The Man In The Glass
Episode 2 of Melancholia begins where the last one left off. Yoon-soo confronts Seung-yoo about solving her maths problem. Again, he denies even enjoying mathematics. But she sees through his excuses and orders him to bring his camera to her classroom later.
Meanwhile, the board director discusses Yoon-soo with the board. He believes the teacher is trying to sabotage the International Mathematics Olympiad by not giving students questions that will appear on exams.
Ms. Noh has dinner with her father (President of Ahseong Academy) and her sister (Head of school administration at Ahseong International Middle School). She tells them of Ahseong’s plans of transitioning into a gifted school, but her younger sister has to consistently one-up her.
Afterwards, Ms. Noh meets with Min-joon, Ye-rin’s father. They converse about Yoon-soo’s fiancée, Choi Dae-hoon, and his position as administrator for the Ministry of Education. Min-joon says that they came to an agreement about both of their organizations—the Maths Association and the Ministry—co-sponsoring the Olympiad.
They further discuss the Olympiad and the importance of getting judges who will be favourable to their school. Ms. Noh points out that there will be talk if she nominates a student herself. Instead, she says, they should hold a competition for the entire student body.
Later in the episode, they meet again in secret. Ms. Noh asks Min-joon to intervene in helping get Ahseong selected as a gifted school, while Min-joon wants to be sure that Ye-rin will win the competition.
Excited about the possibility of Seung-yoo entering the competition, Yoon-soo takes a peek at his records from last semester. It surprises her to see that he was last in the class.
At their meeting, she has him use his mathematics-themed pictures to make posters advertising the upcoming competition. He insists that he won’t participate, but she leaves him with another maths problem to solve, hoping to spark his interest. She tells him he’s special, not because of his talent, but because of the unique way he views the world.
Yoon-soo then runs into Seung-yoo’s father, who shows her a video of Seung-yoo at MIT when he was only 10 years old. He reveals that he was called Baek Min-jae then. Eight years have passed since (answering the question of Seung-yoo’s age). Because of all the talk of a “failed genius,” he changed his name.
His father asks Yoon-soo to guide his son, but she admits that she doesn’t know what he needs.
Nervous about the competition, Ye-rin expresses her concerns to Ms. Noh. Although she likely has plans to make Ye-rin come out on top, she intentionally intimidates the student.
Seung-yoo has been ruminating on the problem Yoon-soo left him. That night, the teacher sees him in her classroom, writing on the chalkboard. She comes in to help him, and they end up working on the equation all night. Still, he doesn’t come to a solution.
In the morning, Yoon-soo tells Seung-yoo that she doesn’t want to force him any more, but that she hopes he will continue to meet with her.
Alarmingly, Vice Principal Choi Sung-hun reports to Ms. Noh that the teacher and student spent all night together.
Ms. Noh takes an unexpected action. She emphasizes to Seung-yoo’s parents not that he spent the night with Yoon-soo, but that he found his passion for maths again. His parents are elated.
When Seung-yoo’s parents confront him, more is revealed about his past. His father says he has waited eight years for him to excel at maths again. In an intense moment, he says there were times that he thought Seung-yoo was dead, or that he wished he were dead.
During this speech, Seung-yoo is overcome with grief. He sees a reflection in glass of a man who isn’t really there. We don’t know who he is, but he was present in one of Seung-yoo’s flashbacks from the last episode—a professor at MIT perhaps?
His father tells him they will be transferring him to a gifted academy for the sciences and that his teacher wrote him a letter of recommendation.
Believing the teacher was Yoon-soo, Seung-yoo feels betrayed. Even though she asks him to stay at Ahseong, he refuses.
On the car ride to his entrance exam for the new school, Seung-yoo learns from his father that it was not Yoon-soo who wrote the letter, but Ms Noh.
Meanwhile, the student competition at Ahseong is beginning. Yoon-soo holds out hope that Seung-yoo will come, but the head of school administration asks her to close the doors.
At the last second, Seung-yoo stops the door from closing. He says that he’s found the solution to her maths problem. The episode ends with Seung-yoo looking truly happy for the first time.
The Episode Review
Melancholia could soon fall into the trap of introducing too many subplots and details to follow—but for now, it’s balancing its subjects well and revealing a lot of intriguing character storylines.
This episode was somewhat difficult to get into. It’s a slow-moving series, but the drama had so intensified by the end that I was ready to delve into the next episode right then.
While episode 1 didn’t leave me with a good grasp on Lee Do-hyun’s talents, his portrayal of Seung-yoo in this episode was stunning. Seung-yoo is a character who constantly has to keep his emotions in check, so it’s fascinating to see that restraint now paired with raw emotion occasionally peeking through.
One of my favourite aspects of this episode was the introduction of clever parallels between characters. One scene contrasts Seung-yoo and Ye-rin, who face equal pressure but in opposite situations. Seung-yoo sits alone in a classroom, ready to take his entrance exam, while Ye-rin sits among all her other classmates who wait for the competition to begin.
And the entire episode slowly builds on the differences between Yoon-soo and Seung-yoo’s father. While his teacher wants to nurture Seung-yoo’s passion for maths, his father believes it is more important for him to achieve great things. I hope we’ll see this tension further developed throughout the rest of the series.
There are a lot of details and relationships to keep up with, but so far Melancholia makes the work entirely worth it.