After a seemingly standalone episode last week, Pachinko returns to the story of Sunja’s family in “Chapter Eight,” the final episode of the season. This time we get more of young Noa’s (Jae Jun Park) backstory in a very emotional episode filled with more insight into the history of this time period and a generation’s fight to escape the “sins” of their ancestors, all the while reminding us that family blood is the tie that binds.
“Chapter Eight” opens up in Osaka in 1938 with a seven-year-old Noa. He’s a precocious little boy with a strong spirit and a loving relationship with his father. As the family prepares for his younger brother’s (Mozasu, Solomon’s father) 1 year birthday, Isak has a touching conversation with his son — who seems slightly jealous of the attention his younger brother is getting, like most kids are when they aren’t the center of attention for their parents — about how his younger brother will count on him a lot and how the brothers must stick together. In these opening sequences, we get a glimpse of Korean tradition in which the son chooses his fate at 1-year old by what they instinctively pick up from a collection of items on a table. We know that Noa picks the red rope, which he was slightly disappointed in as he got older, and the scene cuts away before we see what the young Mozasu picks — but we can assume it’s the coin based on his future profession and status in life.
Then we fast forward to the future where Hana (Mari Yamamoto), her mother, and the rest of the family are preparing for her ensuing death from AIDS. There are some very touching scenes between Hana and her mother (Kaho Minami) and between Hana and Solomon (Jin Ha) where we see the importance of a mother’s love for her child and the close, unbreakable bond between Hana and Solomon — the yin and the yang. Solomon finally reveals to his father (Soji Arai) that he has lost his job, visa, and ultimately his ability to return to America — dashing the dreams and hopes he had for his son.
The two men have a very poignant conversation about how the “American Dream” really isn’t the fantasy that is often talked about as the lofty ideal dangled in front of the countless immigrants looking for a “better” life. When Solomon tells Mozasu that he is just going to stay in Japan and get into the Pachinko business like his father, with the help of a big-time local “businessman,” his father is adamantly against it because he says that pachinko is a shame for his son because he can be so much more and he forbids his son to go into business with that man because he comes from a family with questionable business practices — this same man’s grandfather approached Mozasu years earlier with an opportunity to make a quick buck, but luckily his wife and mother saved him from that fate.
But the “perfect son” Solomon finally bucks back and tells his father that his father’s dreams are not enough for him — is he finally stepping into his own? Mozasu is concerned for his son and speaks to Sunja about it, but she reassures him that he’s a good boy and they raised him back, to which Mozasu retorts with, “so what happened to Noa?” But Sunja promises that she won’t let the same thing happen to Solomon, leaving viewers curious about what happened to Noa (unfortunately, we won’t find out this season).
After that emotional scene where we see the father-son relationship start to crack, we flashback to 1938 as Sunja (Minha Kim) searches for her husband after being betrayed and arrested. Sunja is blindsided by the double life that Isak (Steve Sang-Hyun Noh) is living as a pastor and an underground political leader who is getting involved with the Communist movement. Unfortunately for Isak, his family, and the movement, there are spies everywhere as the world gears up for war (and the Koreans will inevitably be scapegoated). The consequences of his actions will have dire ramifications as they ricochet his family in a new direction.
We then return back to the present day for a very emotional encounter between Solomon and Hana on her deathbed. As Hana comes full circle with her past and the life she’s led, she asks Solomon to promise that he will take care of her mother as she reveals that she squandered her life and everything she had, and she doesn’t want the same thing to happen to Solomon. Through tears, he apologizes for leaving her behind when he was sent to America and for always playing by their rules as the perfect son. She tells him to stop feeling sorry for himself and grab it all — just the impetus he needs to defy his father and “get into bed with the devil,” sending his life off into a new trajectory.
But he has one more trick up his sleeve as he gives Hana her dream of “going to Hawaii” before she succumbs to her illness in a heartbreaking scene. After Hana’s death, as Solomon tries to process it all, Sunja gives him the pocket watch once given to her by Hansu (he stayed in the background of her and his son’s life), saying that she once thought that it was a curse but came to realize that it had saved her family time and time again and hopefully it would save him too.
“Chapter Eight” was another solid episode. Although this episode was filled with struggle and tragedy, it really draws you in. The acting was terrific — Park, who plays the young Noa, was a scene-stealer holding his own amongst the adults. Minha Kim has given a star-turning performance throughout this season, fully embodying the grit and determination of the young Sunja. In eight episodes, we’ve been transported back through time through impeccable set design, costume design, and attention to detail (and the title credits song is forever stuck in my head). And the history lesson weaved throughout the season really made this historical drama series one to watch.
I really appreciated how, after the episode ended, there was a mini-documentary from January 2021. Some of the women who had stories just like Sunja spoke — it was inspiring and heartwarming. It tied it all together — although this may be a fictional story, it was the amalgamation of the countless women and families who endured. After seven episodes, you really connect with Sunja and her family throughout the generations. It is a family saga that you can relate to, especially to those of immigrant backgrounds. It’s a familiar story. It is a story of survival, love, and hope. It’s a story of a family enduring, even though the direst of situations, and never losing hope that things will be much better for the generations after you. It’s no wonder that PACHINKO was just recently greenlit for a second season. We were left wanting more and can’t wait to see what lies ahead for the Baek family in the years to come.