Nov 9, 2022

"Missing: The Other Side": The Gay Leader of the Village of the Dead


Missing: The Other Side
, a Korean drama on Netflix: "a con artist encounters a village where the spirits of missing persons are trapped until the mystery of their disappearance is solved."  Sounds like you could just as easily say "murder victims," but I'm interested in mysterious disappearances, and the promo shows a femme blond guy -- the con artist or his friend?  -- so I'll check for gay subtexts.  No episode descriptions, so we'll start at the beginning.

Scene 1: Billboard: "It's been 10 day since my daughter Kim Soo-hee went missing."  We see her leaving school, walking slowly down an alley, and getting grabbed by a shadow, then her body being disposed of.  Next the shadow grabs a man sleeping in a car, and Kim Me-Ok, age 33, breaks into a freezer, retrieves a frozen book, and burns the pages.  

Scene 2: Con Artist (Ko Soo, left) convinces Rich Guy to hand over 100 billion won ($730,000) for a scam investment.  He shoves it into his briefcase and tries to leave, but first Rich Guy calls to see if he's legit.  Yes, the woman on the phone says, he's our team leader.

Out in the hallway, Con Artist is relieved.  They got away with the scam!  

Scene 3:   The three con artists meet.  A woman tells them about their next target, Mr. Park, a "scumbag who swindles local businesses," like a shop owner out of her life savings.

Rich Guy and his cronies call again, get the real Kim Seok-hun, and realize that they've been conned.  They run out of the room yelling in anger. Wait -- was the earlier scene a flashback?  Is this guy Mr. Park?  Way to confuse the audience!

Scene 4:  Sangwon Market.  Con Artist delivers the money that Rich Guy swindled from the shop owner, minus his commission.  She gives him some produce to share with his team.

Meanwhile, the police are retrieving the body of a girl from a deep freeze.  She's Kim Soo-hee from Scene 1, missing for a year. The scruffy detective Baek Il-du notices rope burns on her neck, and concludes that she was strangled.  More background: single, age 33, worked in publishing.  Wait -- the girl in Scene 1 was dressed in a school uniform, and said goodbye to 3,000 similarly dressed girls.  She must have been a different victim from Kim Soo-hee.  Wait to increase audience confusion!  

We are introduced to a new character, Gruff Cop Shin Jun-ho (Ha-Joon), who is upset due to an argument with his fiancee.  He goes to a tux shop fora  fitting for the wedding, and discovers that she cancelled it!  

Scene 5: Con Artist sees a girl being kidnapped, and intervenes.  The gang chases him.  Just then, Rich Guy's gang tracks him down.  He runs away, being chased by two gangs, through Saengwo Market, where he is hit by Gruff Cop's car!  

Scene 6: At the hospital, Gruff Cop looks on in horror as Con Artist goes into cardiac arrest (doctors are working on him right in the lobby).  But he doesn't die.  He awakens.  Gruff Cop says "You should be fine now."  There was a pool of blood under his head.  Why isn't his head bandaged?  Is this the afterlife?

Scene 7:  Scruffy Detective working on the case of the dead girl, when a distraught mother rushes in with another missing person case: her son, Ha-neul.  He begins a search, sending his team to pass out fliers and dredge nearby lakes.

Meanwhile, the Blond-Haired Guy from the promo (Song Geon-Hee) is putting a "help-wanted" sign up on his castle when a guy appears-- with Ha-neul!  Kidnappers?

Scene 7:  Con Artist is released from the hospital, still with Gruff Cop: "Since you're paying for everything, I asked them for a colonoscopy, but they refused to do it."  

Scene 8:  At the crime scene, Gruff Cop finds a delivery slip lying on the ground for everyone to see, with a name: Kang Myeung-jin.   Meanwhile, Con Artist is on his way back to the hideout, when he is grabbed by Rich Guy's gang, tied up, and taken to the woods. While they are digging a hole to bury him in, he escapes. Is he going to die soon?  I'm getting tired of waiting.   Running blindly through the woods, he falls off a cliff -- but lands on a tree branch.  A gardener finds him.  Surely he's dead now.

Scene 9: Gears turning and candles lighting themselves.  A woman comes through a mirror.  In another room, Con Artist awakens, half-naked, screaming.  The Gardener gives him some clothes and sets out dinner.  This must be the afterlife village.

Meanwhile, Con Artist's friends go to the spot where his cell phone last tracked him. They find his charm bracelet. 

Scene 10:  Looking for his wallet and cell phone, Con Artist returns to the spot where Gardener found him.  Uh-oh, the bad guys from last night arrive, looking for a body to show their boss.  He hides behind some rocks.  Suddenly a very large, mentally-disabled guy appears and offers him a flower.  Con Artist tries to shush him, but he is too excited to see another person.  Strangely, the bad guys don't notice.

Moving on, Con Artist passes a "Do Not Enter" sign and goes through a hazy time-space portal, I guess, to The Village: Observation tower, weird plants, people in costumes from different time periods. 

