How ‘Today’s Webtoon’ invalidated trauma (and infuriated an audience) in one episode

TW: child abuse

Contains spoilers for Ep. 14 of Today’s Webtoon.

Like many viewers, episode 14 of Today’s Webtoon deeply upset me. I can’t possibly be the only one who feels this way, I thought while checking online to see what the world had to say. Sure enough, dozens of comments had already flooded in across various platforms — nearly all echoing my own strong negative reaction to the episode. Viewers were unhappy; more accurately, however, they were angry.

So, what in the world went wrong? How did a popular and beloved drama mess up so badly? And was it even really that bad?

The answer to that last question is: yes. And I’ll attempt to explore the answers to the other questions in this post.

Let’s back up a bit first. If you’re unsure what this is all about, I’ll give a brief summary: the character of Dae Ryuk (Kim Do Hoon) suffered from child abuse as a boy, the perpetrator being his mother. I won’t go into details, but I will say that he suffers from what appears to be (in my completely unqualified opinion) symptoms of PTSD. What has proven controversial is when his mom comes back into his life and we find out that he doesn’t remember his childhood as it really happened. The drama pushes the notion that his mom was actually loving and caring — and that he essentially misunderstood the abuse he suffered.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Perhaps the drama writers were hoping to explore the idea that “not everything is as it seems,” “each story has more than one side,” etc. The problem is, that idea wasn’t explored. Dae Ryuk’s obvious trauma was presented one way — woven over the course of numerous episodes — and then brutally torn apart in a matter of minutes by suddenly being portrayed as false. It’s jarring and upsetting because we’ve seen his suffering as an adult; we know what he feels is real. But now we find out that his memories weren’t accurate, which makes his suffering now feel like it is less warranted. (This is false, of course, but it’s how it comes across in the drama.) Regardless of intention, undermining someone’s traumatic experiences does not seem like the appropriate avenue to showcase a life lesson.

One of the worst things the drama does is paint Dae Ryuk’s mom — the perpetrator of the abuse — as a victim herself. I already mentioned that her actions in the past were “misunderstood” by Dae Ryuk; on top of that, she re-enters his life with Alzheimer’s in order to reconcile with him before it’s too late. Sadly, the disease appears to be used as a convenient plot device so that Dae Ryuk feels the time pressure and viewers get to see him forgive his mom. It’s manipulative and wrong.

To summarize, here are what I consider the biggest offenders in the drama — specifically in regards to Dae Ryuk’s storyline:

  1. It invalidates Dae Ryuk’s trauma by portraying his mother (the perpetrator) as misunderstood — as the victim.
  2. It introduces Mom at the last minute and gives Dae Ryuk a time limit with her, making his forgiving her feel forced and manipulated.

To add insult to injury, the actor who portrays Dae Ryuk is exceptional. His performance was intense and compelling, and I hope he has a lot of success in the industry in the future. I can’t help but feel that these writing choices aren’t fair to the beautiful job he did with the role.

So, how could all this have been done better? First of all, Dae Ryuk’s traumatic childhood should continue to be treated as the terror it was. None of this “misunderstanding” nonsense. Secondly, I think introducing Mom way earlier in the drama would have been wise — Alzheimer’s or not. Drama could have gone either way with her motivation: loving or sinister. She could have found him because of his newfound fame and genuinely sought forgiveness while acknowledging her faults and apologizing sincerely. This would have given them time to interact and build a relationship. Any forgiveness would have seemed genuine. Or they could have gone the other way and had her remain a scumbag and try to manipulate herself back into his life in order to get money from him.

I think either of these options would have been better, but then again, I don’t know everything. And I definitely don’t know about the drama-making process. Maybe the writers, or whoever made these specific decisions, didn’t have a choice. Maybe they thought this would be the best way to end things. Who knows?

I’m not hating on the drama; in fact, I really like the cast and enjoyed the story. But how this episode handled Dae Ryuk’s storyline bothered me a lot and I felt the need to talk about what exactly went wrong — perhaps more for myself than for anyone else.


If you’d like to check out more of my work, look a little lower on the page to see a couple of my latest posts. And/or follow my blog to stay updated.

Currently watching: If You Wish Upon Me

All-time favorite drama: Sakura no Oyakodon: Season 3

Anticipated upcoming dramas: Seasons of Blossom, The Golden Spoon

As always, happy drama-watching, friends.

6 thoughts on “How ‘Today’s Webtoon’ invalidated trauma (and infuriated an audience) in one episode

Add yours

  1. A very well thought out review. I haven’t watched this series but I would be upset if at the end of a series they competely changed the whole manifistation of a character and his arc.

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  2. I loved the Japanese version of this and it was my happy pill back when it was airing. I had no interest in watching Today’s Webtoon as I had the feeling it wouldn’t measure up. Korean adaptations of Japanese content hardly ever do. As far as I can remember, the jdrama didn’t have an abuse storyline and I don’t have the time to skim through the episodes to check. 🙂

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    1. I enjoyed the Japanese version as well! It did have the abuse storyline (with Nagayama Kento’s character), but it was not explored very much if I remember correctly. I actually think the Kdrama did a great job looking into it more—but of course, wasn’t a fan of how they wrapped it up.
      Thanks for commenting!

      Like

  3. Really appreciate your thoughts and validation of the suffering caused by child abuse. This drama certainly could have ended in a better way.

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