All right, all right, so I lied (twice). I honestly didn’t think I’d feel compelled to continue recapping this drama, and I expected youth hit God of Study and/or light-n-sweet Pasta to trump the good-natured Wish Upon a Star. But those other two have started lagging while my interest in this one keeps building, so the decision comes pretty naturally.
SONG OF THE DAY
Ivy – “안돼요” (It can’t be) (Doesn’t this intro remind you of “Lovefool”?) [ Download ]
EPISODE 5 RECAP
Pal-gang’s siblings watch the baby while she goes out for her second job, not knowing she was fired from her first with the insurance company.
When Jun-ha drops by the basement room to see the kids tending baby Nam, he hears that Pal-gang took a night job cleaning saunas. This weighs on his conscience, because he feels bad for her plight. And that’s without even knowing the truth — that she is a new hostess at a fancy bar.
(Note: You’ll see hostess bars regularly in Korean dramas, so they may require a bit of explanation. Hostesses and bar girls aren’t prostitutes, but they do get a lot of scorn as being a “dirty” profession. Some bars, generally the lower-end ones, do conflate hostessing with prostitution, but it’s not the same thing. Pal-gang is working at a pretty fancy bar, which has a strict policy of not allowing their girls to leave with the clients, although they can exchange numbers and date outside of work if they want.
A bar girl’s job shares similarities with the old-school geisha or gisaeng — they sit with men, flirt with them, and generally liven up the atmosphere. The reason this is a last resort for many women is because despite the hit to one’s reputation, it brings in money fast, in addition to liberal tips from their rich clientele. There’s no direct equivalent in the West for how Koreans view bar girls, but I’d say it’s somewhere between a Hooters waitress and an exotic dancer/stripper. Those don’t involve sex, but often come with stigmas.)
Pal-gang feels some shame at her choice, but at least the money is soothing. After work, she looks at her pay and figures that in the next six days, she’ll be able to make enough to put them up at a motel for a while. She stops by a convenience store to sober up (a bar girl’s job description generally requires drinking with the men) and douse herself in mouthwash to cover the smell.
When she gets home, rather than go to bed, she starts making breakfast, afraid that she won’t be able to wake up if she goes to sleep. Jun-ha comes into the kitchen early in the morning (before 5am) and finds her dozing. With concern, he asks if she can handle a night job while being their maid and still going to work. Pal-gang is surprised that he hasn’t heard: she was fired. She asks him to keep this from her siblings, and this news upsets him even more.
Left at home for the day, the kids clean the house and brainstorm for ways to keep from getting kicked out. Younger sister Cho-rok says Pal-gang should marry Tae-kyu, which the others shoot down immediately. He isn’t called “ddorai” (wacko) for nothing, you know. Cho-rok stands her ground, saying he just seems that way, but he actually has the best heart of all the men. Plus, his parents live in America, so if they marry, maybe they’ll get to move to the States!
Older sister No-rang prefers Jun-ha, because he’s nice and looks at them with sympathy. Eldest brother Ju-hwang is the one with the most sense, saying they’re totally jumping the gun.
Pal-gang spends the day at a sauna, because she doesn’t want her siblings to know she was fired.
Jun-ha comes into work that morning on a mission: He questions Pal-gang’s boss about her firing, and takes up the issue with both Kang-ha and Jae-young. Since Jae-young did the firing, he asks her to reconsider. Coldly, Jae-young answers that Pal-gang is an unneeded employee. She won’t let personal feelings interfere with work.
Jun-ha starts to bring up Pal-gang’s dire circumstances, at which point Kang-ha tells him to give it up. It’s clear that the other two find Jun-ha to be too nice (which is a quality they deem weak); Kang-ha warns him not to interfere in the first place if he’s not going to assume responsibility for her. He calls his brother a character out of a romantic comic book, and that he should know that interfering with someone else’s life will only ruin his own. (This statement alone sheds quite some light on Kang-ha’s character, doesn’t it? It suggests that he’s angry not with Jun-ha’s naivete but rather his own, as though he’d been like that once and gotten burned.)
