In episode 9, Oh Ri-On took off his cute twin brother mask and showed himself a full-on tortured second lead.
I wasn’t sure if I would buy this character as anything other than Oh Ri-Jin’s quirky brother, but he does some grade-A brooding here. Even though he knows his feelings would devastate his sister and parents, he can’t help acting like a jealous lover when he discovers his sister living with Cha Do-Hyun.
Oh Ri-On’s angst is balanced by the humorous scenes between our hero and heroine. After their kiss at the end of episode 8, Oh Ri-Jin feels uneasy and embarrassed. But Cha Do-Hyun is smitten, as we learn from his very forgiving reaction to Oh Ri-Jin’s uncouth table manners at breakfast.
After breakfast, they buy cookies—but not just any cookies! I’m geeking out here because they pick up the most famous cookies in Western literature, those “squat plump little cakes” from northeastern France known as madeleines, the stars of the most famous passage in Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past.
The madeleines appear only briefly in Kill Me, Heal Me, and no one calls attention to them. But they’re a nice touch given the importance of lost memories in this story. The cookies are in the foreground as we see our hero and heroine at their most relaxed (screenshot above—isn’t the framing great?). And a few minutes later, a plate of cookies sits on the desk between Do-Hyun and Ri-Jin as they start working together more formally.
I grew up hearing “Proust’s madeleine” as a byword for something that recalls childhood memories. (Though I seriously doubt I’ll ever get around to reading Proust!) I don’t know how far the reference has made it into Korean pop culture, but I love that at least one person working on Kill Me, Heal Me knows their French lit.
Cha Do-Hyun’s own key to memory appears to be Oh Ri-Jin. Or so Dr. Seok tells Ri-Jin later. The day they buy madeleines, Do-Hyun switches alters several times, giving us Nana, Yo-Na, Perry Park and Yo-Sub.
Nana doesn’t appear to Ri-Jin—as usual, we only know about her from a note left behind with a sketch of a teddy bear. But the others treat Ri-Jin like an old friend—in their own unique ways.
Yo-Na sees a picture of Ri-Jin’s family and immediately gloms onto Oh Ri-On as her new crush (above, left). Perry interrupts his midnight bomb-making for some unforgettable dancing. (Fans who’ve been looking forward to Hwang Jung-Eum’s absurd dance moves will love this episode.) And Yo-Sub, ever the serious one, listens to Beethoven’s Ninth, reads Renaissance art history and tries to ignore Oh Ri-Jin. I bet he knows all about Proust’s madeleine (above, right).
Yo-Sub’s my personal favorite, because his despair is a gravitational force that keeps the other alters from appearing merely silly. He opens up just enough to thank Ri-Jin for stopping him from committing suicide. Yo-Sub still thinks suicide’s the best option, but he says “the others” don’t agree.
This scene between Yo-Sub and Ri-Jin is short, but highlights actress Hwang Jung-Eum’s strengths. I find Hwang Jung-Eum slightly irritating when she plays Oh Ri-Jin’s comic scenes. Even when she’s not screaming, she tends towards the shrill. But she’s dynamite in serious scenes. Here, as Yo-Sub thanks her, her eyes suddenly redden and a couple tears run down her cheek (above, left). She makes it so effortless that I almost didn’t notice.
In the following sequence, she also shows off things she does well, like her polite shock when she meets Cha Do-Hyun’s mother for the first time (above, right). She’s completely out of place among Cha Do-Hyun’s relatives at ID Entertainment, even more than the usual “poor girl thrown into the den of chaebols” character. Her cheerful bearing grates against the tragic atmosphere hanging over the Cha cousins and Chairwoman Seo, promising big conflicts to come.
But in this episode, the biggest confrontation is between Oh Ri-On and Cha Do-Hyun. I didn’t expect Oh Ri-On to reveal his identity as the novelist Omega so soon. I was almost as surprised as Cha Do-Hyun when the executive gets a sudden invitation to meet Omega—and finds Oh Ri-On.
