Mental Coach Jegal: Episode 2
As our mental coach sees himself more and more in his new mentee, he commits to helping her. But that’s not as easy as it sounds, since she’s stubborn and defensive. But soon, her cover starts to give way, and we see she’s just a scared young girl underneath it all.
Editor’s note: Coverage will continue with weecaps.
EPISODE 2 WEECAP
After learning mostly about Gil in Episode 1 — basically, that he’s a warm-hearted underdog hero we can trust — the camera turns to Ga-eul. We rewatch the terrible match where her teammate would rather shove her out of the race and have them both be disqualified — and injured — than the alternative. In fact, it soon feels like the entire team is out to get Ga-eul, and for good reason: the coach is pitted against her.
The drama is shining quite the light on corruption in professional sports, and just looking at how the athletic association operates for the speed skaters, gosh, is any race actually authentic? Is there ever a true victor, or is it all paid-off commissioners and pre-planned maneuvers for each athlete?
COACH OH DAL-SUNG (Heo Jung-do) has been successful in making me despise his very existence. First we see him drill into Ga-eul and make light of the huge slash in her thigh while demanding a beyond-thorough exam for the athlete that the association favors (and pushes to the top with force).
The following OR scene is intense, because we learn how dangerous these blade injuries can be. Just a few inches higher and Ga-eul’s would have hit a major artery. She endures twelve stitches without anesthesia so that the drugs won’t disqualify her from her upcoming match, and she sits there writhing in pain. But the sad part is, it’s not even bravery — it’s self-punishment and misery.
I missed Lee Yumi’s Netflix roles that skyrocketed her career, but I can see what the fuss is about, just seeing her performance here so far. She’s a brat you want to slap one second, and then the next, so vulnerable — like a lost puppy that pretends to be tough to protect itself. She’s perfectly matched to Jung Woo’s character here, and their interactions (err, fights) are some of the best scenes in the drama so far.
Gil sees himself in Ga-eul for sure — and all his interactions with her are colored by his own past experiences as an athlete, and what he has seen others suffer. The present-day Gil certainly has a lot more maturity to him than the one we see in the past, and some hilarious flashbacks show us what he was like a decade ago, undergoing rehab and psychological treatment for his issues and injuries.
Here we meet DOCTOR PARK SEUNG-HA (Park Se-young), who was Gil’s psychiatrist back in the day. And boy, the flashbacks of his screaming and shrieking rival the similar scenes from Mad For Each Other. LOL! I don’t think I should have been laughing as much as I was, but Jung Woo’s off-the-handle carrying on is just so great. Anyway, he was such a terrible and problematic patient that Dr. Park retired after having to deal with him, hah.
In the present day, she works with the athletic association and — along with Tae-man — brings up the issue that they need more mental health counselors for the athletes. And not just the athletes that are in the 1%. Indeed, that’s the problem with this entire situation: only the top 1% of performers are treated like humans. Everyone else is crushed, used, and hung out to dry. Ga-eul is one example, and the deceased Yeon-ji is another. Her case lingers in the background of our story, too, because the association received reports of her bullying and they (read: Tae-man) ignored them.
Gil runs into his old doctor, and she’s none too pleased to see him and calls him out for his life-change. “You can’t even cure your own psychogenic disability and yet you’re coaching others?” Gil tries to explain what he’s learned from his own experiences, but their little interlude is interrupted by a fight between Ga-eul and her teammate. The coach intervenes, blames Ga-eul for everything, and kicks her out of practice. He’s just so vile it’s hard to handle. Gil grips his cane/safety pin angrily, but doesn’t make a move.
Outside, he pursues Ga-eul and tries to get her to commit to a little bit of coaching. He’s done his homework, and they study a replay of her race together. He calls her out for her behavior on the ice and with the team, and I like that his main point is just to get her to be honest with herself.
Like every eccentric coach out there, though, he has his own way of doing it. He wants to convince Ga-eul to give up the upcoming match to let her still-very-wounded thigh heal, and over the course of the evening he tries to get her to protect herself first, not take every slap and shove and verbally abusive word she’s served.
Gil and Ga-eul’s first stop is a creepy building and the Bonesetter’s Clinic inside. It looks like a witch doctor’s lair at first, but in a moment all the lights pop on and Gil’s kooky father (Yoon Joo-sang) appears. Gil introduces him to Ga-eul with an adorable giggle. (I love these characters!) Turns out his father knows way too much about the human body and rehabs tons of athletes with his skills. They joke that Gil is the only one he can’t seem to heal.
Their next stop is upstairs to the “No Medal Club” — basically a club room of washed-up athletes that once competed at the top of their game, but now are trying to find their way after their careers are over. One is a gymnast (Lee Jin-yi) with a chronically dislocated shoulder and anorexia; another is a fellow (and famous) speed skater GO YOUNG-TO (Kang Young-seok) who wound up losing his leg after an injury from another skater’s blade.
Poor Ga-eul is so horrified by what she sees as a collection of permanently injured losers that she runs out in the middle of Gil’s coaching. He runs after her, and it’s a fantastic scene between them. Ga-eul asks if he’s purposefully trying to frighten her, and she’s finally honest about her fears of getting injured, while Gil encourages her to let her emotions out and face her fears instead. His empathetic gaze really highlights what a vulnerable creature she is, like an injured animal that bites you when you’re trying to help.
He can’t seem to talk her out of the match, though, and I love love love that instead of being at odds with her decision, he and his fellow washed-up friends help her. Gil coaches her (unlike her actual coach), his father works on her leg, and Young-to sharpens her skates himself — he’s a legendary sharpener, they say, and he gives her an edge in all senses of the word.
And sure enough, she performs beautifully, gaining her way as the race progresses. The coach (and the corrupt association behind him) have the entire race planned out, but they’ve overplayed their hand. The girls are tired of being forced to underperform and/or strategically remove other skaters from the race. And so, while the two girls in the lead go at it and have a genuine moment of competition, they fall, and Ga-eul and her remaining teammate are neck and neck.
Ga-eul wins second place, but in the words of Gil: she won. Her wound is bleeding she looks like she’s about to drop, but what a race! You’d think her coach would be proud, but he’s so infuriated that his plan didn’t pan out that he starts hitting her in the hallway. We flashback to all the physical, verbal, and emotional abuse this man has spewed at Ga-eul since she was a kid, and it’s enough to make you explode. Or, you know, do what Gil does when he witnesses it.
He’s down the hall, and screams a war cry at the top of his lungs. Then, dropping his cane without even thinking, he runs at top speed towards the coach and hits him in the head with a flying kick. It’s the most satisfying thing all year, and all the athletes and Dr. Park and Tae-man are there to see it. In the words of Gil: my safety pin came undone.
And it’s another great episode for this show! So much has happened and changed for our characters already that I have to remind myself we’re only two episodes in. I really like everything this drama is doing, though — it somehow balances the rage with humor, and all the hardship with heart. I particularly like how the drama is pulling out the idea of psychogenic injuries and how, as Gil explains, emotional injuries get stored in your body just like physical ones do. It’s a really nice direction for this drama to take, as it focuses on mental strength and inner healing, and I can’t wait to see how it changes both Gil and his new mentee.