‘My Liberation Notes’ episodes one and two recap: life in the slow lane speeds up

**Spoilers for ‘My Liberation Notes’ episodes one and two below**

We open on Mi-jeong (played by Kim Ji-won), the youngest of three siblings who are disenchanted with the monotony of their everyday lives, seated for lunch with her corporate colleagues. Immediately it’s obvious that she is not like the rest: less chatty, eyes downcast, happy enough absorbing the conversation than contributing to it.

The more enthusiastic bunch around her are chatting about the various work-endorsed social clubs they have joined, and they ask Mi-jeong why she hasn’t joined one herself. The reason, she says, is because she lives out in (the fictional) Sanpo, a rural countryside village outside of Seoul. Yet, her colleagues eagerly persuade her to join them at their bowling club later that night, against her better judgemen. Later on at the after-meal, though, Mi-jeong makes her excuses and quietly slips out to move on and meet with her sister.

Meanwhile, Ki-jeong (Lee El) – the eldest of the trio – hangs with two friends at a barbecue spot, drowning her sorrows in beer and soju. Mi-jeong arrives while Ki-jeong rants about how she turned down some guy because his status as a divorced father of one was too much of a turn off – unaware of the fact that a divorced father and his teenage daughter are seated nearby. Uncomfortably, this eventually dawns on everyone at Ki-jeong’s table, and she hurriedly tries to backtrack.

When the group tries to leave the restaurant to avoid further embarrassment, Ki-jeong drops her lipstick by the young father’s foot and embarrassingly reaches right down into his personal space to get it. It’s here when he tells her, calmly, that his divorce was not a mistake as it led to having his daughter, the most important person in his life. Ki-jeong cringes and nods understandingly, and then Mi-jeong bows courteously to the father. It becomes obvious Mi-jeong knows him already – he works at her company, albeit on a different team. They leave the restaurant and head over to meet middle-sibling, Chang-hee (played by Lee Min-ki).

First introduced from a dimly lit office, he’s breaking up with his current girlfriend over text. “Our entire relationship is over text message!” he screams, going on to arrange to meet her in person instead to break things off. Said breakup appears to stem from the fact Chang-hee lives too far from the city. They then argue about whether the woman has been seeing someone else “with a car” and “who lives in Seoul”, two things Chang-hee can’t compete with.

After an eventful first night out with the siblings, we watch them make their mundane journey home to their parents house in a taxi together. The world speeds past them and the lights fade as they leave the city. It’s then, when all the siblings are home, we really get a sense of what life is like in the sleepy rural village. The three work their parents’ fields on their days off and are heckled by and argue with them more like teenagers than cosmopolitan young professionals.

At dinner that weekend in the backyard, when the whole family is seated together, Chang-hee brings up the prospect of buying an electric car to his father, and seeks his permission. His stoic father is incensed by the idea since his son defaulted on the last car’s payments he took out. Chang-hee is infuriated, blaming his lack of transport for the fact his relationships can’t take off.

It’s around this time at the house that we become acquainted with the aloof character of Mr. Gu, played by Son Seok-koo. The family’s lodger appears to work at their Sanpo Sinks business – but we know little more about him at this stage than the fact he is objectively handsome, likes to drink (a lot), and retreats back to the sanctity of his outhouse lodgings every night.

When Mi-jeong returns to work the following week, she’s again questioned by the company’s HR manager about why she hasn’t joined a social club. When the scene flips, we meet our divorced man from the barbecue restaurant again. Seated with his colleague in a different part of the company, they’re also waiting to see the same HR rep about their reluctance to join a social club (childcare for his teenage daughter is the excuse he goes with).

After handing in a project to her boss later that day, and it being torn apart with criticism, Mi-jeong heads to a coffee shop where she tries, tearfully, to re-work it. It’s there she pretends to herself that she’s there with a lover. Wrapped up in the comfort of their imaginary presence, the tears stop and she brings herself to get back to work. Only the next day, she overhears her colleagues talking about her. “She’s adorable,” one says, to which the male colleague agrees, though “as a whole, she’s quite bland”. On top of all of this, we learn from a visit with Mi-jeong to her bank that she is in considerable debt thanks to taking out a loan to lend someone else, presumably an ex-partner, whom she hopelessly tries to contact about paying her back on a messenger app.

Chang-hee is then seen resentfully eating free, expired convenience store food at the 24/7 shop he works at, discussing with his colleague about the fact HQ are going to shut the branch down soon and he’ll be out of a job. At another yard gathering back in the village of Sanpo with some old neighbourhood friends and her siblings the next night, Ki-jeong vows that she’s going to choose “just anyone” to end up with, in order to circumvent another Winter alone.

