoon wins her game without breaking a sweat, and Coach Paeng realizes that she was treating it like a warm-up.
Only one of Han-sol’s teammates has the enthusiasm to keep chanting, but then a loud group of kids join her: the Haenam boys! They hold up signs, wear headbands, and scream at the top of their lungs for their friend. Their energy spreads throughout the crowd, and the others cheer for Han-sol as well.
The boys grab tteokbokki for lunch without Yoon-dam, and two badminton players stare at them from another table. Hae-kang poses for the fans, asking if they want his picture, but the boys are just curious about their menu. Pfft.
In-sol warns Hae-kang to keep his cool before their matches and avoid all conflict. Hae-kang dismisses his advice and asks where Yoon-dam is. Woo-chan says that he went to see Han-sol and says that the two might be dating. The other third-years agree, but Yong-tae slams the table, pointing out that they are all brothers!
Yoon-dam hands Han-sol a drink and tells her that she did well bringing her team all the way to finals. Han-sol sighs since it all means nothing when she loses tomorrow and wonders what she can do without Se-yoon. Though he wants to cheer her up, he does not know the right words, so instead, he hugs her. Han-sol holds back her tears and leans into his shoulder.
A customer recognizes Tae-sun working at a convenience store but assumes he must be wrong since the once great player would not be a cashier. At his store, Mr. Noh smiles at a picture of the old days, and greets Head Coach Bae who drops by to ask about Tae-sun. He suggests that the two meet, but the head coach declines.
Mr. Noh marvels at the head coach’s old watch, and Head Coach Bae tells him that he likes the classics. Mr. Noh offers to show him some older uniforms then, but Head Coach Bae shouts at him to bring him the newest designs.
Both Hae-kang and Park Chan type a message for Se-yoon before her big match, but neither of them has the courage to send it. Unlike her previous game, Se-yoon plays aggressively right from the start, and her coaches worry about her pace. Clearly looking a bit exhausted, she wins the first set twenty-one to seven.
Hwasun’s captain wins the first singles match for the Jeonnam team, and the doubles pair with Yoon-dam and yellow-haired kid continues the streak. Hae-kang wins his game as well, bringing their team to the quarter-finals.
Before heading for the finals, Young-ja gets in contact with the youth national team and wonders if Se-yoon might make it back in time. Overhearing the conversation, Han-sol hides in her room and looks conflicted.
Tae-sun receives a call from Mr. Noh, asking if he is wiling to meet someone, and he wonders if it is Head Coach Bae. When he arrives at a café, the person sitting across from him is the woman from the opening scene.
She asks how he is faring, and he apologizes for not contacting her sooner. When rumors spread of his return, lots of people speculated that he might seek revenge while Mr. Noh thought he wanted to play badminton. However, she knew better: he wanted to apologize to the head coach.
Back when Tae-sun left for his first day as a national athlete, Head Coach Bae stood in the background, watching him with a smile. Tae-sun lived with the couple, and they treated him like a son, feeding him scrumptious food and tucking him into bed. In the present, Tae-sun apologizes for not speaking up back then, but she tells him to say it in person since the head coach went to see his mom.
While Se-yoon rests between sets, Coach Paeng begs her to slow down because at this rate, she will injure herself. She does not give him an answer and returns to the court.
Head Coach Bae visits the columbarium where Tae-sun’s mom rests, and he asks for her forgiveness for failing her son. As he pays his respects, Tae-sun arrives, and he nearly cries at the sight of his old coach. The head coach orders him not to shed any tears and gives him some space to talk with his mom.
In a trembling voice, Tae-sun tells his mom that the head coach’s wife knew right away why he came back, which only made him feel guiltier. Before he could even properly apologize, they forgave him, and Tae-sun breaks down in front of his mom’s ashes.
Sitting on a bench, Head Coach Bae asks Tae-sun what his new goals are. He tells him that he wants to be a national athlete, but he is worried about the long break he took. The head coach agrees that it will be hard, but he knows an excellent coach with an eight-year consecutive win streak who is willing to help: himself. He is glad that their dreams align, and Tae-sun smiles at him gratefully.
Drenched in sweat, Se-yoon bends over to catch her breath as the final score is announced—she won twenty-one to four. The coaches gape at her in bewilderment for accomplishing the impossible, but all she cares about is playing at Nationals. She tells them that she really wants to go, and they rush out of the stadium with her.
Young-ja gets a call, notifying her of Se-yoon’s win, and the girls chatter excitedly behind her. While everyone else looks relieved about their ace’s return, Han-sol sighs and stares at the ground. However, at the airport, a terrible thunderstorm rages outside, cancelling all flights. Se-yoon clutches her ticket as tears stream down her face.
