girlfriday here, going for the double-album comeback tour by taking on another Wednesday/Thursday combo platter with javabeans. Looks like Thursdays are going be busy. Bring on the angst! I will have your tears for breakfast!
This was the moment that I fell in love with Eun-jo. When I saw that she could be more than just a wounded girl, lashing out at the world. She gives a glimmer of Big Sister and residential badass, and the way Hyo-sun instinctively hides behind her gives me hope for their sisterly dynamic. This drama has all the elements of a runaway hit: ideal cast, eventful fast-moving plot, and engaging emotional connections between the characters. Episode 2 doesn’t have any slow-motion music video moments, but still has legs, which tells me this drama’s not going to be a one-trick pony.
EPISODE 2 RECAP
Hyo-sun shows Eun-jo to their room, which they’ll have to share for a little while. Hyo-sun apologizes for not knowing that Eun-jo was an “unni” and not a “hey you” when they first met on the train. She is genuinely excited to have an unni, and has even cleared out closet space and prepared pink frilly pajamas for Eun-jo to wear.
Eun-jo is completely uncomfortable in this opulent room, awash in a sea of pinks and purples, and her trip to the bathroom makes the difference even more pronounced. She can’t even figure out how to work the automatic-sensor faucet, and even though she approaches everything with a disapproving/mocking glare, it’s clear she’s also sort of overwhelmed, as she’s never encountered someone so wealthy, and so annoyingly NICE on top of it all. Unsurprisingly, she doesn’t trust Hyo-sun or want anything to do with her pink pajamas.
Eun-jo tries to sleep, but Hyo-sun is so excited to have a companion that she chatters away, telling Eun-jo her whole life story in excruciating detail. Eun-jo tries to get her to shut up, but Hyo-sun just brightly asks if maybe she should skip to when she’s ten? I know I’m in the minority here, but I find Hyo-sun adorably wide-eyed and innocent. While her face looks freakishly hand-crafted by a doll-maker, I think Seo Woo is doing a nice job conveying a brightness, with an innocent sadness underneath. I read this character as choosing to be light and bright, as a way to mask her loss. Although you could argue that she has faced very little adversity compared to Eun-jo, the death of a mother is not a small thing, so I don’t think she’s just a dim spoiled brat, in my humble opinion.
Unable to tolerate any more rambling, Eun-jo gets up. Hyo-sun offers to follow, but Eun-jo shuts her down with one look. That girl could build icecaps with that glare.
Outside, Eun-jo runs into Ki-hoon, enjoying a little nighttime drink on his own. He’s happy to see her and smiles unwittingly, as he invites her to join him. Eun-jo immediately pulls out her claws, asking what he wants from her, thinking he’s smiling as a way to get on her good side. Ki-hoon doesn’t even know how to respond, as he doesn’t even realize that he’s smiling, and tells her that there are a million reasons to smile, none of which involves wanting to get something out of her.
Eun-jo stalks off, leaving Ki-hoon bewildered and thrown by this young girl. He sings to himself, and something about his voice, perhaps a faraway sadness, speaks to Eun-jo, as she listens curiously in the distance.
A wedding photo tells us that Eun-jo’s mom and Hyo-sun’s dad have married, and we pick up with the girls at school. They are in the same class even though Eun-jo is older, as she has been unable to attend school on a consistent basis. Hyo-sun is excited to have her sister as a classmate, and her friends even extend a warm welcome since she is Hyo-sun’s family.
That goes about as well as can be expected. When they ask if they should call her unni, Eun-jo replies curtly that they shouldn’t call her at all, leaving them stunned that someone wouldn’t appreciate their generous social overture, as most popular girls are wont to think.
Meanwhile, Ki-hoon gets an unwelcome visit from a thug on a motorcycle, chasing him down until he stops to talk to him. The thug starts with a punch in the mouth, knocking Ki-hoon to the ground, and threatens him to stop meddling with the family.
