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Prison Playbook (2017) - Ep. 4 - Does it hold up?

What will they do about Je-hyuk’s shoulder?

Dr. Ko looks intensely as he sings

Hello! In this week's edition of "Does it hold up?" we're watching episode 4 of Prison Playbook. Last week's episode ended on a cliff-hanger as Je-hyuk (our pitching protagonist), and Joon-ho (his best friend and one of the corrections officers at his prison) discovered that the stabbing wound Je-hyuk had suffered at the end of the prior episode had caused more damage to his arm than anyone had realized and he had lost all feeling and control over his left hand. For a left-handed pitcher, it was a pretty big deal.

So, of course, this episode starts by...following Joon-ho through a pretty uneventful day off. First, he sleeps in, ignoring the calls from his coworker to go on a hike with the warden. Then he goes and gets some spicy short ribs. After that, he has a cappuccino at a nice little cafe. Finally, he takes a bunch of flowers to visit Je-hee (Je-hyuk's little sister.) This is when something "interesting" finally happens; she comes out of the house sobbing and he hugs her for comfort. Then the opening sequence plays.

That was all a bit of a non-sequitur, it's true, but it plays into a flashback we'll come to later in the episode. This episode changes things up from prior episodes and doesn't have many of those kinds of reveals so we'll try to work with it.

After that, this episode is really about two things, primarily. Je-hyuk's attempts to be seen by a specialist who can determine how bad the damage to his shoulder and arm are and Dr. Ko's life. These stories intersect at a couple of points, but let's start with Dr. Ko, shall we?

Dr. Ko is just doing his best

We were introduced to Dr. Ko as a man who is a stickler for the rules. He is often at odds with the corrections officers - especially Lt. Paeng - because they don't follow the rules around how they're supposed to treat the prisoners. We know he's a stickler for the rules, but we also know he's in prison. What gives?

We see Ko at his former job as a manager at some business that goes undescribed. He's out drinking with the higher-ups because they want to celebrate that he found a number that was off that no one else could find and saved everyone a lot of trouble. In South Korea drinking with your boss is a very big deal and Ko wants to get it right, so he drinks far past his tolerance and has to go to the restroom to force himself to vomit so he can keep going. Even as they praise him, his coworkers and superiors also make snide remarks about how he didn't go to a school as prestigious as the ones (or one?) they went to.

Still, at the end of the night, one of them tells him he did a great job and begs him to come in late tomorrow. Ko seems to be happy with how things are going but when he arrives at home he discovers one of his superiors has accidentally sent a text to him mocking him for being so happy about the praise he received. He goes inside and borrows his wife's phone to text them all and pretend he lost his phone. It's unclear to me if he was hoping to avoid them feeling guilty, avoid feeling like they owed him an apology he wouldn't get, or some combination of both.

We also see Dr. Ko writing a letter using international stamps at one point to So-ra. KAIST taunts him asking him if it's his girlfriend from another country, but using vulgar language. This causes Looney to speak up for the first time and tell KAIST to stop being so rude.* As the episode goes on more and more is revealed piecemeal. Dr. Ko has a visitation from his wife where he confirms that the company is still sending his paycheck and bonus, which seems odd. But then later we hear a rumor from a guard that Ko may have simply taken the fall for someone else's theft. Held up as evidence is that Ko was not nearly high enough in the chain of command to have embezzled as much money as he is alleged to have stolen.

*As a side note, this endears Looney to me quite a bit. He seemed content to do his own thing until KAIST was being unnecessarily rude to someone else who had done him no wrong. Of course, every other time we see Looney and KAIST in this episode the former is ticking off the latter and the latter is beating the former up. So maybe it had more to do with having a reason to mess with KAIST than it did speaking up for Dr. Ko. Or maybe it just set them at odds and Looney keeps messing with KAIST because he's decided to dislike him over that first interaction.

During the visit with his wife, Ko learns that his daughter will be having surgery. Since the inmates had just learned about a singing competition with a rumored prize of a temporary furlough Ko decides to work his butt off to win the competition so that he can see his daughter and support her around the surgery. Later we see his wife delivering a letter from him to her. It turns out that Ko's daughter is the So-ra he's been writing the letters to and he's been putting international stamps on them so he can keep up the fiction that he's working in Los Angeles, not in prison.

Ko sings Frank Sinatra's My Way at the competition and though he's awful, the warden convinces the other judges to choose him as the winner for reasons we'll get into more when we discuss Je-hyuk in a moment. After all of this, it's incredibly heartbreaking to discover that Ko's prize for winning the competition is not a furlough at all. It is a box that allegedly contains one of every kind of pastry from every bakery in Seoul. Many prisoners probably would have enjoyed that prize, non-prison food is a massive luxury after all, but Ko wanted to be able to be a father to his daughter. The uncaring warden and the hateful executives at his former job have prevented this. Poor guy.

Je-hyuk is definitely smart. Or dumb. Or maybe just crazy!

The episode starts (after Joon-ho's day) with the warden trying to get some time on TV. It seems he's dying for his 15 minutes of fame and comes up with the singing contest as a way to try and draw a journalist in to interview him. His right-hand man, Captain Na, comes up with a scheme to promise the journalist an interview with Je-hyuk if they'll also interview the warden. The journalist jumps at that chance, but the warden wants to know how they're going to convince Je-hyuk to give such an interview. Captain Na suggests they blackmail him by refusing to let him see that outside specialist he needs unless he agrees to do the interview. His assumption is that, as an athlete, Je-hyuk will do anything to ensure he can get the medical care he needs to return his body to top shape. Unfortunately for him, he's wrong. Je-hyuk refuses to do the interview.

