Thank you, Show! I put a lot of faith in you after episode 17, and you amply rewarded me. I knew Cha Do-Hyun and Oh Ri-Jin could work their problems out if they just stopped “fussing over this and that,” as Perry Park calls it. We even get some humor here. All in all, episode 18 was so good I had to watch it several times before tearing myself away to write this post.
One advantage of the extensive flashbacks in episode 17 was to give Ji Sung and Hwang Jung-Eum a little time off to rehydrate. They come back in episode 18 ready for Olympic-level feats of synchronized weeping.
But the tears serve their purpose and bring our hero and heroine together again, just in time to get ready for showdowns with an unsavoury blackmailer and the Seung Jin Group stockholders. This episode provided enough resolution to the biggest emotional conflicts that I’m actually looking forward to a little corporate warfare. The boardroom would be an appropriate place to teach Grandma Seo a lesson.
Even though our hero and heroine were only separated for one episode, when Shin Se-Ki joins Oh Ri-Jin at the opening of episode 18, it feels like they’ve been apart forever. We can see how far they’ve come in this series by the fact that Oh Ri-Jin smiles when she sees him (above). When he asks her to run away with him, she’s ready to go. She texts Oh Ri-On not to worry—she knows how to control Shin Se-Ki. (Oh Ri-On’s come a long way, too, because he doesn’t immediately freak out.)
Shin Se-Ki fills in the rest of the story of the fire for Oh Ri-Jin. He started the fire, in the belief it would save the girl in the basement. But in typical Shin Se-Ki fashion, he didn’t plan things out particularly well. The fire spreads quickly while Cha Jun-Pyo carries his his son from the building. The boy begs his father to save “Do-Hyun,” the little girl, and his father goes back for her.
Jun-Pyo finds the basement empty, however. Before he can get there, Ji Soon-Young—Oh Ri-Jin’s adopted mother—rescues the little girl from the basement. But Jun-Pyo’s attempt to find her makes him an ambiguous figure. He’s cruel, yet not a murderer. He risks his life to save his son and the girl—and the result is his long coma.
The most interesting part of this story is what we learn about Cha Do-Hyun’s name. Before the fire, he was Joon-Young. But when he wakes after the fire to find the girl “Do-Hyun” gone, he believes she’s been killed. He blames himself. (I guess although he doesn’t remember starting the fire, he figures out that he was involved?)
And in another strange identity inversion reminiscent of his mixed-up childhood memories, the boy stops recognizing his own name, Joon-Young. He answers to the name Cha Do-Hyun now, as if by taking the name, he can forget the child who died. He packs away his memories of the girl into the alter called Nana, who “sleeps” for 21 years, to wake only recently. Grandma Seo “fixes things” by amending the family registry. The little girl remains missing, taken by “a friend of Min Seo-Yeon’s.”
It’s surprising, but psychologically satisfying, to learn that our hero takes the name Cha Do-Hyun accidentally, as the result of trauma. Grandma Seo is guilty of many things, but not stealing our heroine’s name. But learning that the boy forgot his own name makes his emotional abuse appear that much worse.
We get a chance to think more about this name after the blackmail sequence. It wasn’t clear in earlier episodes why Cha Do-Hyun paid money to his “friend” Alex in the States, but we can guess from Shin Se-Ki’s expression when he gets a call from Alex (above). It appears this “friend” has blackmailed Cha Do-Hyun multiple times, threatening to reveal his DID. Now he’s considering selling the information to Cha Ki-Joon.
Shin Se-Ki nearly kills Alex, but Cha Do-Hyun comes out in time to prevent a murder. At the end of this sequence, we don’t know where things stand with Alex, but he mails a key to Cha Ki-Joon later in the episode, so we can presume the DID cat will soon be out of the bag.
More importantly, Cha Do-Hyun finds himself suddenly with Oh Ri-Jin. He last saw her when he walked away after breaking their contract, and when he sees her again, he looks every bit as embarrassed as he should. He’s also worried: since hearing about her condition from Dr. Seok Ho-Pil, Cha Do-Hyun is afraid that her memories have returned.