Though Se-yoon tried so hard to be there for her team, things outside of her control have thwarted her plans. She pushed through her final game only to be stopped so close to the finish line, and knowing how much effort she put in to make this moment happen heightened the depths of her disappointment and frustrations in that last scene. While Se-yoon can be prickly at times and come across as headstrong, she isn’t a selfish character who strives to win at all cost. She cares about people, which is why she followed Young-ja to a small school and sticks with her current team because her teammates are her friends. Her dream to play at Nationals isn’t about herself—all the reasons she lists are about other people: her mom, her teammates, and Young-ja. This is what makes the audience feel her anguish because missing Nationals isn’t about losing another opportunity to prove her worth (destroying the competition at the international stage is proof enough of her skills) but about letting down the people closest to her. At the end of the day, she is still a young teenager, and in her shoes, it really does feel like the whole world is fighting against her dream.
While Se-yoon struggles with her own battles, Han-sol also faces a dilemma with no solution. The team ace is gone, and now she has to fill this impossibly big hole. At the same time, everyone waits anxiously for Se-yoon’s return, and Han-sol finds herself in a bind where all routes lead to the same conclusion: she will never be good enough. She’s placed in an odd predicament where she needs to make it to the finals in order for their ace to play, but no one really expects her to win. Unintentionally, the others see her as a placeholder, and it makes sense for Han-sol to wrestle with these conflicting feelings. On one hand, Se-yoon is her friend who she also admires, but on the other, she is the shining star, forever casting Han-sol into the shadows of obscurity. Although her confrontation with Se-yoon felt abrupt, the reason for their fight has always been in the background of their relationship and story. They needed to address this problem eventually, and Han-sol has to find her own self-worth in order to overcome her inferiority complex towards Se-yoon. I truly believe that both girls cherish their friendship despite their grievances, and once they reconcile, their bond will become even stronger.
The bulk of the episode was focused on the female friendship, but another good chunk revealed the backstory concerning Head Coach Bae and Tae-sun. When they first revealed the head coach in the flashback, I thought for a second that Tae-sun was their son, and it seems like the creators evoked this confusion on purpose because they were, essentially, a family. It emphasized the weight of Tae-sun’s betrayal as well as his subsequent regret, and it also explained why he ultimately quit badminton after the incident. He spurned the very people who showed him love after his mom’s death when they needed him the most, and this choice destroyed him. However, it’s clear that the head coach and his wife already forgave Tae-sun a long time ago and were waiting for his return. Thus, the one holding Tae-sun back was himself, and once he had the courage to face the head coach again, he was able to heal and find his dreams. Though I hate to see the head coach leave the badminton boys, Tae-sun needs him more right now. The kids have Hyun-jong as well as each other, and asking the head coach to stay feels like stealing the last sheep from the shepherd who only has one. This reunion is also good for Head Coach Bae who was shackled by the rumors of the past, and it’s the only way for him to truly move on from that event and become the coach he was always meant to be.
Every week, the show delivers another amazing episode filled with hilarious and adorable scenes that perfectly capture the youthful innocence of its young characters as well as their complexity as human beings. I never would have imagined that I would become this invested in a middle school love story, but here I am. Hae-kang was so cute during that confession scene, and both the directing and acting flawlessly conveyed the tension and exhilaration of young love. These two have a certain connection, and no matter how earnest Park Chan may be, he really has no chance with Se-yoon because she only has eyes for Hae-kang. The thing that I love about this “love triangle” is that Park Chan’s feelings are never belittled even though the show makes it clear that she will never reciprocate them, and they pull this off by making him a kind, young man who respects his crush as well as his rival. Park Chan never forces his feelings onto Se-yoon because the show always treats her as an individual rather than an object to win over. All the characters are given nuances, and it’s this depth that makes the interactions and relationships so impactful. Besides our main couple, Yoon-dam and Han-sol are also a wholesome pair, and I love how their relationship has gradually blossomed from crush to friendship to mutual affection. I also appreciate the show for not focusing solely on the romance aspect of their story and allowing both of these characters to grow individually. Their friendship and group dynamic are just as important, and I loved how the boys all cheered for Han-sol during her game. The other great thing about the romances is Yong-tae’s lack of insight—he might be a walking encyclopedia when it comes to badminton, but he knows nothing about dating. He foolishly thinks that they are all brothers, and I cannot wait for his reaction when he learns that there might be two couples in their friend group.