Mental Coach Jegal: Episodes 3-4
One flying kick is not enough to take down a whole world of corruption, but it’s a start. As our mental coach finally starts to get through to his reluctant pupil, a new hope and a new confidence start to take over.
EPISODES 3-4 WEECAP
Oh, I really am loving this show — happily, it’s keeping all the humor and heart from its premiere week, and adding to that equation with more (wacky) characters, moral dilemmas, and lots of new players.
One criticism, though, is that the asynchronous editing got a bit confusing. I understand dramas get a lot of mileage out of showing us a pivotal scene and then backing their way into it again, but sometimes it overcomplicates something that’s not too complicated at all. After all, the simplicity of this show is its charm.
Anyway, the star of this week’s episodes is definitely the No Medal Club characters — they act as Gil’s team of superhero helpers, each putting their athleticism to use, whether that’s gymnast CHOI SOO-JI (Lee Jini) kicking down CCTV cams, marksman PISTOL PARK (Heo Jung-min) “shooting” with a camera, or my favorite cardigan-wearing Young-to, whom we met last week.
This week, however, we learn that the injury that cost Young-to his leg was actually caused by none other than our most-hated-coach-in-the-world, Coach Oh. Also important (and lovely) to note, is that Gil has helped and coached each of the No Medal gang through their emotional and psychological injuries. The closeness between him and Young-to is especially touching, as is Young-to’s bravery in approaching and facing Coach Oh. The two might not exactly look like past teammates, but I like this plot line — and Kang Young-seok — so much that I’ll let it slide.
Gil and the No Medal Club pull all the stops (and comedy) while they investigate what’s going on with the short track team, and come up with enough evidence to start influencing change. First is a press conference beautifully destroyed by the fact that JO JI-YOUNG (Kim Shi-eun) faked her injury and accepted bribes. Coach Oh is dragged off the stage and it’s damn satisfying.
As his abuse of the team is finally exposed — though only temporarily — he’s pulled from his spot just as Ji-young is from hers. This opens up a spot on the national team for our girl Ga-eul — and with her rests the real heart of the story. She fights her way through the previous race, so desperate to rank that she’s willing to harm her injured leg more. But there’s more at stake than just points, and what gives this whole thing heart is her inner struggle. She’s packed with a lot of emotional conflict, but I think my favorite is the yearning in one of her lines: “Why was I given a desire that’s far greater than what my talents can achieve?”
Thanks to Gil’s rather relentless pursuit of rapport with Ga-eul, his words start to get through to her. The two share so many nice scenes this week, and between all their heart-to-hearts and his secret help with Coach Oh, she starts to trust him more. All while admitting that it’s very hard for her to trust people, but that she wants to be able to.
Gil might be working endlessly to build rapport with her, but it gets easier when they both wind up at the national training center again — Ga-eul as a national athlete, and Gil as the reluctantly-hired new mental coach. For Gil, this means a (willful) return to hell; for Ga-eul it’s the success she’s been craving for four years.
As the national training center becomes our new main setting, Gil gets many more opportunities to butt heads with Dr. Park (who is by far the most unnecessary character in this drama this far; let’s hope they use her more as the story progresses). The training center also means a lot more of Gil and Tae-man interactions — which, not gonna lie, I love the frenemy thing they have going on. Sure enough, we see them conferring and working together over the Coach Oh assault case, but at the same time there’s a thinly-veiled contention between the two at all times (plus, Kwon Yul in glasses!).
And that leads us to probably my favorite motif from this week’s episodes, which is the idea of needing other people — and conflict — to grow. We see it first with Ga-eul, as she admits she needs to train with the team, not on her own, because competing against the clock is nothing like competing with other skaters and feeding off their energy.
Later, Gil confirms the same motif in his interactions with Tae-man — a fascinating dynamic that’s less “keep your friends close and your enemies closer” for him, and a little more akin to “keep your competition close because you need something to strive against in order to persevere and grow.”
You could argue the story has enough to keep itself going with the Gil/Ga-eul coaching angle, and the Gil/Tae-man backstory, but we meet another player who complicated things. He’s the prodigy swimmer LEE MU-GYEOL (rookie Moon Yoo-kang), and he has a seemingly complicated history with Ga-eul. We see her parting from him when they were leaving the national training center four years ago, but by the time we hit Episode 4, he’s also returned.
I really like the addition of this character for several reasons. First, his presence practically guarantees that there’s no love line in the works for Gil and Ga-eul. Second, he seems to hate Coach Oh as much as everyone else, and when Coach Oh returns to taunt Ga-eul yet again, it’s not Gil but Mu-gyeol that punches his lights out. Third, Mu-gyeol has a bit of an interesting story himself.
When we meet him he’s just returned to Korea after training abroad, but there’s something bigger at stake, because during their investigations the No Medal club seems him in an illicit exchange with a delinquent from the past they all know quite well.
But probably the best part of Mu-gyeol’s appearance on the scene is that he’s forced to accept a mental coach – and that mental coach is none other than Gil. In order to be taken seriously, Gil scares Mu-gyeol with the inside knowledge he has on his doping, and it comes off a bit threatening, but really, we all know that Gil will be the best thing that ever happened to this swimmer boy.
The lessons that Gil works so hard to instill in Ga-eul are surely coming for swimmer boy next — and beyond mere plot points, the depth also permeates the drama’s many uplifting and encouraging messages, like “Finish strong,” or “Face your fears head on. Don’t ignore them but expose them for what they are.”
Our crew will need these mantras and more as they re-enter the fight. And with a whole lot of corruption and bureaucracy threatening to bury the truth — again — there are many more battles in store before true athleticism is restored for our short track team.