This second episode of Go Ahead continues to be a strong one. Hai Chao opens up his home to all lost souls. Ling Xiao’s parents continue to fight, but Jian Jian and her father provide Ling Xiao with an escape. We learn more about the tragedy behind their family.
Hai Chao opens the door to find Ling Xiao waiting outside. He wordlessly hands Hai Chao a bag, then scurries upstairs. Inside the bag is some antiseptic.
When Ling Xiao’s mother wakes up, it’s nearly 2 PM. She goes out into her living room to find Ling Xiao eating some instant noodles that he made himself. She asks him why he didn’t wake her up, and offers to cook him a side dish, but he just smiles and reassures her that it’s okay — he likes eating instant noodles.
Auntie Qian and Auntie Fang show up unannounced, but Chen Ting is forced to invite them in to be polite. They comment on how late it is for Ling Xiao to be eating lunch. Chen Ting lies and says that he got hungry again and likes to eat instant noodles. Ling Xiao politely greets the two aunties, then offers to pour them tea.
The aunties are clearly a bit nosy, but well-meaning. They invite Chen Ting to hang out at Hai Chao’s noodle shop with them, saying that staying at home all the time isn’t good for her — no wonder she and He Ping are always fighting. Chen Ting looks up sharply, and Auntie Fang elbows Auntie Qian, who quickly switches gears. Auntie Fang says she understands how Chen Ting feels, stuck at home with a husband who always works, but also tries to tell her to be more understanding that this is how a family works. Her husband is busy working for the family, and her duty as a wife is to take care of the household so he can focus on work.
Jian Jian sits down next to Ling Xiao with a plate of fried shrimp in her hands. She waves the shrimp under his nose and loudly savors how delicious her father’s cooking is. Ling Xiao turns away and ignores her, but licks his lips.
At night, Chen Ting drinks by herself, waiting for He Ping to return home. Ling Xiao eyes the clock while reading. The moment He Ping gets back, Chen Ting tells Ling Xiao to go outside and play. He Ping tries to stop him, so Chen Ting starts airing her grievances in front of their child, accusing He Ping of talking about their family issues with other people and sending Aunties Fang and Qian over to talk to her. Ling Xiao wiggles free and escapes the apartment.
He Ping doesn’t want to fight, saying he has to return to work to cover for a coworker whose child is sick. Chen Ting blocks his way, slightly drunk — where was he when their child was sick? He Ping begs Chen Ting to let go of their lost child and spare him. She starts laughing.
Outside, Ling Xiao doesn’t even both pretending to read. He grips his book so hard that he crumples the pages as his parents shout and smash things inside.
Jian Jian and Hai Chao open the door to their apartment and peer up at Ling Xiao, inviting him over for dinner. Jian Jian hops up to him and pulls at his arm, asking him to come. He resists at first, but then lets himself be guided down to their apartment.
After dinner, Jian Jian gives Ling Xiao the family photo she taped back together, then repeats what her father said about his sister having left to become a goddess and that one day they’ll meet her again. Ling Xiao tells her that her father lied: her mom and his sister both died. Dying means they don’t exist anymore. Dying means that their things are burned, their photos ripped up, and they are forgotten. Her father has done the same thing.
Jian Jian sneaks Ling Xiao into her father’s bedroom to show him a secret. She pulls a framed photo and photo album of her other out of multiple hiding places, then shows Ling Xiao her father’s wardrobe, where her mother’s clothes are still folded. This is proof that her father hasn’t forgotten her mother, and that he won’t. She knows that he’s just secretly thinking of her mother. Jian Jian also misses her mother sometimes. Whenever she misses her, she draws her. She knows that she has to hide how much she misses her mother from her father, otherwise he’ll be sad. She tells Ling Xiao that he, too, should miss his own sister in secret.
Every day after, Jian Jian invites Ling Xiao over to eat good food. They progress to the point where Jian Jian doesn’t even have to drag him, and Ling Xiao starts sitting closer and closer to the Li family’s apartment.
The three of them are eating one day — dishes continue to smash from above — when Hai Chao gets a phone call. It’s He Mei, who sounds frantic. She asks to borrow some money and asks if she can leave Zi Qiu with Hai Chao for a bit; her mother is ill and she needs to rush to the countryside to see her. Hai Chao, of course, agrees.
Hai Chao brings Zi Qiu home and shows him around the apartment. Zi Qiu suddenly asks him when he’s going to marry his mother. He saw Hai Chao give his mother a large wad of cash and now he’s coming to live with Hai Chao — doesn’t that mean they’re going to marry soon? He thinks the cash was a dowry.
Hai Chao laughs awkwardly, then jokes that if they’re family, Zi Qiu will have to listen to him from now on. Zi Qiu suddenly calls him, “Dad.” Hai Chao looks moved and gently responds, “Son.”
Hai Chao may be overjoyed to have Zi Qiu as a new son, but Jian Jian is not happy. She chases Zi Qiu around and throws things at him, telling him to stop calling her dad, “Dad.”
