If this series wasn’t called Cinderella’s Sister, it would be called “Stepmother’s Daughter,” because what really drives all the conflict, at the core, is these two and their warped relationship. It’s tragic, funny, achingly sad and deeply Freudian in its twisty melodramatic way, while still being eminently relatable because they’re both so human and flawed. Eun-jo without her mother would garner little sympathy as a character, but because of Kang-sook, she is both the caretaker and the abandoned child rolled into one, making us want to protect her the way Dae-sung does. Unsurprisingly, the angst does not let up in this episode, but there’s enough lightness in the small moments to carry us through. And frankly, after the heart-stopper that was Episode 7, I’m grateful for the reprieve.
EPISODE 8 RECAP
Hyo-sun’s a weeping wreck; Ki-hoon is on the phone, trying to keep Eun-jo from breaking. She sits in the stairwell of the hospital, wondering if this happened because of her. Oh, honey. It’s not because of you, but I can see that we’re going to lose you if Dae-sung dies here today.
Ki-hoon blathers on to her about work having gone well in Japan, and Hyo-sun playing a pivotal role, not because he’s clueless and insensitive (in this particular moment), but because he’s trying to say anything to keep her on this plane of existence. She’s hanging on by a thread, and he calls out to her again and again, “Eun-jo ya.”
She wonders if Hyo-sun was right: did my mother and I taint and ruin a good man by entering his life? Oh, the levels of maternal guilt and psychological burden you have under your belt. It’s time for some therapy to empower you to become your own woman, apart from your mother.
The mother in question is standing outside of the surgery ward, staring down the doors as if they were God himself, daring the Powers That Be to try and mess with her. She’s worked too hard and put in too much to lose now, and she’s not going to take any crap from the universe. I don’t care what almighty being you are—I’d be afraid of Kang-sook too.
The team of surgeons comes out and informs her that the procedure was successful and Dae-sung has overcome the biggest hurdle. Kang-sook doesn’t even flinch. She smirks that of course that’s the case. Well, seeing as how the gods are her bitches, I can see why she was never worried. Although this is all her way of posturing to cover up her actual care for Dae-sung and fear of the unknown without him.
But the rest of us? We were really worried. Some of us even watched the entire last episode clutching our hearts for fear of stoppage due to dramatic events. Hyo-sun pouts in voiceover that Ki-hoon’s spending his time comforting Eun-jo when he should be there for her, since she’s unable to be by her father’s side. The fact that you’re more concerned with who Ki-hoon is comforting and how you deserve it more tells me that you’re not actually all that focused on dear old Dad.
We skip forward to when Dae-sung awakes, with Hyo-sun, Eun-jo and Mom at his bedside. Kang-sook betrays only a slight lip quiver, and Eun-jo says nothing either, but looks at him expectantly. Hyo-sun reacts like a child would—flood of tears and asking why he did that to her—a completely self-centric view of the world, and therefore still very much a child. Eun-jo pries her away, insisting that he needs rest—coming from a thoughtful sensibility, where she considers everyone else’s feelings first (sometimes at the expense of her own, but that’s a whole other bag of worms). Kang-sook squeezes his hand under the covers: just a sweet affirmation that she’s relieved and not made of pure evil.
We fast forward a little more, to when Dae-sung is back home and on the mend, enjoying short walks with Kang-sook, who worries for his health and insists he take it easy. She takes it out on him and the staff, but Dae-sung recognizes that she’s been put through the wringer, so he listens to her. Either that or he’s too tired to put up much of a fight anymore.
Hyo-sun goes shopping to buy Dad some hiking clothes, but finds out that Eun-jo beat her to the punch. Gone are the days when you had to force her to give him the presents you prepared, eh?
