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'aka Dan' episode 3 recap: It's OK to cry, dude

My first aha moment as a Korean adoptee came to me in my early 20s after I read Katie Robinson’s A Single Square Picture. The second happened while in my early 20s as well, after viewing the film First Person Plural by Deann Borshay Liem. The third arrived much later, in my mid-thirties when I attended Katie Hae Leo and Sun Mee Chomet’s joint-venture theater production The Origin(s) Project.

It’s an understatement to say that these aha moments were significant. The works of Robinson and Liem spoke to me directly. I had never felt that extremely personal affinity toward a book or a film; it was shocking and revelatory to realize that others asked similar questions, and struggled and grappled with the circumstances of their lives as adoptees. And The Origin(s) Project ripped me up in the best possible way. I wrote after the show:

Katie and Sun Mee’s play is a gift. It opens up your chest, gently grabs your heart, carefully brings it out into the world, and peels away the heart’s hard exterior that protects you from the rest of the universe. It invites you to openly examine in a public space complex thoughts and emotions that are difficult to explain to others, as well as to yourself. It allows you to feel OK for having these thoughts and emotions, which you keep locked away out of fear that even the people closest to you will misunderstand. And for that I’m grateful.

Time will tell if Dan Matthews’ aka Dan becomes a touch point for adoptees. It certainly has the capacity to resonate with viewers on an emotional level. Dan, in the film and in person, is a likable protagonist. As a viewer, you want to root for him, and hope for the best as episode 3 opens with him riding a taxi to his adoption agency to meet his Korean family. Entering the doors of the building, it’s obvious he has some stuff churning within him.

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At the request of his biological family, you don’t get to see Dan’s first reunion with his mother and twin brother. Instead, Dan and his friend Jason Hwang, who joined the meeting as support, talk about it for the camera. Although animated, Dan surprisingly shows little in terms of the cathartic emotions you would expect from a person whose world just got, to use text from the film’s intro, “flipped upside down.” It’s possible that during the filming, Dan was still in shock and processing. At one point, Dan mentions feeling emotionally distant and uncomfortable interacting with his mother: “I don’t know how to convey the same love.” His statement is absolutely understandable. But still, as an adoptee who has reunited with his Korean family, I wondered: “Where are the tears, man? You just met the woman who gave birth to you. You just met your twin brother. You just traveled to the other side of the world and saw the roots of your life you didn’t even know you had.”

Jason, though, is different. Around minute 2:20, he’s visibly moved as he describes watching Dan reunite with his biological mother.

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Raw emotions don’t appear in the rest of the episode, even though there are ample opportunities. When the setting shifts back to the IKAA Gathering, Dan once again casually talks to other adoptees about interacting with his Korean family. In fact, he cracks a joke.

DJ Niko appears once again, this time performing and dropping pointed lyrics: “Stop asking idiotic questions and stop disrespecting my parents if I miss my ‘biological’ [family].” Some clapping and some hollering follow, but those are the only responses you get—which is peculiar because Niko’s statement is a loaded one.

During the second half of episode 3, Dan visits the TV station Arirang to be interviewed, which is kind of a big deal. He meets up with his twin brother to get genetic testing, which again is a big deal. That day, he checks out his twin brother’s apartment, which has the potential to be a big deal as well. All of it is treated with nonchalance. Yes, there is some humor, but the engaging moments are far and few between. Dan’s tired face on the train after he leaves his brother’s place perhaps says it all.

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Although I really want to, it’s hard to get into episode 3 of aka Dan because I can’t see my experience mirrored. I can’t identify. As previously mentioned, Dan’s story is an anomaly. Unlike him, numerous Korean adoptees run into bureaucratic walls, fill out form after form, end up having to follow up with adoption agencies that don’t readily communicate with them, invest a ton emotionally, and ultimately end their search when it becomes too difficult and expensive to handle.

Beyond that, many who are successful find that life post-reunion poses challenges: How does a person develop relationships with family members who are virtually strangers, without a shared language and history? To say this differently: Without the emotive pull in that should be here, there isn’t much with which the general audience can relate, let alone the Korean adoptee audience. In the end, episode 3, despite its original buildup, feels like you’re watching someone’s fancy, well-produced 16-minute video diary.

Is my critique off the mark? Watch episode 3 below and let me know your thoughts.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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