Sassy Go Go: Episode 2
Argh I love it, I really really do. It feels like a composite of the good bits of several past shows, a little bit Shut Up (bromance!), a little bit School/Angry Mom (those Tae-kwang/Bok-dong vibes!), a dash of White Christmas (elite boarding school), and even a hint of Heartstring. As a creature of habit who takes comfort in familiarity, I’m perfectly happy to watch the same story told over, as long as it brings the feels and characters I care about. So far, the story is engaging, the leads charming, and the teachers entertaining. So the question is, am I setting myself up for disappointment? Bring it on, show!
EPISODE 2 RECAP
Yeon-doo greets the Baek Ho kids with a cheery, “Hi, next-door jerks!” She tells them she’s joining Baek Ho, and Soo-ah sneers that she’s not qualified. Nonsense, says Yeon-doo — they just made that part up to keep the rabble out. Yeol looks pretty entertained, but Ha-joon erupts, yelling at her to get out. Maddened, she bites him (haha!). She won’t leave — she has nowhere else to go.
Cut to: A fuming Teacher Im dragging her to the staffroom by the collar. They both freeze when a voice screams at him to let go of her — it’s Mom! She lays into the whole establishment, and threatens to report them for mistreating her daughter. She wants a transfer right now. Oh this is splendid…and it just gets a thousand times better when Yeon-doo undercuts her moment with a frantic whisper that she’s not leaving. Hahahaha!
They get out, and Yeon-doo wonders if Mom heard the haps from Dong-jae. Mom just collapses onto a bench and spazzes out, sure she just ruined everything, but Yeon-doo is seriously impressed, and counts the ways she talked down to them.
Mom admits she’s relieved Yeon-doo is staying, and asks if she’ll really be okay. Yeon-doo assures her she’ll stick it out no matter what, and get back Real King. Mom agrees that studying is overrated and she should dance — as long as she doesn’t hurt alone. They hug and Yeon-doo tells Mom she was awesome.
Cocooned in a sleeping bag, Yeon-doo studies on the floor…of Baek Ho headquarters. Teacher Im threatens her with yet more demerits, and she tells him to bring it on. He resorts to dragging her out, tail-first.
She continues her resistance at lunch, now joined by loyal Hyo-shik. They hold up placards with civic messages — on one side. When Teacher Im isn’t looking, they flip them around to show a different message. “We want to dance,” says one. Hyo-shik’s quotes a line from an old song, “Play, play, because we’re young!”
Naturally, Yeon-doo gets caught, and they’re set to cleaning the gym. Two more Real King members join them, mops in hand, and end up having lots of fun. When they move on to watering the plants, they’re joined by fourth member, curly-haired SEUNG-WOO, and it degenerates to a friendly waterfight.
Yeol looks on, perplexed by Yeon-doo’s tenacity over her lost cause. Ha-joon gets riled up when a spray of water hits them, and Yeol holds him back. Almost wistfully, he says they’re just acting like 18-year-olds.
Of course, Teacher Im is never far away, and he stubbornly gives chase. Yeon-doo runs smack into Yeol (again) and topples onto him. She immediately tries to rise, but he pulls her closer. “You’re always ambushing [me],” he says, smiling up at her. Harking back to their last close encounter, he starts to offer his options again, “One—” She leaps off, babbling, “one, one, one!”
Yeol grins. She’s nonplussed, but spots Dong-jae. He asks if she’s all finished, like nothing happened. He hands her a strawberry milk and they stroll off together. Yeol ends up picking up a strawberry milk himself from the cafeteria, and professes curiosity for it to Ha-joon.
Dong-jae towels off Yeon-doo’s hair in the gym, and she sighs that her group got in trouble again because of her. How can she face them if she never gets Real King back? Dong-jae wordlessly picks up a basketball.
“Kang Yeon-doo will persist until the end,” he says, shooting a hoop. “Kang Yeon-doo will fight Sevit High and win,” he says, shooting another. Yeon-doo perks up and tries herself, but doesn’t make a shot. Glum, she heads out. Dong-jae makes one last shot for her: “Kang Yeon-doo will get Real King back.”
