Meeting in The Middle
The Enigma that is Ji Woo
The Korean BL To My Star 2 hurts. Plain and simple. It’s real. It’s raw. It’s in your face. And for many, it’s hard to digest.
Especially the character Han Ji Woo (portrayed brilliantly by actor Kim Kang Min).
While many question the darker turn the second season of To My Star has taken, it makes sense, especially with Ji Woo. There’s a lot about the stoic chef we didn’t get to dive into in the first season. From the first moment actor Seo Joon laid eyes on Ji Woo, he felt compelled to love him. He felt compelled to draw Ji Woo out of the shell he’d placed himself in.
But the problem with personal walls is that something built them, and it takes a secure place to bring them down entirely.
Season 2 takes us into Ji Woo’s walls. It places us inside Seo Joon’s pain as he navigates being ghosted by the man he’d fallen in love with. It takes us into Seo Joon’s desperation and brokenness. And from his point of view, it hurts. It hurts big.
But why did Ji Woo run?
I’ve said this before in another write-up where I talked about a ‘ghosting’ relationship. Being ghosted says so much more about the person ghosting someone than it does about the person being ghosted.
And it certainly speaks volumes about Ji Woo.
I see Seo Joon’s pain, and it breaks me. But Ji Woo’s inability to let himself go destroys my heart.
And a lot of that has to do with expectations.
Everyone expects things of Ji Woo when he’s unsure what to expect of himself. Everyone wants more from Ji Woo when he’s unsure what he wants to give. Everyone chases Ji Woo when he’s desperately trying to hide. He’s lashing out because so many people are trying to break down walls he has in place for a reason.
He ran because he was afraid. Not because he doesn’t love Seo Joon. I’m not sure where Ji Woo’s stark fear comes from, but it’s there. And was even noticeable in the first season. It feels like the harder Ji Woo pushes someone away, the more he loves them, like he’s protecting them from himself. He seems lost. He’s desperate to push Seo Joon away from his hellish personal insecurities.
I wonder if being with Seo Joon is lonely for Ji Woo because it makes Ji Woo’s own faults and fears seem starker. He envies and is attracted to Seo Joon’s ability to be honest with himself but also fears it. And I wonder if his sexuality plays a part, that maybe in that conversation he had with his ex, part of what he couldn’t give her was intimacy. And that shamed him. Perhaps he felt safe with her because he could hide his sexuality in that relationship. There’s no hiding it with Seo Joon, and he fears it getting out. I may be stretching here, but I was once in that place, and I understand it. There feels like there’s a lot going on there and a lot of hate coming his way when he seems so lost in himself.
I hurt for Seo Joon, too. Hurting for Seo Joon is a given. It’s easy to hurt for someone who gives so much of himself away. It’s easy to feel pain for someone who is willing to bend for another. It’s harder to hurt for someone who constantly lashes out at others, someone who uses his own pain as a weapon to defend himself.
But I do hurt for Ji Woo. Hurting for him does not mean defending him.
It’s obvious Ji Woo is hiding hidden feelings and is trying hard to get Seo Joon to leave so that he doesn’t hurt him. But Seo Joon parked a camper in front of Ji Woo’s home. It was wrong for Ji Woo to ghost and project his insecurities on Seo Joon, but I think it’s also important to remember that he keeps trying to get Seo Joon to give him space. And Seo Joon keeps placing himself there inside that pain. He’s parked himself there. Seo Joon is hurting himself as much as Ji Woo is hurting him. And that breaks me even more. Seo Joon’s desperation compels him to keep taking on pain.
No one deserves to be hurt. And I cried for Seo Joon, but there’s something deeper there with Ji Woo that is painful enough he keeps running and hiding. But everyone keeps seeking him out. I’m not defending Ji Woo’s actions. What I need to know is why he’s so lost in himself.
While watching this episode, I felt suffocated. As much as I love Seo Joon, and as much as I love the kindness he represents, there’s only so much of yourself you can give someone before you start losing who you are. The rest is up to them. There comes the point where you have to step back, especially for your own sake.
No matter what Ji Woo is hiding at this point, Seo Joon has invaded his personal space, befriended everyone in town, and made Ji Woo feel like a villain. To some extent, Ji Woo is one. That scene where Ji Woo lashes out at Seo Joon felt like Ji Woo accepting that role as a villain. He’s being treated as one, so it makes sense for him to be one. He knows he did Seo Joon wrong by ghosting him, but there are only so many times a person can be told they’re the bad one in a relationship, so many times they have to face themselves in a mirror before they genuinely start to project that role.
Part of the issue here is Ji Woo’s inability to communicate, but no one is trying to figure out why he has trouble communicating. Is it internal homophobia? Does it have something to do with what his parents did? Does it have something to do with feeling inferior? Did something happen in his past that suddenly made him afraid of the love he’d gained from Seo Joon? Why is he afraid to tell Seo Joon the whole truth? Why does he have such a hard time facing himself and Seo Joon?
