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It's Okay Not to be Okay (2020) First Impressions
It amuses me no end that I left a medical drama behind only to find myself in another. I had no indication of that from the trailers that I saw. To be honest it didn't matter all that much what this was about as I came to it because of Kim Soo-hyun. Thankfully these first two episodes show a great deal of promise.
The premise of the show seems to be centered around an almighty clash between a nursing aide who is also caring for his autistic brother and a children's book author with ASPD. From the Burtonesque preamble we are led to assume that the two had a childhood encounter. A well-worn Kdrama track. However, what's different here is that the memory is not a pleasant one.
What I took away from the trailers that I saw was a strong Great Expectations vibe. And even after two episodes, the feeling remains. It's not a deal breaker just an observation largely of the lead female character and the glimpses we have to her backstory.
There's a lot to like in this but it's the characterization of both the leads that's really at the heart of things. It's always gratifying to see shows break the mould in fascinating ways especially with regards to the female stereotypes. My suspicion about the female lead here, Mun-yeong is that she's more a monster made than hardwired that way. She seems to me a lonely soul with a larger than life persona to shoulder in search of someone who can cope with her idiosyncrasies. I think Gang-tae intrigues her because he doesn't play her game or dance to her tune. It's both a challenge... to see if she can break him most probably and a need for meaningful companionship. I believe that she does want him to succeed on some level... for him to be found "worthy" after all the testing because she needs to know that there's someone in this bleak world that can cope with her claws and thorns. This is particularly important for someone like her who has no profound connections in her life. To know that there's someone who don't mind taking hits for her is likely her holy grail. More than that, she is aware that there's no one who really cares about her. It's merely transactional. She does what she wants to and gets away with it not only because she has a "disorder" but she commands the loyalty of people who want something from her. Maybe Manager Lee does care about her because he does put up with a lot but maybe he's just in it for material benefits.
I can't help speculating that she's been the subject of a rigorous behaviourist experiment. That's where the Great Expectations angle comes in. It feels like there is/was a Miss Havisham controlling her from a scene of her standing on a balcony in a location surrounded by torn drapes. That reminds me of Satis House. And then there's the gorgeous wardrobe... which also shouts "look at me I'm outrageous". There's also something about her behaviour that leads me to conclude that she's a deliberate caricature. She scares kids who are her bread and butter. She plays with knives. She lashes out. But then there's this vigilante streak: She stabs bad men because they deserve it. Where does this sense of justice come from? I'm not entire convinced her ASPD is a case of "born like this". She's comes across as someone who is trying to play a witch because she's read all the right books when she's probably not really one. On some level she's probably having fun being unconventional. Although I sense fatigue as well.
The contradictions in her character are curious. I imagine that's what the attraction for Gang-tae might be. In a medical drama he is the archetypal Caregiver but with battle scars. He is drawn to the weird, needy and dangerous people. He jumps into a fray without hesitation. The operative word here being "giver". Maybe it's innate. Maybe it has become a force of habit from looking after his brother. Whatever it is, it has become an all-consuming occupation for him. Whether or not he is gainfully employed as a caregiver, it is what he defaults to.
So it's deeply moving and really sweet when Sang-tae, his autistic older brother, tells him that they should go home and that he'll be the one looking after him. For the longest time he has been giving giving giving and running running running. It must be exhausting. Despite being such an obvious archetype, his energy fascinates me. I keep wondering how he manages to keep it all under control, what is it that he wakes up to every morning. Is it just his brother that he's living for?
But surprisingly I think, underneath all that niceness, lurks a renegade. On some level he isn't that different from her. His life can't be said to be conventional by any stretch of the imagination. He definitely doesn't do safe. He lives life like he has nothing to lose. Just like her. I don't believe he's a coward as he thinks he is but he's so used to running that he doesn't know what else to do.
As I've mentioned elsewhere I find the literary references noteworthy. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was certainly highlighted literally in blazing lights. Heh. Hans Christian Andersen's The Red Shoes. The red shoes also made me think of Dorothy's ruby slippers from Wizard of Oz, her ticket to going home. The Boy Who Fed on Nightmares which is the in-house literary resource seems to be based on the Faustian pact. The boy who makes a deal with a witch to be free from his nightmares only to find that he's not happier for it. When the time comes, she takes his soul away. I'd also certainly be very keen to see if the Great Expectations vibe continues throughout the drama.
Because we're told that this is a healing drama, I find The Boy Who Fed On Nightmares a pivotal key to unlocking the philosophical underpinnings of the show. It's not just about facing traumas head on but about incorporating pain and suffering in one's toolkit to dealing with everything that life throws at you. In short, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. In order to mature, one has to first experience suffering. It's not a deeply original idea. But it is an idea that does have currency especially in such times that we live. However, just from a cursory of observation of people, it's clear that pain and suffering by themselves don't make anyone happier. It can but it can also destroy lives and minds. It's an existentialist proposition. The book doesn't address a cure or the element of hope. It seems to be all about memory. "Remember it all and overcome it" The implication is that memory is the cure rather than the problem.