What we can glean about Ki-hoon’s backstory: he is the heir to a very rich family business with questionable morals and considerable control issues. He was disowned (either by his father or of his own accord, although I’m fairly certain it takes two to tango), and has promised to live quietly out of the media spotlight where he can’t do damage to the family name.
The thug throws down some pictures of Ki-hoon working at the makgulli factory, asking if he made some deal with a journalist to bring shame to the family. Clearly Ki-hoon knows that the accusation is not only unfounded, but illogical, so he returns the punch and makes it known that he doesn’t want anything to do with his so-called family.
Once he is alone, his cool exterior fades, and Ki-hoon betrays an underbelly of years of hurt and anger associated with his family. He has been both the runaway and the abandoned child, which links him emotionally to Eun-jo and explains his immediate empathy for her.
Back at school, Hyo-sun is excited to greet their parents’ return from their honeymoon, but Eun-jo couldn’t care less. Ki-hoon offers them a ride, but Eun-jo walks right past them both, leaving Hyo-sun pouting in disappointment. Ki-hoon tells her that no one can force a girl like Eun-jo to do anything. They drive off, leaving Eun-jo to walk home on her own, and as they pass by, Eun-jo notices Ki-hoon’s cut-up lip.
The whole town has shown up to greet the wedding party, and I mean the whole town. Kang-sook has to bow down to all of the family elders one by one, and the look on her face pretty much says it all.
Hyo-sun’s uncle disapproves, as does Dae-sung’s aunt, the town elder, former shaman, and now pastor of the local church. Ha. It’s a throwaway line, but the fact that the town went from Shamanism to Christianity with the same town elder as leader just makes me appreciate the witty social commentary.
Scary shaman-pastor Aunt asks Kang-sook about her fortune (as in astrological birthdate-related fortune, not so much her bank balance), which is apparently a severe sign of disapproval.
She then catches a glimpse of Eun-jo in the background, and the two commence in the most awesome silent face-off ever.
I don’t know if Witch Aunt is trying to read Eun-jo’s aura or just trying to outstare her, but either way, she is no match for the icy blue steel of Eun-jo’s patented glare. Aunt breaks out in a smile, and thusly Eun-jo has tamed the witch. I fully expect Eun-jo to make her dance like a puppet, but that doesn’t happen.
During the face-off, Hyo-sun notices for the first time the way that Ki-hoon looks at Eun-jo. She waves to her oppa, but he doesn’t break his smiling gaze at Eun-jo, and Hyo-sun’s face falls at the realization that his attention is no longer solely hers.
Kang-sook takes a moment to rest her tired feet between the bowing and the partying, and Dae-sung comes in to rub her feet and be the doting husband. Kang-sook is both hilariously princessy (“Is that all? My other foot is tired too.”) and also surprisingly moved at Dae-sung’s sincerity and kindness.
Hyo-sun awkwardly walks in on them, and Dae-sung springs up and leaves the room, leaving Kang-sook to explain that maybe Hyo-sun should knock when entering the room.
Eun-jo, meanwhile, looks for a room to hide away and get some schoolwork done. She’s interrupted by a conversation between Dae-sung and his aunt, arguing over Kang-sook. Aunt sees the man-eater in Kang-sook and doesn’t want Dae-sung to make the marriage official (as in legal and therefore binding), but Dae-sung stands up to her, insisting that she stop giving her opinion on the matter at all. He declares that Kang-sook and Eun-jo are family now, and that’s the end of that.
This is news to Eun-jo, as she’s used to attitudes like those of the Aunt, but unfamiliar with Dae-sung’s brand of loyalty and faith. She looks cautiously curious about this man who she thought up until now would just be another in a long string of abusive father figures.
Ki-hoon finds Eun-jo in her hiding spot, and when she gets up to leave, he flips her shoes around (so that they face outward and are easier to put back on), which is a small gesture, but doesn’t go unnoticed. The wedding party’s about to head this way, so Ki-hoon offers her a quiet place to study. She declines sullenly at first, but when the partygoers head straight for her, she decides to let him help her.
