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Run On (2020 - 21) A Matter of Agency
It is a truth universally acknowledged that in every K drama populated by characters of considerable means that there has to be at least one unlikeable parent stirring the waters, strutting their stuff. Whether or not the parent/s in question believe/s that he or she is undesirable, they are a constant thorn in the side for the other players.
In a South Korea that's gradually transforming, the likes of Assemblyman Dad is being stealthily rendered irrelevant in a world where the individual and personal choices is fast becoming a la mode. Conventions that he has clung to for much of his life is gradually being called into question by his own children. He is caught between the old world of which he was a progeny and increasingly it seems that a new one that might not have a place for him. Assemblyman Ki is a fearful soul who reflexively senses that the ground from under him is shifting and he's losing control. He's ill-equipped for this brave new world in which the young don't toe the line and reject the intervention of their elders in the fine details of their lives. It's a lonely and frightening place particularly for a man who has played by the old rules his entire life. So he lashes out predictably.
It's not a pretty moment when Ki Jeong-do finally fronts up at Mi-joo's place and blurt out his threats. While she puts on a brave front, he successfully shakes her resolve which has already been weakened by the knowledge of Dad's behind the scenes activities. Behind a close door, her bravado quickly collapses. The reality is that while Mi-joo likes her dramas on the screen, she is ill-equipped to deal with them when she's dragged into a fray where she might be the tragic leading lady. Romance, in her mind, shouldn't have to be this hard. It shouldn't have to be a battleground of wills when all she wants is to hold hands, kiss and watch movies. She craves the simple life out of the spotlight except that the man she likes comes with a ton of baggage in tow. Plus the spotlight follows him everywhere. That's what is commonly meant, I think, when they say that "love is not enough". My feeling whenever that's invoked, love is seldom what's meant here but "good intentions". If that's the case, that's probably truth in that. Intentions and feelings can only take you so far but when the trials emerge (as they surely will), real actual effort is necessary. No one achieves any proper goals without hard work. The question to the individual at the centre of this tragicomedy boils down to this... is this something worth fighting for?
Mi-joo could be naive in believing or stating that she alone should take care of things. Of course it could be deliberately provocative, high minded speech to make Seon-gyeom go away. But it's ultimately untenable especially as he's already given his promises to persist. Nobody can tackle life on their own. It can also be the easy way out to avoid dealing with some deep-seated issues. Far be it for me to play the schoolmaster here but I do think she's being a tad unfair to him. That said, I'm not unsympathetic to her predicament -- I've been there myself on some level -- but I don't think this is something she can decide on her own. There will be other challenges ahead. The comfort zone is named as such for good reason. There is safety but there's no growth... no build up of stamina to deal with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Fights once chosen (hopefully wisely) need to be embarked on with single-mindedness and strength of will.
That's why the training metaphor that pervades the show helpfully guides us in thinking about the storyline. Training isn't only applicable to sports but all areas of life. To maximize what life has on offer and to stand firm against the storms of life, training is vital. Personal choice has to be accompanied by taking responsibility for the consequences of that choice. Given her former attitude Assemblyman Dad should be irrelevant. Even if he's not a threat there will be some other challenge or obstacle awaiting Mi-joo. This is one fight she's not meant to handle on her own.
It's telling that Woo Sik is making huge strides in his recovery partly because he has Seon-gyeom by his side coaching and helping in his rehabilitation. And the added presence of Young-pil in his life undoubtedly helps. But he is progressing because of the training. This is in contrast to Mi-joo who is struggling alone. Her job isolates her from what goes on outside anyway and the hours she keeps ensures that her physical training can't be maintained regularly. Furthermore hearing that Assemblyman Dad is keeping tabs on her frightened her into her shell which ensured that she was ill-prepared to deal with the blowback that was coming her way.
It is commendable that she doesn't want to be the source of conflict or division in that family. But the truth of the matter is that the fissures were already there. The discontent was bubbling underneath the surface. Only in Ki Jeong-do's domineering deluded mind could the family be considered a happy one. As long as he was happy with how things were going, this presumably meant that all was well with the world. From everyone else's perspective, it was clear that something rotten was already brewing in Denmark from the start.
Da-na and Yeong-hwa's push and pull comes from a place of reluctance and uncertainty. From the outside it looks to be an unequal relationship and one that might not go anywhere. But what Yeong-hwa lacks in wealth and/or status, he makes up for in determination and playfulness. The negotiation process is humorous but it makes sense that he actively avoids being on the losing end or the at the very least the one who has to shoulder all the suffering or inconveniences of being in a relationship with her. In other words, what he really wants is a little give and take. Some show of vulnerability. If there's any "losing" to be had, they should both experience their fair share of it.
It seems to me that Yeong-hwa is good for Da-na because he is a ray of sunshine in her otherwise sterile, bleak existence of routine and family dysfunction. She's running a successful agency but he's meeting a need in her otherwise lonely life.