There's a fascinating real life analogy that struck me this morning as I pondered over the meaning of life living under mask mandates in the time of Covid. True story. For the last couple of weeks my city has been living under some restrictions. Not a full-blown lockdown but we've had to don masks in large crowded indoor places. Masks aren't very comfortable for long periods so you can imagine I haven't been out much. After a while it becomes hard to breathe. Anyhow, I'm not going to start a war on this blog on the efficacy of wearing them because talking about Run On with all its crazy relationship dynamics is really much more fun.
Of course it's a cliche... banal even... to say that people on this show wear masks and this show appears to be in some measure about ripping them off. And I mean "ripping" in the most forceful way possible. However, because it is a generally good-natured show it does it with gentle ruthlessness.
Da-na seems to be the obvious target of the unmasking because let's face it, she's ripe for it. Not only does she think she's royalty living in Joseon, her family dysfunction makes her conveniently unaware of her own propensity to denigrate others instinctively or as a felt "right". In 21st century South Korea does she have a point? Her privilege ie. wealth apparently gives her the right to thumb her nose at the "peasants" or common folk. While she thinks she's a barrel of laughs, the joke's really on her. She's a living fossil -- a throwback that navigating business and pleasure in contemporary society. She's in limbo and she's not much liked. It's her wealth that allows her to get away with the lack of social graces. She can try to make demands on people but it doesn't mean that they have to be happy about it.
Inevitably it comes as a big shock to her that the people around her don't all dance to her tune in cheer or at all. Yeong-hwa for instance might be relatively good natured with most people but he has his limit of how much condescension he will take. So if she wants him the man as well as the painter, well... the status quo won't cut it.
But I'm not fingering her as a villain... I don't think there are any real villains here. It's more than bad manners that's governing her behaviour. However, bad manners is often a sign of a lack of respect for others whatever the reason. She obviously rightly believes that she isn't accorded any real respect at home, feels disregarded so she lashes out at others who are in a more vulnerable position than she is. Worst still she takes special pleasure in playing mind games with those who so their best to observe normal social decorum. There are laughs to be had in subversion but when someone doesn't know how far they can go or when to stop, a lot of hurt feelings result. The relentless put downs turn abusive. Whatever genuine affection used to be present eventually dissipates.
All that said, I don't dislike her because she serves a purpose in the narrative. She's an agent provocateur that unmasks other people's pathologies in gamelike fashion. Nobody likes to be unmasked... much less publicly. On top of that she unmasks others in order to mask her own insecurities. Going on the attack preemptively as a form of defence so to speak.
Yeong-hwa pushing back was inevitable especially because he's no pushover. He's someone with pride and principles so Da-na could never walk all over him at whim. Initially they both thought that her wealth was the obstacle to a potential romance but as the show is at pains to demonstrate, her wealth is the cover story for why there's a wall between them. She chooses to use her wealth and perceived "status" that her wealth brings to maintain a cool distance sending mixed messages in the meanwhile.
Lately he's masking up not because he doesn't like her but because he wants to maintain some measure of agency. Mixing business and pleasure means treading into dangerous territory because it complicates relationship dynamics. It behooves Yeong-hwa to assert himself as an individual and negotiate the terms of their interaction not just in his favour but to move towards some kind of equality. He's doing her a favour too because if people keep allowing her to step all over them, she will never find genuine authentic relationships.
Seon-gyeom and Mi-joo on the other hand are doing much better on the honesty front 10, 11 episodes later. By the end of Episode 11, they're finally holding hands after a bout of endearing uncertain awkwardness. But the path of true love seldom runs smoothly. Certainly not in a K drama rom com. Mi-joo held back wracked with fear. Until she finally dropped her guard she was donning a mask of affected indifference rather needlessly while he was trying to prove to her that he was someone who was trustworthy in matters relating to the affairs of the heart. She pretends she doesn't want it. He knows she's pretending not to want it but continues to do whatever it takes so that she can finally comfortably stop pretending that she doesn't want it.
That's what the confession of Episode 10 is really about. That's why it doesn't behave like other more dramatic confessions that we've come to know and love. The two parties already know that they like each other. What that was about was finding equilibrium without losing a sense of self and maintaining authenticity. Rather than take a loud confrontational line, the gentle backhanded approach taken by Seon-gyeom shows respect for Mi-joo's deep-seated pathologies. It's tailor-made for her. And that's what makes it special.
Liking someone doesn't take much. It's easy actually. But most of the huffing and puffing really comes from negotiating over and over again the terms of the dynamic. Nobody wants to be hurt too badly... that's the fight and flight impulse at play. Nonetheless the tension between the desire and the fear has to come to a head if both parties seek resolution. When you choose to be with someone, you choose to shoulder a different kind of baggage. There's where the romance really becomes fun and games.
The palpable relief on Seon-gyeom's face says it all.