Melancholia -- Episode 1 & 2: The Nature of Pretentiousness

Impressive opening episode for Melancolia. I am so excited to have Im Soo Jung, Lee Do Hyun and Choi Dae Hoon in one drama. But as excited as I was for three talented actors, as somewhat conflicted when I read the synopsis, not because of a potential romance between a student and a teacher, but because of so-called pretentious high class people who hate themselves to the extent that they take out their incompetence on innocent people, turn purity into ugliness, and ruin their lives based on rumors, innuendos, and jealousy.

Let me take a step back. So, Melancholia tells the story of Ji Yoon-soo (Im Soo Jung), a mathematics teacher at the prestigious private Ahseong High School, which is also a hotbed of corruptions. She is good-natured on the outside, but gets dogged and stubborn once she makes up her mind about something. Extremely passionate about math, she is a teacher who encourages her students to find their own answers. At the school, she meets Baek Seung-yoo (Lee Do Hyun), a troubled student who, despite being at the bottom of his class, is a brilliant student with an excellent mathematical potential in math, and decides to mentor him. With her attention and interactions with him, Seung-yoo's grades start getting better, becoming the number one student in his class.


Baek Seung-yoo is a teenager enrolled in Ahseong High. He rarely speaks unless spoken to, he keeps to himself. He does however have a keen interest in photography. He has no friends at school, nor is he interested in making friends. He is a teenager with a shocking past that he tries to keep hidden. When he was a child, he won many mathematical Olympiads. When he was 10 years old, he entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US, but suddenly disappeared at the age of twelve.


I wonder what happened to Seung-yoo when he was 12 years old to have him so panicked, but not only that, be fearful of his brilliant mind. But more, why does his family appear clueless to his pain, or are they? There is something wrong about his father; why did they change his name? I have so many questions, I know the answers will come with time, but there is so much waiting to go wrong, and all because a few people cannot accept that ordinary people can be smarter than rich people. The competition and intense pressure parents create on their children is unbearable to watch.


Despite it only being the opening week, I didn't get the impression that Ji Yoon-soo harbored romantic feelings towards Seung-yoo. I believe her interest in him was purely academic. A teacher who saw a potential in her student and wanted to grow that potential by giving him the needed attention. But for some reason, the attention and interactions she gives him as her student gets misconstrued, and a malicious rumor starts circulating that Ji Yoon-soo seduced Seung-yoo into a sexual relationship.


Despite me not understanding how anyone would want to cause such horrendous harm to another human being, I recognize that sometimes the pressure to be perceived as better in high society leads some people to believe they are better than others and want that widely known regardless of the cost. So in that sense, I can visualize how teenagers can let jealousy over rule them, especially in a rich school and among rich, pertinence-parents, students, and teachers alike.


Whoever said pretentious people are like cross-stitch pieces, they look fine and pretty at the front, but twisted and messed up at the back wasn't lying. I wasn't sure if I could stomach that kind of behavior, but the hope for an opportunity for both students and teachers to right the wrong done to them won me over. I am after all a sucker for the underdogs. As much as I dread the ugliness, I look forward to the satisfaction that will come with the truth. That to be a South Korean child ultimately is not about freedom, personal choice or happiness; it is about production, performance and obedience. The idea that success is most important, no matter the cost


Everything from the overzealous parents and highly authoritarian teachers, coupled with a leviathan private industry that treats education and children as commodities, is basically a form of assault, borderline child abuse. And that is why I am glad that a drama like Melancholia brings awareness to the conviction that academic success is paramount for a successful life. There is no disputing academic success is a plus in life, but it shouldn't define or control what success is supposed to look like, because being mentally healthy far outweighs feeling successful, yet melancholy.

Watch episode 1 & 2 here.

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