그 겨울, 바람이 분다 (That Winter, the Wind Blows)

Betsy Hp over at Creating Volumes posed a curious question in her recent notes about That Winter, the Wind Blows (그 겨울, 바람이 분다), a drama that follows the vicissitudes of Oh Soo’s oh-so-complicated life. Our hero is a con-man — a playboy, a gambler and a smart ass — and he is posing as the long lost brother of the blind, orphaned heiress to a mega-fortune. If he can pull off the ruse, he can walk off having “legitimately inherited” part of the fortune himself. Even taking into account the frustratingly unjust chain of events and uncanny coincidences that led Oh Soo to this unhappy pass, the subterfuge in which he is now engaged is just so wrong in so many ways. And yet we find ourselves signing on to Team Oh Soo and willing all the players to back him without reservation or condition. Enter Betsy’s query which I read as reality-checking the moral integrity of unconditionally rooting for our morally and ethically questionable protagonist and desiring that his friends(!) do the same: “… have I drunk the Soo-kool-aid and lost my ability to judge?”…

So Betsy, everything you point out about TWtWB, both in this post and elsewhere (I especially enjoyed the first post introducing the drama and then the Wildcards post where you talk about the mirror and gazing motifs in the drama’s visual vocabulary), all sound like the makings of the kind of storytelling that creates spaces within the narrative for the audience to inhabit. I daresay that the richer the story, the more morally ambiguous these spaces tend to be. And if the storyteller is especially skillful, we become invested in the well being of the characters irrespective of how questionable their ethics may be; we want things to turn out well for them. Now I don’t think this means that we necessarily want them to get whatever material object they ostensibly desire (money; a particular marriage match; exacting revenge by causing someone else harm, etc) – rather, I think it means that we want an even greater good for them: freedom, redemption and love.

We wish for them –
freedom from whatever has them bound/imprisoned in their lives (again: it could be money-or lack thereof, a forced marriage match, fear/phobias, etc);
redemption from whatever sin led them down the unhappy path on which we now find them (these may be active sins such as indulging appetites or perpetrating some act of violence or malice (including fraud and betrayal); or passive sins born of indolence);
love: that they may discover or forge a meaningful connection with fellow human beings, with a kindred spirit, and yes, even with themselves.

Zo In-Seong (조인성) as Oh Soo (오수)

Zo In-Seong (조인성) as Oh Soo (오수)

The main protagonist, the ‘hero’, of TWtWB is a cocky, gambling playboy-con-man presented to us by the storytellers (writer, director and actors) as an ethically (and morally) conflicted soul trapped, by circumstances beyond his control, in a life bereft of love; a soul in need of, and eventually in search of, redemption. I think that this kind of storytelling done well very quickly gets us invested in the poor sunbae’s fate. I also think that our psychological investment makes us champion his search for redemption (thereby putting us in danger of being complicit in his actions) which leads to us being all the more invested in his fate… ’tis a vicious cycle ‘ndeed!

So back to your question about the Oh Soo-Kool-Aid. Full disclosure: I write as someone whose kdrama fever broke a few weeks ago taking with it the previously irresistible impulse to watch kdramas of every ilk. I suspect that I have largely lost my appetite for kdrama, and yet TWtWB won me over easily – I had not imagined I would start following another drama so soon or so readily. Yet there I was marathoning the first three episodes and kinda jonesing for the next one – an experience no other drama has managed to evoke since Cheongdam-dong Alice ended. Anyway, the point is, I think this drama got me so easily because it is really well done – the story is ethically provocative, dramatically well crafted and beautifully executed. Most importantly, all the the players make it engaging in a way that I only know Art to be. (I say Art (be it literary, painting/sculpture or music, or all three together in film) on purpose to distinguish it from just spectacle or entertainment).

I see Art as both a testament to the artist’s craft as well as a powerfully revealing Rorschach test for the reader/listener/viewer. So it says a lot about the storytellers (the writer, the director, the actors) that they have managed to make what should be a morally reprehensible character sympathetic, and even genuinely appealing, as a human being. As you point out, even Moo-Cheol, the prime antagonist, exudes a heartbroken sort of  charm, and the irrepressibly cracked So-Ra, the catalyst to Oh Soo’s current woes, comes across like a broken, radioactive flower; delicate and damaged and quietly leaking toxic sap. And Oh Soo’s friends are no less unsettling thanks to the volatility of their own needs and desires… (my goodness, but love is messy…!)

I suspect that the reader/listener/viewer’s attitude toward these sketches of humanity is also revealing about the reader/listener/viewer. Like the mirrors you write about in the Wildcards post, your impulse to champion Oh Soo despite the reality of his situation and the choices he is making may render transparent your native impulse to empathy and reveal it in strong contrast to someone else’s inclination to adhere to an implacably rigid moral code that makes no allowances for human frailty and affords no compassion…

In fact, I’ll add that even questioning the integrity of our championing Oh Soo is itself revealing… Under what circumstances do we usually find ourselves persisting in supporting someone even while we wonder whether we are justified in doing so? Think about those times in your life when you have stood by someone even as you wondered whether you were just turning a blind eye to or — even worse — enabling moral and ethical indolence, or outright dangerous behaviour… Oh, sooo many questions…!


