Strangers Again (2023) Episode 8
It makes sense, I think to split commentary for the two most recent episodes because there are significant developments that occur in Episode 8 that signal changes in the leads themselves and possibly the direction that the showrunners are taking the story. Even with the all the family and relationship hijinks that goes on with chaotic abandon, it is gratifying to see the series slow down for Kim Ga-eun’s murder trial. It’s not exactly Eun-beom’s wheelhouse to do criminal cases but pity for the woman and her daughter sees him act outside his comfort zone. Apparently it’s meant to be, because he learns a lesson about love and hate that comes in useful. It’s a lesson that helps him with the trial and Kim Ga-eun is convicted on a lesser charge. She needs to pay for her sins but the judges acknowledge that it’s hard to speak to intent in highly charged situations when emotional lines are not so clearly delineated. Furthermore just because an action or behaviour is “human” or a common feature of the human condition, it doesn’t make a morally wrong action right. There are reasons why we have laws against theft and assault. Understanding the reasons for committing a crime is one thing but condoning it is another. The rule of law matters so that pedestrians can walk the streets at night without being accosted. And if they are, the culprits are hopefully caught and punished.
The courtroom scenes were really for me the most powerful moments in the show. It’s an important piece of theatre where questions about the limitations of the law in dealing with the fallibility of human beings. Jang Seung-jo of course is charismatic in them especially during his closing statement. He is in earnest and his impassioned plea on behalf of his client probably won the day much to disgust of the not-that-likeable prosecutor. How does one determine what goes on in the human heart when a crime of passion has been committed? How does one judge intent. Does murder only spring from hate? Can’t it spring from love too? It’s all very philosophical. There’s a quote that’s attributed to Elie Wiesel, a holocaust survivor springs to mind.
The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.
At some point in the episode Ha-ra meets up with now former boyfriend Jae-gyeom. She initiates this discussion and they end their relationship amicably with her apologizing and he advising her to be “honest with yourself”. This is an important scene because it demonstrates something vitally important — that is people can feel remorse and change. Even the narcissistic Ha-ra. She has learnt something about herself and perhaps is also getting an inkling or two that people, herself included, are far more complicated than she once thought. For me too it begs the question as to why in all their years of marriage, Eun-beom never tried to confront her about her impositions. There’s no evidence that he did. So did he bottle it all up all his resentments and let them build up to breaking point? Did he think somehow that she would work it out on her own? Obviously we don’t have a lot of information in that department. To me the lack of communication about her “infringements” on his personal space is as much his problem as it was hers. He never gave her a chance with confrontation. Or did he? Inquiring minds don’t have a whole lot of information on that.
I wonder now too if Jae-gyeom was testing her when he hugged her and said “I love you”. Because it would be one logical explanation as to why a man would tell a woman he was dating that he loved her if he knew she was in love with another. The other is that he was pushing her to change. Which of course worked so well for him. :P Jae-gyeom can’t be faulted for trying but there’s a cynicism about him that Ha-ra picked up on and reacted to that she found off-putting. Regardless of what her father did, he is still family. It’s a case of “Yes, he’s an #@!$%^ but he’s my #@!$%^”. Good o’l Ha-ra doesn’t like anyone else to criticize her imperfect family.
At the end of the episode we get the sense that the leads will be getting back together. The fact that it is happening so soon is intriguing because it could go one of two ways. They could stay together or go their separate ways. I’m keen to see how that plays out because Eun-beom never really gave Ha-ra the chance to practice accommodation. As far as we know. Given what she knows about the actual reason for the divorce as well as having tried to date another man, will she have enough insight to do things differently just because she doesn’t want Eun-beom to walk away again? Ha-ra is a undoubtedly a tough narcissistic nut to crack. It’s not hard to see why Eun-beom gave up on their marriage after 7 years. She’s pretty exhausting to live with. It is second-hand embarrassment to watch her pestering (there’s no other word for it) Eun-beom about reconciliation while he’s right in the middle of a big case. Why now? Why can’t she wait?
Despite the poise and the veneer of professionalism that she projects in her television show, Ha-ra is a womanchild. Her antics are such that there’s really no other way to look at them. Until now she’s had a dream run. She’s never been challenged to improve and that’s actually tragic. Her parents obviously let her have her way once too often. Kim Bi-chwl is an unhelpful cheerleader. Eun-beom has always been there to pick up the slack on the homefront during their marriage. Even now we see, even after their divorce, he’s supporting her at work and taking care of her when she comes crashing down to earth. I’m not saying he shouldn’t but he is just as responsible for the failure of their marriage as she is because he helped feed the “beast”. He’s also the one who chose to work in that law firm in close proximity to her, offer to introduce her to his hoobae and then give her help in her cases. So some of his woes are obviously self-inflicted. While I agree that Ha-ra needs to be honest with herself, the people around Ha-ra need to be honest with her. Someone needs to tell her to her face that she can be an insufferable creature to be around at times. Kang Bi-chwl is hardly an objective sounding board or anyone who should be dispensing relationship advice.
This is good nuanced storytelling. Except for how easily Mum gets over the divorce because there’s a new man in the horizon. That entire family situation has a weird, twisted happily-ever-after feel to it. Almost as if it’s a parody or something.