Ramen, sweat, and tears: the final episode of Running Girls has arrived. Episode 4 begins where 3 left off, at the retro Christmas party. The girls turn on a playlist of each other’s most viral performance videos. First is Sunmi’s “24 Hours”, followed by YooA’s cover of it during Oh My Girl’s first live concert.
Ep 4 w/ subs can be seen here: https://bit.ly/2KsdoOO
Next is one of the greatest fancams of all time, Chuu doing “Heart Attack” at the first LOONA concert. I kid you not, the audible screams of “귀엽!!!!!!” coming from Chuu’s legion of lady-fans is alone worth the admission. None of the unnies can relent, and Hani herself admits she is slain.
After Chungha getting double tagged with “Gotta Go” and “Roller Coaster,” we get the actual #1 fancam of all time, Hani’s “Up & Down”. She’s told the story before but the viral cam literally saved EXID from flopping. Hani being able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat is the reason why she remains such a huge inspiration to idols like YooA and Chuu, who are only now seeing success after years of languishing.
The next morning Hani/Chuu/Chungha successfully wake up to see the sunrise. YooA and Sunmi do not.
Hani and Sunmi have a chat about how it feels to be close to 30. They talk about how, as young idols, they were fearful of the idea of growing old. But now that they are on the brink, Hani with her acting and Sunmi with her solo career feel like they are in better places than ever. Both agree they’re looking forward to the future. The younger members also share a moment, about hiatus and struggle, even though Chungha is just kind of “hiatus? I don’t know her”.
For the final run they’re going to do a long one along the Pohang shore. Chungha gets a scooter to use for when her ankle gets too tired. Chuu is excited for the longer run, Hani coaches her in breathing to prepare. After suiting up and getting warmed up, they’re ready to go.
But the final run isn’t without difficulties. Sunmi’s wonky knee acts up, slowing her pace considerably. Hani pushes the pace a bit but YooA gets winded around the halfway point. She has to take a break, and looks about spent, until Chungha reaches her. Chungha gets off her scooter and ushers YooA to run with her. Energized by her new friend’s spirit, YooA gets the wherewithal to continue on.
Chuu, keeping pace with Hani, pushes herself to her limit for the final few meters of the run. She flashes back to voicing her concerns of her limits as an idol, and uses this moment to break away from all the thoughts holding her back. In a burst of tears she reaches the finish line, supported and comforted by Hani.
Sunmi finishes next, her bum knee bothering her all the way. Finally YooA and Chungha reach the end as well. Time for a big group hug and then some post-run ramen and sashimi.
The last big activity the show has planned is a campfire reflection session for the girls. A surprise video from their DJ reveals her identity: actress/model Jang Yoon-ju. The girls are then shown videos of their introductory interviews, each reflecting on the goals they had for the show coming into it. They all vow to stay in touch after the show ends, and they all extend their gratitude for having met each other.
More tears, more hugs, and a tinge of sadness that it’s already over. They leave each other a final set of encouraging voice mails as they return to their busy schedules. Extra focus on Chungha since after filming the show she was diagnosed with COVID.
Running Girls was only four episodes filmed over what seemed like a couple weeks. And even though I enjoyed it, I’d be hard pressed to call it interesting, despite a handful of memeable moments, mostly derived from Chuu. A couple of the more telegraphed scripted moments, like the whole “oh who could it be??” stuff with the voice distortion, fell a bit flat. You think these girls would agree to the show without knowing exactly who else they’ll be sharing beds with?
But what wasn’t scripted was the prevailing truth that these five stars were in such desperate need for some rest, relaxation, and friendship. There’s been enough stories of “these two celebs are best friends because X idol met Y idol during the filming of Z show” that I’m inclined to believe that, given the chance to make a connection, these friendships of convenience end up being genuine. And the common theme in all the girls’ stories is that the idol life is a very lonely life. Meeting in passing, sharing a coat on a cold stage, but never really sharing their lives with each other. The best scripted moments of the show dismantled those obstructions.
In a show with no final votes to rig, no controversies to suss, and no big makjang moments to clickbait, how should we regard Running Girls? Why does a show like this make us, the k-pop consumers, feel good? Regardless of your bias, there seems to be some sort of pleasure taken seeing these girls get some much needed mental self-care. But it somewhat begs the question, can K-Pop as we know it exist without the idea of idols working themselves to death? Is the answer more, longer seasons of Running Girls? Or perhaps, more industry reform?
My sincere hope for these types of ‘healing’ variety shows (“Healtertainment”?) is that they eventually develop into real confrontation of the structural problems of how K-Pop operates in respect to labor specifically. In the meanwhile I guess I’ll go for a jog.
IATFB: Yeah, it’s a shame that we can get a billion episodes of survival variety shows that basically torture trainees, but we’re left with barely a blip of this generation’s closest we’ll get to ‘Invincible Youth’.
Honestly, my hype for this was partially the cast and partially the healing concept, but also partially cause I thought it would be a fixture instead of four fucking episodes. It’s a shame. People always say we can’t get shows like we used to because fans are more nuts about like male/female interactions, but I think this shows it’s probably a lot more about companies wanting control and full benefits of whatever work their “assets” do, which obviously makes committing to long-term collabs difficult.
As mentioned, these kinds of shows frequently do result in life-long close friendships, and I think seeing that form is definitely part of the appeal. Like IU and Jiyeon from ‘Heroes’ or Hyomin and Sunny from ‘Invincible Youth’ are obvious ones, but those shows also gave the participants dozens of episodes to get comfortable and with that usually comes better content as well. Hopefully somebody will take a bigger risk or they’ll bring this back at some point, but I really gotta stop holding my breath for it.