After an intense first meeting in the last episode, our leads get to know more about each other and their past connection. Kang-tae (Kim Soo-hyun) recounts the story of the strange girl to Moon-young (Seo Ye-ji) from his perspective. At this point, they don’t realize that they’ve met as children, but to the viewers, it’s pretty clear who the two kids in the flashback/story are. We find out that little Moon-young (Kim Soo-in) had saved little Kang-tae (Moon Woo-jin) from drowning. Afterwards, he had begun following her around, wanting to be friends, but little Moon-young’s distrustful nature had gotten the best of her, and she had ended up scaring him away.
The dynamics between our leads have already started on a very interesting path. Having noticed that neither her money nor her weirdness faze Kang-tae, Moon-young takes an interest in him and invites Sang-tae to a book signing event by writing him an aegyo-laced message. Even though this is just the second episode, the aegyo felt so out of character for Moon-young that I was in splits. She pursues him relentlessly and aggressively, which both flusters and annoys him, and his discomfort only seems to egg her on. And Kang-tae, for all his admonishments, seems unable to tear his eyes away from her gaze. The amount of staring between these two deserves another special mention.
There were a lot more scenes with Sang-tae (Oh Jung-se) in this episode, which I loved. The show does a brilliant job at depicting how Sang-tae’s mind works. In a montage that looked like it came from an animated movie, we see that when he’s relaxed and excited, Sang-tae’s imagination soars. He is both friendly and sociable, just not in the way people expect, which often makes them react violently towards him. At Moon-young’s book signing event, he gets brutally hit by a father who objects to him interacting with their kid because they are weirded out. This scene was really difficult to watch, with no one from the crowd trying to help. But it was also incredibly necessary because it’s an accurate reflection of how individuals with autism are treated by an unaware and unsympathetic public.
When attacked, Sang-tae’s mind went from a colorful and imaginative movie to extreme sensory overload, and once again, this is depicted visually through the blurring of his surroundings and sharpening of noises inside his head. Kang-tae has to calm his brother down by covering his eyes and ears with his jacket, in order to block his senses. This entire sequence of events serves to both inform and invoke empathy in the viewer towards an autistic individual suffering a meltdown in public. We also see how Sang-tae has coping mechanisms to take care of himself, such as going into a quiet room and repeating to himself that “it’s okay, and he’s not a bad person.” There’s a very thin line between playing the role of an autistic person and reducing them to stereotypes, and Oh Jung-se is doing a stunning job of acting out his character in a sensitive and nuanced manner.
We are also introduced to another dimension of Moon-young’s character. Despite believing herself evil, it is she who, in front of hundreds of people, risks her career and takes a stand for Sang-tae. She points out the lack of logic in the arguments calling him “weird” or “dangerous” and ends up dealing with the man who attacked him in a way only she can. Kang-tae looks shell-shocked at this, while I was applauding and whistling from behind my laptop screen.
We also get more insight into Moon-young’s mysterious past—turns out she has an anti-social personality disorder. Her mother was also a best-selling author like her, except she wrote crime fiction. One day, her mother was found dead while her father suddenly lost his job and landed in a hospital as a dementia patient. All this has led to several strange rumors about her. As for how Moon-young deals with rumor-mongers, there is one word: violence. Now I don’t condone it, but if used against a creepy old man blackmailing a young woman for sex? I can’t disapprove of her methods.
One might think that because Kang-tae is the primary caregiver, Sang-tae leans on him, but the scene in the bus with the younger brother leaning on the older one’s shoulder proves that comfort goes both ways in this relationship. In his own small ways, Sang-tae looks over his younger brother as only he can. When Kang-tae is offered a new job in the city their mom died in, he only thinks of his brother’s comfort while turning it down. But when he asks for Sang-tae’s opinion, the older seems unbothered by the prospect. He only cheerfully reminds Kang-tae to “lean on his older brother.” As I watched this, I had a sinking realization that this show is going to be full of these tender moments, and I’m probably going to cry a lot. UGH.
So far, one of my favorite things about this show is the transitions between scenes. The editing is beautiful—flashbacks have a sepia tint like an old book, complete with borders; Moon-young suddenly takes the form of a monster that towers over the entire city and picks up Kang-tae like he’s a doll; water from an aquarium leaks out to cover the screen and transition to the next scene; and a montage of Sang-tae being excited for an adventure is colored and edited like a old-time children’s move. The effects are stunning and elevate the experience of watching the show. While the narrative is rooted in real life, these transitions make me feel like I’m watching a fantasy show for children complete with magic.
Once again, I have to point out that this show switches wildly from fantasy to emotional scenes to rom-com style humor. It was jarring in the first episode, but I’m starting to find it fun. As far as supporting characters go, Jae-su is my favorite simply because of how dedicated he is. I’m sure we will find out eventually why he’s so devoted to Kang-tae and doesn’t mind uprooting his life every year just to move with them. But for now, I’m just glad there is someone to support Kang-tae and occasionally have fun with him. Ju-ri is another interesting character who seems to be a common friend of both Moon-young and Kang-tae; a classmate, possibly? I foresee her becoming a point of tension between the two leads.
Despite their love-hate dynamics, Moon-young and Kang-tae have already given each other the push they needed to start their journey towards healing. In speaking up for Moon-young and teaching her how to manage her outburst, Kang-tae helps her feel less lonely. Moon-young, for her part, becomes Kang-tae’s mirror and tells him what he’s running away from. Moon-young has impulsively followed Kang-tae to Seongjin City but does not know that he is now caretaker to her father who she refuses to see. With both of them back in their hometown—where they first met each other and got hurt in ways that would traumatize them for life—things are going to kick up several notches. Are we heading towards another clash, or will these two open up to each other in the next episode? I can’t wait to find out!