Mother: Episodes 15-16 (Open Thread)
Mother has never been about just one mom, and its final act is an ode and a prayer for all its forms. It’s definitely a finale of two halves, and where Episode 15 breaks you open and carves out your still-beating heart, the next stitches you back together again.
Tissues advised, and maybe go find your mom (biological or otherwise!) and squish her. In case you missed it, the big news is that our show was nominated in the first Cannes International Series Festival, so Mother, fighting!
EPISODES 15-16 WEECAP
The terms of Soo-jin’s probation forbid her from having contact with Yoon-bok, so she pours herself into being a dutiful daughter in Madam Cha’s final days.
One afternoon, Hyun-jin uncovers a tin buried in the arboretum and discovers an adoption document along with a number of videotapes. They show Yi-jin as a baby and a little Soo-jin asking Madam Cha to keep her adoption secret, which, woah.
Yi-jin finds out. Soo-jin takes responsibility, explaining that she didn’t want people to look down on Yi-jin the way they looked down on her, but Yi-jin is too upset to listen. Her anger dissipates after watching all the videos, and she makes peace with her mom and Soo-jin.
Hyun-jin guesses that she must also be adopted, and Madam Cha offers her one further truth: Jae-beom ajusshi is her real father. Madam Cha calls Hong-hee to make her peace there, too, and tells her it’s her dying wish for Hong-hee to become Soo-jin’s mom again. She breaks down crying when Hong-hee gifts her with Soo-jin’s baby clothes and pictures.
That night, all the family, including Hong-hee, Jae-beom ajusshi, and Dr. Jung, have a grand gala of a dinner. Madam Cha retires early, and tells Soo-jin that her only remaining regret is the hurtful things she said to Yoon-bok.
Meanwhile, Yoon-bok has secretly been preparing to run away from her orphanage in Mooryung. She makes her way to Seoul after sneaking away during a group trip, and finally arrives at Soo-jin’s doorstep. They’re delighted to see her, although Soo-jin has to take her back the very next day.
Yoon-bok slips off to Madam Cha’s room in the middle of the night, and they’re overjoyed to see each other. Yoon-bok gifts her one of her Matryoshka dolls representing Soo-jin, and falls asleep beside her.
Madam Cha slips away from life with a sigh, quoting a lament from a character she’d played—a young mother who passed away, leaving her child behind.
Because of Madam Cha’s funeral, Soo-jin and Yoon-bok have an extra day together. They visit Mother Clara before returning to the orphanage.
Fast-forward two years, and Soo-jin is living with bio-mom Hong-hee, while Dr. Jung still comes to her to get his hair cut. (Why aren’t you together, though?!) Soo-jin’s probation is up, and she gets a last-chance offer to finally go to Iceland. She’s excited about going, but wants one last glimpse of Yoon-bok first.
Soo-jin discovers that Yoon-bok is about to be adopted out from the group-home she’s currently in, and seeks legal advice about whether she can adopt Yoon-bok herself.
One of the main conditions is to get approval from Yoon-bok’s current guardian, but the foster mother harshly refuses, even when Soo-jin gets on her knees. The foster mother tries to speed up Yoon-bok’s adoption, but grows worried over the child’s increasing distress.
The new parents finally bring her back after she gave them a note asking them not to take her away, adding, “I already have a mother.” Yoon-bok finally speaks when the foster mother asks what her mother’s name is, replying, “Kang Soo-jin.”
The foster mother reads the book Hyun-jin just published on child abuse, which has a whole chapter on Yoon-bok’s story, including Soo-jin’s words in court. Combined with Yoon-bok’s distress, she at last gives Soo-jin her approval.
Together at last, Yoon-bok takes Soo-jin to a place where she buried a box of keepsakes of their time together, and eagerly reclaims her Yoon-bok identity. She just can’t stop smiling as she’s reunited with grandma Hong-hee and the rest of the family.
Over a noisy, fun-filled dinner, they talk about the future, and Yoon-bok says she’s already become what she wanted to be: Yoon-bok, a child who eats delicious food with her family.
Sometime later, Hyun-jin produces a documentary interviewing Soo-jin, Yoon-bok, and others in their story. When asked why she wants Soo-jin to be her mom, Yoon-bok answered, “Just… because she’s my mom.” Soo-jin mused that just as children are born, she thinks moms are born, too.
A month later, Soo-jin and Yoon-bok visit the sea, and Yoon-bok can’t believe that Soo-jin is really her mom now. Sitting among the dunes, they reminisce over the past, and sigh in deep happiness at the present.
There really is no writing to do Episode 15 justice, you have to just watch it. It felt to me like a lingering love letter to life from Madam Cha—not in a broad, abstract kind of way, but a very specific one in having been able to live this life of her choosing, and in being able to become a mother not once, but three times, despite the absence of all ordinary conditions. It’s such a powerful testament to her will, isn’t it?
In another show, all these birth “secrets” could feel cheap or convenient, but this all fits so perfectly with who Madam Cha was. I’m sorry that I thought at first that she perhaps adopted Soo-jin to feed her own vanity in some way, or fulfil some sense of her own self-worth.
Of all the things that moved me, that moved me most—that she brought these girls into her life not to serve herself, but to be a mother to them and so serve them, in the purest form possible. That’s not to say there isn’t refuge or reward in it for her, but it’s not the desire for some gain that drives her. As much as she had a hungry heart, I’ve loved the slow unfolding of the fact that she’s a wellspring of undemanding love.
I don’t think the show ever really adequately explained the estrangement between Madam Cha and Soo-jin. Ten years is a long time to disappear, and then to come back only to ask for money. It seemed like something really ugly must have happened… except it didn’t. That’s one quibble I have with the story.
I was worried about spoilers before, but I’m curious now to hear how the Korean version differs from the original. From some of your comments last week, it seemed like its ending was much more bittersweet, so to anyone who’s watched both, what were your thoughts? I’m also curious to know who your favorite characters were, and whether you guys related to one specifically more than the others.
I’ve said this before, but I really think it can’t be said enough times just how fantastic it is to have a show so totally driven by and centered on women. These characters were so engrossing and real that I’ll remember them for a long time. It didn’t tell a story of “mere” motherhood, it told a dozen variations of it, from vicious to heart-wrenching, and every one different. And then it went further and took us into daughterhood, sisterhood, and even fatherhood. I can’t even tell you how much I loved Yi-jin’s son saying that he wanted to be a dad when he grew up. Yes, go you!
Our daughterhood story started with Yoon-bok but ended with Soo-jin, and I love that everything came full circle for the two of them, and in some ways, their relationship developed in reverse. Soo-jin finally understood how to be a daughter once she was “born” as a mother, and under that fierce protection, Yoon-bok was finally able to become a child. It’s amazing how much expression and range young actress Heo Yool showed in this role—she’s definitely one to watch for the future.
As for sisterhood, I feel like that was the real parting gift Madam Cha left her daughters with, and how wonderful to see the three of them together in such an easy, uncomplicated way. They all came out of her loss with different things, and all of those things—peace of mind, courage, conviction, gratitude—are what have helped them refashion their lives into something that gives them contentment. They live slowly now, savoring their moments. This is the feeling that sticks with me most: that we would treat people more preciously if we thought we might lose them. So maybe we should all go and hug someone we love right now.