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Prison Playbook (2017) - Ep. 6 - Does it hold up?

An episode of schemes. Just SO MANY schemes.

A super friendly hug between two guys

This episode actually had three different plot threads to follow, so let’s not waste any time and jump right in, shall we?

Captain Yoo is scary

Last week’s episode ended with the revelation that Je-hyuk and company were getting a new cellmate: “Demon Captain” Yoo. Sentenced to three years for murdering one of his subordinates in the Korean army. The episode immediately opens with his trial. One of his other subordinates tells a tale of how Yoo constantly bullied Private Park and we’re treated - and I use this term very loosely - to a flashback of Yoo doing just that. He punches and kicks three subordinates, but takes special offense to private Park and knocks him over and kicks him while he’s on the ground. After a minute or so of this, he stops, and abruptly his whole mood shifts. He pleasantly asks one of the other subordinates to call “the boys” because he wants to play soccer. He leaves the darkly-lit room and looks up at the bright blue sky, smiles, and declares it a nice day.

That was by far the most gruesome scene we’ve seen on this show which has so far refused to show us anything truly graphic, even cutting away from the comical beatings the prisoners have given each other. When Je-hyuk flipped off the sky after learning his assault victim had died we weren’t even shown his hand. There’s no blood, there’s no screaming in pain, but the violence is upsetting all the same.

Later we see Yoo attending prisoner orientation - apparently, bureaucracy cannot be escaped even in prison - and Yoo takes exception to the fact that he is to remain cuffed. The presenter lies and says everyone prisoner has to do that but Yoo calls her out on it. She then admits it’s because he lost his cool with prison officials before. He then insists he didn’t kill Park and she lies and says she believes him. He again calls out her lie and he becomes more and more agitated before he starts slamming his head on the desk he’s sitting at. Guards have to race in to restrain him.

It’s very clear now that something is definitely wrong with Yoo. What, exactly, is anyone’s guess. But I almost feel as bad for the guy as I am terrified of him.

The Warden and Captain Na are discussing Yoo’s outburst when the warden suggests giving Yoo his own cell to keep him from hurting the other inmates. Na points out that it would be best if he were transferred, which means letting him cause trouble, which means putting him back into general population. The Warden, of course, agrees. Nothing comes of it immediately, but toward the end of the episode, Yoo is once again taken to prisoner orientation. Lt. Paeng is watching on the security monitor when Yoo suddenly leaps up, smashes the window between the room he’s in and the hallway outside with a chair, and leaps on Lt. Song. Paeng calls the rapid response team and they save Song’s life. Or so they think.

Paeng returns to the camera room and immediately starts demanding that they transfer Yoo but the Warden morosely says that they’re not going to be able to transfer him, now. They show Paeng another camera feed which clearly shows that Song was having a heart attack - Yoo broke the window to administer CPR and saved his life. Paeng goes to take Yoo out of isolation and offers an apology. It’s at this point that we get the first of three cliffhangers for this episode. Paeng says, “You should have just told me the truth from the start.” And Yoo asks if Paeng would believe him. Then we are shown another Yoo flashback. But this one is very different from the first, in this one he’s playing soccer with other army members and he takes Park aside, puts an arm around his shoulders in a friendly way, and jokes that if he tackles a Captain he’ll be court-martialed. One of these flashbacks is a lie and if Je-hyuk’s other cellmates are anything to go by I’m going to guess that it’s the first one because the rest have all turned out to be decent guys.

KAIST is the sole supplier of cigarettes...if Je-hyuk stops screwing up

KAIST is the other cellmate with a featured story this episode. We first see him smoking a cigarette, which is a very complicated process since they’re not allowed to have them in prison. First he retreats to the cell bathroom. He recovers a cigarette with the filter cut off from a snack bag. Then he retrieves a match from a gum wrapper. Finally, he lights it and takes a single puff. Exhaling the smoke into a plastic tube he has inserted into the toilet in order to keep the smoke from giving him away.

In short order, we learn that not only is KAIST a smoker but that he is the prison’s sole supplier of illicit cigarettes. He doesn’t sell them himself but he does procure them and provide them to the prison “store.” A man who operates out of the prison garden apparently can get you anything you want, including cigarettes once KAIST gets them to him. KAIST has what he believes is a fool-proof plan. It’s sports week and the three religious groups associated with the prison - the Buddhists, the Catholics, and the Protestants - will be administering sporting contests and providing small prizes to the winners. Using code words, he convinces his wife (it’s not relevant to the story, but apparently she is his sixth wife) to donate five boxes of instant ramen to the Buddhists to give to the winner of the contest. Only she’s replaced all of the ramen in one of the boxes with those filterless cigarettes. KAIST assumes that because Je-hyuk is a professional athlete that he will be able to easily outclass the other inmates at whatever contest occurs.

The Buddhists are up first and the contest they choose is hacky-sack. Je-hyuk is doing very well before he inexplicably catches the sack after hitting it too high. Next are the Catholics; they have the prisoners play foot volleyball. KAIST, Dr. Ko and Je-hyuk form a team. Unfortunately, Je-hyuk keeps catching the ball with his hands and they’re shut out and eliminated in their first match. The Protestants decide that, since the first two groups did physical activities, they’ll do a quiz contest themed after a Korean game show called The Golden Bell. Upon learning this a despondent KAIST turns to Je-hyuk and asks him what the capital of America is. Je-hyuk guesses, “New York Yankees.” KAIST begins cursing into a nearby trash can.