There are so many questions. So many things about Ji Woo that haven’t been revealed. So many things about himself and his family that he’s hidden. We’ve seen Ji Woo from everyone else’s point of view rather than his own. And no one looks like a hero coming from an ‘I’ve been hurt” point of view. I think the show wants us to be pissed at Ji Woo. I think that’s the point right now, so they can come at us later with the why, how, and when it all fell apart. It is, after all, Seo Joon and Ji Woo’s untold story.
I hurt for Seo Joon because his desperation has pushed him into needing to be near someone who isn’t comfortable with himself. I want to hug them both. I want to tell Seo Joon how precious he is and make Ji Woo feel safe enough to be honest about his fears.
Pain is subjective. How we feel about a character in a book/drama stems from our experiences. If we’re the emotionally repressed type, we relate more to emotionally repressed characters. If we’re the empathetic type, we tend to relate to everyone. If someone has hurt us, we tend to cling to the characters in pain, defending them with that hurt part of ourselves.
It’s harder to look at all the characters objectively and understand that the world is very objective—that point of view matters.
I say that to point out that I, in no way, defend Ji Woo’s actions in To My Star 2, but I also have an innate need to know where those actions come from. Where does his pain originate from? Why is he projecting that pain onto others?
And I wonder what Seo Joon would discover about himself and Ji Woo if he stepped back, if he allowed them both a chance to breathe, if he stopped long enough to look at what is making Ji Woo feel so overwhelmed. A person can be swallowed whole by expectations, and Ji Woo is being swallowed whole. He keeps being told what he should do rather than being allowed to be himself, even if we don’t like the version of him he gives us. We can’t force people to be the way we want them to be.
As good as Seo Joon is to Ji Woo, as much as he molds himself to what he believes Ji Woo needs from him, he’s still projecting his own idea of who he wants Ji Woo to be onto Ji Woo. And that’s cornering Ji Woo. Ji Woo has become a caged tiger lashing out at anyone who comes near the personal space he’s trying desperately to hide inside.
And that’s where the crux of the problem lies. The first thing a person does when they feel like they are being attacked is regress into themselves and lash out. It’s why arguing with someone who is set in their opinions is tricky.
Seo Joon’s approach has been both overwhelming and underwhelming. He’s coming at Ji Woo too aggressively, but he’s also not coming at him aggressively enough. He’s coming on too strong by invading Ji Woo’s personal space, but he’s making the problem worse by avoiding argumentative confrontation. Ji Woo honestly did do Seo Joon wrong, but it takes two people to make a relationship work. And Ji Woo is trapped in his corner afraid to try. But he’s also ready to fight. Let me explain myself. In the restaurant scene where Ji Woo talks about feeling lonely with Seo Joon, Seo Joon also mentions this being their first argument. That’s a problem in itself. Because of his family history, Seo Joon avoids confrontation. He would rather find a way to mold himself into a situation than fight with someone. The reason why Ji Woo can’t think of anything Seo Joon did wrong in their relationship is because Seo Joon has a way of placing the blame on himself during an argument rather than allow his partner to share in that blame. Arguments are a way to grow a relationship, and Seo Joon has stunted that growth. But I also think part of the reason why Seo Joon can’t let Ji Woo go is because he’s never been in a situation where he can’t fix the problem by himself.
I’m curious about where To My Star 2 is going. But I’m most curious about Ji Woo. I’m as curious about Ji Woo in season 2 as I was in season 1. And I think the curiosity I feel is the same curiosity that Seo Joon is drawn to. I get the sense that Seo Joon likes to fix people. The part of what always makes him the center of attention is not being able to let go of a problem. And Ji Woo is a problem for him. He wants to fix Ji Woo, and in the process, fix their relationship. But the only person who can fix someone is themselves.
I think, in the long run, these two will find a way into each other’s arms. But to do that, Seo Joon will need to lower his expectations. He’ll need to accept Ji Woo for who he is rather than what he hopes Ji Woo will be. Rather than attempt to arrange Ji Woo’s life (such as him trying to plan Ji Woo’s future), he needs to let Ji Woo run his own life. And in return, Ji Woo will need to accept that Seo Joon is the type of person who feels like he has to organize and plan everything, down to his loved ones’ futures. They need to meet in the middle.
Relationships are all about meeting in the middle. It’s about allowing each other to be individuals and do their own thing while asking permission to interfere with each other’s choices.
To My Star 2 is the journey to that middle ground, a middle ground that will be well worth the wait to get there.
There are two ways this series can go. Either they never find that middle ground and go their separate ways, or they learn to compromise. The first season hinted at their problems. Although quirky and fun, there was a dark edge to the first season that showed these two hadn’t quite met in the middle. There’s a lot of passion between them, but they also entered this relationship with many personal generational issues from their families. Seo Joon avoids confrontation because of his parents. And Ji Woo has built walls around himself because of his.
There’s a lot to overcome, but if they manage it, there’s a lot of passion and happiness in that middle ground.
And so I am cheering them on. Rather than blaming either of them for where they are now, I hurt for the men affected by the generation before them.
For a series that doesn’t hold back, a series that tackles the real pain a relationship can bring, check out To My Star 2 on Gagaoolala and Viki.