Ki-hoon fills Dae-sung in on work stuff, telling him about the contracts in Japan. Dae-sung brings up Ki-hoon’s dad (calling him President Hong, so he knows about Hong Ju which is something I didn’t expect). He says that keeping Ki-hoon at his side is fine for him, but he presumes that Daddy Hong’s got his own plans for Ki-hoon. He proposes a meeting so that he can help Ki-hoon smooth things over with his father and discuss his future. Ki-hoon puts the brakes on that, feeling extra guilty for deceiving Dae-sung and taking advantage of the kind ajusshi’s concern for the kind of man he’ll turn out to be.
Ki-hoon says that his father isn’t like Dae-sung (read: a kind and loving father like you), and insists on talking to his father on his own. He grows serious and vague: “Ajusshi, you have to trust me. Even if unexpected things happen…you have to trust me.” Dae-sung, not knowing what nefarious hostile takeovers are brewing in his future, just chuckles at Ki-hoon’s serious face.
Eun-jo comes running out, saying that she’ll have to skip the meeting with the Japanese buyer. She runs off in a hurry, then does a pratfall, pops right back up, and runs off. It’s the same way she fell in front of Ki-hoon when she was a teenager, hilariously undercutting her very serious demeanor. This time it’s a callback for us and for Ki-hoon, who sees it and lets out a little “huh,” like he had forgotten about that girl who used to fall and keep on running, no matter how much she bled.
The reason for the hurried running was a new experiment she’s dying to try out. She tells Dae-sung excitedly that she’s going to try a heat treatment on the alcohol, letting her make a more uniform batch (say, from jar to jar). That way, they wouldn’t have to make a separate batch of crude liquor, cutting down on manufacturing time and cost. Dae-sung warns her about losing the good yeast in the heat process, which she assures she can handle.
Dae-sung stops her one last time, pointing out that he’s wearing the jacket Eun-jo bought for him. He asks cutely, “Is it pretty? Isn’t it pretty?” Eun-jo just looks down, unfamiliar with this level of father-daughter cuteness. Hyo-sun appears just in time, though, to assure Daddy that it’s pretty.
She says that she went to the same store to buy Dad the same thing, but decided against it since Eun-jo beat her to it. Eun-jo tries to play it off as no big deal; she was there anyway, so she picked it up. Hyo-sun pointedly tells her not to explain away the gift if she’s concerned that she’ll be jealous. She declares that she’s not sixteen anymore. And then in the same breath, she goes back to being cutesy with Dad in front of Eun-jo, staking her claim. And the look she gives when Dad isn’t looking…scares me.
Hyo-sun goes with Ki-hoon to another meeting with the Japanese buyers. This time she’s practiced phrases in Japanese and seems to be getting along with them really well. But afterwards Ki-hoon scolds her for agreeing to have a drink with the businessmen, yelling at her for essentially selling herself for the deal.
But their argument is cut short on the drive home because Ki-hoon gets into an almost-accident. Because he has the reflexes of Spiderman, he has time to unbuckle his seatbelt, hold onto it, and wrap his arms around Hyo-sun before bracing for impact. Only there is no impact, so they’re left in that tight embrace, hearts thumping in their ears.
Ki-hoon asks if Hyo-sun is okay, and she can barely speak, finally thinking to herself that her heart is racing. Well, yeah. Dude, you have to stop confusing her. This?
…Is confusing to a girl! Especially one who’s already in love with you. Don’t be THAT guy, please.
The only thing that may be his saving grace is that he’s probably more confused about Hyo-sun than he’s letting himself believe. Don’t freak out, people, and please, don’t cry. But I think Ki-hoon’s finding himself more and more invested in Hyo-sun (his constant pleas for her to grow up, his tough love speeches to make her want to fight for something that’s hers). And now, the physical closeness, no matter how contrived, has thrown him for a loop too.
Let me be clear: it’s a millimeter, a fraction, and is not anything past his oppa love for her at this stage. But he’s choosing to be this role in her life, despite his insistence that he is not hers to have. It’s strange but I’m sort of in Eun-jo’s camp in that he’s pissing me off, not because of his coldness to Eun-jo (let’s be frank; she’s as cuddly as a porcupine), but because he’s going to lead Hyo-sun on and hurt her. That? Annoys the crap out of me.
