Crash Course in Romance (2023) Episodes 11 and 12
*Spoilers for Episodes 11 and 12*
Welcome to Planet Crazy. Where gossiping mothers have far too much time meddling in other people’s affairs and can move the needle on public opinion. Where mothers obsess over their children’s university entrance exams to the point of complete family collapse. K dramas love their devouring mothers and certainly milk them for everything they’re worth. Lawyer Jang pushes both sons to the brink with her obsession that they should enter the most prestigious universities in the country. In all the chaos she tells Seon-jae that he should postpone any resentments that he may have of her to after he’s entered university. It’s a disturbing twist on the old adage — “no pain, no gain”. She accepts the blowback as a good martyr does persecution. It’s the belief that she’s acting for the good of her offspring that makes her dangerous. With Hui-jae, she assumes the worst. She never once asks him if he’s the metal ball killer directly but reflexively begins the cover-up once he’s the police’s chief (and only) suspect. It’s Damage Control 101 in action. Gripped by the fear of losing face. Driven by the shame that the facade of respectability is about to crumble before the world. The alienation is the price she’s willing to pay to get the results she wants consequences be damned.
Another creature that’s been unmasked as being obsessed and controlling is Ji Dong-hui, Chi-yeol’s sidekick. Belying the devoted affable demeanour, is a far more sinister persona at work. There’s no doubting what he’s been up to by the end of episode 12. As if it was ever in any doubt. Haeng-seon becomes the target of his seething wrath when he realises that he no longer has primacy in Chi-yeol’s decision making process. The new happy Chi-yeol with a woman in his life doesn’t suit Dong-hui or his agenda. He’s been fiercely protective of Chi-yeol up to now because he’s enjoyed the latter’s reliance on him for everything including the big decisions related to his career. There’s undoubtedly also jealousy in being displaced as the star teacher’s primary confidante. Chi-yeol’s decision to remain at Pride which is supported by Haeng-seon is a blow. Consequently Dong-hui perceives her to be a looming threat to Chi-yeol’s future in the way the unpleasant Jin Yi-sang and others were. It’s insane to frame the new romance in those terms but for Ji Dong-hui, the investment of many years is fast unravelling. Since he got away with murder once all those years ago, it’s now his default. He’s been emboldened to solve intractable problems by eliminating the opposition permanently.
I am of the view that the writer was waiting for the romance to finally bloom before unmasking Ji Dong-hui. It speaks to his character. Without the romance, there would be no reason for him to reveal his true colours. His unhealthy obsession with Chi-yeol whatever his rationale would be kept hidden as long as Chi-yeol remained a pathetic lonely figure. As soon as Chi-yeol found a bit happiness, Dong-hui’s psychopathy was bound to surface in unpleasant ways.
Although it would have been satisfying giving Pride the proverbial middle finger with a grand exit, it makes sense to me that Chi-yeol would continue on with them despite how he was treated by the parents, management and staff regarding his relationship with Haeng-seon. He already had qualms about leaving and he takes his obligations seriously. Ultimately the leads are decent human beings. It’s the reason why they both like each other because they see in one another a kindly soul in the midst of a dog eat dog atmosphere. They just aren’t people to hold grudges. I can’t say I’m too surprised that they “spent the night together” because references were made to her virginity at least twice earlier on as if it was something to be ashamed of.
What really has me scratching my head, however, is Young-joo’s sudden interest in Jae-woo. It comes across to me as a cry of desperation. Best friend Haeng-seon has now got other interests and she’s feeling the loss. While she’s happy for her friend, she must be grieving a little that her friend is going on dates. It is sudden by any metric for her to turn her attention to Jae-woo for consolation when they’ve had a sibling type dynamic for so long. A major part of the problem seems to be the fact that she’s attached herself to this family for so long that she doesn’t know where else to go for meaningful companionship.
On the other hand, the part of the show that has me rethinking everything especially after Episode 12 is the Hae-yi, Geon-hu and Seon-jae love tangle. I don’t have the kind of certainty that I usually do with these sorts of arrangements. It almost feels like I’m watching a separate drama at times with the occasional crossover. I’m not sure what the show is trying to do or say with this although I approach it with some degree of bias. As a disclaimer I will say that I’ve been a burnt a few times now in the last couple of years so I don’t really want to plant my flag too firmly anywhere. Investing in any kind of fictional romance in the last few years hasn’t yielded great returns.
At first glance the Hae-yi Seon-jae pairing does seem to be the obvious endgame because they are long time childhood friends blah blah blah. K dramas have an unerring penchant for childhood connections and the whole “first come first served” deal. Not always but usually. Both happen to be academic and similar in temperament. It seemed at first that Geon-hu with his brash and openly competitive personality could just be a catalyst for Seon-jae to finally make his move. Seon-jae seemed to be the bigger gentleman of the two and that has its own appeal. On paper Seon-jae appears to be more compatible with Hae-yi.
However a few things in Episode 12 made me sit up and put my thinky cap on. I’ve always found Geon-hu amusing and I adored how he was introduced in the drama — as the ice hockey lad who saved Hae-yi from certain death as she hurtles backwards down the stairs. The way he was introduced set me thinking initially that the obvious choice might not be the final choice after all. There’s something unique about that moment (not to mention humorous as well) which felt like a paradigm shift. It’s clever and throws an element of unpredictability into the mix that’s both stressful and intriguing. It occurs to me throughout the two most recent episodes that Seon-jae’s been prevented from confessing to Hae-yi by his family issues. I speculate that despite them being an obvious match, there are other external factors that could be a hindrance to two people having a thriving long-term relationship together despite checking all the right boxes in the compatibility stakes. Timing is a factor. Family dysfunction another. It also occurs to me that with a mother like Jang Seo-jin, so violently opposed to their relationship and is the main catalyst of that family’s troubles, high schoolers might have a tough time overcoming these kinds of obstacles.
Geon-ho though not necessarily a high achiever in the academic stakes is always one step ahead of Seon-jae in all other ways related to Hae-yi. Right from the moment he stopped her from falling, to confronting the mean boys in the canteen, to his very public confession in class, he is always ahead in the romance game. No doubt it's his competitive sports background that's given him the wherewithal to go for broke. And maybe… just maybe… fortune favours the brave. Moreover, whether or not he succeeds depends on whether Hae-yi can transition from friendship with Seon-jae to having “romantic” notions about him.
To be honest, I’ve always been partial to Geon-ho because of that braggadocio. There’s also an unexpected diffidence that’s very endearing. Colourful characters certainly make for much more interesting television. And there’s something admirable about a character who rejects the temptation to wallow in victimhood even when his entire life has been irrevocably changed by circumstances not within his control. Starting again, shifting gears is hard work, both mentally and physically. Perhaps that is what gives him that sense of urgency to seize the moment. He has tasted the bitter fruits of life’s harsh realities and managed to move on from it.
I am aware that I could be jumping the gun here. And of course, it all assumes that the writer is thinking and writing with those sorts of ideas in mind. It’s true too that Seon-jae feels much like the traditional “first male lead” and Geon-hu, seems to be the interloper. Furthermore none of us should discount the fact that Hae-yi might not end up with either of them because there’s a lot going on right now that must take precedence. And much more there will be if Ji Dong-hui gets his way.