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Suszynski: Fight the jellies

I started watching Korean dramas in high school. I can’t remember how it happened, only that I watched one, and then I watched another and another. Recently, I binged a new one called “The School Nurse Files.”

This is not your run-of-the-mill K drama. The main character is a nurse at a creepy high school that was evidently built on a pond that feeds off the laughter of children. Side note, K dramas are excellent at portraying often ghost-infested high schools with romantic plotlines. The nurse has to protect the school from “jellies” which are amoebic forms, sometimes bugs, sometimes gooey monsters, from attacking the students.

There are a lot of narrative holes in this drama, like the relationship between dueling institutions that want to control the pond, since once you control it, you receive immense power. Despite these holes, I kept watching. I am always a fan of narratives in which the main character is dealing with something that others cannot see. The reason why I was drawn to this drama, besides the fun animation of glop-braiding between people, hoards of cute mites that roam the school grounds, and the nurse’s plastic, glow-up sword and see-through pellet gun, is because I think the relationships are handled well.

The nurse has a special connection with Hong In-pyo, who is a teacher and also the grandson of the founder of the school. In-pyo has a special jelly force field that surrounds him, and the nurse figures out that if she holds his hand, she recharges her abilities. In many shows, the narrative spends way too much time getting everybody else to understand the person that is different. Also, in way too many K dramas, it takes centuries for the couple to holds hands. But in this show, In-pyo and a few students believe the nurse right away. I find this comforting.

The School Nurse Files reminds me of a book by Jeff Vandermeer titled “Borne.” It similarly mixes genres: fantasy, science fiction and literary fiction. It takes places in a post-apocalyptic world. The villain is a huge flying bear named Mord and the narrator, Rachel, tries to survive the chemical-infested landscape and biotech when she finds an amoebic form. She calls it Borne.

I love how Rachel describes Borne on the first page: “Borne was not much to look at that first time: dark purple and about the size of my fist, clinging to Mord’s fur like a half-closed stranded sea anemone. I found him only because, beacon-like, he strobed emerald green across the purple every half minute or so.”

This book, too, builds relationships upon amoebas. Rachel teaches Borne language. And he grows. At first, he seems like a plant but then he morphs and learns. Rachel and Borne become friends: “Because he didn’t see the world like I saw the world. He didn’t see the traps. Because he made me rethink even simple words like disgusting and beautiful.”

Rachel and the nurse are similar. They are both lonely characters and live in systems that are almost unconquerable. Both characters sometimes give in to the depression of feeling so small in the face of the problems they are meant to solve.

In one scene of “The School Nurse Files,” the nurse meets a special creature in the shape of a quiet high school girl. This girl’s job is to eat all the mites that crawl around the school in order to protect the students. The nurse sees something of herself in the little girl. She wants her to live a life free of protecting other people. The nurse spends an entire day walking around the school, picking mites from every corner and filling jars with them so that the mite-eater can finish them off and move on to be a normal student. But the mite-eater is at first so confused, what does it mean to have no purpose?

Perhaps at the center of both of these narratives is purpose: feeling as though we are trapped in fulfilling purpose or incapable of meeting it. There are beautiful scenes in which Rachel and Borne navigate the intricacies of language: “Does everything have a purpose, Rachel?” Borne asks. To which she responds: “…every person has a purpose, or finds a purpose.” Borne becomes excited because Rachel tells him he is a person, and not a machine. “Am I person in my right mind?” Borne inquires. You can feel that Borne is wading into trickier territory, grasping concepts that have more to do with good and evil.

He asks: “How do you get a wrong mind? Is it borned into you?”

In a world of jellies and flying evil bears, it is difficult not to skew purpose. I can see the mites tunneling their way to the center and the last thing I want to do is pick one up and bite down. At one point, the nurse’s friend tells her that if this is her reality, she needs to pick up the lightsaber. This is the best advice I can give myself at the moment, to grasp the system I was “borned” into with a little flare. Bend to your purpose but keep a retractable plastic sword in your pocket.


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