As Je-hyuk stands firm in his refusal even in the face of the blackmail, Captain Na decides to turn up the heat. The prison doctor had declared that Je-hyuk was unfit to work in the woodshop and needed to run errands for at least a month instead. Na countermands that order and insists Je-hyuk go back to the woodshop. Once there, the Chief immediately starts making things miserable for Je-hyuk. Ko, still remembering how Je-hyuk helped him out when the Chief attempted to frame him for the theft of a wrench, takes on all of Je-hyuk's work so that Je-hyuk doesn't have to risk injury while working with a paralyzed hand. Still, when everyone breaks for lunch, the Chief and his cronies decide to confront Je-hyuk again.

This is where the declaration from the header comes in. The Chief picks up a board with a nail through it and begins swinging it around threateningly at Je-hyuk but is careful not to hit him. Until Je-hyuk starts taunting him and telling him to actually hit him. The Chief finally snaps and swings the board at Je-hyuk's head, nail first. This allows Je-hyuk to get to the hospital without the warden having any control over it. Once he's there he's treated not only for the head wound but gets the scans he needs to determine the extent of the damage to his shoulder.

The head wound, fortunately, isn't bad. But the shoulder, it turns out, is pretty awful. The doctor says they can't do surgery because Je-hyuk has had shoulder surgery before. It will take approximately three years of rehab to get him back into pitching shape. After a night at the hospital, during which Joon-ho brings him a cappuccino, some spicy food, and some ice cream - all things he can't get in prison and which bring a tear to his eye in gratitude - he has to return to the prison. As they try to sleep, Joon-ho begins asking Je-hyuk about Ji-ho - his ex-girlfriend - and we are treated to some flashbacks of their relationship before they dated. She appears to have dated a LOT of guys, most of them awful, during that period. And Je-hyuk was always there to comfort her after the inevitable breakup. Among the things they did together was eating spicy short ribs and getting a cappuccino.

Je-hyuk returns the same day shortly after Ko won the singing competition. Na and the Warden thought Ko might be more willing to do that interview they had originally wanted Je-hyuk to do if he won the singing competition. They didn't count on the rumor that the winner would get a furlough or that Ko would be completely crushed by the realization that he would not be able to be there for his daughter after all. They end up threatening his ability to get out on parole to convince him to do the interview. But Je-hyuk arrives just as Ko is headed to do it. Je-hyuk, being the nice guy he is, decides to take the bullet for Ko again and tells them to let Ko go back to their cell, he will do the interview. Before he goes, he hands his "will" to Joon-ho and asks him to take care of it.

At the interview, Je-hyuk announces that he is retiring from baseball because his shoulder is too injured to continue. Most of the rest of the episode shows everyone's reactions to his announcement. Honestly, everyone seems more upset about it than Je-hyuk does. But I suppose we learned in episode two that he feels a lot more emotions than he expresses.

We also see Joon-ho arrive at Je-hee's home, again. This time the scene continues and he hands her the flowers and explains that Je-hyuk knew she'd blame herself but he wanted her to know it wasn't her fault and he didn't blame her and he hoped she wouldn't cry about it. As Joon-ho rides a taxi after the meeting he opens the sheet of paper he had received from Je-hyuk, on it is a list of all of the things we saw Joon-ho do with his day; sleeping in, eating ribs, drinking a cappuccino, and telling Je-hee it wasn't her fault. He may not always look it, but Je-hyuk obviously cares a lot about his little sister and has Ji-ho heavy on his mind to have his best friend go re-create some of his memories of his time with her.

One other character gets some unexpected depth, too

We've now been exposed to two episodes of the corrections officer in charge of the wing Je-hyuk and his cell-mates are in. Lt. Paeng has not seemed like a nice guy. He's always calling the prisoners bastards and generally acting short toward them. However, at the end of this episode, he catches Je-hyuk's entire cell drinking prison booze and eating bread after lights out but says and does nothing about it. He finds a prisoner who had attacked him earlier shivering on the floor and then brings him an extra blanket. Finally, we get a flashback to when he first discovered that Captain Na was going to force the injured Je-hyuk back into the woodshop. Paeng first tried to argue against it but when that failed he immediately went to Je-hyuk's cell and tried to sneak him out of the prison to get the medical care he needed. Even knowing it could cost him his job, or worse. Je-hyuk ended up refusing the help and clearly found another way to get the help he needed.

Through all of this, it's clear that Lt. Paeng is actually a decent human being who calls prisoners names in order to prevent prisoners from taking advantage of him, the other officers from knowing how he actually feels, or perhaps to try and protect himself from caring too much. One of the best parts about this show is how through just showing us the events that occur in the prison we gradually learn more and more about these people and their deeper motivations without it always feeling like we're being beaten over the head with backstory or exposition. For many of them, there is more than meets the eye, but you can't discover it just by asking them. You can only find out by spending time with them and observing their actions and listening to what they say.

The show continues to have a lot of heart. Sometimes it breaks your heart, sometimes it warms your heart, and sometimes it provides a hearty laugh. I'm really enjoying it and I hope you all are, too!