Mother: Episodes 2-10 (Open Thread)

We’ve decided that it’s better late than never to chime in on a show that’s been so gripping from its opening minutes, and tvN’s currently airing Wednesday-Thursday drama, Mother, is definitely a worthy comeback for Lee Bo-young after the bad taste left in my mouth from last year’s Whisper.

The thing that satisfies me most about this show is how totally centered it is on women. The array and richness of personalities, the relationships—expected and unexpected—all combine to create a lived-in world of depth and texture.

As with Misty, hopefully we’ll be posting weekly threads for the show’s remaining run. I hope you guys will weigh in with your thoughts so far, and your speculations for what’s to come!


We left off Episode 1 with Soo-jin (Lee Bo-young) discovering young Hye-na (Heo Yool) in the trash, and a lot has happened in the episodes between, so let’s catch up quickly. Soo-jin leaves the town of Mooryung with Hye-na and goes on the run. Hye-na chooses a new name for herself, YOON-BOK, so that’s what we’ll call her from now on.

Soo-jin was due to leave the country anyway, but to take Yoon-bok with her, she needs help, which takes her to her (adoptive) mom in Seoul. Her mom, Madam Cha, hasn’t seen her for ten years and, unknown to Soo-jin, was just diagnosed with terminal cancer (she finds out later).

Mom promises the money only if Soo-jin meets with her ten times, and she even manages to squeeze in a little matchmaking with her cute bird-watching physician, DR. JUNG (Lee Jae-yoon).

The extended stay sets off a whole chain of events, including Dr. Jung learning Yoon-bok’s real identity, and Soo-jin discovering that the creepy neighborhood barber, a woman called NAM HONG-HEE, is actually her birth mother who abandoned her at an orphanage when she was eight. It turns out that Hong-hee had killed her husband (for hurting Soo-jin), and had left Soo-jin to go to prison.

The family eventually discovers Yoon-bok’s existence and assumes she’s Soo-jin’s biological daughter until Yoon-bok’s birth mom, Ja-young (Go Sung-hee), shows up on their doorstep.

Soo-jin convinces the birth mom to leave Yoon-bok with her, but when her family finds out that she abducted the girl, Madam Cha takes the decision to remove Soo-jin from the family register.

Afraid that Soo-jin will lose her family, Yoon-bok runs away, which very nearly leads to her being caught by Seol-ak, her mother Ja-young’s murderous boyfriend who’s been on their tail. Luckily, Soo-jin gets to her in the nick of time. They try to flee abroad according to the original plan, but the police are onto Soo-jin and she very narrowly avoids being caught at the airport.

Still determined to leave the country somehow, she goes on the run with birth mother Hong-hee to seek sea-passage. But just as they’re due to leave, Seol-ak catches Yoon-bok alone and abducts her, leaving behind a distraught Soo-jin.


With the first half of this show spent establishing the relationship between Soo-jin and Yoon-bok, the second half—the separation phase—really carries a painful and intense emotional punch. Different dangers close in on the two of them, and for Soo-jin, it’s not so much her imminent capture by the police but how that capture will prevent her from finding Yoon-bok. Has a villain ever been quite as chilling as Seol-ak, with his dead eyes and lazy lip-curl? I feel so much dread every time he’s on the screen, and I’m right there with Yoon-bok when she opens that door and sees his face.

Mother-daughter conversations really are the highlight of this show, whichever mother-daughter pair it is. I find it intriguing that as we go along, you increasingly realize that the “Mother” of the show’s title is not at all a specific or exclusive reference to Soo-jin, but about what makes a mother, and whether every woman who gives birth to a child has the right to be a mother, or if you can ever be a mother without giving birth.

I think we are continuously asking and answering both questions, but where it’s a fairly straightforward case in the Ja-young/Hye-na/Soo-jin triangle, it’s a much more fraught question in the case of Soo-jin, Madam Cha, and Hong-hee. Both Soo-jin and Hong-hee are women of few words, so it’s hard to know what they’re thinking until they speak. I think it was good for Soo-jin that Madam Cha forced her to finally express her feelings as her daughter. Soo-jin, in turn, has a similar effect on Hong-hee, who is even more reserved.

I was a little shocked by Madam Cha’s response to finding out that Yoon-bok wasn’t Soo-jin’s birth-daughter. For the woman who said all her girls were her real daughters, regardless of blood, it feels wrong that she discriminates with Yoon-bok. They seem like words Madam Cha is saying to herself for her own sake, but it’s a cruel thing to say to a child, that you can’t love them anymore, particularly after you’ve already given that love, and particularly if the child is as sensitive and abused as Yoon-bok—a thing I’m certain Madam Cha senses after finding out her real identity. Even though Yoon-bok doesn’t expect that love and has never taken it for granted, it doesn’t protect her from being hurt by their rejection.

That’s why I’m grateful that it was so wholly offset by Soo-jin’s declaration to her when they reunite: that their bond is not just equal, but coming at equal cost; both of them have given up everything for each other. As an abused and neglected child, Yoon-bok’s learned instinct is to take the blame and see herself as the problem.

What Soo-jin wants to transmit to her so desperately is that she’s not alone in this—they’re in it together, and Yoon-bok doesn’t need to, nay, must not attempt to shoulder these burdens alone. I really loved how the first thing Soo-jin said to Yoon-bok about that was that she was a scientist, because it’s true—being a scientist is a way of life and it becomes a habit to factor in all the data and its permutations for any decision. Thus, her decisions are a result of careful consideration, not impulse.

Though the men are largely satellite characters in this drama, their characterizations are as absorbing as the women’s. The show does not provide a natural ground for shipping, but I confess I ship Dr. Jung with Soo-jin really hard. Not for the simple sake of a loveline, but because I love who he is—his capacity for nuance and how he makes his own moral choices in such a deeply considered way—and how he is to her. That’s the draw of a man who is as unshakable as that. It’s not surface charm or allure, it’s just plain quiet goodness. He’s continually proven that he is steadfast and dependable, and I will always, always fall for a man who is (or was) good to his mother.

One of the most fascinating about this drama is how it addresses its central dilemma of Soo-jin’s role: Is she kidnapper or rescuer? It’s more fascinating because there actually is no moral dilemma here at all: There’s no question that Soo-jin absolutely did the right thing by rescuing Hye-na from certain death. The dilemma, however, is a legal one, and the law demands satisfaction. Right now, it’s presented as an implacable force, defining Soo-jin’s actions as a crime based on technicalities, even if judged on a humane basis, it would be the very opposite.

The detective on the case, LEE CHANG-GEUN (Jo Han-chul), is the one being forced to confront this dilemma, and I’m glad that he’s really struggling with it. It was especially rewarding to see when he met with the kindergarten teacher who interviewed Yoon-bok, and she showed him the video, actually pointing out how Yoon-bok lit up when she talked about Soo-jin and called her her mother. If the objective of the law is to protect the welfare of the child first, then where does that leave Soo-jin?

With every new bit of information that comes to light, you can see him getting a little more shaken, a little more doubtful. As a law enforcement officer, he’s not trained to look for the nuance in a crime like child abduction, but the situation keeps forcing him to admit it, if only barely to himself. I’m pretty sure he’s due for a moment of truth soon, and I’m really invested in seeing how that will play out.


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