This boy is already smitten. That face is halfway to la la land, despite the fact that Eun-jo’s reactions to him have ranged from reluctantly civil to brazenly hostile.
The wedding party goes well into the night, with Dae-sung proudly looking on as Hyo-sun shows off her new mom to all the townsfolk. She’s so genuinely happy to have a mother that it breaks my heart.
Ki-hoon shows Eun-jo his personal secret hiding place in the makgulli wine cellar, and Eun-jo silently gets back to her schoolwork. Ki-hoon, ever the doting oppa, offers her a makeshift table and chair so she doesn’t have to crouch in the corner, but of course Eun-jo declines the offer rudely by pushing it away in silence. Ki-hoon scoffs at the extent of her coldness, but doesn’t say anything.
Meanwhile Hyo-sun has been looking for Ki-hoon and Eun-jo, and she sees them from the window outside the storeroom. She can’t hide her surprise or hurt as it dawns on her that she doesn’t want to share Ki-hoon’s affections.
But it must not sting that badly, because the next morning Hyo-sun is chattering away to Eun-jo about a boy at school who hasn’t returned any of her ten text messages. She wonders if they got lost and if she should change cell phone carriers, to which Eun-jo has to explain that texts don’t get lost; they get ignored. The realization is unsettling for Hyo-sun but she accepts that it’s possible.
On way to school they see the boy in question, and Eun-jo, badass that she is, goes right up to the boy and demands he answer Hyo-sun’s texts and be honest with her if he doesn’t like her. She claims it’s because she can’t stand Hyo-sun’s ceaseless whining, but methinks she’s really sticking up for Hyo-sun in her own way, even if she wouldn’t be able to admit it to herself. Because we all know that Hyo-sun would be rambling away anyway. Is it wrong for me to want these sisters to be best friends? Am I just setting myself up for heartbreak? Don’t answer that.
Later that day, Hyo-sun works through her angst in dance class, then gets a text from the boy. She comes home crying, saying that he doesn’t want her to text him anymore. Through her tears she thanks Eun-jo for helping her out, while Mom and Dad look on sweetly at her adolescent boy trouble.
Mom swoops Hyo-sun into her arms, holding her sweetly as she weeps. Eun-jo notes this with a twinge of jealousy, and Dad sees Eun-jo, realizing how she might be disconcerted by Mom’s affections towards Hyo-sun.
Dad decides to try and make a connection with Eun-jo, so he calls her out later that night, and says that he met with the girls’ homeroom teacher who told him that Eun-jo is very smart. She confirms this, with no false modesty. He awkwardly asks what she wants to be, for which she has no answer, so he asks if she wants to dance like Hyo-sun, or perhaps learn piano or violin. Maybe you should offer her something more like taekwondo or telekinetic death by eyebeams. Is that not an extracurricular activity?
Dad offers to do anything to help her achieve her dreams, and he’s totally sincere, which makes me love him. Eun-jo doesn’t budge an inch outwardly, but it’s clear that even though it’s not the first time she may have been offered lofty empty promises, this is the first time anyone’s been so sincere and open to provide avenues to better herself. The poor girl has probably never allowed herself to have any dreams, for fear of having them dashed. Dad adds shyly that she can rely on him. She doesn’t answer, but she looks like she may give him a chance.
In math class the next day, the teacher puts a problem on the board and asks the first place math student to solve it. Hyo-sun proudly announces her unni as the head of the class. Eun-jo looks up at the teacher and declines to solve the problem.
Oh, that’s not how things are done in Korea. It’s an outright act of defiance to refuse a teacher’s order, and everyone gasps, including the teacher, who can’t believe the cajones on this girl. But it looks like the teacher’s actually a little afraid of Eun-jo too, because she looks relieved when the bell rings and class ends. Hyo-sun looks over at her sister in admiration, saying that her unni is the “jjang.” (Jjang is a slang word that means “best,” and is also what students usually call the leader of the class—socially, not academically.)