Jung-woo meanwhile lovingly prepares a lunch for Eun-jo, smiling to himself in anticipation. Macho bravado is cool and all, but a guy who makes me lunch? Winner! He goes to the lab, where Eun-jo has spent yet another night, and presents the lunch as from her mom. Dude, have you even met Kang-sook? Eun-jo says as much, telling him there’s no need to lie about it since her mother’s never done something like this her entire life. Your mother never packed you lunch? I’m so sad for the six-year-old you right now.
She asks if Mom even knows Jung-woo is that Jung-woo, and he simply replies: “How could she have imagined that I’d grow up to be such an ideal man?” All it takes is one look from Eun-jo to shut his giant ego down. Ha.
Eun-jo wants to know how he found her in the first place. We get a flashback to his army days, where Jung-woo sits on the toilet, reading a magazine, and comes across her picture. He says he subsequently called Hyo-sun’s uncle (an army sunbae) twice a day, every day, until he was discharged. That reminds him—Hyo-sun’s uncle has returned home.
He’s on his knees, groveling in front of Dae-sung, and at first he’s very contrite, but the apology devolves into passing blame, making excuses, and it’s clear he’s still a first-rate chump who just ran out of money and came crawling back home. Dae-sung said he would have taken care of him, married him off (as in provide the financial means for him to marry), and helped him build a future for himself because he’s family. He asks, “What will you do if I’m gone? Do you think it’ll be easy for you to stay in this house if I’m not here?” Hyo-sun’s uncle just looks at him blankly, not getting the obvious implication: “Are you going somewhere? Where are you going?” Dae-sung just sighs in exasperation.
Then, everyone hears a commotion outside: it’s Eun-jo, dragging Hyo-sun’s uncle by the arm, shouting for him take responsibility. Jung-woo stands by, not knowing what to do, as she screams that the factory has shut down and he needs to come clean.
Hyo-sun comes running out, and tries to pry Eun-jo off of her uncle, only when she goes to bite her arm, she ends up chomping down on his. Ha. She bites Eun-jo’s hand, now with the three of them tangled up in an uncle tug-of-war. Ki-hoon comes out to join the fun, trying to pull the sisters apart, and ends up throwing Eun-jo down to the ground. Ruh-roh.
Jung-woo, who has pulled Hyo-sun aside, sees this and rushes over to defend Eun-jo…by popping Ki-hoon in the face. Ki-hoon gets ready to swing back, only Hyo-sun has stepped in to defend her oppa…by slapping Jung-woo. This is freaking hilarious! By this time the uncle realizes the fight’s not even about him anymore, and tries to slink away.
But Eun-jo grabs hold of him again. Hyo-sun goes after them, and Eun-jo pushes her to the ground. She gets up and raises her hand in the air…which Jung-woo blocks. Ki-hoon, not to be outdone, comes up and blocks Jung-woo’s hand, blocking Hyo-sun’s. This is like a really angry game of Twister.
Finally, Dae-sung comes out, making everyone freeze. He says nothing, but they all cower in his presence. Eun-jo looks up at him, tears falling, knowing she’s gone overboard, but unable to keep her emotions in check. She takes off running.
Ki-hoon takes a step to follow her, but Hyo-sun grabs his arm and stops him with one look. And come on…if he really wanted to go, he could have gone. Jung-woo sees this, and runs after Eun-jo. I’m not at all surprised with how the love quadrangle is playing out right now, and the scuffle in the yard was a comical way to illustrate allegiances. Now that we’ve gotten physical, heh, it’ll be interesting to see how the lines will cross and spin into a murky web of jealousy.
Eun-jo blazes off in her patented run, trying to shed the pain and the anguish, desperately trying to feel free. Jung-woo chases after her, always her shadow. But this time he lets himself catch up to her. He stops her, saying: “You’re running out of breath. I’ll run in your place. How far do we have to run? Till there?” And he scoops her up in his arms, and takes off running.
