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

PART 3 of 3

But Ju-ri also brings something else to the table: her character seems “mature”, more adult. She projects herself as this quiet, contained, calm person. When you contrast it with Moon-young and Kang-tae’s first meeting, their conversation almost seems petty. He calls her a clueless freak but keeps thinking about her; she “wants” him and even throws tantrums to “get” him. They’re like children trapped in adult bodies. And just like everything else, this is clearly intentional. This drama is addressing trauma—especially childhood traumas, arguably the type that has deeply embedded itself into an adult’s psyche, actions, thoughts. That theme of childhood is there from the beginning: look at the use of fairy tales, the beautiful stop-motion animation in the beginning about the girl and the boy, the flashbacks to childhood over and over again. They used a little girl who has PTSD from a father who tried to kill her to show Moon-young’s own past of a father who tried to kill her. And that’s where you begin seeing glimpses of another side of Moon-young, of the CHILD Moon-young.

It’s clear that Moon-young’s career as a writer is a way to heal herself from the traumas she has faced. When she’s doing her book reading in the hospital, the running patient abruptly stops the conclusion to her story, which she’s angry about. You can see that’s the most important part to her. Of course, we do hear the ending soon enough—through Kang-tae’s reading:

“And he shouted at her with so much resentment, ‘All my bad memories are gone. But why can’t I become happy?’ Then the witch took his soul as they had promised and told him this: ‘Hurtful, painful memories… Only those with such memories buried in their hearts can become stronger, more passionate, and emotionally flexible. And only those can attain happiness.’”

Talk about healing. Here, in her books, you see who Moon-young really is. Incredibly strong, ineffably resilient, beautifully profound, and painfully lonely. There’s a repeated shot of her on her bed throughout the first four episodes curled up into herself whenever she thinks of Kang-tae: that’s her child coming out, a moment of the real her, the Moon-young before the conclusions in her books. Even though she IS strong, both outwardly and inwardly, she’s clearly never fully healed the way she has the potential to. She did what she could all on her own, with no one’s help.

So it seems fitting that the writers would pluck a caretaker and just give her a beautiful, gentle romance so she has someone who can take care of her. Fitting–but typical and boring. And so far, this drama has been anything BUT typical. Remember the darkness in Kang-tae? His darkness is a product of his childhood too: his mother was murdered, he’s faced with the prospect of taking care of his autistic older brother at such a young age, and he has his own issues with his mother, too—in a flashback, we see his mother says that the reason she gave birth to Kang-tae was so he could take care of Sang-tae. He’s embedded that into his life’s purpose—he doesn’t know anything else. His main job is caretaker of his brother, and because that’s all he knows, he’s become caretaker for others. Even with Moon-young, he takes it upon himself to save her from situations she can easily take herself out of. He’s completely absorbed “caretaker” into his personality. But it isn’t until Moon-young calls him a hypocrite that he feels suddenly exposed. Remember his eyes? He’s scared, shocked that someone could see right through him. When the new patient runs away in episode 3, freely protesting his dad at the mic, doing everything society completely opposes and looks down upon, Kang-tae imagines himself standing there. He imagines freedom from the shackles of people’s expectations of him—of his OWN expectations of him, of his mother’s expectations. And he hates himself for that.

But then comes a scene that puts another angle to this. Sang-tae is saving up for a car so they always have a home even when they’re on the move. It’s the most painfully heartbreaking thing for Kang-tae to hear this. He cries, overcome by emotion, hugs him and tells him, “I don’t need a house, car, or money. All I need is you, really. You’re my everything.” And as he says it, in the thick of his emotions, he’s inundated with flashbacks of Moon-young calling him a hypocrite. He fights it, completely sure of himself this time. “Really. All I need is you. Really.” This is his butterfly method. Hugging his brother to reassure himself. And this is why the caretaker here is actually not him: it’s Moon-young. She’s helping him unconventionally come to terms with his true feelings, just like Director Oh is helping Sang-tae and his other patients through unconventional therapy methods. He has had that role of caretaker for so long it juxtaposes with the fact that he resents his mother seemed to care for his brother more, and he’s been confused about whether he holds any resentment for his brother, too. He’s felt like a hypocrite because of it, but this was a bit of confrontation with himself where he realized he actually did think his brother was everything. He was sure of it. Why? Because Moon-young brought it out.

Moon-young brings out the lost child in him. Throughout the episodes, we see her peeling away his layers through persistence. No one bothers to look under the surface of who Kang-tae really is. Moon-young rips his skin off. In the same way, we see in episode four that Kang-tae is just as vicious. No one cares to look beneath the surface for Moon-young either. But Kang-tae gets her on a level that no one else does, and he hates that he is drawn to her. And as the healing progresses, the children come out more and more.