Oh Ri-Jin is as awesome here as we all hoped she’d be. Yes, she says, she remembers now. But along with the painful memories she has good memories—of her mother who rescued her, and especially of the boy who risked his life to visit every night at 10 pm. He gave her hope, which kept her mind intact. “That’s how I endured it,” she says.
Cha Do-Hyun apologizes for taking her name. Oh Ri-Jin counters by saying she feels bad that he was damaged more than she was. She believes his psychological difficulties now are because he worried so much about her as a child. And so she offers him a gift: the name Cha Do-Hyun. She wants him to be able to answer “I’m Cha Do-Hyun,” just as he did in the past (above).
As far-fetched as Kill Me, Heal Me is 99 percent of the time, the one percent kernel of truth at its heart is the way children’s fears continue to mold their emotions as they grow into adults. It fits with our knowledge of neuroscience that having one friend could shield Oh Ri-Jin from the worst effects of psychological trauma when she was seven. One reliable person is a million times better than none.
It makes sense, too, that Cha Do-Hyun’s brain suffered more—though the toughest thing for the boy might not have been worrying about Oh Ri-Jin. Developmental psychology might say the hardest thing was witnessing his father’s transformation. Whereas the child Oh Ri-Jin could be confident her mother loved her, despite her death, Cha Do-Hyun probably felt abandoned and betrayed by his father. A parent who disappears completely is an easier loss than a parent who suddenly turns cruel or neglectful. The latter throws into disarray everything a child normally learns about how to treat others and what kind of treatment to expect for himself.
After the touching scene in which Oh Ri-Jin “gives” Cha Do-Hyun his name, our sensitive lovers part ways for a second time. Oh, my aching heart! Cha Do-Hyun drives Oh Ri-Jin back to Ssang Ri and they say goodbye with a depressing finality. Cha Do-Hyun is determined to stick to his plan of letting Oh Ri-Jin go, so that she can have a happy life far away from him.
I’m confident Oh Ri-Jin can move on and be happy no matter what. She takes Cha Do-Hyun’s ongoing rejection with good grace. But none of us—Oh Ri-Jin included—really believe Cha Do-Hyun can find happiness away from her. It’s a huge relief that as Oh Ri-Jin walks away, Cha Do-Hyun breaks down and Perry Park drops by for a visit.
Can I just say how much I adore Perry Park? Yo-Na gets the most love from viewers, but I find Perry Park the most hilarious of Ji Sung’s performances in Kill Me, Heal Me. Ji Sung’s awesome as Yo-Na, but Perry Park is no less wonderful than the boy-crazy teenager. At least Yo-Na appears to come from a socio-economic class within hailing distance of Cha Do-Hyun’s. Perry Park, however, is so outrageously from another class, place and generation that he and Cha Do-Hyun might as well be from different planets.
Because I’m not Korean and I only know a few dozen words of Korean, I don’t have much cultural context for understanding Perry Park. I can’t say what regional accent (saturi) he’s speaking in or what stereotypes he taps into. So why is it that Ji Sung cracks me up anyway?
One reason is that Perry Park’s gestures and mannerisms are so different from Cha Do-Hyun’s that it doesn’t matter whether you understand Korean. His enthusiasm for a drink, his cheeky smile, that little strut when he walks—he’s not only the anti-Cha Do-Hyun, but also the opposite of every K-drama hero ever. We expect to see Ji Sung play a variety of roles, but not this one.
Partly because of Perry Park’s love of loud clothing, partly because of his tough guy exterior, I register him as a working class guy from Long Island. But even if I didn’t translate Perry into my own cultural terms, his loudness, forthrightness and gangster swagger would still be distinctive. I don’t have to recognize his accent to find it funny when Mr. Oh embraces Perry like a long-lost brother in this episode. And I love the typical middle-aged-male way that Perry talks about Oh Ri-Jin to her father as if she isn’t standing right there (above).
Perry provides ironic commentary on our tragic lovers’ separation, saying this “tear-jerking soap opera” is a whole lot of fuss over nothing. In a world full of Perrys, every K-drama would be comic and there would be no need to keep the tissue box close to hand.