He runs and runs, carrying her burden as he carries her, and he can’t help but smile like a fool. Eun-jo lets herself be carried, maybe for the first time ever, and a smile breaks across her face despite herself. The moment is lovely; childlike innocence breaking past the walls of sorrow and pain.
They sit by the river and Jung-woo stares at her. Eun-jo tries to catch him in the act, making her smile. Jung-woo: “You forgot why you were upset, didn’t you?” Eun-jo: “Yeah, I did. So?” Jung-woo: “Your tears went right back in, didn’t they?” Eun-jo admits they have. Jung-woo then asks if it’s okay to do his show now, and leaps to his feet in front of her.
He starts to dance around like a total goofball, and she smiles. At first I’m thinking, that doesn’t seem like the kind of thing to make Eun-jo laugh, but then we see why: Eun-jo pictures little Jung-woo, doing the same dance that he used to do when they were young. We see what she remembers, as the little Jung-woo and big Jung-woo dance, side by side, in such an overload of cuteness that my screen is melting down. Eun-jo laughs, and her eyes sparkle in a way that we haven’t seen from her in a long time, maybe ever.
The main theme song starts to play, and I’m going, oh my god, do the producers want me to think that she belongs with Jung-woo? And then…Ki-hoon appears. Aha!
He watches them from a distance, as Jung-woo dances, and he sees…Eun-jo smile. The look on his face when he sees her smiling at someone else just about kills me. He deserves it. And yet…it rips me up to see him so hurt. It’s the perfect moment—both delicious revenge, since he’s been a royal jackass of late, and angsty goodness for the love he can’t let go.
Back at work, Eun-jo makes a breakthrough in the lab, and makes a test batch of makgulli in front of Dae-sung, Hyo-sun, and Ki-hoon. Dae-sung’s pride and anticipation is evident, as he tells them this might change everything. Hyo-sun takes note of Dad’s pride in Eun-jo, something she can never catch up to, no matter how much of his love she may have.
Later that night, Hyo-sun comes back to the wine cellar and has a standoff with the makgulli jar. She picks it up and shatters in on the ground, only when she looks up it’s back on the shelf. No, it’s not magic…she couldn’t actually bring herself to do it, and is taken aback by her own evil desires. The fact that she doesn’t actually do the thing she wants to do says a lot about her capacity for growth. What she doesn’t see is that Eun-jo is there the whole time, watching over her precious test jar in silence.
We also see that Ki-hoon’s eldest brother Ki-jung is up to something with the Japanese buyers; unclear what, but his smirk tells us he’s up to no good.
Eun-jo comes home one night and catches Mom talking to someone on the phone in the woods just outside the compound. She sneaks up on her, almost giving Mom a heart attack. Dad just had one of those! Don’t be so sneaky! Eun-jo demands to know who she’s talking to, and asks if it’s Jang-sshi ajusshi. It does say something if Mom’s been having an affair with Jang-sshi for eight friggin years, huh? Well, Eun-jo’s done letting Mom off the hook.
Eun-jo: “I could die. Let’s say I have…a hundred tiny jars of tolerance for you. Those jars have broken one by one, and now there’s only one left. If that last one breaks…I’m not planning to live any longer. Even if you don’t have the slightest attachment to Hyo-sun’s father, you shouldn’t be this way, Mom. These things shouldn’t be. If you do something wrong to Hyo-sun’s father…Mom, I…I’ll go to hell in your place. Hell will be much easier to endure…than living with you. I mean it.”
Damn. And she does mean it, too. She speaks of hell like it would be a sunny vacation. Well maybe when you’re the spawn of the devil, hell has its advantages?