But when Eun-jo makes her way to the makgulli factory to seek out Dad, we find out the real reason for her defiance in math class: she’s been memorizing all the problems and answers to get by, but she doesn’t actually know how to do the math. Dad is a little confused, as she scores high in the subject, but she shows him her notebooks filled with memorized answer sets, and explains that because she’s skipped a lot of school, she doesn’t know the basics.
She asks for a math tutor, reminding him of his offer. Dad smiles and says he’ll get her a math and grammar tutor. Eun-jo declares she doesn’t need a grammar one; she’s the best in her class, you see. But Dad corrects her speech, saying gently that she should be speaking more formally with adults (not as a lecture but more as a way to point out that she could benefit from a proper education.) She concedes the point.
While the girls await their new tutor, Hyo-sun keeps trying to engage Eun-jo in conversation, and when she doesn’t answer for the Nth time, she musters out, “If you keep this up, I’m going to get tired…”
…indicating to me that she’s neither stupid nor a bottomless pit of goodness. But when Eun-jo glares at her, she shuts right up.
In walks Ki-hoon ready to tutor the girls. Eun-jo scoffs at the sight of him, while Hyo-sun confirms that Ki-hoon is plenty smart enough to tutor them, as he is a student at a top university and only here as a part-time employee on his term break.
Thus tutoring commences, with Hyo-sun mostly finding reasons not to study, while Eun-jo learns diligently. Eun-jo is curt and rude while asking Ki-hoon questions, so he decides that she needs to call him Teacher and use formal speech with him. She gets up and storms halfway across the room, then decides against it and comes back.
She snottily adds formalities to the ends of her sentences and the word she calls him is “teacher,” but she says it in the tone of, “bastard.” She says that she doesn’t want to bother asking for a new tutor, and he’s a pretty good teacher anyway, so she wants to learn as much as she can before she runs out of time.
Ki-hoon replies that he doesn’t like her tone, but that he’ll accept it as a big step forward for her. I think he enjoys his position of power here because he otherwise doesn’t have the upper hand with her, and she’s been so hard to bring down a peg. Which I wouldn’t argue that she needs.
Ki-hoon asks her what she meant by, “running out of time,” and Eun-jo shouts back that she doesn’t know how long she’ll be in this home this time around, so she’s just trying to learn everything that she can. She storms off in tears. I don’t think she’s angry at Ki-hoon, but rather upset because he’s calling out her vulnerabilities in a way that others usually let go by unnoticed.
Hyo-sun can’t find Ki-hoon or Eun-jo, so she runs to tell Mom and Dad about it. Kang-sook somehow masterfully turns this into an opportunity to manipulate Dae-sung. Through tears, she lies that the other kids are making fun of Eun-jo for having a different surname from Hyo-sun, which wouldn’t be the case if he just made their marriage legal. Oh, she’s good.
Ki-hoon finds Eun-jo in his secret wine cellar, and sits down next to her. He tells her that he was a lot like her, and he turned out awesome. “Don’t you think I’m awesome?” he adds cheekily. He tells her that he knows she’ll turn out even more awesome than he is.
He adds that he won’t steal her precious study time anymore, which I think gets through to her—he gets what’s important to her and doesn’t treat her like a child, offering up platitudes like everything will be okay. He knows that she’s been through too much to have faith that anything will last.
Hyo-sun finds the two of them back to tutoring, so she jumps right in, trying to feel included and ask for help. But Ki-hoon dismisses and ignores her, making her notice yet again the connection between them and how boxed out she feels in their presence.
Hyo-sun seeks some reassurance from Ki-hoon the next day, but it’s clear that he sees her as a kid sister, while she’s growing confused by the developing love triangle. It’s murky territory for her, because she’s almost as enamored with Eun-jo as she is with Ki-hoon, so I think she feels jealous not just because Eun-jo has Ki-hoon’s attention, but because the two have some connection that doesn’t include her.
Later that day, Ki-hoon has another visit where worlds collide, as a mysterious well-dressed man comes looking for him and concedes that the last messenger was a waste of time. Turns out this is Ki-hoon’s actual brother, betrayed by Ki-hoon’s query after their father’s health.