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30 Responses to 그 겨울, 바람이 분다 (That Winter, the Wind Blows)

  1. Pingback: Playing Favorites… the KDrama and Film ‘Must See’ List | SPQ&R

  2. Betsy Hp says:

    So many questions indeed! (And I saw what you did there, and I giggled. ;)) I am incredibly intrigued by the path you’ve found in answering the question I asked. I think you’ve nailed it in my desire for Oh Soo to find “freedom, redemption and love.” And you are absolutely correct that the storytellers are carefully crafting their story to encourage the viewers to want those things for Soo. For him to finally be happy and whole and free to love and be loved.

    In fact, I’d say it’s their very talent in setting up Soo to be empathized with (even as he attempts a pretty low con and shows that he’s been living a selfish, reckless, indolent life thus far), that’s causing my gut-check. Because I’ve fallen for morally-questionable characters before (I rather adore good strategists or chess-player characters, and they’re often a bit grey in their moral shading) and I want to make sure I don’t just slip my hand into the story-tellers’ and blindly follow where they lead.

    Though at the same time, I am really, really thrilled with how carefully they’re creating Soo. That he doesn’t gleefully fall into the con — that he’s so desperate when the opportunity comes, that he seems almost disbelieving as he sets the con in motion, that he’s the first one to define himself as worthless (no patience for fake excuses, has our Soo), that he’s begun to feel so protective of Young… those are all such important building blocks to my increasing empathy for Soo.

    So I’m not at a point where I want to start reading against the text and pointing out where, despite their best efforts, Soo is a hopeless case. Not by a long shot! But (and maybe especially because I’m getting annoyed at other characters and don’t want to blindly hate them) I want to make sure I like Soo because there’s really something there to like.

    • Thank you for this, Betsy! I’ve been trying to discover a way to order the thoughts running around in my own mind after I read your response — but I’ve had very little success, so I’ll just start writing and I hope that the words help shape the ideas for me. Much of what I say will just echo what you have already stated, so this is mostly an exercise in trying to organize my own thoughts on the very same ideas.

      I agree that the tellers of Oh Soo’s story are proving themselves to be skillful dramatists: for rather than just tell us about the key moments and figures in Oh Soo’s life, they show us and let us build our own collage portrait of him. So e.g. we see his mother’s abandonment in his infancy and in his youth; you mentioned them showing us Oh Young’s brother here rather than just telling us about him; we witness So-Ra’s blithe trap… We also get glimpses of what seem like fairly harmless cons involving thugs and questionable characters all around – all of which sort of cancels out – or at least mitigates – the perfidy of Oh Soo’s history as a scammer. If the story we were now following were just about Oh Soo vs. some sociopath crime boss and his minions, rooting for Oh Soo would be a no-brainer. Instead, Oh Soo is the wolf circling around the lonely and emotionally traumatized blind orphan.

      Yet he is not a predator by nature. Sure, he’s been selfish and reckless and rather vain and susceptible to fear, but nothing we have been shown suggests that naked malice motivates him. [I will even go so far as to conjecture (a practice I generally avoid) that had Hee Joo not been in a fatal accident, Oh Soo would have come back to her and their child after getting over the initial fear/shock of hearing that he was going to be a father at age 19.]

      No, he’s not a predator. Rather, he is himself prey – caught in the radioactive fallout of So-Ra’s long, slow, quiet meltdown: first with the imprisonment for her meticulous frame job and now with the death sentence for the crime she perpetrated and then used to frame him. Because of So-Ra, we get to see Oh Soo as a man subject to a senseless and remorseless injustice and we want justice for him and freedom from the tribulation she has unleashed upon him. [I can’t help but imagine how even the film’s visual palette, which you described as “color trapped beneath a dusting of snow”, sustains the sense of prolonged or persistent (‘nuclear’) winter for our players, both psychologically and circumstantially].

      And so I think that since we can see and decry this injustice, our championing Oh Soo in this regard predisposes us to compassion for his guilt over Hee Joo’s death, the details of which we only discover after we begin to see his budding affection for Oh Young, and hers for him. And so we wish for him redemption for the frightened thoughtlessness that culminated in Hee Joo’s unhappy death, and we wish for him love — that this man who has been cornered like a desperate, wild animal, may get the chance to live in peace in communion with a kindred soul.

      I admire the storytellers of TWtWB because they don’t simply take it for granted that we will blindly follow where they lead and champion Oh Soo because he is the lead and we are supposed to root for him. They have assumed the responsibility of showing us enough about Oh Soo to create a viable space for us to empathize and be compassionate of him in all his failings and foibles. I daresay they have done something similar with Moo-Cheol: knowing his own heartbreak over Hee Joo and his regret-fueled grief over her death gives his rancor toward Oh Soo life and depth and he becomes more than just the bad guy, the Grim Reaper dogging Oh Soo’s steps as our hero inexorably marches toward death. If Moo-Cheol’s animus has a soul, then maybe there is hope that he can one day forgive Oh Soo and find his own release from the burden of his grief. And this would be good, because it would also lift the yoke of injustice from Oh Soo’s shoulders, facilitating his finding freedom, redemption and love.

      I am very glad to be watching this drama because even after the storytellers have so painstakingly set the stage for us to empathize with and champion Oh Soo, they have not minimized the gravely serious implications of his subterfuge. In fact, the more time he spends with Oh Young — his affection and sense of responsibility for her growing and making him increasingly protective of her — the more untenable his situation will be: for failure to acquire the money will mean death by Moo-Choel’s hand, which will be undeniably devastating to Oh Young; yet success in getting the money and ending the con will mean breaking Oh Young’s heart – indeed her very soul – and (I suspect) consequently forfeiting his own. With stakes like that, how can Oh Soo win?