Scene 11: While Ha-neul, the Kidnapped Boy from Scene 7, eats a sandwich, the Blond Guy talks to a woman: "There's a bounty on him."  "How long will you keep him here?" "Not long."  She offers to keep the boy at her place.

Meanwhile, Con Artist goes into the Cafe Hawaii (sign in English).  Everybody stares.  Blond Guy stands behind the bar.  Con Artist wants to borrow his landline.  "It doesn't work.  Cell phones don't work here, either.  And there are no police around."

He orders a espresso, espresso machines, so iced tea it is.  "I haven't seen you around before," Blond Guy says.  "Where did you come from?"   Con Artist thinks he is just being nosy.  

Wait -- a woman walks by outside, using a cell phone!   Con Artist runs outside to ask to borrow it, but she is gone.  Wait -- she's standing right there!  Gardener sees her, and realizes that something is wrong -- Con Artist doesn't belong in the Village.  Because he's not dead?

Scene 12: Con Artist returns to the Gardener's house, changes back into the clothes he came in, and prepares to leave.  "There's a bus stop about a 30 minute walk that way."

Darn, he arrives at the bus stop just as it is pulling away.  The next one isn't until tomorrow.  Is this the afterlife or not?   He trudges back to the Cafe Hawaii to insult Blond Guy's town and then ask for a place to spend the night (not a smart strategy).  Blond Guy shows him to a room, which he complains about.  

He tries to sleep, but is awakened by the crying Kidnapped Boy.  He says that he's been waiting for his mother for two nights, but she never shows up.  Con Artist tries to comfort him by saying that he lost his own mother (not the best strategy, dude).  Suddenly he remembers seeing Kidnapped Boy on a missing person poster. 

Blond Guy intervenes. "I'll take the child to bed.  Go back to your room."

Scene 13
: Blond Guy -- Thomas --and Gardener talking: "I should have left him to die.  He'll only be trouble."  Meanwhile, Con Artist concludes that he's stumbled onto a kidnapping gang. 

Pictured: Hu Nam-ju, who appears in Episodes 3-5.

While Love Interest looks on from afar,  Sleazy Guy complains that there's nothing to do, and can he help the Gardener kick out the new guy?  Gardner seethes in rage and gives us a new plotline: "My blood boils whenever I think of how you tricked me into accusing an innocent person."  "She wasn't innocent!  She stabbed me in the back!" Literally? "She was your wife!'

Scene 14: In the morning, Con Artist leaves.  On the way, he passes a house with some kids playing in the yard: Kidnapped Boy, the Mentally Disabled Big Boy, and a third.  A woman brings out snacks.  Why is she being so nice to kidnapping victims?

Suddenly a Crazy Lady is standing next to him.  "Be quiet.  If she sees you, she'll kill you.  Another person died last night. Was it you?"

Scene 15: For some reason, he agrees to go back to the Crazy Lady's house, where she reveals that she recognizes him: "Your mother told me all about you."  So Mom actually did get lost, and ended up in the Village.  

Scary Lady from the yard enters and asks angrily "What are you doing here?" No fraternizing with dead people!   Con Artist leaves.

On the way, he runs into a lot more kids playing hide-and-seek, Kidnapped Boy among them.  He decides to take Kidnapped Boy with him.

Scene 16: Blond Guy and the rest of the staff interrogating the kids about the disappearance of Kidnapped Boy: "The new guy took him."  "You mean the handsome man with big eyes?" Blond Guy asks.  Definitely gay.

They run, and catch up to Con Artist pulling a suitcase on wheels.  Kidnapped Kid must be inside!  Nope -- it's a trick!  Ha-neul was actually hiding in the bushes.

As soon as they are gone, Con Artist hides Ha-neul in the suitcase for the rest of the trip to the bus station.  But when he opens it up again, Ha-neul has vanished!

Scene 17: Con Artist catches up to the bus, borrows the driver's cell phone, and calls the police.  Brusque Cop agrees to check it out.  Then he returns to the Village: there's Ha-neul, playing happily with the Mentally Disabled Guy, who explains: "He got lost, so I brought him back."  

Con Artist grabs him and runs, chased by the staff.  Crazy Lady beckons them into her house to hide, but when they enter, she's gone!  And the house is deserted!  Meanwhile, Gardener watches a tv story about Crazy Lady's body being discovered: she had dementia, and wandered off from the nursing home three months ago.  

Scene 18:
Continuing with Ha-neul, Con Artist stops to ask Gardener and Sleazy Guy about Crazy Lady's disappearance. (Wouldn't you think he was in on it, and run?).  Sleazy Guy explains: "Everyone in the village is dead. But..."  As he is speaking, he and his stuff begin to evaporate.  Apparently when your body is discovered, you move on to the afterlife.

Suddenly he realizes that Ha-neul is dead.  The end.

Beefcake: One shirtless scene, an occasional bulge.

Gay Characters: Thomas appears to be gay.  No one else has expressed any heterosexual interest, but an episode guide reveals that Con Artist will become interested in Gruff Cop's dead fiancee.

Gay Subtext: No doubt Con Artist and Gruff Cop will have to work together to find the bodies of the Village inhabitants so they can go on to the afterlife.  

