Run On (2020 - 21) Episodes 13 and 14

To be frank, I have mixed feelings about the two recent episodes. Episode 13 more than 14. In fact I would probably go so far as to say that 14 renders a lot of the Mi-joo induced angst unnecessary. I don't object to angst on principle. There's a time (and place) for everything even in storytelling. Lessons can be learnt from trials and tribulations but Episode 13 felt like a filler episode (at least for the primary couple) in light of 14 and something of a head-scratcher for me personally. They patched things up rather quickly and then went straight for the bedroom. I'm a little hot and bothered because of what the show is saying about Mi-joo more specifically. I never thought the temporary separation was even necessary even if Mi-joo has deep-seated abandonment issues because Seon-gyeom has been nothing but dedicated and reassuring. Why use such a trite parental objection trope in a show like this to create this seemingly artificial obstacle that is meant to generate tension for the briefest of moments?

I should be relieved. It could have been a lot worse. We could have had a lot more of Assemblyman Dad's frustrating meddling. He's certainly successful in driving his entire family up the proverbial wall while gleefully thinking that everything is within the palm of his hand as he sets his sights firmly on the Blue House. He's a veritable nuisance but a nuisance whose agenda has been clear. He wants things, people stand in the way so he maneuvers his way as is his custom as a man in politics. In that regard he's been consistent.

So why did Seon-gyeom and Mi-joo have to be saddled with a faux break-up only to reconcile within an episode? I have my suspicions in that regard. Perhaps it's to allow the other coupling time to catch up in terms of character development. For a show that has been clever and witty, the temporary setback seems like a concession to those who need some kind of makjang to satisfy their Kdrama checklist. Otherwise it's a detour that feels out of sync with the rest of the storyline. More importantly it suggests to me that Dad's interference wasn't that big a deal... certainly it didn't warrant giving us a morose and mopey Seon-gyeom.

I've been playing a board game called Tokaido with the kids. It's a visually pleasing work of art that sees the participants sauntering through the road from Kyoto to Edo in old Japan as tourists. The aim is to collect as many victory points along the way as possible in order to be the one who has the best time ie. to win. One can do this by donating money to the temple, shopping for souvenirs, having nice local cuisine, jumping in the hot springs, meeting people and enjoying the scenery. It's a simple game except for the fact that you can only go forwards and you can't go on to a space (unless stipulated) that someone else has already occupied. Because of that rule it can be a profoundly frustrating experience and that's where being strategic and/or easy-going can be helpful.

This is how I read Run On. It's not a convoluted story. So far it doesn't pretend to be although there are moments where the temptation to veer off in that direction is there. That said, some of the characters arguably lead complex lives. Da-na is definitely one of those. Seon-gyeom, is quite possibly another. Being offsprings from wealthy households tend to do that to someone. The more you have, the more is demanded of you apparently. Mi-joo from what I've seen especially in these last 2 episodes likes to think her life is more complex than it really is. I suspect she's deliberately written this way because there is no where else the show can really take her otherwise. Added to that she has a love of the dramatic because it's an escapist mechanism for a lonely life. Clearly there's a tug-of-war going on inside of her. She is drawn to confrontational moments (because she sees herself as the underdog as well as a champion for those who fit in that category) and yet at the first sign of trouble she retreats. Why? Because it's just plain easier to go along with the status quo than to negotiate a place at the table. I struggle a lot with Mi-joo's characterization particularly in Episode 14 because for some reason she comes across inauthentic as someone trying too hard to be the star of her own show.

The conversation between Ji-woo and her husband the assemblyman is very telling. She's determined to be her own woman and to her credit she's never pretended that she's been any kind of maternal caregiver or wife. Her priority has always been her career and its maintenance but as her husband's ambitions reach new heights, the simplicity of sticking to her lifelong goals has come under full-scale attack. She's threatened to pull out of the game (divorce) but that's not an option for a man who thinks he's in a winning position. It isn't just some kind of clash over aspirations either. Certain underlying assumptions have been present in that dynamic from the start. She was an actress who married for love and gave the man she loved a family. However, he married in large part to grow his political career over time. In the past he could have let her have her career to humour her and I don't doubt he saw advantages to marrying a celebrity. But now, her career aspirations are increasingly a problem. While it makes for some delightful farce, those are core existential issues being contested. She represents rugged individualism and he represents conventional wisdom about family roles. Whence shall the twain meet?

In recent days Mi-joo feels like such a underdeveloped character compared to say, Da-na. What's also obvious is that her romance with Seon-gyeom has very little narrative meat so much so that someone saw fit to inject an overused makjang trope to the mix to create tension. All that really happened between them was that they went backwards and then moved slightly forward. And I question now if moving backwards was really even necessary because the consummation of their relationship lost something of the anticipated impact. I would go so far as to add "jarring" to the list of impressions I experienced.

I probably sound like a broken record using the word "unnecessary" yet again but that's how I felt about the push and pull of 12 and 13. It was unnecessary precisely because all the cards had been put on the table as far as Mi-joo and Seon-gyeom were concerned. Whereas in the case of Da-na and Yeong-hwa, the mountain that they've had to climb is far higher and the terrain much more challenging parents not withstanding. Da-na's antisocial tendencies are humorous because she elevates herself above social norms with that slightly confused look on her face. She might be a parody but she doesn't know that she is.

The characters of the drama are undoubtedly wrestling for agency in this battleground of agendas, ideals and aspirations. On the surface, there's an acknowledgement that rocking the boat isn't worth the trouble and yet due to circumstances out of their control they keep doing it. To my mind the Tokaido metaphor works really well. Everyone wants to get somewhere fairly specific but there are impediments -- mostly other people who also have objectives but they are most inconveniently in your way. This could be parents, politicians and rivals. However, there is something called timing also. What can't be achieved immediately might be achieved later on down the road with a bit of calculation and strategic utilization of the rules. Roadblocks are inevitable in everyone's journey and smart gamers, I suppose, know how to make the road blocks work for them rather than to see them as purely obstacles.

With so much left to resolve, I'm of the view that these more recent episodes dabbled in far too much noise. I imagine what we're seeing are the usual third act issues where all the threads will at best be tied up hurriedly.

Edited to add:

After some reflection, a potential fanfic made its way into my ruminations. I would rejig the end of Episodes 12, much of 13 and even 14. Instead of Assemblyman Dad bullying Mi-joo and making her cry, a more Machiavellian thing to do would be to engage an intermediary to offer her a job as an interpreter/translator interstate or overseas. Because that dilemma would be far more convincing. The temptation to walk away from would have weight. She might take the job because it's a once in a lifetime opportunity and then the break-up (or the impracticalities of long-distance romancing). After all it's practically a mantra that her job is really important to her and that she values herself. The scenario will really force the hand of an independent working woman. And it's not ridiculously makjang. More importantly it's actually consistent with the rest of the storyline and avoids a Kdrama cliche entirely.