      For us to get a happy ending, Moo-Cheol must change. Otherwise we must redefine what we mean by happy ending and accept that Oh Soo must die. But then what would become of Oh Young if he did die, however nobly?

      The storytellers have set up these dangerously high stakes masterfully without ever hitting us over the head with anything. Here the dominoes are set up so that the audience gets to see what a no-win situation Oh Soo has been painted into. I imagine that it is precisely because the stakes are so high that we who have become engaged in championing Oh Soo get drawn in so deeply — the more impossible a win seems for our hero, the more we want it for him…

      • Betsy Hp says:

        Oh, I should have checked back!! (Lesson learned…) But, I’ve seen this reply now and it’s filled me with thoughts (as has your continuing post below…) and the prime one here is that visual of Soo as a wolf circling the helpless Young.

        I totally agree with you that Soo is not a predator. (The wolf in the picture is actually Moo-chul, I think.) Or at least, not that kind of predator. I’d say Soo is actually a dog (in the best sense of that animal) — a protecting force that stands between Young and anything that might threaten her. And I think we’ve seen enough to see that this aspect of his nature is something he’s always wanted to express — and I think probably successfully expressed as much as his world allowed — based on the loyalty of his team. He’s protected them in the past, too. (This clarifies Jin-sung’s deep loyalty for me, actually. The reason he stuck with Soo and left Moo-chul behind.)

        Which makes for an interesting take on the difference between his name and brother Oh Soo’s name. Because the brother’s name did mean “protector” and (if I remember correctly) his mother told him he needed to protect Young. And now our Soo is actively taking on that role.

        As to Moo-chul changing and allowing a happy ending… By showing how it’s his change that is needed for a happy ending to be possible, you’ve actually given me some hope. 🙂 Because he has changed just a teeny tiny bit in the last episodes. He’s acknowledging Soo’s strengths, seeing something in Soo that’s worth more than contempt. It’s small, but it’s there. So I hope.

        (My one caveat: Endings are hard. And I’ve watched promising dramas that biff it at the end. Nice Guy comes to mind. So far TWtWB has handled its story and pacing so well. Certainly they’ve allowed themselves enough time to construct a good, satisfying ending. So again, I hope.)

        • Wow – fantastic observations all!

          I hear your cautious optimism about endings — I feel the same way especially about books into which I really get myself drawn. It’s so wonderful to get lost in the moment when you’re in the middle of it – be it book or drama – and then so, so frustrating when the ending fails to measure up to the bar set before it… But I won’t worry about that — I think my thorough enjoyment of TWtWB is affording me an uncommon strong faith in its storytellers (*fingers cros- – no, no, I really won’t go there! 😉

          Where I do want to go is back to your point about our Oh Soo somehow fulfilling the deceased Oh Soo’s fate to guard and protect Oh Young — all thanks to an onomastic coincidence (on top of everything else). I think you are quite right that his natural inclination to loyalty and protection may have been stifled by the circumstances of his life and have only flourished wherever it could, as evidenced not only by the fierce loyalty he inspires in his friends, but also by his willingness to forfeit 5 of his remaining days to cancel the debt Jin-sung was scammed into and therefore spare his friend the attendant suffering. (Gosh, even the deceased Oh Soo adored him and loved sharing his name (ep.1))

          Carrying forward the canine/lupine metaphors, the changes in Moo-Cheol we have been seeing suggest that he, too, may also be more dog than wolf — traumatized and damaged for it, but not devoid of a keen impulse to loyalty and protection as we see in what we have learned about his family history. This, I think, creates the possibility for the hope of change we are currently nursing. How? you may ask. He knows sacrifice. I daresay that the sacrifices Oh Soo is willing to make — (5 days for Oh Young’s chance at health and life and 5 more days for Jin-sung) — may well resonante with a man who saw his sister abandon the family for her own good but himself stayed put and let himself fall into a life he hated in order to support the family. We have also seen that he begrudgingly admires Oh Soo. So could this…? (I will stand firm and refrain from conjecture!)

          Which means, then, that the wolf* may be someone else – a true predator who only cares to satisfy his own needs. Boss Kim, perhaps? I daresay.

          [Disclaimer — I weep to think of how our human metaphors for our human cruelty and savagery shamelessly besmirch the good name of animals who don’t appear to share our capacity for malice and destruction. (Had to say it.)]

          • Betsy Hp says:

            Boss Kim… and maybe So-ra? Two people who don’t seem to know what love really is.

            Moo-chul’s little shifts give me a tiny hope for a happy ending (though it’s really a satisfying ending I’m after — if it’s tears or not), but like you I don’t want to engage in too much conjecture.

            (I also agree with your disclaimer. I enjoy a good metaphor, but…)

  3. Irina says:

    Hi Curio – I’m back! It’s been a while and I see that I’ve missed quite a bit. KDrama, huh? You make it sound like literature, my friend. Now I’m intrigued! Is it really that good? I have to read the post just before this one (“Island in the stream…”) again — maybe I’ll start with some of the titles you mention there, see for myself what all the fuss is about. 😉

    I posted a few more lines from our Florentine friend about Love. I’ve been caught up in the papal drama that’s been unfolding in Rome these past few weeks. When I get a chance I’ll post Dante’s [supposed] reference to a similar occurrence back in 1294 — watch out for it! xox

    • Welcome back, A! I “make it sound like literature”? I guess so… If you really want to see what “the fuss is about” I can recommend that you start with something fun, quiet and engaging that won’t demand a lot of time: Castaway on the Moon or Il Mare. Both are very low key, but they stay with you — you know, still waters and depth etc. Enjoy. And tell me what you think.

