TL;DR: …so what are we supposed to do with the last two episodes?
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we haven’t been subjected to three entire episodes of courtroom drama, but I’m not exactly sure where we’re supposed to go from here. We got verdicts for both Ja-young and Soo-jin with all the requisite moralizing (more on that later), so that means the plot is basically wrapped up. I suppose we don’t yet have character resolutions for Hye-na and Soo-jin, though I’m concerned by Hye-na’s question at the end. Just what exactly are the terms of Soo-jin’s suspended sentence, and how much will she be willing to risk (again)?
I found Soo-jin’s trial very…odd for my American sensibilities. I ran into a similar problem at the end of Secret Love Affair. In SLA and here in Mother, the heroine was determined to not make excuses for her behavior and to pay for the crimes she had committed. Personally, I think it worked very well in SLA since the heroine’s crimes were born entirely out of greed and the desire to get ahead—yes, maybe you ought to pay for cheating the system and being corrupt. It didn’t work as well for me in Mother, because Soo-jin’s every refusal to explain her motives was one less record of Ja-young and Seol-ak’s child abuse.
I did appreciate her candor at the end, where she admitted that she ended up keeping Hye-na after the initial danger had passed because she loved her and wanted to be her mother, but her single confession didn’t seem (to me) like it should have swayed the judge so far as to give her absolutely no jail time even if Hye-na testified to almost dying in Ja-young’s trial. After no cross-examination or cooperation, a single closing statement is enough? Regardless, I’m glad that Soo-jin avoided prison time, even if she was willing to accept that outcome from the start.
I was so proud of Hye-na in this episode. And, oddly enough, proud of the social workers who oversaw her, particularly the younger one. I’m glad that they weren’t fooled by Hye-na’s mask of normalcy and that they spotted her depression/anxiety/etc. Hye-na has been so good at fooling regular adults—even Chang-geun—but once she got in front of people who knew what to watch out for, they could tell that she was having problems. (Now, if only they’ll get her therapy…)
I loved that Hye-na read Soo-jin’s letter (her reading skills have gotten much better!) and put her advice into action about how to get along with other kids. It’s a continuation of Soo-jin’s advice at the restaurant, which focused mostly on appearance. Now that Hye-na has been taught about hygiene, Soo-jin provided her with a crash course in social skills so she could make friends and get along in the world without her (if it came to that). It was a very sweet gesture.
It was wonderful that the social workers/prosecutor/judges did not push Hye-na on the details of the abuse she experienced at her mother’s hands. I felt that was very respectful of the fact that she really is a traumatized child. Nonetheless, I’m glad that Hye-na found the courage to explain the night that Soo-jin found her and to admit that her mother had intended to leave her for dead. What an awful thing to think about, let alone say, but I’m really happy that she was able to take that step and further reinforce that she could live without Ja-young.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Ja-young totally deserves every year of her seven-year sentence for child abuse. I’m glad she did not escape justice. But the repeated discussion of what motherhood really means just—rankled. The further the episode went on, the more I was on Ja-young’s side of the philosophical argument: no, I don’t think a woman must sacrifice everything if she’s going to be a “real” mother.
I don’t think she should be required to sacrifice her ambitions, her happiness, her stability, her identity, on the altar of raising a child. I don’t think motherhood is the crowning glory for every woman. And it bothers me that in this episode, part of condemning Ja-young’s abuse also seemed to condemn her for “selfishness” when many people and systems failed her first. The illegality of abortion in South Korea? Her first boyfriend who abandoned her? The stigmatization of single mothers that made her attractive prey to Seol-ak? The lack of a social safety net? The stigmatization of adoption and foster care? The lack and stigmatization of mental healthcare when she was depressed/suicidal? All those played a part in this story, yet none of them were brought up in her trial to be condemned.
Ja-young was wrong for abusing Hye-na. She’s not wrong for not wanting to be the kind of mother Yeong-sin and Soo-jin turned out to be (especially when both women have admitted to selfish motivations of their own in becoming mothers). Mothers can’t and shouldn’t be divided into sinners or saints without anything in between.
So while I’m celebrating that Ja-young got jail time and that Soo-jin walked free, I’m upset by this episode’s framing of motherhood. Mothers should not have to be martyrs in order to be adequate parents, and I’m troubled by this episode’s framing that they must be.
By the Numbers
- Trials: 2
- Resignation letters: 1
- Peace offerings: 1 bag, 1 can of coffee
- Bechdel Test: 14 episodes passed