Here Oh Ri-On looks older, more serious, and potentially dangerous to our hero and heroine. Since spotting his sister leaving the book reading, he’s realizing he doesn’t know everything. He may have spent years researching the Seung Jin Group and their heir, but he had no idea the chaebol asking his sister for help was Cha Do-Hyun.
Later, we learn that Oh Ri-On blames himself for bringing Do-Hyun and Ri-Jin together. He engineered the “accidental” encounter between Cha Do-Hyun and his sister at the airport in episode 1, perhaps as a way to spark their memories. He also encouraged “Perry” to visit the Oh household later.
Oh Ri-On doesn’t realize Do-Hyun and Ri-Jin have run into each other many more times—so their meeting isn’t entirely his fault. He also doesn’t know about Shin Seki’s obsession with his sister, having only seen the “bad boy” alter ego once, on the airplane.
On learning Omega’s identity, Cha Do-Hyun immediately realizes his secret is at risk. Did Oh Ri-On know he was Cha Do-Hyun from the beginning and approach him on purpose? Why didn’t he say anything when Do-Hyun introduced himself as Perry Park?
Oh Ri-On gives some pretty slick answers, containing just enough of the truth to be credible. He’s researching the Seung Jin Group and knew Do-Hyun’s real name, he says, but he figured Do-Hyun uses “Perry” when he wants to be anonymous. Ri-On pretends not to have noticed Do-Hyun’s personality shifts.
There’s something menacing about how carefully Oh Ri-On parcels out the truth. By revealing his hidden identity, he’s gaining leverage over Cha Do-Hyun. The writer agrees to a movie contract, which on the surface gives Cha Do-Hyun a much-needed weapon in the power struggle with his cousin.
But the agreement also gives Oh Ri-On power over Cha Do-Hyun—because now Do-Hyun’s success relies on the mysterious author. And Oh Ri-On knows dangerous secrets about Cha Do-Hyun—not to mention that he regards Do-Hyun as a love rival.
The best thing about this scene, however, is hearing the complete story of the child in the basement. When Oh Ri-On recounted the first half of the tale in episode 8, it was enough to send Cha Do-Hyun into an altered state of consciousness. But dammit, if Cha Do-Hyun isn’t brave: he asks Oh Ri-On to tell him the rest.
Oh Ri-On explains. The boy in the story figures out he came to fear basements because he’s in love with the girl. “Seeing her struggle alone,” he says, “would be too heart-breaking,” so he became terrified of the same things that frightened her (screenshots above).
But why is the girl afraid of basements? Do-Hyun asks. Oh Ri-On is still trying to learn, he says. And, he adds meaningfully, he’s trying to figure out whether to share what he learns.
Oh Ri-On’s conclusion to the story touches on his dilemma regarding his sister, but also gives us a small but necessary clue to the past. Till now, it hasn’t been entirely clear which child—Ri-Jin or Ri-On—was adopted from the basement. Do-Hyun’s memories include Ri-Jin. But then why would Ri-On be afraid of basements, too? Now we know. He wasn’t in the basement himself, he just sympathizes with Ri-Jin.
We also know a little more about Ri-Jin and Ri-On’s mother. We see a photo of her and Min Seo-Yoon together as friends. Ri-Jin’s parents have a short conversation with each other confirming that they adopted Seo-Yoon’s child.
The writer has now plunked us down firmly in one of K-drama’s favorite topics: incest or—more likely—faux-cest. Even if we look past the fact that Oh Ri-On is crushing on his adopted sister, we have another problem. If Oh Ri-Jin is Min Seo-Yoon’s child, who is her father? Is she Cha Do-Hyun’s aunt or, God forbid, his half-sister?
Here’s the current family tree as I see it, complete with Seo-Yoon’s mystery child, who might be Oh Ri-Jin:
Incest and faux-cest is one of the stranger K-drama tropes. Writers use the possibility of incest to manufacture tension, but incest is so taboo that it can just as easily screw up a narrative. Just thinking that the story’s lovers may unwittingly be first-degree relatives turns a sweet romance into Gothic horror.