Soo-ah stews over the memory of a mock Ivy League entrance interview. The panel shake their heads at the list of her many specialisms, remarking that she’s lacking in the human connection that makes her skills meaningful. Afterwards, she turns on her consultant, DIRECTOR LEE, to find a way for her to attain that necessary “impact.”
Heading out of the dorm to meet Director Lee, she finds her way blocked by a mop-wielding Yeon-doo, who tells her to clean. Soo-ah scoffs, and says that if she were Yeon-doo, she would keep her head down. Yeon-doo makes it clear that she’s sticking school out, and vows to watch her fail, and apologize to her. And clean. Soo-ah angrily pushes past.
Director Lee backs up when she passes Yeol in the corridor. She coos that his talents would be wasted at home — why not aim for Ivy League? She leaves him with her card. Soo-ah confronts her around the next corner, and Lee breezily assures her she’s here to make sure Soo-ah reaches Harvard.
Principal Choi has a tantrum in her office, while Teacher Im cowers. The phone’s on fire with calls from angry parents (but what are they angry about?), and Im whimpers that he can’t break the Real King kids. Can’t they reinstate their club, he asks — they’d be happy with even a broom cupboard. She refuses to give in to them.
Director Lee lets herself in with a cursory knock at the door. A civilized tea later, we find out that Lee’s idea for giving Soo-ah the impact she needs is to win a cheerleading competition. Principal Choi argues that it’s just not realistically achievable for them to win a cheerleading competition overnight. Lee’s parting words are for her to make it happen.
Close to tears, Yeon-doo watches a washing machine full of her treasured possessions spin. Among them fuzzy slippers, a trophy, a framed photo of the Real King members. Soo-ah deadpans that she cleaned, as per Yeon-doo’s demands. She turns heel with her tittering minions.
Setting the photo atop the machine, Yeon-doo warns that they went too far. They sneer, calling her things trash, and the minions push her around. It’s a losing battle with three against one, when the rest of the Real King members pour in to join the melee. They stuff the Baek Ho girls’ belonging into a machine in retribution.
The group laugh with exhilaration and take in the night air together. “Real King isn’t dead yet!” Yeon-doo celebrates. But the mood is broken when the quietest member JOON-SOO smashes the rescued group picture. Real King is dead, he says, and they should wake up. If they stay quiet as death and just make it to college, they can dance as much as they want.
In the crestfallen silence that follows, Yeon-doo asks how they can live like the dead, when they’re alive. Why can’t they be with their friends, dance, be happy now? Joon-soo replies that they don’t have permission to be happy now, so they can’t. Exasperated, he abandons them.
The next day, the gang (minus Joon-soo) join Yeon-doo and Hyo-shik in their Occupy Baek Ho campaign. Buoyed by their support, Yeon-doo stages an impromptu dance practice, and before long, all five are dancing and laughing.
Principal Choi passes by with Teacher Im, who hares off to chastize them. The principal pauses to observe the group, speculative.
Teacher Im doles out their punishment, but is dismayed by the air of celebration about them as they decide running laps would be fun since it’s such a nice day. Principal Choi comes by to summon them to the Baek Ho clubroom tomorrow, along with every Baek Ho member.
The two groups face off, and Hyo-shik tells fellow member DA-MI to go easy on these skinny anchovies, ha. Ha-joon lunges for them, and Yeon-doo clarifies that they’re here by invitation today, just as the principal arrives.
Teacher Im presents Project Win Cheerleading Competition and spouts off reasons like reclaiming their glorious past, blah blah blah, when Principal Choi cuts in. She’ll be frank: It’s required by the Education Ministry, since Yeon-doo’s fiasco. Therefore, Real King’s Kang Yeon-doo and Baek Ho’s Kim Yeol must team up and win the regional competition.
Her declaration is met with indignation by both clubs, and Yeon-doo declares it “mission impossible.” Choi plays her last card: If they win, she’ll reinstate Real King. That gets their attention. Get it in writing, Yeon-doo! After a round of frantic muttering, she’s about to agree, when Yeol interrupts. Even if she’s dumb, he snaps, she should have some common sense and see what’s really happening here.
To prove a point, he dials a number — it’s Soo-ah’s consultant, Director Lee. He puts it on speaker and pretends concern about his lacking specs. To everyone’s shock, Lee divulges that Baek Ho is going to enter the cheerleading competition, which would be great for his chance at the Ivies.