  4. I thought about starting a new post for TWtWB after watching episodes 10 and 11 but it seems wrong to break up the conversation so I’m just going to add what I have to say to the That Winter, the Wind Blows (그 겨울, 바람이 분다) ‘comments’ section and keep it all under one roof for now.

    There is a just-below-the-surface intensity between Oh Soo and Oh Young that occasionally feels rather electric when they let themselves go — and it is doing wonders for the story! What is really exciting about this electric intensity is that it manifests in so many different types of emotionally charged moments: it rages when they are angry with each other — which happens whenever the issue of Oh Young developing a will to live arises; it sparkles when they are happily playing together — in the snow, in the kitchen, just hanging out and reading stories; and it thrums when their intimacy approaches the erotic*. So far, nowhere is this wide spectrum of electric intensity more beautifully dramatized in the show than in the two episodes (10 and 11) that take Oh Young from her muffled, white hot anger at Oh Soo’s duplicity concerning the “amulet pill” — (see Softy’s comments on this starting from “*People are wondering…”) — to her developing and expressing a will to live and to undergo surgery, a will which comes with a growing awareness that her love for Oh Soo is becoming erotic* (and, given her belief that he is her brother, therefore wrong, even sinful).

    [*clinical gloss of term erotic: of, relating to, or tending to arouse sexual desire or excitement.]

    Even more exciting, however, is how, in the best kdrama tradition, the nascent eroticism is not automatically equated to and telegraphed through the pursuit of, and surrender to, carnal appetites. Rather, in Oh Soo’s case it is only at first openly suggested by his hesitant almost-kisses in a couple of episodes prior to ep.11. However, it is fully dramatized in his desperate quest to not only awaken the will to live in Oh Young, but also to engage Dr. Jo — with the intercession of Moo-Cheol — to intervene and save Oh Young’s life. In Oh Young’s case the nascent eroticism manifests in her growing pride in having Oh Soo in her life, her increasingly unselfconscious trust in him and the new awareness that she may be jealous of other women who may claim his attention. When Oh Soo, ostensibly defeated in his quest to save her, does finally kiss Oh Young’s lips, it is a gentle, quiet kiss, and it also appears to be received by her gently and quietly. But, my, what a charge it bears! I do not believe I have ever witnessed a more chaste-looking kiss that crackled with more electric intensity than the one that closed ep.11. And with that, I must quote Softy over at Cadance:

    This drama is a testament to the beauty that lies within the chaos and confusion – ready to make its presence known. Just like [Oh Soo’s] kiss, it was biding its time till it could no longer be denied. How miraculous is it that Young finally caught up to Soo and now both will have to deal with their feelings for each other. That’s what that kiss did – it leveled the playing field for their love.

    *it’s not the kiss that is going to take her by surprise – it’s going to be how she feels inside. She is going to know for certain this is what a first kiss should have felt like – with the wave of emotions that come with the perfect kiss from someone who loves her and someone she loves in return. That instinct that it felt right is going to surprise her.

    Exactly. Precisely. The preview for ep.12 promises even more electric intensity: when Oh Young asks Oh Soo, “왜 그랬어?” ([ wae geulaess-eo? ] “Why did you do that?”)–[presumably in reference to the kiss, but possibly in reference to some as-yet unspecified self-sacrificing deed or other unexpected act of love]. Judging from her reaction, his answer is shocking and overwhelming in its truthful simplicity: “너를 사랑하니까” ([ neoleul salanghanikka ] “Because I love you”).


    Since we have seen him humble himself before Moo-Cheol and Dr. Jo for Oh Young’s sake, since we have seen him forfeit the last five days he may have to live in order to save her, and since we see and know that he now only cares about her well being and seems to have foresaken the con that brought them together, Oh Soo’s “너를 사랑하니까” reads not as an expression of feelings or mere carnal desire (as it might in many a western drama), but rather as the declaration of an holistic, supremely ethical state — caritas — whose driving force is the will to make life and happiness simple realities for Oh Young.

  5. Betsy Hp says:

    First, thank you for those links to Softy’s blog — awesome posts there! (I’d seen them posted but avoided reading them to avoid spoilers… and never went back — another lesson! ;))

    The charge between Young and Soo is so, so awesome and so well teased out. And I really, really appreciate that it first happened when they met honestly — Soo as himself, not her brother. Because it’s allowed their relationship to grow from that honest moment, even if neither of them fully realize it. That conversation they had several episodes back when Young asked about that “other Soo” and he honestly told her about himself and then broke down as she gave him the forgiveness he never thought he deserved (the forgiveness he’s been rebuilding himself with ever since) — I think that was such an important stage in their relationship.

    • And I really, really appreciate that it first happened when they met honestly — Soo as himself, not her brother.

      I remember you mentioning this early on (“They had me at the tree…”) and it is very cool to see it developing and playing itself out along those lines, not only for the players, but also for us. the viewers.

      she gave him the forgiveness he never thought he deserved (the forgiveness he’s been rebuilding himself with ever since)

      How wonderful is it that, in their growing relationship, these two offer each other just the right key to their redemption — a key that each one must use of his or her own free will: that key for her being to willfully embrace life and accept the risk and agony and tedium that surgery and chemical therapies and radiation carry with them to realize that will to life; and for him, the key being the forgiveness she offered, as you so astutely point out — and with that forgiveness, him recognizing that it is exactly what Hee Joo would have offered him too and, like you say, building from there.

