Once Upon a Small Town: Episodes 4-6
As our local peach farmer gets up his courage, our out-of-town vet is falling hard — with our smiley police officer caught in the middle. While emotions fly, for better or worse, everyone is learning which scrapes can be bandaged up and when it’s time to just let go. Plus, puppies!
EPISODES 4-6 WEECAP
Time is flying by this summer in Huidong and Ja-young has already tamed the wild dog (all healed) and wants to adopt him. Ji-yool sees how she handles the dog and can’t help but say yes, as we watch his heart soften toward her just a little more. Ja-young calls her new pet Nurungji (the word for rice that browns and hardens at the bottom of a cooking pot) and it’s a cute name for a dog that’s been hardened to the world.
And just in case you thought we were short on animal metaphors, our peach farmer is here to deliver. After last week’s truck haggling, Sang-hyun is still up for jealous and juvenile disputes. When he runs into Ja-young and Ji-yool together, he tells Ji-yool (all up in his face) that it’s peach moth season — a time when he usually disrupts the moths’ mating so they don’t ruin his crops. But right now, he can’t help but empathize with how it feels to have someone get in the way of their romance. LOL. Is anyone else laughing and clapping every time these two are on screen together?
To give us more sequences of Ja-young and Ji-yool developing feelings, Nurungji goes missing. Our leads set out to find him and discover him in the forest, tending to his pups. The mama dog is even wilder than he is, jumping on Ji-yool when he comes near her babies. Ji-yool falls and loses a contact lens and Ja-young finds all kinds of excuses to touch him (just brushing the dirt off, huh? I see your game, Ja-young). It also gives us an excuse to see Ji-yool in glasses — and I am not complaining!
The next shenanigans they get into together involve helping a baby cow into the world. Afterward, Ja-young is a bottomless well of compliments and I can just about see Ji-yool’s ego inflate and lift him off the ground. The two stay on the farm for dinner, as a thank you for birthing the calf, and Ji-yool and Sang-hyun are at it again. Ji-yool doesn’t eat meat, so Sang-hyun eats more to show his masculinity. They both drink, though, so they go glass for glass with some high-proof home brew. The alcohol works its way in as Ja-young sings for the dinner crowd and, suddenly, our vet is in loooooove. To make it obvious, he starts trying to avoid her immediately.
Ja-young doesn’t make avoidance easy, following Ji-yool out as he leaves the party. Sang-hyun catches up to them, saying he’s worried about Ja-young leaving with a shady guy. Ji-yool decides to leave on his own, tossing an emasculating response to Sang-hyun (“If you’re not like the other shady guys, I’ll think of it as leaving Ja-young with a girlfriend”). This causes Sang-hyun to confess to Ja-young that he likes her (in front of Ji-yool) and results in unrestrained squeeing on my end.
While Ja-young doesn’t give him an outright answer, it’s clear she doesn’t reciprocate Sang-hyun’s feelings. He knows. And, the next day, he tells her that no matter what, they are still like family and the awkward phase between them will pass quickly.
Since the discovery of the puppies in the woods, Ja-young has been wanting to bring them into town. She goes on her own one afternoon but Ji-yool goes to find her so she’s not alone. When he arrives, he’s cold toward her, thinking about the confession from Sang-hyun. Ji-yool reasons that he will be going back to Seoul soon and, besides, Ja-young is nice to everybody in town so he probably just misread her signals earlier when she seemed so interested in him. With this resolve, he bandages up her scratched hand, and sends her on her way.
Soon after, Ja-young hurts her leg in a bike accident. Ji-yool learns that Ja-young had fixed his bike, using a part from her own, leaving her bike dangerous to ride. Sang-hyun is angry at Ji-yool, telling him that Ja-young is like that — she loves everything in their village as much as she loves herself. He says he hates Ji-yool because he’s in the village now too — making Ja-young care about him. What’s worse is that Ji-yool will be leaving soon and Sang-hyun doesn’t want to see Ja-young abandoned again. He tells Ji-yool not to give her the wrong idea.
Ji-yool marches off to find Ja-young at her acupuncture appointment, where she’s getting her leg treated and helping out the acupuncturist with work. Now Ji-yool is the angry one, transferring everything he just took from Sang-hyun onto her. He asks why she’s looking for confirmation of her self-worth all the time by helping people: “Do you need people to thank you that badly?” (Youch. That stings.) He says he’s mad that she fixed his bike and then got hurt. He never asked her to fix it and now he feels indebted.
Later, Ji-yool feels bad and thinks he should have been thanking her instead of getting mad. He calls to apologize and hears Ja-young and her police colleague get into a car accident. Ji-yool goes to the scene and breaks a car window to get Ja-young out, which seems like a terrible idea to me given that there’s little damage to the vehicle and neither is bleeding — the last thing they need is broken glass all over the place. But we soon see why Ji-yool is in a panic. He lost both of his parents in a car accident, and he was in the car at the time but survived. (Hello memory loss, nice to see you here.)
The strange part about the flashback to surviving the car accident and going into shock is that Ja-young was there. She’s with the man who finds Ji-yool and pulls him out of the car. So, she knows about his parents death. Shouldn’t she know about his shock too? In any case, breaking the car window open seems to break open Ji-yool’s hidden memories as well.
After Ja-young is safe and leaving the hospital, Ji-yool thinks about his parents and takes flowers to their grave. Then the show has a really lovely meditation on death, through the blended sequence that follows. An old farmer contacts Ji-yool to put his bull to sleep. He’s had the animal for thirty years, and for the past month, it is refusing to eat. He doesn’t want the bull to suffer anymore and asks for Ji-yool’s help. Ji-yool feels conflicted, but carries out the procedure.
In a really touching scene, the farmer is next to the animal as it dies, asking him to meet him again in the next life. The old man also remembers Ji-yool’s parents death, surprising Ji-yool — who tries to be polite but says he doesn’t remember the man. The man replies that it’s no wonder Ji-yool has forgotten — he’d like to forget this day when his beloved bull died too. Tying the deaths together like this — even visually, with Ji-yool still in his suit while putting down the bull — makes them feel weightier because in the end it’s really about the heartbreak of the people who live on. As Ji-yool leaves, the old man reminds him that he and Ja-young were friends as children, surprising Ji-yool even more.
Ji-yool goes to find Ja-young who’s sadly sitting around thinking about all her times with Ji-yool when they were kids. She’s just had a bad afternoon breaking up fights between the women’s associations of the two neighboring towns (a bit that’s getting old quickly). One woman kept bringing up the fact that Ja-young’s mother left her and I can’t help but think that part of the reason Ja-young is fixated on Ji-yool is because he also abandoned her (like her mother) but now he’s back. We close the week as Ji-yool and Ja-young stare at each other, and Ji-yool’s memories seemingly come back.
We’re already at the half-way point of our story, so maybe it makes sense that we’ve moved from cute and cuddly to sad and slow so quickly. Still, I wish the show would stick with what it does best and let us rest in high-squee moments just a little longer. The forgotten childhood connection is slowing down the story, as are the screaming aunties, and I’d be happy to go back to juvenile disputes between our peach farmer and our vet. But with a show this full of baby faces, from the newborn animals to the young cast, I won’t stray too far before next week rolls around.
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