Yeon-doo is gobsmacked, and Yeol speculates that, one, someone here needs the cheerleading spec for their Ivy League aspirations. The camera pans to Soo-ah and we quickly flash back to Director Lee telling her and her mom just that. Their chances are good since they only have two competitors, she says. But Mom is doubtful that kids who just study can win a physical contest. Which brings us back to Yeol, who concludes that the principal therefore plans to use Real King for Baek Ho’s advancement. And the story’s protagonist? Soo-ah, of course, Yeon-doo realizes.
The principal coolly points out that Yeon-doo just wants Real King back. Incredulous, Yeon-doo tells her that for a second, she was elated to finally be given a fair chance — but she refuses to be played for a fool by Soo-ah.
Soo-ah flounces out and Yeon-doo follows, demanding an apology. Voice rising, Soo-ah asks why, when Yeon-doo enjoys the privileges of this school thanks to everything her family paid for. “So what’s the big deal about shaking your body a bit?” Oh wow. Yeon-doo finds her pitiful, but Soo-ah tells her not to kid herself. They might be in the same school now, but she’s way out of Yeon-doo’s league, so she’d better watch herself.
Alone on the rooftop, though, Soo-ah loses her composure and screams into the phone at Director Lee. Her mom calls immediately after, and she reassures her that she’ll make it to Harvard, cheerleading or not.
Out of the blue, she gets smacked on the head by a basketball — it’s Dong-jae’s, and he immediately apologizes — this time it was really an accident. He remarks that she lives a hard life, and admits he heard everything. “But I’ll forget it all,” he assures her.
Elsewhere, the Real King members rehash things. Seung-woo and Da-mi want to take the chance, but Hyo-shik calls it allying with the enemy — Soo-ah’s the reason they were disbanded in the first place. Just then, Hyo-shik gets a message to confirm their participation in a dance competition, and everyone is stoked about it. “Go go!” they cheer.
We detour to Yeon-doo’s mom, hanging out with Yeol’s dad, flailing about how best to appease the teachers after her outburst. What does he take? She groans at his answer (seriously, buses, YOU CAN’T EVEN COMPETE) and good-naturedly ribs that it’s because of parents like him that the school doesn’t care for the other kids.
She sighs that Yeon-doo is having such a hard time because she sent her there. Yeol’s dad tells her not to beat herself up about it — all they can do to equip them for the world is pile on the specs. She asks if that’s why he sent his son there, and he confesses that his son went to get away from him. She teases that the son takes after his father, playing hard to get, and she wonders if he’s as cute.
Dong-jae gets back to his dorm (their dorms are like, amazing apartments with bunks) and heads to the bathroom, where, oh my god, Ha-joon lies limp and bleeding. The sight triggers something and Dong-jae hyperventilates, unable to do anything. Yeol arrives and yells at him to help, but he’s still frozen, so Yeol carries Ha-joon out himself.
They slip and slide, and Yeol accidentally drops a bloody towel. Soo-ah picks it up and watches them go. She pays Principal Choi a visit, and says she may have found a way to get the Real King kids on board. She holds up the towel with a smirk. Ugh.
Yeon-doo screams and pushes through a crowd, and Hyo-shik follows in a red cape — onto the stage at the dance festival. When the group throw off the capes, their school uniforms have been replaced with an edgier look, and they perform a dance number (to Halo’s Fever). Yeon-doo twists her ankle midway, but carries on, although we can see she’s in pain.
Now safely ensconced in hospital, Yeol asks Ha-joon why he did it, “Didn’t I tell you I would kill you if you ever did this again?” Ha-joon looks away. Yeol wanders the hospital hallway, haunted by the memory of another time Ha-joon was brought in unconscious and bloody. Tears rolls down his face.
The dance festival over, Yeon-doo and her friends are grave. Then they break into song, congratulating each other on their popularity award. But it turns solemn again when two of them — Seung-woo and long-haired JUNG-EUN — announce that they’re quitting. They took part in this festival for Yeon-doo, but Real King is gone.
Yeon-doo accepts responsibility, and proposes a consolation noraebang outing, but the two claim that they need to be back at school. Yeon-doo takes it all in stride — she’s got somewhere to be as well.