This fourth episode is the one that ties it all together. If there’s one thing that stands out: it’s the rain. In Kang-tae’s flashback to childhood, it’s raining, and his mother is too focused on caring for his hyung than him. He waits in the rain, drenched, a child coming to a despairing, lonely realization. He’s stranded and alone and feels unloved, unseen, forgotten, washed away. Back to the present, when Moon-young and Kang-tae are sitting together in a convenience store, Moon-young tells him he seems pretty young because she “can see that you want to be loved.” His stares, speechless, his eyes just as shocked and uncovered of pretense as when she’d called him a hypocrite, and little Kang-tae takes his place, just as it begins raining outside. She was giving him something in the rain, a piece of acknowledgement, of openness, of being SEEN, in the rain. In the same situation he felt unseen and washed away, she was washing away a bit of his loneliness and seeing him for what he was.

But the car scene with the “I love you!” shows it’s still a push and pull. Moon-young has moments of truth where she is healing him, but Kang-tae’s indifference is also inadvertently and indirectly healing HER. He makes her want to understand him. She’s actually expending effort in understanding his emotions—a language she doesn’t speak because of her ASPD. She’s doing whatever she can that SHE thinks would work to keep up a relationship with him. That’s where her child comes out again. Persistent, childish, feeling-less confession to someone who really wants something like that is her showing her inner child, too. She is even willing to walk her father because she thinks that’s what Kang-tae would want. But he yells at her, frustrated and slighted, telling her she doesn’t know how to identify her own emotions and that she’ll never understand him. He leaves, but Moon-young looks small, incredibly, genuinely hurt. And to rub a whole gallon of salt on her wound, she goes back only to be choked by her father, who remembers her despite his dementia and her trauma resurfaces, scenes of her childhood flashing as she loses breath. When he’s forced off of her, she’s hysterical and rightfully so, tears streaming down her face as she laughs sarcastically, with no humor left in her. But as the camera pans out, the image is jarring: of all those “caretakers”, no one even passes her a comforting hand. Instead, they soothe the person who attempted to murder her, and stare at her as if she caused it, like she’s the crazy one. No one is soothing her, and the man who taught her the butterfly method had just ripped her wings out.

Back at home, Kang-tae finally begins to read Moon-young’s Zombie Kid, and it overtakes him. “With both his arms, the boy tightly held his mother’s torso and spoke for the first time in his life. ‘Mom is so warm.’ What did the boy really want? To satiate his hunger? Or to feel his mother’s warmth?” This is the moment when little Kang-tae and older Kang-tae become one. He’s crying like a child, feeling heard by Moon-young’s book, understood—his most authentic self than all his years of living. Moon-young has been caretaker again.

At the same time, on her lonely walk home, Moon-young says, “You’ll never understand me until the day you die either,” with no feeling, just quiet acceptance. This is her breaking down, in her own way. On a regular basis, she’s loud, obnoxious, childish, flippant and rude. In this moment, she’s quiet, walking listlessly. She stops to rest for a bit and sees an ant. Remember the butterflies that she killed? You expect her to kill the ant. But she doesn’t. She blocks it. The ant finds another path. She not only saved a life—she gave another path.

When Kang-tae finds out she got choked by her father, he goes rushing out without a thought. And guess what? It’s raining. This determined Kang-tae reaches her in perhaps the most telling, most moving moment of all that ties all the past four episodes together. The lighthouse light is shining, sweeping over but never quite reaching either of them, until Kang-tae gets off the bike, takes off his helmet, and looks at her. At that exact moment, so many things happen at once. The light from the lighthouse shines directly in between them and Kang-tae’s eyes look down and he sees her. She’s soaked from the rain and her entire dress is transparent. On her face is pure vulnerability, all those moments of her surprised reactions to her encounters with Kang-tae build up to this one moment of complete vulnerability. In all senses of the word, she is completely and utterly exposed. Her inner child is now on display, her pain and her emotions, in the lonely rain she was traversing, where he wanted the most warmth, just like she made him feel seen and heard, he is seeing her. And he doesn’t stop there. He moves forward, takes the jacket off his own back, exposing himself to the elements to cover her up, to finally care for her the way she’s been wanting him to care. And she, as vulnerable as she is, just falls into him, and this time, he doesn’t push her away: he hugs her back. Kang-tae may have darkness in him, but it’s more the darkness that comes with confusion than anything else. And as they’re bathed in light of hope, finding warmth in the rain, one thing is clear: it’s Moon-young who has brought out the light in him, and Kang-tae who’s bringing out the light in her.