That said, if a story is already a Gothic fantasy, faux-cest takes the things that are creepy about romantic love—the irrationality of it, the obsession—and amps them up. In incest and faux-cest narratives, desire endangers everyone. Certain versions of the story are undeniably compelling, like the deliciously over-the-top melodrama of That Winter, the Wind Blows.
I figured Kill Me, Heal Me had enough conflicts already, what with dissociative identity disorder, a corporate power struggle and a secret family trauma lurking in the past. Is it a bit much to throw faux-cest in there too?
I’m pretty sure that the family tree I drew above will turn out to be false. If there’s one thing we know about K-drama birth secret plot-lines, anything is possible. The writer has done a good job planting clues suggesting Cha Do-Hyun and Oh Ri-Jin are related, but I’m too emotionally invested in their romance to allow the possibility of kinship between them. I want Cha Do-Hyun to keep smiling instead of suffering:
But since Kill Me, Heal Me does often have the atmosphere of a dark Gothic fairytale, the faux-cest element fits right in. Something horrible happened in the basement, and the director is building up our fears by showing as little as possible: a few broken toys, a shadow, two children holding hands. Now we have the specter of incest as well.
And the hints of incest are on multiple levels: the possible affair between Seo-Yoon and her father-in-law, Oh Ri-On’s desire for his adopted sister, and the romance between possible half-siblings Cha Do-Hyun and Oh Ri-Jin. It’s as over-the-top as the idea of a chaebol with seven troubled personalities instead of just one. But because it’s over-the-top, it works so far.
I hope the director can maintain the creepy atmosphere surrounding the Cha family. I don’t want to find out too much about what happened in the basement. The story draws a lot of its power from the mystery. But I wonder to what extent Cha Do-Hyun might have created his fears to protect Oh Ri-Jin. Oh Ri-On learned to be afraid because he loved Oh Ri-Jin—could Cha Do-Hyun have learned some of his maladaptive coping mechanisms from her too?
The closing scene shows again the trust between Oh Ri-Jin and Cha Do-Hyun, trust that doesn’t fall into any particular category of relationship. Earlier in episode 9, Oh Ri-Jin brings up the fact that they’re doctor and patient. She informs Do-Hyun that he feels attracted to her because of an illusion—emotional transference due to therapy (and she tells herself she’s attracted to him for the same reason).
But her protests ring false because these two have never for a moment acted like doctor and patient. They do, however, have shared history and emotional connections that go way beyond therapy. Oh Ri-Jin’s mention of “transference” at this point is too little, too late, if she wanted a professional relationship with Cha Do-Hyun.
Oh Ri-Jin herself knows this. She knows it when she apologizes to Dr. Seok and her brother for lying to them and making them worry. She tells herself she doesn’t really care for Do-Hyun because it’s “just transference.” But she worries about him in the final scene (below, left), and when he grips her hand, she ends up sleeping next to him (above).
We haven’t seen Shin Seki in awhile now, so it’s a scary thrill when he appears in the closing seconds of this episode (above, right). Was the last time we saw him episode 5, when he kissed Oh Ri-Jin?
In the quiet episodes since then, I forgot how violent and impulsive he is. The final image of this episode is frightening and sexy at the same time, as Shin Seki looms over Oh Ri-Jin demanding to know why she’s there, and I can’t wait for episode 10 to find out if Shin Seki is out-of-control as usual.
I’m not a Shin Seki fan—the guy definitely needs to mellow out. But the past couple episodes have shown Cha Do-Hyun taking on some of the liveliness and forcefulness of his alters, so is it possible Shin Seki will start to take on some restraint?
And isn’t this show turning out to be fantastic? How is it I never noticed Ji Sung before (except as Lee Bo-Young’s husband)? Is Cha Do-Hyun just a fundamentally sexier character? And when is the cell-phone footage of Yoo-Na in full idol-worship mode going to hit the internet? Can’t wait!