She gets treated for her ankle at the hospital. On her way out, she notices Yeol slouching against a wall. He tells her to mind her own business, but Ha-joon appears, and she takes in the bandage on his wrist and the blood on his shirt. She didn’t see them today, Yeol instructs. With a last look, she limps away.
She ducks suddenly when she catches sight of Teacher Yang, who’s having an argument with the admin desk. She successfully creeps past, but the boys’ approach has her waving frantically to get their attention. They duck, too, and Yeol makes it past behind a gurney, but Ha-joon scuttles off.
Yeol ends up beside Yeon-doo. Teacher Yang heads their way and he throws himself into a corner with Yeon-doo, hand over her mouth to shush her. Once Teacher Yang passes, Yeol (unconsciously?) leans his head on hers for a second in relief. Pulling back, he smiles a little and says she’s not so bad when she shuts up. Yah but you can take your hand off her mouth, now, okay?
Ha-joon finds them, and they part ways. But Yeol, addressing her as “our Yeon-doo,” calls out a sincere thanks, adorable crinkly smile and all. She brushes it off.
Teacher Yang hears Ha-joon’s name called out by a different desk, and he asks if that patient is a Sevit High student. Uh-oh.
Yeon-doo gets back to school, where Dong-jae is waiting on the steps. She holds out her arms for a hug, but he walks right past her to the boys. Yeol tells him to get lost and sweeps past. Yeon-doo asks Dong-jae what’s going on, and becomes frustrated that he won’t tell her — he can’t, he says, expression empty. Teacher Yang emerges from the shadows, watching the kids head in with concern.
In an empty classroom, Teacher Yang shows Ha-joon a hospital report — his. Yang pushes up the boy’s sleeve, revealing not only the new bandage, but countless scars from previous cutting. Worried, he tells Ha-joon that he should get help if he’s sick. To his shock, Ha-joon begs on his knees that he not tell the principal — if his father finds out, he’ll probably end up in a mental hospital.
Principal Choi asks Yeol if Ha-joon is self-harming again. She alludes to the fact that his parents will look into alternative facilities if he is. Whether she contacts them depends on whether Yeol enters the cheerleading competition. Ah, and he’ll have to bring the Real King kids back, too, she smirks, to make up the numbers.
He scorns the lengths she goes to for Soo-ah’s mom, but she knows she has him on Ha-joon. She heard he wanted to graduate with him.
Yeon-doo lights up to see Seung-woo and Yeong-eun (the two who left the group) in the hallway, but they don’t notice her, and enter a classroom — followed by Soo-ah. She peeks in, where Soo-ah plays them a video of stunt cheerleading, asking if they can do it. Yeon-doo realizes this is what they left the festival for.
Yeon-doo stretches out on a picnic bench under the stars, next to Dong-jae. She tells him she got betrayed again. He asks how that happened, and sadly, she wonders the same.
A cloud of threat hangs over Yeol and Ha-joon as they emerge from their respective interviews. When they meet, Yeol just smiles at his friend and asks if he’s hungry. Over ramyun, Ha-joon says sorry. Yeol snorts, calling him a crazy guy, and they break into grins.
It’s a new day. Dong-jae asks Yeon-doo why she’s avoiding the Real King kids, but she denies it. Yeol comes over to ask her for a private word, throwing a glance at Dong-jae. Dong-jae obligingly steps back all of two paces.
“Kang Yeon-doo, let’s do cheerleading together,” Yeol says. His abrupt about-turn confuses her. She tells him that, one, she doesn’t hang with people who go back on their word. Two, she refuses to be even slightly connected to Soo-ah. With each point, she takes a step closer to him. “Three. Therefore, I definitely won’t be doing cheerleading with you,” she finishes.
Despite the early days, the intricately built in emergent themes make me incautiously optimistic about this show. With a count of only twelve episodes, we can hope that things will move fast as they did in these two episodes, and there won’t be any unnecessary dragging out.