My Grade: The flashbacks and multiple characters with the same storyline becomes confusing, but I liked the touches of humor throughout.  B. 

Update: In Episode 2, Con Artist's female partner is so happy to see him alive that she grabs and hugs and kisses him; he pointedly pushes her away.  Then he rejects her date request to go out with a male friend.  As the main character, I doubt that he will be canonically gay, but he's got a massive subtext going on.

Nov 8, 2022

Researching the Gay Teacher at Abbott Elementary

 I watched the first episode of Abbott Elementary, about the wacky exploits of teachers at a down-and-out elementary school, when it first premiered on Hulu last year.  I didn't like it -- the mockumentary format is a immediate turn-off, and there was some heterosexist "all boys like girls!" dialogue. But when the second season started dropping, I looked at the episode descriptions more closely.  One was: "the teachers meet Jacob's boyfriend."

Wait -- one of the teachers is gay?

So I watched the episode, "Desking" (actually in the first season).  

It's about the fad of "desking": jumping from one desk to another in a classroom.  The teachers try various ways to stop it, such as criticizing it in class and dragging all of the desks to the gym.  Finally they hit on having a teacher "desk"  to make it uncool.  The goofy history teacher Jacob (Chris Perfetti) is chosen; he calls his boyfriend, the plus-sized and fabulous Zach (Larry Owens) to bring his jogging shorts and shoes.  

The teachers ask how they met.  Zach was in line to buy a fabulous pair of shoes, while Jacob was protesting worker exploitation.  

Zach appears in only 2 episodes, this one (Season 1 episode 12), and the following (Season 1 Episode 13).  But the teachers are not surprised that Jacob is gay: he must have been outed earlier.  I'll have to go through the whole season on fast-forward, pausing at the scenes featuring Jacob.

Episode 1:
Focus character Gregory (Tyler James Williams) arrives to sub for a teacher who was fired for kicking a kid.  He explains (to the camera: this is a mockumetary) that he was hired to be principal, but then he revealed the deacon at his church having an affair, and the deacon pulled some strings with the school board and had him demoted to substitute teacher.  

 Jacob is happy to see another male teacher at the school; now he'll have someone to discuss sports with.  "Do you like women's tennis?"  It's sexist to believe that all men and no women like sports.  Is the reference to women's tennis supposed to tag Jacob as gay?

Episode 2: There's a heat wave, they try to change a light bulb, and Gregory dates one of the kids' parents.  Jacob appears only as part of the gang.   

Episode 3: They get a lot of donations from the community.  Jacob tries to repair a trashed office machine, except he doesn't know what it is.  Finally he gives up and turns it into a planter, but it's not watertight.

Episode 4:  Jacob tries to buddy-up to focus character Gregory by introducing him to everyone.  Gregory wants nothing to do with him, and scrams as soon as he can.   I can't understand why he hates Jacob so much.  Maybe he's homophobic?  

Fellow teacher Melissa is offended when Jacob refers to her as a "South Philly Type" (presumably violent, street-smart, lower-class?),  so he tries to back-pedal by enumerating all of the good things about the neighborhood.  Later he gets angry when she brings a union rep in to discuss his fights with the police, and she gets angry because "you want to romanticize the city."   He apologizes: "I was a jerk.  I wish my ex-husband could ever admit that."   So Jacob outs himself with an ex-husband in Episode 4. 

Episode 5:  Jacob thinks that the kids are bonding with him when they insult him.  Gregory says that he is actually being clowned.  So he insults them, and they respond with worse insults, like "a Huff-Po Reading Gay Pete Buttigieg." So he's out to his students?  Pennsylvania must not be one of the "don't say gay" states

Episode 6: Jacob teaches in the gifted kids' program, but the non-gifted kids feel left out.

Episode 7: Jacob and sardonic principal Barbara start a garden at the school. Only 7 episodes in, and the writers are already trying to think of plots involving every possible duo.  

Episode 8: One of the teachers, Janine, tries to match Jacob up with a guy, but he states that he has a boyfriend.  She is upset that he has never mentioned him before, and Jacob explains that they are just work friends; they don't discuss their private lives.  So she arranges a get-to-know-each other session for all of the teachers.  So he's out, but he keeps his boyfriend a secret, while the other teachers are discussing romantic entanglements in detail.  Sounds closeted.

Episode 9:  Jacob tries to buddy up with Gregory again, and gets rejected again.  But to be fair, Gregory doesn't seem to like anyone at Abbott Elementary.  Or anything else.  He doesn't even like pizza, which upsets his coworkers.  Here we get another origin story: Gregory always wanted to be a principal, and "majored in" principaling in college.  But Barbara blackmailed the deacon at church to give her the job, relegating Gregory to sub.  That's impossible: principals are promoted from the ranks of teachers, so he would major in elementary education, work as a teacher for several years, and then become a principal.  Did none of the writers interview anyone in the field?

Jacob appears only as part of the gang in Episodes 10 and 11, lead us to "Desking" and meeting The Boyfriend.  Rather a matter-of-fact outing, but at least no one is homophobic (except maybe Gregory).

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