All hope is not lost however, KAIST learns of a rumor that one of the prisoners may have attended the pharmacy school at Seoul National University. Believing this person will be smart enough to win the competition he begins to seek him out. We don’t see the fruits of his labor, immediately though. Meanwhile, Dr. Ko has entered the competition, as usual. No one gets more excited about the prison competitions than he does. The contest ends up coming down to Ko and one other inmate. Sadly, Ko answers the final question incorrectly and the other inmate wins. KAIST goes ballistic with happiness which confuses Je-hyuk and Min-chul because Dr. Ko just lost. That’s when it’s revealed that the prisoner who won is none other than Looney, who apparently acquired the knowledge of how to become a drug addict from his pharmaceutical schooling. The weird thing is that Looney isn’t acting like the silly guy we’ve become used to. He’s acting, for lack of a better word, normal.

We get a flashback. KAIST learns that Looney is the SNU graduate he’s been looking for and buys a bunch of cold medicine from The Store. He provides some to Looney along with a promise that if Looney will compete in the quiz contest, win it, and give one box of the ramen to KAIST he’ll give him more meds. Apparently getting high has made Looney able to act the way most people do. Pretty sure that’s not how drugs work, but we’re far from done with Looney’s story here, so I guess we’ll see.

One of the consequences of Looney getting high again is that he agrees to see his lover during visitation for the first time. The last time this was brought up, Looney said he’d never do it because his lover turned him in. Apparently, getting high changed his mind about this. But when Lt. Paeng peeks in on the visitation Looney’s visitor is...a man. Is Looney gay or has everyone misunderstood the nature of their relationship? I guess we’ll have to wait to find out.

Jun-ho wants to get Je-hyuk to play baseball again

Finally, the third story this week has to do with Jun-ho (Je-hyuk’s best friend) and Ji-ho (Je—hyuk’s ex) trying to get Je-hyuk to agree to play baseball again. They individually go to see his surgeon to try to determine how bad the damage is, but we aren’t shown the results of the conversation. We jump straight to Ji-ho telling Jun-ho that Je-hyuk definitely wants to play again. Later they have a phone conversation on the same topic and Ji-ho suggests that Jun-ho just fake Je-hyuk having a dream and tell him their coach (who died in the car wreck that broke Je-hyuk’s arm after high school) would have his heart broken if Je-hyuk gave up on baseball.

Later, Jun-ho gets all of Je-hyuk’s cellmates out to discuss a plan to convince him to come back to baseball. They all agree on the dream plan even though Jun-ho thinks it’s a dumb idea. Ji-ho and the inmates all agree - though they never speak to each other - that Je-hyuk is dumb enough to believe it. The prisoners secure some dry ice and a piece of paper rolled into a cone to deepen Dr. Ko’s voice and enact the dream. Je-hyuk wakes up the next morning, goes straight to the Warden, and asks to use that modified greenhouse after all. Jun-ho arrives at work to find Je-hyuk already out there throwing some truly awful pitches. But hey, he’s back at it.

We also get a flashback to reveal that the surgeon confirmed to Ji-ho that it was obvious Je-hyuk wanted to pitch again, he was just being dishonest to himself about it. Je-hyuk was still refusing the surgery but - as the surgeon had mentioned back in episode four - the surgery would only be risky if Je-hyuk wanted to pitch again. If he had no intention of pitching then surgery was the best way to ensure his recovery to a normal life. Ji-ho had passed that information on to Jun-ho and this is why they were so determined to get Je-hyuk to change his mind - they weren’t actually changing his mind, just getting him to admit what they all already knew.

Having now convinced Je-hyuk to pitch, Ji-ho attempts to visit him again. This time he agrees to see her. But once she enters the visitation room he tells her he doesn’t want to see her anymore and leaves. Is Je-hyuk lying about his feelings again or did he realize she interfered with his life? What is going on? I guess that’s why they call it a cliffhanger.

Assorted Cute Scenes

This episode had lots of cuteness in it beyond the primary stories being told. This is one of my favorite features of the slice-of-life genre so let me briefly describe a few to you before we conclude.

  • There is a funny moment where Jun-ho wakes up Jun-dol, pranking him into thinking it’s time to go to work. Then Jun-dol complains that Jun-ho isn’t helping Je-hyuk enough and while ranting Jun-ho calmly takes off his coat, grabs a pillow, takes a batter’s stance, and Jun-dol realizes his mistake right before Jun-ho thwacks him with the pillow. All set to some baseball-themed music and crowd noise.
  • Jun-ho and Je-hee (Je-hyuk’s younger sister) have some cute moments. A flashback reveals that Je-hee had a crush on him in high school but that he forgot the gift she gave him after his championship victory, breaking her heart. The flashback has an adorable moment where teenage Je-hyuk thinks the flowers she brought must be for him so he holds his hand out for them and she plucks a petal off of one and places it in his hand then glares at him, daring him to say anything about it. The sub-arc finishes up this episode with Jun-ho replacing a light bulb in Je-hee and her mother’s bathroom for them, and Je-hee saying he’s her dream guy before realizing he’s sitting right there. He laughs and says she’s his dream girl. She gets flustered, insists it was a joke and takes off. I don’t think it was entirely a joke, though.
  • Min-chul somehow found out about what Je-hyuk did for him last episode, and since that kept alive the hope that Min-chul might get parole someday he trades his prized radio for a dumbbell and resistance band that Je-hyuk will be able to use to speed his recovery along. It’s very sweet

There sure was a lot of stuff that happened in this episode. Despite the really dark opening, there was plenty of humor and wholesomeness to be had. I can’t believe I’m watching a prison drama that makes me feel better about the world, but here we are. I can’t wait to see what happens next week!