Ki-hoon’s older brother wants him to leave this town, asking why he chose this place in particular to settle in. Methinks there’s some drama concerning this small town and their family in the past, eh? His brother offers him an allowance and a lifetime of leisure to go study abroad if he just leaves, as he doesn’t want Ki-hoon causing a scandal for the family. What kind of scandal? That he’s making makgulli on his spring break? There’s definitely something deep and dark here that we’re not privy to.
Ki-hoon replies defiantly that he doesn’t want their money. And as he has signed away all rights to the family business, they can’t tell him to stay or go; he’ll do as he pleases, thank you very much. Ki-hoon wonders why his brother came all this way, and if they want him to sign something ELSE away. Turns out he’s perceptive, because big brother really is here to get him to sign documents disowning all claims to his inheritance. And people question whether money is evil?
Ki-hoon broods in the wine cellar, saying wistfully that his faithful companion, makgulli, is all he’s got. I’ve been known to convey similar sentiments to my martini. What? But then Ki-hoon sees a pencil that Eun-jo left behind, and thinks to himself, “That’s right. I’ve got you too.”
He goes shopping for a new hair-chopstick for Eun-jo to replace the pencil, and his awkward interaction with the store lady is hilarious.
He drives home, eager to give her his gift. And is that…glass? Omo. So soon.
In another part of town, Kang-sook waits in gnawing anticipation as Dae-sung legalizes their marriage by registering it with the state. What follows is an indescribable moment of sheer delight and triumph, as Kang-sook steals away for a moment to take another look at the official document. She clutches it to her heart and pores over it, tears streaming down her face as she breaks out into a congratulatory speech to herself:
Kang-sook: “Dirty bitch. A dirty bitch’s fate. At age forty, you’ve finally become someone’s wife. You’ve become someone’s WIFE. You’re someone’s wife! Song Kang-sook, congratulations, bitch! Congratulations, you dirty bitch!”
How much do I love this woman? She has such pathos, such emotional depth and an undercurrent of self-awareness to what could easily be a despicable gold-digging step-mother character. Even from the first episode, I’m so firmly on her side, that I want her to get everything that she wants, and find myself rooting for her even as she does crazy things. I can’t explain it. She’s magnetic, this woman.
Hyo-sun and Eun-jo arrive home later that night, and Hyo-sun has since been drunk at school, and found out from Eun-jo that Mom lied about Eun-jo being teased about their surnames. Hyo-sun is still tipsy, and wants to ask Mom about it to innocently clear the air.
She’s about to do so when Ki-hoon and Dad arrive on the scene, Ki-hoon clutching his gift for Eun-jo behind his back.
Eun-jo doesn’t want to be bothered about it, so she shakes Hyo-sun off her arm, but since Hyo-sun is drunk, she goes tumbling down to the ground, through no fault of Eun-jo’s.
Eun-jo quickly realizes how bad this looks. She freezes. Mom sees that Dad has arrived, so she thinks quick: she slaps Eun-jo across the face and rushes over to Hyo-sun, cooing over her.
Dad and Ki-hoon look over at Eun-jo, stunned. Eun-jo’s face hardens at the realization that she’s just been bitch-slapped by Mom over Cinderella.
If this is the kind of subtle overturning of the Cinderella mythology that we’re going to get throughout, I’m totally in love with this drama. It subverts everything I expect, even from a switch-up, because each character is sympathetic and properly motivated in his or her own right. This is the perfect breeding ground for a complex dynamic between all of the characters, and there’s so much drama (the good kind) to be mined from that.
I hope they don’t fast-forward to adulthood too quickly, as I really enjoy these early developing relationships and dramatic situations. I’m scared that a fast-forward will lock the characters into archetypes, but hopefully they’ll continue to keep the characters daring and complex right through till the end.
- Cinderella’s Sister: Episode 1
- Cinderella, Prosecutor, Taste: First episode impressions
- Cinderella’s Sister releases its music video