      Whah! Am really digging this drama…!

  6. Reposted response to So… that last scene… on Creating Volumes:
    Okay, on those final moments of ep. 13 I’m hitting the ground on high, super-subjective gear, so please bear with me. I get how that terrible struggle Oh Soo and Oh Young are locked in, initiated by his grabbing and kissing her against her will, can really provoke a feeling of revulsion toward him. And I know that in the heat of the moment people can unthinkingly do terrible things, even (and especially) to those they love. Perhaps there is no redemption for Oh Soo for that insistent imposition on Oh Young, regardless of whether she forgives him later or not.

    But I have come to love this battered character of a man and after the end of ep.13 and this post I want to consider a question I floated in our earlier discussion about the moral viability of rooting for an ethically suspect character:

    Think about those times in your life when you have stood by someone even as you wondered whether you were just turning a blind eye to or — even worse — enabling moral and ethical indolence, or outright dangerous behaviour…

    I bring this up to affirm that I do not wish to justify Oh Soo’s obviously unwelcome embrace at the end of ep.13. I do, however, want to consider how it makes sense in terms of who and how these two souls are in the grander context of the story. Put simply, I enjoy a luxury Oh Young cannot, which is that I can try to understand why Oh Soo held on so tightly. I also think that in doing so, I can more readily accept Oh Young’s last interrogative words: “Now, for us, it is really over?”

    Oh Soo, smooth talker that he normally is, tends to become painfully inarticulate in emotionally charged situations. It is an observation often made about men generally – here it is dramatized with remarkable consistency where Oh Soo is concerned. Sometimes the circumstances have him forcefully stuttering, overwhelmed by the inability to just act (eg. confronting Secretary Wang in both eps 12 and 13); sometimes they have him trembling and unable to continue (his first verbal expression of love to Oh Young in the café; apologizing outside her door for that first kiss, begging to be close to her; video confessing his con and reiterating the truth about Oh Young’s real brother’s devotion); sometimes they have him just weeping wordlessly (hearing Oh Young’s words of forgiveness for the damaged, con man Oh Soo [for the first meaningful time in his life?]; in the hospital bed with Oh Young after news of a relapse; during that first kiss when hope of treatment is futile)… you catch my drift. The character is consistent on so many levels, including his inability to use words well while in acute emotional distress.

    But Oh Young needs words. Written or spoken, they make the world visible to her imagination and comprehensible to her intellect. A wonderfully poetic capsule of this is the brief exchange with Hee Sun when Oh Young asks about the color of sunlight. Hee Sun is somewhat stumped (“it’s just a bright color,” she mutters), in the way only a person who takes seeing sunlight for granted can be. However, Oh Young’s response is profoundly telling: “Bright is probably different from white. Right?” Her mode of seeing the world in her mind’s eye via verbal analogy and therefore understanding it in association with what she feels (the warm, welcome sun rays on her face) is here articulated in three concise lines. What follows this exchange may have initially seemed like a non-sequitur, but considered in the context of the end of ep. 13, actually underscores how much words serve Oh Young’s fundamental need to understand her own experience of the world. Turning her face from the warmth of the sunlight and toward Hee Sun, she cautiously asks:

    “Hee Sun. Is it alright for a sister to like her brother?”

    I love that this question is immediately followed by the scene where Oh Soo tells Jin Sung that, although he was thrown away like trash in infancy, because of Oh Young, he now wants to live like a descent person for the first time in his life – to be a better man.

    Much later, after Oh Young is blindsided with the revelation detailing Oh Soo’s deception that he is her brother, and that her real brother is long dead, she quietly rages for a couple of days before taking him to the cabin and confronting him for an explanation:

    “Shall we talk about… the Oh Soo who was abandoned under a tree…? Was he, like you said, since birth, just trash?”

    She wants him to speak, to use words. He simply says, “Let’s stop it.” His deceit, her charade, the words. But she insists: “Let’s hear your excuses.” When they are not forthcoming, and he simply admits knowing that he hurt her, she severs what I think was her last hope of salvaging the wreck that is them, and they are heart-wrenching, her words:

    Rather than saying those words, if you had just told me that, when you were young, the wounds you received from being abandoned like trash, caused you to live like trash. And more so than a blind person like me, that you were in greater pain. Those words would have been more comforting. You, who knew I loved you, but still fooled me, if you had just told me that you didn’t get a kick out of tricking me, it would have been more comforting.

    Out of all the reasons why I can’t forgive you, the main one is that right now, I, upon discovering the death of my brother who I missed as much as I missed my mother, because of my anger toward you, I can’t even grieve. Loving a con man like you, let’s just blame it on my blindness… You fooled me good — all along.”

    And so we come full circle. The rift opened by that most terrible of the sins of malice (mens rea), the betrayal of trust, is definitively torn when he — unable to verbalize to her the remorse we so clearly see in his eyes, his body, his demeanor — cannot offer her the solace she has told him that she needs for the pain he is inflicting.