His reaction infuriates Jun-ha, and when he next runs into Jae-young, he says sarcastically that she should marry Kang-ha after all, since they’re made for each other. Go Jun-ha!
That night, Pal-gang has to rid herself of Tae-kyu, who has cheerfully announced he will help her with her cleaning job. Insisting that he will be more helpful to her watching over the kids, she leaves them at home, and goes out to the bar again.
As she’s called out to a guest’s room, the bar madam takes Pal-gang aside. She guesses that Mimi is a fake name, and hones in on Pal-gang’s attitude of shame/superiority. The madam warns her not to look down on this profession — does she think she’s better than the other girls? Pal-gang is chastened by this reminder not to think herself “above” this job, then heads to meet her patrons.
Mid-introduction, she recognizes one of the men in the room: It’s Kang-ha, here with In-gu (Chairman Jung’s son), having come together after a trying day at the hospital. Pal-gang immediately averts her eyes and they pretend they don’t know each other, although the atmosphere is strained. Pal-gang is visibly discomfited by In-gu’s skeevy ajusshi moves, and forces herself to try to be personable. Kang-ha looks (ever so slightly) uncomfortable, though he doesn’t say anything.
Things worsen when the third member of their party joins them: Jun-ha.
Outside in the hall, Jun-ha challenges his brother — is he just going to close his eyes to this? Pal-gang had a crush on him for five years, so he could at least scold her for her choice, telling her not to resort to hostessing. (He means that if Kang-ha says something, he will have some influence over her.) Kang-ha is almost offended by that suggestion: “And why would I? SHE chose this herself.” Jun-ha points out that he had pushed her this far.
Kang-ha: “If we let her stay with us, do you think her life would change?”
Jun-ha: “I’m just saying to give her a small opportunity. Just a small one!”
Kang-ha: “Opportunities aren’t given, they’re something you make for yourself.”
Jun-ha: “She has no chance to make opportunities!”
Kang-ha: “Then she shouldn’t have lived like that!”
The last line he says with particular contempt.
At the end of the night, Jun-ha hangs behind to have a word with Pal-gang. Kang-ha is surprised, but merely shoots Pal-gang a look and goes. With Jun-ha, Pal-gang maintains a cool, detached tone, while he speaks to her in frustration:
Jun-ha: “Don’t you know you’re living recklessly?”
Pal-gang: “I know.”
Jun-ha: “Even though you know…”
Pal-gang: “So what if I do? Isn’t it enough to survive? I decided to only worry about that — surviving no matter what.”
Jun-ha: “Survive no matter what? Look here, Jin Pal-gang. Don’t you think you’ve entered this path too easily? That you chose the easy way out?”
Pal-gang: “Staying here with you means I lose opportunities to earn tips. I’m someone who needs every penny.”
With that, Pal-gang leaves, but she isn’t as impervious to his words as she pretended. On her way home, she tries to convince herself of her choice — who knows, she may have found something she’s actually good at. It’s better than working at the company where her nickname is “있으나마나 미스 진,” which means, “The Miss Jin who may as well not be here” or “Miss Jin who’s just as useful here or not.” She even starts to calculate for the future — as a hostess, she could earn an apartment deposit and put her siblings through school. So what if people sneer at her? As long as the kids don’t know, she can do it.
For all Kang-ha’s stoicism at the bar, once he’s home, his reaction points to some stirrings of sympathy deep (deep, deep) down, which I’m sure he’d really rather not be bothered with. But remembering how she shrank away from In-gu and looked uncomfortable, Kang-ha wrenches off his necktie and scowls.
Jun-ha confronts Pal-gang as she comes home, trying to get through to her again. Can she really do this, without regrets? “Even if you’re in a tight spot, there are things you can do and things you shouldn’t.” It seems the madam’s admonitions have bolstered Pal-gang’s defense, because she asks, what does it matter? She’s doing this to live, to feed her siblings. Jun-ha asks, “Do you think your siblings are going to thank you for raising them while being a hostess?” Pal-gang answers, “I don’t expect thanks. As long as we survive, that’s enough.”