I was sad to see Perry leave before he could even have a drink. The visits in rapid succession from Yo-Sub and Yo-Na (above) give the sense that we may be seeing these characters for the last time. Viewers have called for a few episodes for a chance to laugh again, and the alters’ visits give us some comic relief. But with only two more episodes remaining, and a lot of characters for us to say goodbye to, Yo-Sub is probably right that the alters might not have much time—at least on our screens.
The challenge with wrapping up a television series is to resolve the most important plot threads without leaching out the narrative tension too early. A story doesn’t feel right unless the stakes and challenges continue to rise for the characters until the end. But if you have a number of plot lines, you have to start wrapping them up before the final episode. Add to this challenge that K-drama writers and directors have to pull together their finales after weeks of live shooting, on minimal sleep and fraying nerves.
I try to keep my hopes low for K-drama finales because the risk of disappointment is high. I enjoyed Healer for most of its 20-episode run, but in the final four episodes, the “rising action” that’s supposed to propel a narrative took a nose dive instead. As a result, I feel vaguely used when I think back on Healer—I feel like the show duped me into caring deeply, only to say, “Ha! Just kidding! The characters weren’t really in danger after all. The bad guys weren’t really scary. We exaggerated to get your attention, and you totally bought it! Ha ha!”
Of course, it isn’t entirely the writer’s fault if I get emotionally involved in a show. But an enormous part of a writer’s art is predicting and managing audience expectations. It’s an ancient principle of story-telling that the tension should increase as the story goes on. If it’s a story about monster-killing, for instance, then Beowulf will fight the inexperienced Grendel before taking on his bad-ass mother. American high schoolers wouldn’t be puzzling over the Old English epic 1500 years later if the mighty swinger with a saber had killed Grendel’s mother and then said, “Oh, yeah, I’ll get that wimpy Grendel guy, too, while I’m here.”
Sometimes a writer throws in curve balls to maintain suspense. But the surprises shouldn’t contradict the story so far. Healer loses me at the end because the ruthless bad guys stop being ruthless—no longer are they trying to throw people down elevator shafts, suddenly the worst they can do is threaten the hero’s reputation. We’d been led to believe that the heroine saw her mother beaten with a lead pipe as a child, or something equally brutal, but the truth turns out less horrible than we’d imagined. And the show originally argued that mere media coverage couldn’t avail against the evil conspirators, yet ends with a media report saving the day.
Kill Me, Heal Me offers similarly exaggerated villains—Grandma Seo and Shin Hwa-Ran—and an exaggerated sense of dark secrets in the past. But as we’ve learned more about the past in recent episodes, I’ve felt satisfied that events 21 years ago were as dark as promised. The Chairman was formidable and cruel, Jun-Pyo was once decent but couldn’t stand up to his father, and our hero himself burned down the entire mansion and put his father in a coma, on the very day that dad was becoming CEO. Everyone in the family was slightly crazy—or very crazy.
The narrative about past events has been effective. What about the other plots—the romance, the DID and the Seung Jin Group boardroom shenanigans? Will we have enough to keep the plot moving forward steadily for two more episodes?
The romance between Cha Do-Hyun and Oh Ri-Jin reaches an emotionally satisfying climax in episode 18 (above and below), leaving us with a lot fewer problems to solve next week.
As Cha Do-Hyun’s alters visit one right after another, Oh Ri-On suggests the alters are trying to stay close to Oh Ri-Jin in place of Cha Do-Hyun. His alters won’t let him leave her. For the first time, Oh Ri-On seems more worried about Cha Do-Hyun than his sister is.
Perhaps Cha Do-Hyun realizes they won’t let him leave. When he wakes in the night to find himself in Yo-Na’s fluffy pyjamas, tied to Oh Ri-Jin with a length of rope (above), maybe it’s clear to him that he can’t escape, no matter how determined he was during his last moments of consciousness earlier in the evening. The two of them are tied together in more ways than one.
