It's Okay not to be Okay: More on Episode 12 and Tone
This post contains possible spoilers. It assumes knowledge of the drama up to Episode 12.
It fascinates me that there are theories floating around the web suggesting that despite what we were given in Episode 12, Do Hui-jae, mother of Ko Mun-yeong, was not responsible for the death of Gang-tae and Sang-tae's mother. I certainly don't dismiss them in any form because the possibility always exists that the facts that we've been given thus far isn't the complete picture of what actually occurred. It's a strategy common to K dramas in order to spring surprises and undermine expectations. But what really got my attention is that many of the theories are predicated on the idea that it's too dark and depressing for a mother of one party in a canon pairing to have killed the other's mother. According to this line of thought, it portends a bleak future for the one true pairing and stifles their ability to have their happily-ever-after while being saddled with this inter-family homicide. As I reflect on the possibilities, my initial reaction would be... so why the reference to Romeo and Juliet? Is the drama trolling us then? Is it a misdirection regarding the mystery around Do Hui-jae's disappearance or the endgame? I dunno. I tend to think that the Romeo and Juliet reference is meant to tell us something significant about the pairing's dynamic. My view based on what we've seen so far is that Gang-tae and Mun-yeong are meant to persevere through these kinds of insurmountable obstacles to forge their own future. It never occurred to me that the show would back down from the abyss that it's created by mitigating the circumstances under which Gang-tae's mother died.
It could be that I'm a simplistic sort of viewer (and I am) but I've always understood this drama to be shrouded in darkness practically from Day 1. Not only because of Mun-yeong's own violent tendencies and nightmares, or because of references to fairy/folk tales but because of the kind of books that she writes. The thing about Mun-yeong that I've always accepted as a given is that she is a grim angry female lead that breaks the K drama stereotype. That's what makes her unerringly intriguing to my mind. Her relationship with her mother always seemed to me rather dysfunctional. It is true that Do Hui-jae is an enigmatic figure still and it could be that her husband and her daughter are unreliable eye-witnesses. She could have been a sadly misunderstood creature. However, this doesn't really help me understand Mun-yeong's nightmares and upbringing. To my straightforward way of looking at things, it feels contradictory. I don't discount the fact that although Do Hui-jae might have been a psychopath and it doesn't necessarily follow that she killed Gang-tae's mother. That's certainly a possibility. But I want to know why in Mun-yeong's mind, Mother Dearest is such a tyrannical figure. A Maleficent type that invades her nightmares.
When I consider The Boy Who Fed on Nightmares and The Zombie Kid, in all honesty, I don't want the show to go the convenient route of justifying Do Hui-jae's parenting or softening her up to be a tragic and misunderstood figure at the 11th hour. For children's books, they are deeply disturbing. Both books come from dark places and go to dark places with very little light shining into the tunnel. There are no deus ex machina for the characters in these stories. In fact all of Mun-yeong's stories to date have no happy endings.
In so far as what the show itself has been doing, it has never backed away from dealing with difficult subject matters as far as what human beings do to each other, or what they do to themselves. Take Kan Pil-wan for example. The man has debilitating PTSD. He can't function in the real world because of his painful memories of the Vietnam War. He did kill people... that's not in question at all. He can't forgive himself even though he did it under orders in a combat situation. He's stuck. Or as he says himself, he's trapped in the past. What about the mother who was quarreling with her daughter before her daughter was killed in a car accident minutes later? There is no hidden letter from the daughter for instance to alleviate mother's suffering. Nothing that would soften the blow. It was an entirely regrettable situation that cannot be reversed or mitigated. The show was unerringly realistic about the mother's guilt and the consequences of what unfinished business does to people.
The world where It's Okay inhabits is a harsh and troubling one where people have to navigate through thorns and battle enchantresses or dragons.
I submit that there's an underlying existential tract in the show. Pain and suffering is real... whether it's what we do to ourselves or what others do to us. There's no getting away from that. But they don't have to define us or our future. We can incorporate our suffering as part of our arsenal and allow it to make us stronger... to give our lives meaning when meaning is lost to us a la The Boy Who Fed on Nightmares.
To me that's the lesson that the show wants to extrapolate from Romeo and Juliet. The pain and suffering... the senseless deaths... the feuding... all of that was idiocy and ultimately meaningless. There was no need for Mercutio, or Tybalt to take sides and die for their troubles. Both were loved ones of the couple. It was an utter waste of life in the scheme of things. Yet... the couple were able to move on from that because they prioritized their love for each other to try and forge a different future for themselves. Ultimately they failed but at least (according to the drama and maybe even Shakespeare) they tried to leave the past and all its baggage behind. This is what I see to be the significance of Gang-tae's decision to show up at the photo shoot in light of the Romeo and Juliet template. Despite the ugliness of the past, he doesn't have to be trapped by it because his love for Mun-yeong is much much bigger than the implication of the murder of his mother.
(If I'm pressed to speculate further, I'm inclined to think that Do Hui-jae is no longer among the living. She was killed by someone possibly not by her husband (possibly the head nurse) and then buried somewhere behind the cursed castle.)