But she hasn’t seen Ju-hwang stepping outside to overhear the last part, who says in a hard voice, “I won’t say thank you, and I don’t want to live like that! We’ll go to the orphanage.” Heading inside, he rouses his siblings from sleep, ordering them to hurry up and pack.
Pal-gang defends herself — she has no skills and she’s not smart, so she’s doing what she can to earn money! Ju-hwang fires back, “I don’t want to stay in a motel with money you earned at a bar!” Groggy and alarmed, the younger kids ask if she’s become a bar girl now, understanding, “But that’s a bad thing.”
Pal-gang: “I’m not ashamed of anything. No matter what the world says, I’m not the least bit ashamed. I’m doing this to survive, so if they’re going to point fingers, let them.”
Ju-hwang: “It’s not because I’m ashamed of you — it’s because I’m ashamed of us for making you into that!”
On the verge of tears, Ju-hwang leaves the house. Jun-ha and Tae-kyu have overheard the argument, and as Kang-ha joins them, Jun-ha asks caustically, “What are you standing there for? It must be annoying for you.”
Tae-kyu follows the boy outside, finding him sitting on a bench, and asks if Ju-hwang really intends to go to the orphanage. Ju-hwang answers, “It’s better than ruining her life.” Tae-kyu asks, “Without you guys, do you think your sister will be able to live happily?”
When Ju-hwang returns home, he tells Pal-gang they’ll leave tomorrow, and asks her to take them to the orphanage. Pal-gang sits in a dull daze, making a promise:
Pal-gang: “If I make you feel ashamed again, then I’ll take you to the orphanage. So until then, don’t talk about things like that, you jerk.”
Ju-hwang: “It’s only temporarily. Just for now — we have no other way. Even if you work to get money for a motel, you know we’ll be kicked out. You know that there’s no motel that will take us. At the orphanage, I’ll take good care of the kids. So when your situation improves, come get us. We’ll be fine until then.”
Pal-gang: “It’s because I’m not confident I can do it. If we’re separated, I’m afraid I won’t get you back. You know how I’m rude and selfish. If I start feeling that my life is easier without you, I’m afraid I won’t come get you. If you don’t want to turn me into a good-for-nothing, just live.”
Thankfully, the mood lightens in the morning as Pal-gang continues her maid duties. Kang-ha is unsettled to see her in his room — which is totally just another excuse to give us topless Kim Ji-hoon. (Not that I’m complaining; just pointing out that this drama is making sure we get plenty of opportunities to glimpse him without a shirt on. I knew I liked this show for a reason.)
Pal-gang has decided that since she’s going to be kicked out anyway, she’s going to clean on her terms. She assures him she’s not mooning over him — she thoroughly regrets wasting her time and money chasing after him, since if she’d come to her senses earlier, she wouldn’t have gone into card debt trying to look pretty for his benefit. Kang-ha is confused at her attitude change; she’s matter-of-fact and blunt, even insisting he sit down for breakfast.
(Pal-gang has finally mastered the art of cooking the rice to Kang-ha’s liking — her breakfasts are very, very slowly improving — although she has paid so much attention to the rice that nothing else is quite satisfactory.)
Despite her earlier bravado, Pal-gang has been influenced by the reactions of Jun-ha and Ju-hwang, so she goes back to the JK office that morning and boldly starts working as an assistant. Everyone eyes her curiously and her former supervisor ignores her, figuring she will get the message and quit sooner or later.
The boss asks what she’s doing here, and Pal-gang gets on her knees. She admits that she has never once envied her boss’s skills, or the care she put into her work. In fact, she had ridiculed her mentally — she’d thought that a woman just needs to meet the right man to have a good life, so the boss was sad for being an aging spinster. “I’ve committed an unforgivable sin. I’ve been regretting it tremendously. So please, help me. I have five siblings, and we have to survive. Please teach me how to become like you.”
The boss isn’t without sympathy, but she tells Pal-gang that it won’t work. Pal-gang begs, insisting that she will change. She’s not the same Miss Jin she used to be. Her boss says, “You see your clients as your income source. Do you think they don’t know that?”
