Mental Coach Jegal: Episodes 5-6
With one athlete icing him out, and another one — equally stubborn — that he’s trying to help, our mental coach spends most of his time trying to win trust. With the occasional truth bomb thrown in for good measure.
EPISODES 5-6 WEECAP
I don’t normally draw attention to episode titles but I just loved how they worked thematically this week for our episodes. Episode 5 was entitled, “Black Bird on My Shoulder” and fittingly, the episode is a lot about darkness, anxiety, and premonitions. And not gonna lie, when we watched this inky black bird come and sit on Mu-gyeol’s shoulder after his charged encounter with Gil — it was so spooky!
Not long after, Gil gets his own blackbird: throughout the episode he keeps seeing the suicide that was hinted at in a previous episode. We were led to believe it was a flashback, but now it’s clear it was a premonition, and the fact that he keeps seeing detailed flashes of it makes him nervous. The Team Korea jacket. The bandaid on the person’s finger. Gil isn’t so much haunted as he is on high-alert.
A huge chunk of our episodes this week focus on Mu-gyeol; I like this storyline quite a lot, but Ga-eul also felt a bit sidelined from the plot (though they make up for it later). Anyway, Mu-gyeol is our swimming prodigy who’s terrified the drugs he’s taking will come to light. And it only takes a hot second for the photo of him with the dealer to get leaked, and send him into a downward spiral. As Gil says, he’s in panic and mistrusting everyone around him. Who ratted on him? It’s the worst possible emotional state for him to be in, because he’s already having what looks like super intense panic attacks.
While Mu-gyeol is suffering, all the leadership is scheming. Seriously, everyone in a leadership position in this drama is absolutely incorrigible, though on different levels. Tae-man is playing Gil, and the Mu-gyeol scandal, to oust his rival — or so he thinks. In the end, he’s actually been out-played by Gil and the No Medal Club.
We return to the No Medal Club as if a sort of home base. They’re always a step ahead, they’ve always got some scheme rolling, and unlike the others, they care about the athletes as humans (since they know what it’s like). So, when we saw Gil give the evidence to Tae-man last week, it was bait, because they knew he’d use it. Tae-man was outplayed this once — and furious about it — but I wonder if he’ll underestimate Gil again…
Meanwhile, Gil is still trying to win Mu-gyeol’s trust (or at least a listening ear), but he strangely does this by letting the kid get caught by the Anti-Doping Association. Seems like a tough-love play, but in actuality, he’s done his research and he knows not only what Mu-gyeol is taking, but that it’s not prohibited for swimmers.
Sure enough the results come back clean — what Mu-gyeol’s been on is an anti-panic drug. This, of course, spirals into its own scandal, but it’s Gil that is really trying to get at the heart of it. Gil knows what he’s witnessing in Mu-gyeol and tries to get through to him on numerous (and highly emotional) occasions. You have yips — not a panic disorder — that’s why the drugs aren’t helping you. You need to treat your anxiety now before it destroys you, Gil says.
Much like we saw when Gil was trying to get through to Ga-eul, he knows that: 1) the individual in question needs to be able to ask for help in order to be helped; and 2) that admitting the truth to yourself is the first step. Well, Mu-gyeol has no intentions of admitting that yet — it’s sad, he’s so freakin’ traumatized by his step-father and all the abuse and training and mental strain he’s been under.
Hey, that actually sounds a lot like our little heroine! Like Mu-gyeol, she’s buckling under the weight of her own traumas, abuse, and strain. Ga-eul and Mu-gyeol are actually very similar in personality and in circumstance, and as hinted at previously, they share a past.
We see a flashback of them four years ago — as well as other flashbacks and rumors of rumors. As suspected, they had a fledgling romance going on, but eventually it buckled under the weight of said rumors. One night Mu-gyeol asked desperately why Ga-eul was seen coming out of Coach Oh’s room in the wee hours, and he takes her lack of response as admission (meanwhile, we know she’s dying inside).
It’s a rumor that still carries weight amongst the team, and also serves as a dividing line for Ga-eul when Coach Oh started his current abuse pattern. And his abuse of her is still ongoing — he makes her life a living hell — almost as if he’s trying to get back at her…
Among many other awful actions, Coach Oh “coincidentally” makes Ga-eul’s team event and the national tryout test on the same day, and even when she shows up for the test and qualifies, he still won’t concede her win. This guy gets worse by the day, and even goes to hit Dr. Park… seriously, I don’t understand how this man has a job. Then, one of the short-track skaters relinquishes her spot because of him (making space for Ga-eul), and I can’t blame her for leaving.
Through all of this, Ga-eul is continuing her miserable journey of depending on no one, trusting no one, and trying to convince herself she’s strong. Similarly, Mu-gyeol has his mantra about being undefeatable, but it’s more like he’s trying to convince himself than actually believing it. Both characters are shown in moments where they want to give in and accept Gil’s help and trust him, but the negative voices in their heads overpower them.
Ga-eul is a little ahead of Mu-gyeol in her healing journey, though, so she finally reaches the point of being able to ask for help. After being pushed to the end of her rope with Coach Oh and her teammates, with trying to make the right decision, with the pressure from her family — and the big reveal that her father is alive and in a facility — she can’t take any more.
She epitomizes our Episode 6 title, “Crustacean Molting.” Her hard outer shell is finally gone, and she’s the vulnerable weak creature underneath. But, as our wonderful coach says, “When you’re at your weakest you begin to grow.” She runs through the rain to the No Medal Club and is greeted by Gil and the crew with so much love and warmth (and towels! and hugs! and smiles!) — it was so heartwarming it made me cry.
Thus far the drama is doing a great job of showing us — through Gil’s experiences and the way he approaches the athletes – that what someone who’s hurting and weighed down by pressure and anxiety truly needs is someone to feel with them, and understand. It’s what changed everything for Gil back when (secret chaebol) Dr. Park cried over him, and now we see it happening with Ga-eul. And Mu-gyeol is next! As it is, Gil gives so much support — and sorely needed hugs — to these two. I love what a mamma bear he is haha.
And outside of all the facing of traumas, acknowledging of truths, and accepting of help to look forward to, we also have the No Medal Club’s next mission: ousting Coach Oh once and for all. Let it be swift, and let it be satisfying.