Jian Jian falls over and starts crying. Zi Qiu tries to help her up, but she grabs his arm and bites him. Hai Chao rushes over to break them up, but then Jian Jian bites him instead.
It’s the Lings’ turn to hear their neighbors’ business, as the rowdiness from downstairs echoes up through their floor. He Ping tries to have a good laugh about it, but neither his wife nor his son are responsive. He Ping notices that Zi Qiu isn’t eating. Chen Ting frostily says that he’s always going to the neighbor’s home to eat. He Ping says that Chen Ting should make their son dinner — of course he’s going to go to the neighbor’s to eat if there’s no food at home — but Chen Ting tells him to mind his own business. He’s the one who treats their home like a hotel.
Jian Jian does her best to try and bully Zi Qiu out of her home. Every day, she drags his suitcase outside and kicks it down the stairs. Every day, Zi Qiu races outside and drags it back up.
One day, she sticks watermelon in his shoes. Hai Chao washes Zi Qiu’s shoes while the Jian Jian and Ling Xiao sit on the couch, watching TV and eating watermelon. Zi Qiu sits apart from them on a stool, dirty marks on his cheeks. Ling Xiao kindly offers him a piece of watermelon. He accepts it with a smile and is soon laughing along with the TV as well.
Jian Jian stills acts antagonistic toward Zi Qiu, pretending to attack him with her toy sword, saying she must defeat the enemy, but Zi Qiu plays along, pretending to be wounded.
One day, Hai Chao smiles when Jian Jian puts her veggies into Zi Qiu’s bowl and Zi Qiu fishes out his ribs for her. Hai Chao rewards him by giving him an extra rib. Zi Qiu thanks him, calling him, “Dad,” again, and Jian Jian pretends to vomit, but it’s all in good humor.
Chen Ting finds the taped-up family photo in Ling Xiao’s room and holds it out to him, shaking, and asks where he got it. Ling Xiao grabs it and holds it protectively against his chest, staring up at her with wide eyes. She demands for him to give it back, but he doesn’t move. He Ping tries to convince her to let Ling Xiao keep it as a memento, but she only gets more upset and starts hitting Ling Xiao. He Ping tries to pull her away.
Chen Ting yells that she should have been the one to choke on the walnut and die. He Ping tries to tell her that no one blames her, but Chen Ting is in no mood to listen. Should she thank him for not blaming her? He’s the one who doesn’t both with the children at all and leaves her to do everything, then judges her. He Ping says no one is judging anyone. He just wants to drop the subject and never mention it again, but that’s not how Chen Ting works. He might be able to act like nothing happened, but she can’t handle living this damned life.
Ling Xiao isn’t spared from her anger, either. She starts jerking at his arm, asking why he gave his sister walnuts. He Ping begs her to stop talking about walnuts. Chen Ting points at Ling Xiao and says that he’s the one who killed his sister. He Ping slaps Chen Ting, telling her to shut up. They all freeze in shock.
Jian Jian chases after Ling Xiao (it looks like they’re going to school or something?), trying to take his arm, but he shakes her off and speeds up. When they get back to their apartment building, they freeze when they see Chen Ting leaving with a suitcase in hand.
Chen Ting walks by them without a word. She freezes when Jian Jian calls out to her, asking if she doesn’t want Ling Xiao anymore. If Ling Xiao’s mother doesn’t want him anymore, then she’ll take him. She’s more than happy to have him as a brother. Chen Ting starts crying, then says, “Then you can have him!” as she walks away. Jian Jian jumps up and down in excitement and runs circles around Ling Xiao, cheering that he’s now her brother. Ling Xiao cries as he watches his mother go.
Auntie Qian gossips about the Lings’ tragedy while playing mahjong at the noodle shop. Hai Chao listens with a frown. Ling Xiao’s sister loved to eat walnuts and Ling Xiao always fed them to her. One day, Chen Ting left her children at home alone while she went to play mahjong. Ling Xiao’s sister just happened to choke on a walnut, but their apartment door was locked from the outside. Ling Xiao yelled and yelled, but by the time Chen Ting got home, his sister had already passed away. The family moved after Chen Ting could no longer stand the gossip and criticism about them.
One of Auntie Qian’s fellow mahjong players feels some sympathy for Chen Ting — it was a freak accident. But Auntie Qian is more critical, snidely commenting on how easy Chen Ting had it letting her elder child take care of her younger one. She thinks He Ping should have divorced her sooner. She is more than happy to introduce He Ping to a suitable woman.
Auntie Qian shows off her new shoes, which He Mei bought her as thanks for introducing her to Hai Chao. The mahjong aunties and uncles tease Hai Chao about when he’s going to get married. He looks uncomfortable and says that they’re not at that stage yet.
He Ping gets off late from work and drops by Hai Chao’s apartment to pick up Ling Xiao. The children are all asleep and Hai Chao looks like he was about to go to bed, too, but when he finds out that He Ping hasn’t eaten yet, he offers to feed him.
