It's Okay not to be Okay (2020) Episode 11
This drama undoubtedly deserves all the praise that it gets because there is much to praise but the best part of it is the layered storytelling or to use a fairytale analogy... the princess and the pea storytelling. There are all these mattresses that sit atop the pea but the pea is unmissable because the core of the show never gets lost in all the cleverness. Even while the storytelling is smart in how it weaves together various elements, it retains its heart.
Elsewhere I noted that the drama follows the traditional monomyth -- the hero's journey. Gang-tae has embraced the call to adventure. He has crossed a number of thresholds. The latest is the acknowledgment that he can find a way to live with being his brother's brother as well as to love Ko Mun-yeong warts and all. He has had his mentors in the form of Ms Kang (Ju-ri's mother) and Dr Oh the quirky head psychiatrist from the mental health facility to aid him in this acceptance of this call to a move from the familiar. His latest challenge is to lead the way... to teach both Sang-tae and Mun-yeong how all three of them can co-exist. But first, the onus was always on him to make that decision to build a new family with Mun-yeong in tow.
The show hasn't disappointed so far because it demonstrates a respect for its characters despite lapses of judgment here and there. When challenged to make hard choices, they often choose the long-term best after a time of angst and deliberation. After a few missteps, Gang-tae learns very quickly that he must find a way of navigating his long-time relationship with his older brother while trying to locate his blossoming romance with Ko Mun-yeong in the overall scheme of things. It is heartening to hear Gang-tae admit to his closest and oldest friend that he is finally being himself. No one is making him act outside the script. After many years of self-denial and being on the run from an unseen threat, he is gradually living the way he wants to. It's clear to the people around him that change has come to him. Dr Oh notes that he is finally showing his "true colours". These new developments aren't about Ko Mun-yeong as such but primarily about Gang-tae broadening his horizons and redefining his relationship with his brother. He has no intention of abandoning his brother as he explains to Mun-yeong but it doesn't mean that he doesn't want one or can't have a relationship with Mun-yeong. As I've said this elsewhere, his dilemma wasn't an either or situation. That was always a false dichotomy. The unpredictability of life often calls for changes in relationship dynamics which may bring about different levels of discomfort in the short-term while the negotiations take place.
Mun-yeong is learning the benefits of eschewing instant gratification of her darker impulses. It's bleakly hilarious on some level to see her acknowledging the advantages of not stabbing Park Ok-ran, the escaped patient, who came to her place in the middle of the night because she realises the benefits of keeping her emotions under wraps. Especially when Gang-tae visits afterwards and confesses all over again. Like a child she needs to learn patience while dealing with Sang-tae who is navigating his own learning curve that his brother isn't his property to command at will. Luckily for her and the audience, Sang-tae manages to grasp a few home truths within the time limitations of the episode. Behind this is the assurance that he isn't losing his brother but gaining another family member.
Lee Sang-in is a bit of surprise package these days. Not only is he humorously likeable for the most part, he's demonstrating that he really does care about Mun-yeong. Maybe a change is as good as a holiday. I am particularly enjoying the way the show sets him up with Ju-ri because she needs to know the possibilities and what being liked by a man looks like. The problem with unrequited love, particularly in the way it is depicted in dramas, the person who is doing all the liking often tethers their self-esteem and identity to the object of their affections. She needs to know that Gang-tae not being interested in her romantically isn't personal... it certainly isn't about any character deficiencies deficiencies. Because what one man can't see, is another man's delight. Lee Sang-in, if he does nothing else right in this drama proves that Ju-ri is a person well-worth liking.
Over time Andersen's The Ugly Duckling story has been interpreted in a couple of different ways. It's often recounted as a story about late bloomers and even as a parable about finding one's true place in the world. Here Gang-tae reinterprets a familiar tale often associated with childhood to teach and to exemplify to Sang-tae the human need to belong in families and for the elders of families to have that inclusive spirit. He also looks to Sang-tae's favourite cartoon character as an exemplar of this family maker.