Cha Do-Hyun makes up here for his rude departure in episode 16 by telling Oh Ri-Jin that he realizes he feels more pain without her than with her. He asks her to stay with him. I’m glad he got to the point of saying this out loud. Bonus points for delivering this confession wearing pink pyjamas and lip gloss.
Oh Ri-On’s sudden entry into the room provides an opportunity for a new variation on the “cosplay” joke: Cha Do-Hyun attempts to cosplay Yo-Na. Oh Ri-On doesn’t buy it but humors him, giving us a chance to enjoy watching Ji Sung pretending to be Cha Do-Hyun pretending unconvincingly to be Yo-Na (below).
This sequence at the Oh family restaurant gives us some much-needed uplift and humor, but it also shows development in Oh Ri-On’s point of view. The visits from Shin Se-Ki, Perry Park and the other alters—coming all together in one day—seem to make Oh Ri-On aware that he’s outnumbered. Even if he can keep Cha Do-Hyun away from Oh Ri-Jin, he can’t keep them all away.
Oh Ri-On is also less worried about his sister now. Her memories have returned and she’s past the worst shock. She’s still speaking to Oh Ri-On despite the secrets he kept from her. And he knows now that they’ll always be siblings, whatever secret desires he might have had in the past.
It’s particularly cute that Oh Ri-On has become accustomed to Cha Do-Hyun’s personality swings—he and Oh Ri-Jin jump into action together to cover up Cha Do-Hyun’s eccentricities. Oh Ri-Jin’s parents still don’t know who this guy really is, but they, too, are surprisingly adaptable. Perry has a totally different personality than Cha Do-Hyun, but Mr. Oh loves this version just as much (perhaps more, since Perry drinks and likes fishing).
Thanks to the versatile Oh family, I can imagine Kill Me, Heal Me reaching a “happily ever after” without Cha Do-Hyun’s DID disappearing for good. As we say in the mental illness community, the goal isn’t a cure—there are no cures for the most difficult disorders—but a good life. Cha Do-Hyun can relax with Oh Ri-Jin because even if something disturbs his peace of mind, she and her family can handle his alters. The DID isn’t the end of the world in this family, like it is in Cha Do-Hyun’s birth family. Mr. Oh will happily be a drinking buddy for Perry Park for decades to come, and Oh Ri-Jin’s mom will feed late-night meals to whatever personalities stop by.
The end of episode 18 gives us a satisfyingly sweet moment with our hero and heroine together at last—and away from Oh Ri-On’s suspicious eyes. Equally as satisfying, we get to see Cha Do-Hyun at work in that well-tailored suit of his again. (Pardon me while my mind wanders for a moment…) And the plot promises more business-suit-sexiness yet to come, as Cha Do-Hyun declares his intention to fight for possession of the conglomerate.
For several episodes, I’ve had no interest in what happens at Seung Jin Group. But now that Oh Ri-Jin and Cha Do-Hyun are reunited, I’m looking forward to seeing Cha Do-Hyun display some new-found confidence in front of his uncle and cousin. When Cha Do-Hyun shows up at a board meeting late in episode 18, I remember that great scene in episode 3, when he impressed everyone despite the blood dripping from his sleeve. More boardroom action could be entertaining.
I hope the writer and director can keep the pressure on and make this fight count for something. I feel like Oh Ri-Jin and Cha Do-Hyun will be happy as long as they can stay together, so there’s a big risk these final episodes will be anti-climactic. But with Cha Ki-Joon about to find out about the DID, with Chae-Yeon still trying to manipulate Cha Do-Hyun, and with Uncle Cha ready to stop at nothing, there’s no shortage of potential conflicts.
My fingers are crossed for next week. I want the bad guys to be really evil, Cha Do-Hyun to channel some Shin Se-Ki attitude, and maybe Writer Omega to be a surprise weapon at Cha Do-Hyun’s side. I don’t need Grandma to repent all her sins, but I wouldn’t mind if at the end we see her alone, slowly expiring as she drops a snow-globe to the floor and murmurs, “Rosebud…” And I won’t give up hope for one more smoking hot kiss. Got it, Show?