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It's Okay not to be Okay (2020) Episodes 15-16
Nothing about the last couple of episodes really came as any great surprise. Which is good news. It was all it should be and it was gratifying to see so much care and attention to detail given to the finale. As expected Sang-tae and Mun-yeong's first collaborative effort was not only autobiographical but was brimming with newfound hope. Wherever life takes them, the future looks brighter than before.
I applaud the show for staying true to its vision. The vision (I believe) was always to tell the story of 3 troubled individuals in accordance to a fairytale template and see them finding their happily-ever-after. The level of quality was consistent all throughout while successfully managing the juggling act of incorporating the stories of side characters into the arc of the main trio. As someone who loves stories and spend time obsessing over storytelling I believe that this show has done a superb job in that regard. It certainly begs the question as to why we don't see this kind of consistency more often. It seems to me often times that writers and directors are so desperately trying to be different for its own sake that they're quite prepared to destroy their own drama by their own hands with a meaningless resolution that has nothing to do with the rest of the show. One may conclude that the difference between a decent drama and a bad one in many instances lies in the consistency of its moral universe. A good one knows exactly what it wants to be and goes for it.
I don't suppose that there was much doubt that Gang-tae and Mun-yeong would find their way out of the abyss and slay the enchantress dragon because they've had a taste of what the alternative could be -- the warmth of a committed, loving family. Of course that doesn't take away from the fact that Do Hui-jae killed Gang-tae's mum. Facts are facts. Evil is evil. Its existence vanquished but not erased. But as the gesture of Sang-tae painting over Park Heng-ja's butterfly on his mural suggests what was supposed to be evil... the butterfly motif can be reinterpreted for good. It reminds me of what Joseph from the book of Genesis said. "You meant evil against me but God meant it for good, to bring it about so that many people should be kept alive, as they are today." They had sold him into slavery but in the way of unintended consequences, Joseph became the Prime Minister of Egypt during a famine and because of that their entire family was saved. Whatever guilt or misgivings that Gang-tae and Mun-yeong may have will be replaced by all that is good and true.
I'm not especially disappointed that the show did not explain Do Hui-jae's near death experience. I don't think it really needed to. The show wasn't about her. Because Do Hui-jae, the shadow witch, the Maleficent figure in this story is largely relegated to a kind of metaphor of persistent evil. She didn't die that time because well, evil isn't so easily eliminated. At least in that universe. She came back from brink of death because the show needed a malevolent force casting her shadow over the hospital and its inhabitants. In the end she was for the story a representation of pure evil that had to be defeated by the protagonists variously. Do Hui-jae aka was the tyrannical Mother who took on the facade of the wise Caregiver to ensure that her legacy lived on as she stalked the husband that tried to kill her. For us mere mortals it makes little sense. Why would a woman or anyone go to such extremes to prove that happily-ever-afters don't exist? Psychopathy, I'm not convinced, explains it all.
Episode 16 was in my view, an unequivocal celebration of the individual but not necessarily in tension with the rest of the society. There is a sense that when individuals thrive, the community reaps benefits. That's evident with regards to Sang-tae. At the start of the drama, he is derided as a misfit reliant on his brother but eight weeks later when he finally finds an outlet for his artistic ability, he flourishes. His happiness is contagious and freeing. When he's showing off his new book to his mother's newly planted tree, he's not the only who's happy. Gang-tae is in the background with tears streaming down his cheeks genuinely happy for his brother as we are. No more mask, no more need for pretence. What's deeply poignant is that Sang-tae can now let his brother go with no fear: "Moon Gang-tae belongs to Moon Gang-tae." It's a declaration that they are each their own man even while they're siblings. Being brothers isn't a life sentence nor an obligation but a dynamic that undergoes change and develops over time. Because he has achieved something with his own hands and he now has his own goals, Sang-tae is secure within himself. He is not an appendage of his brother nor is his brother constrained to live primarily as his primary caregiver even if he's quite willing. This doesn't come at the cost of family and friendships... or any kind of a supportive community... the show is strongly communitarian. In fact, the community might end up being the biggest winner. But there's also a clear message that when individuals are ignored or undervalued, there will be other costs that society or their community will have to bear. There's a lovely roll call during the book reading of those who once took refuge under the It's Okay space: Kwon Gi-do, Kang Eun-ja were present at launch and their stories were referenced in the book.
In truth the happy ending isn't that Gang-tae and Mun-yeong end up together. Or that the villain gets thrown behind bars. Or even that Sang-tae becomes a professional illustrator. All of which are certainly desirable outcomes. The biggest triumph is for all three of them is that they overcame their particular deficiencies to plumb the possibilities... and what they're capable of... when push comes to shove. Before they came together in an almighty clash, they were in a rut going through the grind of daily living in survival mode. The Wizard of Oz allusions points to the fact that like the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion, the characters each had potential which was lying dormant. It was always there within them and what they needed was the journey and the biggest challenge thus far in their lives for those qualities... bravery, love and strength. United they stood. They passed the final test.