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Prison Playbook (2017) - Ep. 5 - Does it hold up?

To answer your most pressing question, “Yes. I’m still doing this.”

Jean Valjean and Min-chul walk through the prison yard

In this week’s edition of “Does it hold up?” we’re watching episode five of Prison Playbook. Last week’s episode ended with Je-hyuk’s revelation that, due to his shoulder injury, he would be retiring from baseball and the reactions of his closest friends and family members to the bad news. This week we begin to see reactions from the greater public. Additionally, as last week’s episode was otherwise focused on Dr. Ko this week’s episode shines a spotlight on Jean Valjean and Min-chul. Also, another villain is dealt with but this time Je-hyuk has nothing to do with it! Let’s dig in!

Min-chul is a lot kinder than most of us

Min-chul continues to act something like the father of the Wing 2, Cell 6 prisoners. This is no more true than for the young Jean Valjean. Min-chul buys him a watch, and vouches for his good behavior so that Valjean can do some outside labor. After one such outing, Valjean tells Min-chul about a song he heard while he was out. This reminds Min-chul of his past and we get a flashback. Hilariously, they change the aspect ratio of the show to be 4:3 during the entire flashback so it looks more like something you’d see on an old TV.

Less hilariously, we see Min-chul acting as a member of a gang and mentoring a young kid. The entire gang goes to a club in a rival gang’s territory and, as might be expected, a fight breaks out. Unfortunately, Min-chul’s young mentee brought a knife and as Min-chul appears to be going down after being beaten with a bat he stabs a man to death. For his part in the gang fight, Min-chul is sentenced to life in prison but his young friend is sentenced to death. The rest of the flashback concerns itself with Min-chul’s guilt and sadness over the impending death of his friend. He happened to be listening to the song Valjean told him about when he found out his friend had been executed.

This provides a lot of context for how Min-chul is seen by many as a violent criminal but mostly acts gently. He really regrets both the crimes he committed but especially that he led a young man to his death in his previous life. He has dedicated himself to mentoring the young prisoners, trying to aid them in finding upstanding ways to live their lives once they leave prison. Late in the episode, Valjean is caught with an illegally modified watch (it has a picture of a K-pop idol replacing the face) and he lies and says the watch is Min-chul’s so that his release won’t be delayed. Min-chul quietly accepts the punishment for the crime he didn’t commit and Valjean is released. As Min-chul and Lt. Paeng watch Valjean leave Paeng suggests that Valjean will be grateful to Min-chul and do nice things for him later but Min-chul says he knows that won’t happen. He’s done this many times before and Valjean is a criminal just like the rest, he will harbor no gratefulness for all the effort Min-chul offered him.

The only bright spot for Min-chul is that Je-hyuk sticks his nose into everything around him. The warden, so very pleased with Je-hyuk providing the prison so much attention, offers him anything he could possibly want. Je-hyuk initially refuses but after Min-chul is placed in solitary he goes to the warden and asks him to act as if Min-chul didn’t do anything wrong. The warden happily agrees.

It’s heartbreaking but also heartwarming to see this man giving of himself so freely in order to benefit others he know won’t ever really even appreciate it. Sure, there are criminals like Valjean who steal stupidly and don’t treat others well. But now we see Dr. Ko last week and Min-chul this week that some of these guys are just doing the best they can to get through life and leave a positive impact.

No one believes Je-hyuk is retiring

I can’t remember if it was mentioned in an earlier episode, but in this episode everyone will not stop talking about how Je-hyuk’s playing career was defined by a refusal to ever give up or quit. He’s known as The Phoenix for that reason. So, now, no one believes he’ll truly quit this time either. Je-hyuk appears to be giving it the old college try, though! Or, at least the old Je-hyuk try, As you might expect, his attempts are comically inept.

First, he sees Valjean studying a baking textbook and asks Valjean to ask him a question so he can see if he can do it. Valjean starts reading the question, but by the time he’s finished, Je-hyuk is gone. Next, Je-hyuk asks Min-chul if it’s hard to get into the prison’s business administration program and Min-chul says it isn’t but that you have to have at least two years left on your sentence. Je-hyuk only had one when he started, so that clearly won’t work. Next, Je-hyuk takes up watch modification from KAIST - he’s actually the one who converts Valjean’s watch - but he forgot to put a screw in it and it no longer tells time when he’s done.

Throughout the episode, people keep coming up to him telling him they’ve signed the petition and that they know he’ll play again. Je-hyuk doesn’t know it, but Jun-ho’s little brother, Jun-dol, is at it again. Jun-dol created an online petition against Je-hyuk retiring and he’s trying to get over 10 million signatures. He has over a million at one point, including several coaches and other staff members from Je-hyuk’s KBO team. Jun-dol is also trying to get his hands on Je-hyuk’s medical records so he can provide a second opinion on whether surgery might be possible. The kid’s heart is in the right place, I think, but he definitely needs to be restrained by his older brother a bit more.

This all culminates in the final moments of this episode where, as a birthday surprise, the warden has converted one of the prison greenhouse’s into a mound and backstop for Je-hyuk to practice his pitching. Unfortunately, right before the surprise can be revealed Jun-ho intercepts Je-hyuk and explains that the man he is in prison for assaulting has died from his injuries. As he’s presented this gift of a practice area he has repeatedly insisted he does not want he finally completely loses it in front of everyone. During the course of his rant, he reveals that not only did he have shoulder surgery as a teen but that they discovered stomach cancer and he had to have surgery for that and undergo chemotherapy as well. And after he’d survived all of that, he had to do three years of therapy all by himself because no club thought highly enough of him to sign him and help him with it. He claims he’s never even liked baseball, but it was the only thing he knew how to do, so he just kept going at it. But he wants to stop now.

Another heartbreaking moment in this episode which is a bit of a downer, even though there are still some comedic bits. Je-hyuk really hasn’t had it easy. It’s difficult to imagine he’ll see improvement while he’s in prison, but here’s hoping.

The Chief comes back for Round 3

You all remember the woodshop chief, right? First, he tried to frame Dr. Ko for stealing some shop equipment when Dr. Ko got him in trouble for his (And Lt. Lee’s) theft of their wages. Then, last week, he hit Je-hyuk in the head with a nail through a board. Somehow, he survived the last escapade with only demerits. He seems destined to cause more trouble with Je-hyuk but then something odd happens.

There is a carpentry competition and the winner will get five million won (a little over $4000.) A new prisoner who is known to be an excellent carpenter but who goes nuts in matters of money easily wins the competition. Unfortunately, when the money is allegedly distributed it doesn’t show up in his account. Somehow he determines that the Chief must have stolen it and loudly makes the accusation and picks a fight with him. The Chief says he doesn’t know anything about it. But when Lt. Lee and Jun-ho go to check, they discover the money has been deposited in the Chief’s second account. Flashbacks reveal that the Chief had suggested to Lee that they steal the money but that Lee had turned him down. Then Lee secretly had the money sent to the Chief’s second account and set the whole thing up to be rid of him.

The Chief is now gone and Lt. Lee is less an assistant but also someone who kept getting in trouble and would eventually have taken them both down. Lee hasn’t done anything to Je-hyuk or any of his cellmates, yet, but we now have to see him in an even more sinister light.

The episode ends on another cliffhanger, as well. At one point they see a news report about a Captain in the military who is being sentenced for beating one of his subordinates to death. Since Jean Valjean has been released, there’s an opening in Je-hyuk’s cell. Guess who fills it. Will “The Demon Captain” prove as frightening as his reputation? Or will he turn out to be as much of a softy as Min-chul and Dr. Ko? Only time will tell.