    The only way Oh Soo really knows how to express his love to Oh Young is by holding her. So many times we’ve seen him wrap his arms around her in joy and in pain, at play and at ease, offering protection, support, comfort… all on the foundation of mutual trust. I believe that when he grabs and holds her close, he means to say, “Whatever pain I have caused you, know that I do love you with my whole being, trash or not — I have staked my life on it and nothing else matters.” Of course she rejects that offer — it cannot mean what it did when she trusted him. I hear in that sad, violent kiss, the stuttering Oh, Soo: “Know that I do love you, body and soul.”

    Oh Young’s definitive rejection of that kiss, followed by her resignation in it (I don’t see acquiescence), coupled with his tremulous hesitant hands, all struck me as a truly beautiful and truly difficult (both in ethical terms) assertion of her will to no longer participate in prolonging their mutual suffering; in essence agreeing to his plea, “Let’s stop it.”

    I am reminded of Jane Eyre’s reaction upon discovering, at her wedding to Mr. Rochester, that he had a wife, still living, at Thornfield — no less, and that the wife’s mind and spirit were broken and perverse beyond redemption. All this, and he still intended to have Jane’s hand in marriage, even if it meant defying God himself. Jane herself had agreed to accept his hand because her guileless love for Mr. Rochester, described in these spare words, was complete:

    My future husband was becoming to me my whole world; and more than the world: almost my hope of heaven. He stood between me and every thought of religion, as an eclipse intervenes between man and the broad sun. I could not, in those days, see God for His creature: of whom I had made an idol. Jane Eyre, Chapter 24

    I can’t know how Charlotte Brontë felt as she wrote those awful pages of Jane later sitting quietly by Mr. Rochester, emotionally spent, all hope of happiness surrendered as she gathered herself to leave him. She had to leave, but not because she had ceased to love him. On the contrary, her love had only deepened with the new knowledge of his and his wife’s suffering. She could not simply ignore that suffering, much less add to it (especially for Rochester’s wife) — not just to satisfy her own desire to be with the man she loved above all else in creation. It took me years to understand Jane’s willingness to leave the man who had become her whole world, her very “hope of heaven”. Jane’s decision simply perplexed me at age 11 when I first read the book. I was still puzzled when I read it again at 14 and 17 and just plain indignant at 20 on my umpteenth reading of this novel that I so loved. And then I happened to read Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics at around the same time. Suddenly the genius of Charlotte Brontë blinded me with its brilliance: her heroine, “poor, obscure, plain, and little” possessed a grand will and she could exert it to uphold highly demanding ethical principles that overweighed the impulses of individual desire. I see Oh Young’s rejection of Oh Soo’s inarticulate and (now) corrupted expression of love in a similar light: although she sees herself as weak because she is blind, she cannot overlook how deeply Oh Soo’s deception has soiled both her discovery of love (for him) and her memory of love (for her brother and her mother). Exerting her will against that perversion of beauty is one of the things that she can and does do.

    But I want a happy ending! Why can’t love prevail, just this once? my inner Jane Bennet entreats. I think love has prevailed: for love of Oh Young, Oh Soo is a better man, and has been for quite some time — living his life for the sake of those he loves; for love of Oh Soo who showed (rather than told) her that the world could be a safe and joyful place full of beauty, Oh Young has unshackled herself from the psychological prison of her physiological condition and is free to live as she wishes. I don’t know whether these two will end up together. Everything about how the story has been told suggests to me that, barring some insurmountable technical impediment (writer’s strike, general production mayhem, etc.) both Oh Soo and Oh Young will find solace in the love that they discovered, even if they don’t get to do so together.

    • Irina says:

      Curio! That is my favorite passage bar none from Jane Eyre, especially:

      He stood between me and every thought of religion, as an eclipse intervenes between man and the broad sun. I could not, in those days, see God for His creature.

      Second on my list — and I think suitable on a post about how words substitute for the gaze for the blind protagonist that you’re talking about — Jane’s description of her eyes surreptitiously drinking in the sight of Mr. Rochester every time she thinks no one is looking (I think its on chapter 17).

      No sooner did I see that his attention was riveted on them, and that I might gaze without being observed, than my eyes were drawn involuntarily to his face; I could not keep their lids under control: they would rise, and the irids would fix on him. I looked, and had an acute pleasure in looking,–a precious yet poignant pleasure; pure gold, with a steely point of agony: a pleasure like what the thirst-perishing man might feel who knows the well to which he has crept is poisoned, yet stoops and drinks divine draughts nevertheless.

      “…pure gold, with a steely point of agony” — it makes my eyes tear up every time. How come nobody writes like that anymore? Or maybe I’m just reading the wrong books. Ah, me — I can’t wait for our Thanksgiving P&P marathon…

      Sorry, my mind is wandering. I’ll confess that the line about the “thirst-perishing man, etc,” is what made me read your first post about this type of drama all the way. Keep channelling Jane Eyre and I just might actually start watching these shows with you — :-*

      • Aha! Welcome to the drama, Irina, my dear! Are you actually going to follow through…? Not that I doubt you… Just be warned, it is perilously addictive – just find some sort of structure and stick to it otherwise you will get sucked into an unyielding vortex! Whatever happens, you cannot say you weren’t warned!

      • PS – You just made me realize something, A. There has been some very heated back and forth about a scene in the current drama I’m watching (the one to which this thread is dedicated) in which the male lead forcibly embraces and then kisses the female protagonist.

        The setting of the scene is squalid and the editor offers no music sound-track cushion to soften the repulsive nature of the encounter. For many, many viewers, the male protagonist diminishes considerably in their estimation and in some cases even favor completely.

