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Not Others (2023) Episodes 9 and 10
Beware of spoilers for Episodes 9 and 10.
So how do we solve a problem like Eun-mi? Dealt a poor hand at the start of the game. Not much of an upbringing. No role models to emulate. No instruction manual to refer to. Fell in love with the “wrong” boy. Adults were the enemy then. Made plenty of mistakes along the way and yet there’s something admirable in the way she completed her education, received professional training of some sort and raised a child without a husband. Against all expectations she made a life for herself. Moreover her heart melts for the underdog. And in her own muddled way, she loves her daughter. Still Eun-mi herself isn’t easy to love. Her foibles are made more stark whenever conflict arises. Mother and daughter relationships are not always as straightforward as one might assume. Even with the very best ones, issues of attachment and detachment must come up at some point. In the case of Eun-mi, her flaws are writ large and her methods of dealing with conflict minor or major seem to exacerbate an already simmering issue. Or disappointingly, end up with no resolution. It’s rinse and repeat. Her abandonment issues get in the way of her having normal healthy relationships. It often means that the other party has to give in and they often do to keep the peace… or because of guilt and or/and pity. It isn’t as if Jin-hee or Jin-hong don’t love her but human emotions aren’t that straightforward.
Perhaps it is the height of banality to say that I don’t have to like Eun-mi to appreciate what the show is doing. I have never liked her. Not even in the early days. Not even when she bombarded the underwear thief with packages. To answer the question that I posed at the start, I would only say (with no amount of pleasure) that the stabbing incident of Episode 10 might just be what the doctor ordered. While she’s lying on the surgeon’s table, the audience is privy to Eun-mi’s flagging headspace. Her adult self confronts her younger self. We’re left wondeirng why. Perhaps it’s time for the two to bid each other farewell and for both to move on to where they belong. The past has become too much of a stranglehold that the present and future are at an impasse. It’s also time for Eun-mi to let go of Jin-hee. Her over-reliance on her daughter which seemed fun and enviable at first has crossed a line many times. Under the facade of closeness there has always been a strain of dysfunctionality. It was “you and me against the world” for the longest time but change has come. Change is in the air. It is inevitable as neither women are men averse. Nothing can stay the same with new developments. Eun-mi can’t have her cake and nibble around the edges. Or dip her fingers into the cream just for the fun of it. Their family is expanding. Jin-hee is looking elsewhere for companionship as it is the norm all throughout human history. Mother and daughter can’t live together forever although their shared history will be the bond between them. Regardless of what Eun-mi wants, Eun-mi can’t just blithely ignore the fact that Jin-hong is also Jin-hee’s dad. It is pure delusion to think that there are no long-term ramifications in that regard. There are online speculations that Jin-hong might not be Jin-hee’s dad. I doubt that. Even if that were the case, the two of them will have to have some kind of relationship separate to Eun-mi sooner or later.
To nobody’s great surprise, the neighbourhood prowler-killer turns out to be that chatty guy that everyone is well-acquainted with. It’s how he’s able to get around without much suspicion because he’s outwardly friendly. But the crime though heinous is not entirely the point. This isn’t a detective show where the audience is meant to puzzle over the identity of the perpetrator. The purpose of the neighbourhood prowler is to highlight the strengths and systemic weaknesses of the mother-daughter relationship. The daughter becomes fixated with protecting her mother who is playing daredevil in her spare time. It then becomes an issue of control. A power struggle between mother and daughter ensues. One is trying desperately to protect her mother from an unseen threat. The other is trying to maintain the status quo in their household but failing completely because she is torn between two loves, as it were. On top of that Jin-hong’s sister makes her entrance and she’s keen to have a relationship with Jin-hee.
It’s time to… as a regular on Janghaven Forums puts it succinctly… cut the umbilical cord.
In contrast we have Namcheon Team 2. It’s an established “family” because the people in it accommodate one another. They’ve stopped playing mind games and Jin-hee has earned her street creds. At the start Jin-hee is the interloper and is initially ostracised for causing the displacement of two former teammates. Gradually she wins her way into the hearts of her colleagues and even their support. They observe that she and Jae-won are working on something secretly and after some sniffing around they volunteer their services. Team 2 becomes a well-oiled machine that finally come together to nab the elusive culprit. The teamwork is everything.
So the stabbing of Eun-mi becomes a symbolic moment of cutting the umbilical cord. It’s Jin-hong who finds her first. In that space where the crime occurs, it is occupied by Eun-mi who is leaning against Jin-hong who is at that moment staunching the flow of blood from her abdominal region. Jin-hee dashes in distraught followed by Jae-won who then calls for an ambulance. It is no longer just mother and daughter. It is the boyfriend and the other love interest who are now an integral part of the bigger picture. Then the two men follow the women all the way to the hospital.
If the final scene is to be believed, all of that signals a shift in dynamics among the leads. Perhaps a family is born out of it. After all life is too short to waste on dilly dallying. When faced with one’s mortality, one is inclined to see things just a little bit differently.
In the middle of all this madness there’s a slow burn romance I look forward to eagerly each week. It’s all there in gestures and the nuanced facial expressions. The way one of them looks at the other when the other isn’t looking. Two people who obviously have feelings for each other keeping it under wraps because there are other pressing concerns. Despite being on the organization’s blacklist, Jae-won continues to ask favours of friends in order to gather enough evidence against the right perpetrator. They are both treading dangerously in the bureaucratic minefield of public service but it’s the sweetest kind of “you and me against the big bad bureaucracy”. In a way their subordinate is right — they are having an unconfessed office romance of a kind.
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