There’s lots of stuff to unpack in the relationships here, so let’s start with Yeol and Ha-joon, who are practically attached at the hip. A warm relationship in a cool character always tells you (and intends to tell you) something about the character: “This character has a soft center,” or, “This character is someone who inspires loyalty.” The really fascinating one here is Yeol, and Lee Won-gun certainly has charm (those L-like dimples, crossed with Park Shi-hoo) and chemistry. As Yeon-doo rightly observes (and wrongly interprets), he does indeed use the same mouth to say opposite things, in one moment hurting and the next, helping.
A morass of tangled motivations drives his conflicting actions, and his interest in Yeon-doo starts off as little more than the caprice of the moment. So it’s a satisfying development to see that turn to curiosity already, and believable that Yeon-doo is affected by his proximity and mixed messages. You can look at the strawberry milk assay as his way of relating to her — a symbolic attempt to cross into her alien world for a moment — and it reveals the underlying earnestness of his character. Whether he’s really part jerk, or if the jerkiness is an outer shell, is open to debate, but that he’s not rotten at the core is evident enough that I’ve come around to root for him already.
Yeon-doo is no less appealing, with a quiet and consistent dignity about her that isn’t immediately obvious. I notice that she doesn’t strike first, and only speaks up when there’s no other way — and when she does, her words are succinct and weighty. It’s an compelling quality, especially for someone who seems to have such a bright, fighting personality. It’s most evident each time she confronts Soo-ah, determined to hold her peace, but forced to react to the situation. The rest of the time, her parsimony makes for entertaining conversation — it’s not quite tactless, but it’s close enough to be just as uncomfortable for whoever it’s directed at.
I love that we can see exactly where Yeon-doo gets her sense of loyalty and understanding of friendship from. She and her mom are on exactly the same wavelength, and it’s a really heartwarming exposition of the nature of their relationship, that Mom brought her kid up to value character and people, not to chase achievement after achievement. Her love for her daughter, her willingness to take up her battles, isn’t contingent on her grades and class ranking. I love it. It’s such a needed contrast with the other (highly dysfunctional) relationships, like Ha-joon’s or Soo-ah’s. Yeon-doo might not have the specs to make it to college, but she has an emotional mooring that no amount of money and specs make up for.
And when you’re young and disenfranchised, loyalty is a powerful thing, and it’s our dominating theme these opening episodes. The freedoms and trappings of adulthood not yet being within reach (i.e. wealth and influence), equalizes them all for this short period. It’s what makes this school such a pressure cooker: It’s a type of madness that puts wildly different volatile substances into a reactive environment, and doesn’t expect explosions. What Soo-ah tells Yeon-doo about being unimaginably beyond her reach in the “real” world isn’t untrue, it’s just sad.
As for Yeon-doo, loyalty is the only currency she has — that’s why it means so much to her (and so little to Soo-ah). She’s sustained by her connections to her friends, and that’s what makes their betrayals all the more crushing. So it’s gratifying, then, to find out that loyalty is also everything to Yeol, despite all his other privileges. This is why he’s no friend of Soo-ah’s (and why she has no friends). His distaste for her underhanded machinations and backstabby ways are another reason he ends up closer to Yeon-doo.
I love where this takes us in the story, putting these two fiercely loyal and embattled characters opposite each other. It sets them up for an eventual coalescence of their worlds — and not just by cheerleading together, but in earning each other’s allegiance. That’s the ride we’re all here for. When he calls her “our Yeon-doo,” it’s a symbolic moment that foreshadows their impending arc, encapsulating the second most important thing to her after loyalty: belonging. The loss of Real King hit her on more than one level — not only depriving her of dance, but also her sense of home.
It’s interesting how much more isolated Yeol is than Yeon-doo, Ha-joon seeming like his only real friend. She still has several faithful friends, even after the subtractions these episodes make. Hyo-shik is her trusty second — the first to stand beside her every time she sorties — while Dong-jae consistently provides background support and advice, rather like general and vizier. They feel like real people, and I’m curious about what makes Dong-jae different. There was a brief allusion to something in the first episode, but we’ll have to wait for more. Is he going to be a cheerleader? And is Bok-dongie destined to be beaten by father-figures forever?
And so, although it’s “only” a cheerleading competition, the stakes are high, and they all have everything to lose. Though their reasons for needing to go along are profoundly different, I think we can hope for much more than wobbly human pyramids. Go go!