Some (REALLY UNEDITED) thoughts on episodes 1-4 of It’s Okay to Not be Okay.

PART 2 of 3
I’m writing this after watching four episodes, and I’d argue that that’s why I CAN write this. What seemed so confusing in the first few episodes reaches a complete crescendo by the end of the fourth and you’re sold. Suddenly, everything makes so much more sense, but you’re left with more questions than ever. As I go back to analyze what happens in the first few episodes, it’s with more understanding coloring my perceptions.

Let’s take a look at the first scene where Kang-tae, the younger brother, is listening to his hyung’s employer fire him because Sang-tae had an autistic episode because of the noise created by the industrial machinery around him. Sang-tae is looking through the window and notes, “He’s angry.” This seems like a small thing, but boy have I learned that this writer is intentional about every single moment in this drama. When Kang-tae clears out his brother’s locker, he seems angry, but when he speaks to his brother, he has the sweetest smile on his face, just asking if Sang-tae is hungry. When I first saw this, I fell for it. I thought, “Hmm, guess I mis-judged the facial expressions there. He wasn’t angry at his brother, he’s obviously angry at the employer.” Typical. Just what you’d expect from a drama about a filial brother taking care of his autistic brother. Sweet, but nothing new. Four episodes later, you gotta rethink everything. He WAS angry at his brother. He hid it. He lied. He felt burdened. He felt frustrated. This right here was an uncomfortable truth, exactly what the drama forces you to delve into. Our hero is not perfect. He’s not even a hero. He wears the facade of a hero, and he knows it. It isn’t until Episode 3 (or was it 4?) where Moon-young calls him a hypocrite that he faces it (more on that later).

Which brings me to my next point. Every time he looks into her eyes, it’s like he’s looking into a mirror, facing himself. If the writer was intentional about every moment in the drama, the director is even more so. Consistently, over and over again, we see this shot of Moon-young and Kang-tae facing each other on a split screen when they’re thinking of the other. It seems like such an old-school shot, so typical (honestly reminiscent of terrible romantic Bollywood films for me), but it’s SO INTENTIONAL. Why would the director spend so much of screen time to show that over and over again? Because there’s an obvious, barely hidden meaning in there: they’re facing their truths. When Kang-tae looks at her, he sees that she sees right through him, so he’s effectively facing HIMSELF. When Moon-young looks at him, she sees someone who makes her feel good without even recognizing the feeling. The juxtaposition is so apt: Moon-young’s expression is extremely soft, beautifully so, in those moments, which is comparable to how she acts in day-to-day life: arrogant, uncaring, and villainous. Kang-tae’s expression on the other hand is the realest it ever is: troubled, vulnerable, tired, exhausted, pensive, which is comparable to how he acts in day-to-day life: “normal”, sweet, kind, caring. They’re holding up a mirror to each other’s souls – what they provide for each other is not something they’ve ever found anywhere else. Kang-tae is uncomfortable with this self-realization. Moon-young, a character with ASPD, is feeling positive emotions for the first time. It’s a first for both.

This first instance of feeling different around each other and forging a new connection happens outside the mental hospital Kang-tae is working at, where you first see his cool persona slip into frustration. When Moon-young dumps her cigarette into the cup, doing whatever it is she wants to do, and walks away—Kang-tae angrily crushes his cup in his fist. Let’s take a minute to pause and really appreciate the subtlety of what’s happening here. When I first saw it, it didn’t register. But after the fourth episode, you really begin to understand the nuances. The first scene was anger covered up. This next scene was also anger, but a little of it showed. Anger is so important here. There’s so much of it locked inside Kang-tae. Who is the real Kang-tae? This persona of caretaker that he took on? Supposedly sweet and altruistic? No, the irony is that there is darkness in him.

The cinematography strikes again. The setting is beautiful, cherry blossoms blooming in the back, sunlight and happiness. Seems like the perfect atmosphere to have a butterflies and rainbows meeting of romantic fate between two people. And comically, that’s what it starts off with. Moon-young asks, “Do you believe in destiny?” And you think, not another typical romcom, seems like just the rest. But something is off. There’s no feeling in the way she says it. Is that bad acting or is something there? (Hint: it’s phenomenal acting because something is most definitely there). Moon-young doesn’t know what else to do and plays a role, contrived. She’s a writer so she dishes out dialogues. She’ll do whatever it is she can to get what she wants, including saying whatever she wants. It’s what she does in a later episode, screaming out to a leaving Kang-tae that she loves him, smirking when he stops thinking she’s said the right thing, no actual feeling in the words. It’s not destiny, she says later in the fight where Kang-tae injures himself saving the patient from the knife. And then he calls her a “clueless freak.” That seems so out of character from his caretaker persona that it’s jarring. He’s not sweet with her. He calls her out. But that’s because he sees her for what she is.

This is especially made apparent using a foil: Ju-ri, the “normal” woman who works at another mental hospital, connected to both Moon-young and Kang-tae from childhood. She has all the right expressions to show that Moon-young is not “normal”, that she’s a terrible person. She’s astounded when Moon-young talks so casually about her father being dead to her, disgusted by her apparent lack of kind emotions. She goes in to get Moon-young’s signature like a self-proclaimed martyr, emotionally drained by the end of the meeting. There’s something dark about her. Ironically, by the end of the fourth episode, it’s Ju-ri who seems like the villain, fake and not empathetic, doing whatever SHE can to get what she wants, too. Judging Moon-young and putting her down for selfish reasons. And what’s most telling is that she does this all with the politest facial expressions, the softest voice, the most innocent projection of herself. She sees herself as normal, pure, kind, and that’s how the world sees her too. As viewers, that’s how we begin to see her. But then we begin to question what we’re seeing. Moon-young, this woman who has ASPD, seems to have more emotions than Ju-ri. That’s the most ironic part of it all, but goes well with everything else: everything is not as it seems. Put yourself in the shoes of the “different” and you’ll realize that “normal” may not be such an amazing thing after all.