        I think I just realized what the writer did — see the comment posted below under the title “That beautifully shocking and repulsive kiss…”

  7. Ivoire says:

    Hello Curioser And Curiosor,

    I don’t know if you saw/will see the message that I left you in the comment section of episode 13, on the recap page of TWTWB. Just in case you have been very busy, I thought I would post a copy of it here. I hope you are doing well… I really love your writing, your thought process and what comes out as a result of it. Thank you for your hard work, you dedication and for sharing all of that with us. This is what I wrote on DB:

    “I just read your page (following your link above) and man, do you write beautifully. Thank you for being another person dissecting what is going on in this drama with us, and for giving us ways to understand better the characters in this drama. I love how deep your thought process goes.

    Also, I had seen that you had left me a message in the comment section of episode 10 and I responded (though late). I don’t know if you ever saw my response. Just thought I would let know.”

    I also agree with the poster who said that you make drama sound like literature, which I guess to an extent, it is :-).

    • Ivoire! Welcome – what a thrill to have you visit. And thank you for your warm and generous words of encouragement. I do sincerely appreciate them. I haven’t been back to Dramabeans just for lack of time, but I will definitely click back and see how the conversation is developing.

      I am so happy to be following TWtWB along with other watchers as it unfolds week by week. I think the writer, director and players are showing us a wonderful example of superb storytelling. I just realized something about that beautifully shocking kiss (yes, you read that right) at the end of episode 13, but I have to take a moment to think it through… watch the space just below…

  8. That beautifully shocking and repulsive kiss…

    … was meant for us. That is, for those of us who love Oh Young, and maybe even those of us who did not know how much we loved her. Does that sound perverse? I do not say it to be outrageous.

    From the very beginning, this drama has given us quite a few difficult and complex ethical questions to think about. But it has been easy to sidestep, and eventually even forget, the challenge as we have gradually grown invested in Oh Soo, falling in love with him right along with Oh Young, encouraging her to let herself love him because of how beautiful it would be for them.

    The main ethical challenge posed by the circumstances of the story, and which we have been so willing to set aside, is that Fraud is what brought Oh Soo into Oh Young’s life. Irrespective of what his feelings and intentions evolved to become as he learned to love Oh Young, Oh Soo persisted in the fraud. In plain Aristotelian terms, perpetrating fraud is particularly insidious because the resulting damage is not just material or physical; fraud violates trust, assailing the very foundation of every relationship upon which the well being of a society and its members rests. These relationships may range from the primarily transactional (business and industry) to the fundamentally altruistic (love – be it fraternal, spiritual, filial, parental, platonic, or erotic), and includes everything in between. Fraud is a knowing, premeditated, persistent betrayal that openly preys upon the unsuspecting innocents who offer their trust in the relationship they develop with the perpetrator.

    But even though we can see the circumstances of Fraud and Betrayal when someone else falls victim to them, and intellectually comprehend that the person has been wronged, we are always a little insulated from really experiencing for ourselves the pain and rage and heartbreak the victim has to go through. We would never forgive someone who toyed with our willing trust and broke our hearts so knowingly. Oh Soo has to be held accountable for doing just that: and not just by Oh Young, but also by us, the viewers. So I think that, by an analogy that evokes the idea of violation, this is the purpose that the starkly ugly kiss in the final scene serves to do: we must not just understand the reasons why Oh Young cannot forgive Oh Soo — we must also feel some measure of her anger and her heartbreak. That beautifully shockingly ugly kiss tears away the veil of willful ignorance that allowed us to sidestep the stark brutality of the betrayal wrought of Oh Soo’s fraud — betrayal that loomed ever larger the closer they grew and the more trusting she became.

    Take a moment to consider everything about that cabin. The setting is hopelessly miserable: when Oh Soo first walks in he is so taken aback by its squalor that he recommends they go elsewhere for their last getaway together. But Oh Young insists — her plans for this “sibling getaway” has to be the visible embodiment of what her experience has been in the days leading up to that moment: wretched and — in the very word she used to describe her experience — horrific. This is the place where she will exert her will to disentangle herself from him and him from her: “Now, for us, it is really over?”

    Now focus you attention on the moment from when he locks her completely in a vice grip while she struggles to extricate herself, to the moment he lets her go after having crashed her mouth against his, even as she continued to reject him.

    This is the moment that has so violently shaken viewers. It looks and feels like an assault, especially since everything about Oh Young’s demeanor repudiates Oh Soo as her whole being shouts “NO!” Many have confessed to losing whatever sympathy they had for Oh Soo to the point of now despising him. They decry the writer’s choice to “go there.” How could the writer and her protagonist be so casual about assault? How could they undermine the very important message that “NO means NO!” — a message so crucial to the well being of men and women alike, especially the young and impressionable and vulnerable? How could they squander all the love we had invested in our flawed hero, championing his quest for freedom and redemption, hoping that he could love and be loved and finally become whole — become a better man through this love.

    Putting it as plainly as I know how, this viewer’s outcry against what Oh Soo does is a crucial and necessary part of this story.

    It was not enough to just witness Oh Young’s distress: Oh Young’s pained rage chokes her as she confronts Oh Soo, the one person she trusted, about the fraud and betrayal he perpetrated. She does not hold anything back: “I hate you enough to kill you,” she tells him, her soul so stifled by sorrow and anger that her voice strains against the effort to get the words out.