The first episode closes out with Mi-jeong stressing out about the fact the bank will send a notification letter to her parents home about her defaulted loan payments. While waiting for her commuter bus, she has a brainwave and rushes back to the house through the fields, straight over to mysterious Mr. Gu. She asks him to accept the letter on behalf of her so her parents won’t see it. He doesn’t verbally agree, but in the opening scene of episode two, we see him successfully intercept the letter.

Later at dinner, while Ki-jeong curses the fact that not even the office playboy, who’s dated everyone at her company, likes her and Chang-hee chastises her for her stupidity, Mi-jeong heads over to get the letter from Mr. Gu’s outhouse. “I’ll keep this here for now,” she says, and begins to offer reasoning for the letter, to which he gives a muted shrug and heads back out to the porch to drink alone.

The mysteriously divorced father from the first episode makes a third appearance when he’s teamed up with Mi-jeong for lunch the next day. He, his colleague and Mi-jeong then realise they’ve been partnered together because of their equal dislike of joining a social club, which seems to give them a sense of belonging, even if it’s because they’re seen as outcasts. On her way back from lunch in the elevator, Mi-jeong makes her apologies to the divorced father again on behalf of her loose-lipped sister Ki-yeong’s judgemental ramblings.

The next day, Chang-hee is at the convenience store he works at when he sees his ex-girlfriend walk into the store with her new beau in tow. He awkwardly serves the pair, knowing his greatest fears about not being adequate enough to compete with the sportscar-toting-Seoul boyfriend were right: his sports car is parked outside and the new couple quickly make their escape after his ex-girlfriend recognises him behind the till.

Finally, some light is then shed on the mystery lendee that Mi-jeong has gotten herself into debt for. Someone tells her over the phone that the fellow, “Chan-yeok”, has probably since fled to Thailand and got back together with his ex, which leaves Mi-jeong bereft. Once again, she tirelessly makes her way home, only snapping out of her daze when she spots her parents rushing over to Mr. Gu’s home.

While initally worried they’d found the letter, Mi-jeong is relieved (in part) when it transpires that Mr. Gu got inebriated the night before and had likely fallen over and broken his nose, leaving him battered and bloody. All three siblings are amazed when, the next evening, he is once again drinking on his front porch despite his fresh injuries.

After once again being torn apart on a work submission by her boss, and then being questioned by the employee rep for a final time about her reluctance to join a social club, it all gets too much for Mi-jeong, who breaks down from the pressure of it all. Her journey home that night is filled with dark thoughts about the current state of her life: “I don’t know when it all went wrong. I’m exhausted, nothing ever happens, and nobody ever likes me.”

Now at breaking point, Mi-jeong marches with a purpose through her parents field late after work one night to Mr. Gu, who is drinking soju under the stars. She opens her mouth to speak, but this time, it’s not about her letter. She calmly tells Mr. Gu: “Worship me.” He is silent, still connecting the dots when she continues, “you have nothing to do besides drink, and it’ll be Winter soon. There’ll be no work at the factory to do and nothing to see sitting [on your porch], so worship me. I want to feel whole. Love isn’t enough, worship me.”

Whether she has a genuine interest in him or is just using her sister’s “I’m going to love anyone strategy”, it’s a pretty convincing proposition. Understandably, Mr. Gu is thrown off guard by the sudden request. For the first time he looks visibly rattled. The next scene cuts to him sitting in his outhouse, looking up the meaning of the word worship, it’s clear that the at-first unassuming Mi-jeong has piqued his interest.

Memorable Moments

    • Every outdoor Summer meal the siblings and their friends/family got together for. The slow sound of crickets, the slurping of supermarket beer with friends, and the stifling heat that was almost visible on screen were probably not intended to get us this excited for Summer, but they did.
    • Mi-jeong’s “worship me” monologue: It’s what we all want after all, and good for her for having the guts to ask for it. Maybe we should all take a leaf out of her book.

Fun Facts

  • Sanpo isn’t a real city, but Gyeonggi-do, where it’s based, is a real province. It does indeed surround South Korea’s capital Seoul like the white of an egg – as Chang-hee so eloquently put it in episode one. Thankfully, Seoul’s travel network is so expansive and convenient that it’s not like travelling cross-country or anything.

‘My Liberation Notes’ is available on Netflix

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