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Crash Course in Romance (2023) Episodes 3 and 4
Who would have thought… helicopter parenting can be the means through which two people are brought closer together not only just to help a girl finish high school on a high note but for an otherwise odd coupling? Things get rather serious mighty quickly in recent days when lawn mower mums maneuver behind the scenes to make sure that their high schooler gets an unfair advantage over their CSAT rivals through dirty tricks. For some reason the exploits of these mums and their progeny has me recalling Raiders of the Lost Ark where archaeologist Indiana Jones is thwarted at key moments by his greatest rival Belloq who is in cahoots with the Nazis to grab the prized Ark of the Covenant. There’s no Marquis of Queensbury rules here. What I’m reaching for here is that the bad guys not only get in the way of the good guys, they cheat because in their minds, Might is Right ie. they can.
The bone of contention this week is the exclusive coaching course that Pride Academy runs for the cream of the crop — the All Care Programme. Only 7 of the best students are picked for this preparatory programme if they can sail through an entry test with flying colours. Hae-yi who has made strides after attending Choi Chi-yeol’s after school maths classes is selected for it only to find herself unceremoniously kicked out of the program in record time because of undue pressure put on the Pride’s director by Skymoms’ top dog Cho Soo-hee aka mother of Soo-a. What Soo-a wants Soo-a gets. Since Soo-a sees Hae-yi as a threat, Mother is obliged to spring into action. Although I’m sure Soo-hee gets a kick out of bragging about her high achieving progeny to anyone who cares to suck up to her.
When Chi-yeol goes to see his therapist after being deprived of Haeng-seon’s cooking for a period of time, it troubles him that he’s going off his rocker because of food. Thankfully his kind therapist informs him that it isn’t the lack of the Nation’s Best Banchan that’s ailing him. In reality he’s suffering a crisis of conscience. The selection process that was meant to be meritocratic was hijacked somewhere along the way behind his back. And she adds an observation meant mainly for the audience’s benefit. “Afterall, you’re a very upright person”.
I think it was obvious even in the first two episodes that Chi-yeol is not the villain that he’s popularly painted to be. He’s not even the arrogant tsundere of popular fiction. What he is… is a perfectionist. Someone who expects much of himself first and then demands that those who work for him have the same exacting standards. Unlike most teachers he is actually in the position to get what he wants out of management to improve the quality of “content delivery” because of his bargaining power as the ubiquitous “star teacher”. Ironically though he is a victim of his own success. His mental health issues notwithstanding, there’s an oddly misplaced prejudice against him from various quarters. There’s a nastiness directed towards him that seems to stem from a mix of history and jealousy. In Oz, we call it the “tall poppy” syndrome — the inclination to cut down anyone who has reached the dizzy heights of success and/or fame down to size. In Chi-yeol’s case, credit hasn’t been given where it has been due. That feeling of injustice that haunts these more recent episodes seem to include how he’s negatively characterized by colleagues and subordinates alike.
Like Sky Castle and many other K dramas that delve into this area, helicopter parenting is often depicted in satirical fashion packaged within a cautionary tale about the state of South Korean society. Parents… and in most cases, mothers are often seen to be living vicariously through their children’s success. Without going into the psychology of all that, some of us think that this is no way for adults to live. In fact, it’s a bit icky. The show certainly makes that clear with the Lee-Kang family that is falling apart at the seams. Husband and wife’s marriage is on the rocks. The oldest son has completely withdrawn from the world. Second son Seon-jae is feeling stifled by his mother’s domineering attitude. On top of all that Lawyer Kang drowns her sorrows in soju bemoaning the fact that no one in her family understands.
So who’s to blame for all this? It isn’t just the devouring mother that’s under the microscope here. There’s a fine line between passion and insanity. Helicopter mothers are a phenomenon that’s symptomatic of social dysfunction. But it does seem like there’s a bigger story about the systematic sabotage of the aspirational model that previous generations fought for. Upward mobility might have been desirable but there’s a underpinning disenchantment alleging that the system has been rigged to benefit the elite class or the privileged few. Those who managed to claw their way out of poverty and build something for their families have designated themselves gatekeepers. It’s an old story. A very human story in fact. The first generation builds their wealth, the second and subsequent generations desperately cling on to what they feel entitled to and prevent everyone else from having a piece of the pie or competing fairly through creativity and innovation. Government regulation tend more to be more of a hindrance than a help. In fact, governments are often captured by vested interests to ensure the whole thing benefits the status quo.
While the deeper issues are dealt with humour, there’s a dark cloud hovering over the characters who go about their daily business. An anonymous stalker with a deadly aim tied in some way to Choi Chi-yeol emerges as a disruptive force. On some level said stalker seems to be protective of Chi-yeol and has showed his hand on three occasions. His calling card is something resembling a ball bearing that doubles up as his weapon of choice. The latest to fall victim to his fatal assault is the ungrateful arrogant lad who snatches Hae-yi’s spot on the All Care Programme. What’s worse is that ungrateful lad didn’t even want to be there but his wealthy pushy mother used her influence to make things go her way.
The romance is still in its infancy with the leads gradually finding common ground in food and Hae-yi. Chi-yeol is amused by Haeng-seon’s antics especially when she’s had one too many drinks but it’s not exactly the meeting of true minds. Jeon Do-yeon’s performance during her first meet-up with the All-Care mothers is impressive. She looks distinctly out of place with all the champagne sipping ladies. It isn’t just her attire. Her body language, mannerisms, the nervous shoulder twitches were all what one might expect of someone unaccustomed to this degree of formality such as it was. The rumblings of deep divisions in the wider community are exemplified in the ensuing tiff between Jang Seo-jin and Cho Soo-hee. Not only are supercilious egos on full display but there’s the suggestion that Haeng-seon and by extension Hae-yi have dodged a bullet by not being a part of this exclusive “club”. The volatile undercurrents already present portend worst things to come.
Not content with romance among adults, it appears that Hae-yi might soon be caught in the middle of some kind of love triangle with two boys in her class. As if her plate isn’t already full. Boy problems will likely exacerbate the pressure she feels. I’m not sure how she’s going to juggle everything as well as tutor the injured ice hockey player, Seo Geon-ho who like Chi-yeol seems to have trouble remembering names. He’s at a crossroads in his life and might not be able to play competitively again. He’s not particularly academic to be compatible with the far more driven Hae-yi but twice he’s come to her rescue in front of the other lad, Seon-jae.