    The writer could have just let us cry along with Oh Young. But she decided that we also had to feel some measure of the anger and heartbreak she feels because of Oh Soo’s betrayal. The camera cannot show us Oh Young’s breaking heart as this, the worst of all sins of malice, crushes her soul. It can, however, show us, by analogy, how squalid, ugly and painful the violation of trust is, and make us experience a little bit of how what we hear in Oh Young’s words, what we see on her face, must feel. That is what I mean when I say that that final struggle between Oh Young and Oh Soo was meant for those of us who did not even know how much we loved Oh Young as we championed Oh Soo, all the while hopeful — nay, certain — that he could, and would, bring joy and peace and beauty into her world.

    • Betsy Hp says:

      This is really well thought out. And certainly that’s how it worked for me. I’m hopeful that as carefully as we were shown, and made to share, Young’s hurt, we’ll be shown and made to share her forgiveness. (Because surely that’s where this is going?)

      I confess, I get hung up on people seeing the scene as romantic — because if that’s what we were supposed to see then I’m truly missing something. But if I’m not, and you’re not, and what you’ve written, the way you’ve described the scene is the correct view… then it’s something that will be dealt with, rather than built off of.

      (That last question of Young’s actually give me hope. Because she sounds so hopeless herself it seems pretty apparent she didn’t see Soo’s actions as romantic.)

      • I, too, find it disconcerting that some people read that kiss as romantic. There was so much pain in it that I cannot fathom how anyone could find it swoon-worthy.

        That’s the sort of reading I would categorize as errant; a perception and interpretation that simply ignores what is presented and instead imposes a prefabricated significance by fiat – for whatever reason.

        And then, as if to underscore the soul-swallowing doubt expressed through the interrogative inflection in Oh Young’s, “Now, for us, it is really over?”, we have the end of ep. 15.

        My heart just breaks for that poor soul…

  9. Originally posted on Dramabeans on March 30th, 2013 at 3:46 pm
    “For me this show was perfect”

    For me too! I really love everything about it and I think that it is brilliant storytelling.

    Much as my inner Jane Bennet always roots for a happy ending where the meeting of souls is concerned, I think that the way this beautifully painful story has been set up and told would make any ‘easy solutions’ look like lazy cop outs.

    The characters in this story are in so much pain for so many well established reasons and the story has been pretty consistent about that. There have not been any crazy plot twists or miraculous resolutions so I don’t really see the shark-jumping mentioned in some of the comments to this episode [15].

    I think that a large part of the challenge for the viewer has to do with tapping into his or her compassion and empathizing with the suffering these people have to endure. The kind of pain and confusion the character Oh Young has had to endure since (a) realizing that she was falling in love with her ‘brother’ and then (b) discovering that her real brother was dead, the man she loves was a fraud and she no longer knows what to believe, let alone how to feel. When viewers were up in arms last week for Oh Soo’s forced embrace at the end of episode 13, I saw that as an integral part of the story; the offending scene serving as a dramatic means of letting viewers hold Oh Soo accountable for the pain he had inflicted on Oh Young through his fraud. But perhaps that vehemence did not translate into empathy and compassion for Oh Young — into a deeply subjective sense of what it must feel like to be betrayed by the ONE person you love and trust.

    With that kind of betrayal, who would not lose faith in the world, in life, in oneself, especially when the experience blatantly confirms to you that you are, in fact, as you have always been, alone…? Add to that the fact that Oh Young has lived a lifetime of festering emotional trauma, fear and suspicion — a life where only death seemed to offer that eternal quietus from the cruel vicissitudes of her life.

    By the time she met Oh Soo, Oh Young’s spirit was already ground down. I remember worrying about how soul-crushing discovering Oh Soo’s fraud would be for her the more time they spent together and grew to love each other. By the time Oh Soo showed up in her life, Oh Young had concluded that rather than “suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” it was wiser to take control and stand up “against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them.” By that eternal sleep, she could “end the heartache, and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.”

    Yes, Oh Young is definitely more a willing and decisive Hamlet and less a reluctant Ophelia of the broken mind; Oh Young is willing to ‘go there’ — to breach the bounds of the undiscovered country — because, she calmly reasons, ‘here’ has consistently proved too cruel, too shattering, too unwelcoming, and discovering Oh Soo’s fraud is just the last straw.

    I get the impatience people have expressed, but I find that this story goes much deeper than just escapist entertainment and I am willing to pay the emotional toll it demands to see it through and to let it have the last word – happy ending or no.

    In the end, however, to each his or her own, I suppose…

  10. Giorgina says:

    Hi there! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be okay. I’m absolutely enjoying your blog and look forward to new updates.

    • Curio Serand says:

      Hi Giorgina,

      I’m actually not on Twitter – haven’t figured out what to make of it although I occasionally peek at my partner’s tweet feed… and then run the other direction. I’ll try and see if I can make this site subscriber friendly.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  11. LFLint says:

    Jus admiring the time and effort you put into your blog and the way you write about tc shows. It’s good to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same stereotypical rant. Excellent read!

    I’ve bookmarked your site and I’m including your RSS feeds to my Google account.

  12. KayDrama says:

    Hey there. I found your blog randomly. This is a really well written. Thanks for the post. I will certainly return. 🙂

  13. Dolores says:

    Hello! Would you mind if I share your blog with my facebook group?
    There’s a lot of folks that I think would really enjoy your posts.
    Please let me know. Thank you

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