He Ping checks in on the children and finds them asleep in a pile on Jian Jian’s bed. Jian Jian and Ling Xiao are next to each other, arms tangled together, while Zi Qiu lies in the opposite direction, foot-to-head. (They are so precious. My heart!)
He Ping and Hai Chao drink and chat over their late night snacks. He Ping shares how he just doesn’t understand why Chen Ting kept getting worse and worse. He tried to comfort her, yet she was always trying to pick a fight. Hai Chao shares some of his own experiences from his wife’s death. Whenever the neighbors tried to comfort him, each word of comfort felt like a small knife cut. More than anything, he regrets listening to his wife instead of the doctors. He understands how tortuous regret can be. Maybe Chen Ting was just never able to get past it.
He Ping tells Hai Chao about how he and Chen Ting nearly lost everything in order to have Yun Yun, their daughter. They didn’t find out that Chen Ting was pregnant until she was in her second trimester. She gave up her job, he was fined, demerited, and almost lost his own job. (Because of the one-child policy.) He never regretted having Yun Yun. His only regret is that he was never able to give his children — to give Yun Yun — the care they deserved. But life must go on, so he keeps going. If they as adults break down, what are their children to do?
Hai Chao agrees. They all have to bear their burdens and keep going (“go ahead,” perhaps?) for the sake of their children.
He Ping sighs. Ling Xiao used to be a very outgoing kid. He doesn’t deserve to carry the blame with him. He commends Hai Chao for Jian Jian’s great character. Hai Chao admits that Jian Jian isn’t like him or his wife; he doesn’t know where she gets her personality from. He finds her bafflingly optimistic, but it’s not a bad thing.
Hai Chao and He Ping make a toast to optimism and to those who have departed. They drink.
He Ping compliments Hai Chao’s cooking. Hai Chao invites him to come over more frequently and to treat his home like his own.
Hai Chao cooks breakfast for three. He starts setting the table and calls for Jian Jian to get up and get ready. It’s her first day of school.
Jian Jian stumbles out of her bedroom, still half-asleep, and goes straight to the bathroom. Zi Qiu returns home with a bag full of buns and pastries that Jian Jian likes to eat. Hai Chao tells him to call Ling Xiao down for breakfast. Zi Qiu grabs a pole and knocks it against the ceiling.
He tries the bathroom, but Jian Jian is inside. He grabs a spare key and heads upstairs to let himself into Ling Xiao’s apartment, where he ducks into the bathroom.
Ling Xiao is annoyed with Zi Qiu for always coming upstairs to use the bathroom when he’s brushing his teeth. Zi Qiu says he won’t do it again, but it’s clear that this is just a recurring pattern. Ling Xiao takes the toilet paper with him as he leaves. Zi Qiu is prepared and has brought some of his own, but Ling Xiao is also prepared and hops in quickly to steal it from his hand.
Ling Xiao and Zi Qiu fight over the same piece of food as they eat, despite the fact that there’s more than enough for everyone. They’re back on their best behavior when Hai Chao joins the table. Hai Chao reminds them that today is Jian Jian’s first day of high school. As seniors, they’ll need to look after her.
Zi Qiu reassures Hai Chao that he’ll take good care of Jian Jian. Ling Xiao says that he’ll take good care of them both. Zi Qiu glares at him. Ling Xiao smirks, then moves to pick up another piece of food. Zi Qiu calls out to Jian Jian, saying that Ling Xiao is trying to steal her food.
Jian Jian rips open the bathroom door and marches out, then puts one leg on her chair as she glares at Ling Xiao.
Are we past the childhood phase already? Those kids are all so precious, especially that scene with them all in bed together. But I’m loving this friends-but-rivals dynamic going on with the teenage trio, and I’m sure that Jian Jian rules over both boys with an iron fist.
I also would not mind more scenes of Hai Chao cooking food. It looks so delicious.
Hai Chao as a father figure really warms my heart. He is truly a guardian of all lost souls, children and adult alike. I love how he uses food to foster community, create family, and show affection. It’s very much an embodiment of the “food as a sign of love” culture that I grew up with, as the daughter of Chinese immigrants.
Ling Xiao’s family is tragic on so many levels. There’s the most obvious tragedy of his sister’s death, but the rippling after-effects that it had are also terrible.
I think it’s terrible that Chen Ting blames Ling Xiao for killing his sister and he has clearly carried the burden of guilt even though he was a child and literally powerless. She’s clearly trying to deflect her own guilt. But I also think it’s terrible that she experienced such a traumatic experience — the death of her child — yet received no support or understanding from her husband or anyone else around her. This seems partly a result of a society that stigmatizes mental illness: Chen Ting’s mother exhibits clear signs of depression, but everyone wants her to think her way out of it and there are no other options for support.
There’s also so much more to unload with Chen Ting and the double standard that’s applied to her. As a housewife, she’s expected to suck it up when her husband is absent and is expected to do all the work of childcare. But I don’t want to write an essay on gender issues here. I don’t think Chen Ting is necessarily likable, but I think it’s important to acknowledge the ways in which she seems purposely portrayed in a negative light, and the ways in which she’s judged as a mother and a woman.