Strangers Again (2023) Episode 7
There’s something about this show that resonates with me no matter how frustrated or annoyed I am with the characters. It has this badge of authenticity that draws me in each time. It’s raw, it’s chaotic but it sticks. Moreover there’s a principle at work here that’s often sidestep in dramas with romance tropes — people here actually reap what they sow. There are consequences to moral transgressions and crimes. Adulterers get found out. They pay the price. Lies surface in due course and see the light of day. In this universe, fallen men and women might try to sidestep the law or hide their sins but sooner or later justice catches up with them.
It’s an unholy mess that Ha-ra is faced with, made much worse by her narcissism which has been in evidence since the beginning. There’s an amusing moment at the end of Episode 7 that sees two half-sisters, one in her mid-thirties and the other 16 in a heated confrontation. This is the moment that Ha-ra meets her father’s daughter from The Other Woman and it turns out that they’re two peas from the same pod. It turns out too that Ha-ra is looking at herself in the mirror. It’s hard to say which of the sisters is the mature one after the episode. Both come across as spoilt brats who are completely self-centred and perhaps lacking in self-awareness to varying degrees. Although adultery is certainly grounds for divorce, Ha-ra’s antics in this episode show the very worst of her narcissistic personality most likely born out of overindulgence. She’s used to getting her way or for things to go her way. It’s no doubt a shock to the system to find out that your beloved father had an affair and there was a child from it. But it seems to me that she railroaded her mother into the divorce not necessarily because she’s concerned about her mother’s well-being but as her way of punishing her father for his sins. She’s justifiably angry but her lack of professionalism is telling. At least she’s consistent in that regard. She’s relishing the role of judge, jury and executioner here so is ill-suited to be dealing with a marital crisis so close to home. Especially when she has another client, Kim Ga-eun who is now looking at a murder conviction for stabbing her lover.
Things spiral further out-of-control when Ha-ra and Jae-gyeom squabble about her parent’s impending divorce. Sensitive Ha-ra interprets his jaded cynicism as disapproval. Harsh words are exchanged. They leave in a huff and seek out Eun-beom to complain about one another. Ha-ra lies about being at home when she’s in Eun-beom’s office and Jae-gyeom feels insecure about her over-reliance on Eun-beom. He knows (of course he does) that she still has feelings for Eun-beom and accuses her of lying when she insists that she’s over him. They break up at his instigation. While I’ve never been enthused about Ha-ra and Jae-gyeom pairing, I didn’t dislike Jae-gyeom or begrudge him his chance with her. But it’s pot calling kettle black when he tells her that he can’t continue on with a dishonest person. He’s been pushing things full speed ahead putting undue pressure on her to say things that even he knows she can’t possibly mean. To her credit she was trying to accommodate him and taking baby steps. She felt obligated to try largely because she believed that he checked all the boxes. Yet he wants her to change for him overnight. Or something akin to it. Their relationship was doomed from the start. The break-up feels inevitable because the foundations just weren’t there. Ha-ra is still in love with Eun-beom. Jae-gyeom believed naively that if he did all the right things, sweep her off her feet, she would move on. That belief certainly came back to bite him especially considering his mother’s track record with men and marriage. A guy with trust issues should never get involved with a woman who has lingering feelings for her ex.
Eun-beom is doing what he’s always done… most probably. He’s cleaning up after Ha-ra. Which seems to be a full-time job in recent days. Of course he still cares about her — that was obvious from the start — and the divorce was his exit strategy from having to deal with his own inner demons/trauma. He takes on Kim Ga-eun’s case partly because she’s Ha-ra’s former client, partly on the behest of Ms. Kim’s daughter a mature sort of teenager who saw the deceit her mother was embroiled in all those years. This is not to say that Kim Ga-eun was blameless in the matter but she’s continuing to pay the price for her part in this.
This episode features two contrasting perspectives on adultery. One from the perspective of the legitimate wife and daughter; the other from the mistress and daughter. The men in the middle both debacles, however, don’t get away scot free. Thankfully. One is the verge of divorce, the other’s dead. The dead man pushed his luck rather too far and the woman he lied to all these years about leaving his wife was reacting to his threats against her daughter. There are probably as many reasons for adultery as there are offenders. One thing is for certain adultery is never just about the two or three people at the heart of it. It affects the next generation if there’s one but it also undermines the social fabric. The legal system is meant to be a last resort for adults and children as well as to apportion assets. It doesn’t deal with the fact that there’s something inherently tragic about how lightly many regard the giving of their vows. At the end of the day society has to pick up the slack (not to mention the waste in resources) and the knock on effects are well-documented. For me I come away thinking that there needs to be a shift of focus away from the overemphasis of marriage as the penultimate means of personal happiness and about taking personal responsibility for the choices made with so much fanfare especially when dependants are involved. Even in C dramas there’s a lot of propaganda about making personal happiness the main thing about marriage but very little about responsibility, commitment and self-control — all of those things that build character and strong families.
The message is clear: Relationship breakdowns have far reaching impact beyond the individual or the family. The legal system is inadequate to deal with the fallout. All it’s good for is cleaning up after the mess has been made but some would dispute that even. Laws have to be based on a moral foundation. Divorce is merely an exit strategy with trade-offs but it’s never a solution to what’s going on in the human heart. That has to come from elsewhere.