The boss walks away, but Pal-gang remains kneeling in the office, unmoving, all day long. Gossip spreads through the office, so Jin-ju and Eun-mal rush to her side to urge her to give up — this isn’t the right way to cling to her job. They try to take the baby off her back, but Pal-gang resists: “The kid has to know too, that life isn’t easy. That way, he won’t become like me.”
The Won brothers and the hateful Jae-young also hear about Pal-gang’s efforts, and while Jae-young laughs it off, both brothers are disturbed. Jun-ha walks by, feeling bad to see her kneeling with difficulty, but as he steps toward her, he remembers Kang-ha’s warning not to interfere if he’s not ready to take responsibility for her.
At the end of the day, he gets into the elevator next to her, though she doesn’t even notice — she’s exhausted after spending the entire day in that position. On the upside, her efforts have paid off — her boss has told her to show up tomorrow. For what, it’s unclear, but it’s better than a dismissal.
Pal-gang rests on a bench on her way home, and when Nam gurgles a few syllables, she unlatches him from her back and asks him what he’s saying. The baby points up at the sky and repeats his gurgling, and finally she understands: “Mom, Nami said the word ‘mom’ and then ‘star’! He hasn’t said Mom since you went to heaven, but he must know you turned into a star.” She promises him, “I’ll pick that star for you.”
(And there we have our literal title — Pick the Stars.)
My caveat for continuing with Wish Upon a Star is that I’m pretty much going to skip over the Jung family parts. I know the story will have to be mentioned since it’ll grow in prominence as we get further along, so I can’t discount the scenes entirely. But for now, they’re getting shoved off to the side. Also, I hate Jae-young.
Grandpa/Chairman Jung still suffers from selective amnesia, which is frustrating to his family, particularly long-suffering son In-gu. The old man keeps asking for his eldest son, wondering why he isn’t coming to see him. The doctor explains that he’s reverted to the time he most wants to remember, which is before his first son died. As a result, he thinks it’s 25 years ago and doesn’t recognize Jae-young as his granddaughter. In-gu is frustrated (hence the night of drinking with the boys), but Min-kyung shrewdly points out that this is good for them. As long as he lives out his life with this amnesia, their inheritance is safe, since he won’t remember his hospital plans either.
I appreciate that the drama has purposely made Kang-ha unlikable, so that we can have some fun spotting the tiny cracks that appear in his cold demeanor. There were a few teeny signs earlier, but this is the first episode where it becomes really apparent that Pal-gang bothers him more than he wants to admit. Not enough to do anything about it, but enough to sour his mood, which I enjoy seeing. I still don’t feel the pull that they should be together, but part of my fun is in watching how this will unfold, because I’m pretty confident that it’ll work out in the end.
Meanwhile, it’s still Shin Dong-wook’s time to shine. I wonder if they face some unforeseen difficulties with how appealing he is, because he’s supposed to be sort of a pushover. Kang-ha is an asshole with charisma, and Jun-ha is a nice guy without much of a presence (supposedly). Yet Shin Dong-wook does have presence, and he comes across as far from weak. Nice, yes, but not powerless. When he tells Jae-young that she and Jun-ha were made for each other, I just about cheered, because it’s true, and it also indicates that his feelings for her are at an end (or soon will be).
Speaking of whom, I don’t know why they cast that actress (Chae Young-in of Terroir, Wife’s Temptation) because she brings absolutely nothing positive to that role. I know she’s the second lead and we’re not supposed to root for her, but my favorite love triangles (rectangles) are the ones in which all the feelings are credible and all the characters likable in their own ways. With Jae-young, I don’t feel any sort of appeal — she not only is unlikable as a character, the actress doesn’t have much presence, either. It’s hard to believe she’d be an adequate rival for Pal-gang, who may be flawed but is also very lively, upbeat, and caring.
Also, Tae-kyu continues to be hilarious and sweet. Aside from the Jung family, this has a pretty nice cast.