She comes home, to find Ki-hoon tutoring Hyo-sun in Japanese (that’s got to sting). Hyo-sun keeps staring at Ki-hoon, so he puts away his books and gets up, saying that he can’t work if she’s going to keep this up. He tells her to stop playing the baby, with her coquettish wiles. She insists she isn’t a child, and that she’s worked her butt off trying to become an adult at his request. She declares that she likes him, surprising him. Really, is that surprising to you?
Hyo-sun says that no matter what he says to her, what mean things he does, she likes him to death. What is she supposed to do? Does he have an answer for that? “If you’re such an adult. Tell me what I’m supposed to do now.” Ki-hoon doesn’t have an answer. “You don’t have one, do you? You don’t know. You wouldn’t. Because it’s not Japanese, or Math or Business.” Haha. Truer words, pupil.
She adds, “…and because…I’m not Eun-jo.” Just then, Eun-jo comes out, telling Hyo-sun not to throw around her name. She claims to have nothing to do with their relationship (yeah, try telling that to the girl who has to watch Ki-hoon look at you). She adds spitefully that she’s not the kind of girl to be heartbroken over men unlike her sister. And for good measure, she adds:
Eun-jo: “The second someone leaves my sight, they become inconsequential to me. I’m someone who’s used to leaving people I’ve been with, suddenly, with no warning. In one instant people I’ve lived with become nonexistent. I’m used to that. To me, that’s the easiest thing in the world. Whether I ate with them, or stood in the rain with them, no matter how good they were to me, I don’t find it the least bit difficult to throw them away. It’s the same if someone threw me away. Even if he left without a word. I think: ‘I’m good at that, so you must be too,’ and I go on. Liking someone to death…I don’t know that from a dog or a cat. So leave me out of it, and Gu Hyo-sun, you like him all by yourself, to your death.”
Hahahaha. This girl is on a warpath. I wish she knew how much she betrays the opposite of her words. We had this cat once that was the biggest ‘fraidy cat ever, and he’d puff himself out and hiss at every little disturbance, which sure, can be frightening to an opponent. But it also betrays just how scared he really was—the ‘fraidier the cat, the poofier he gets. To an outside observer with a little perspective, say human-to-cat, or in this case, Ki-hoon-to-Eun-jo, it’s easy to see the defense mechanism in play.
She goes to the wine cellar and listens to her test jar bubble, coaxing it to ferment well. Ki-hoon finds her there, and says his piece: “I’m like that too. Leaving someone who stole my heart for a moment means nothing to me. I’ve had moments of sentimentality, bringing up memories, thinking that perhaps this is the same girl from the past, but those are just moments. Forgetting you is easy for me too. I may be like that…but you’re not. You lied. Don’t do that. Hating me to death, forcing yourself to forget me easily, don’t do that. Don’t do anything. Just think of me as gone.”
Ki-hoon is right to know that Eun-jo is lying, and he’s pushing her away on purpose knowing what he has to do, but it’s naïve of him to think he’s somehow above it all too. He’s just as wounded by her words and in some comforting way, her venomous hate is proof that she still loves him, deep down.
Eun-jo turns to him, this time with no forced bravado: “I’m someone with a large debt to this house, and I’ll kill anyone who tries to do it ill. If you treat Hyo-sun badly, you’ll die by my hand.” Shivers.
Ki-hoon is probably like, that’s not…what I was trying to get at! But the meaning is of course two-fold for him, since he knows that he’s about to do something worse to this house than make Hyo-sun cry. And he should brace himself for Eun-jo’s wrath on that day. We see that she’s not as tough as she lets on, as she cries herself to sleep.
The day for opening the test batch is here, and they wait in anticipation as Eun-jo opens the jar. It’s a failure, and Dae-sung tells her they can reuse it as a trial yeast, but Eun-jo wants to throw it away. Dae-sung tries to make use of it, but Eun-jo grabs the jar out of his hands in frustration, knocking it to the ground.
Hyo-sun finds her brooding outside, and says, “Dad’s been trying to solve this his whole life; did you really think you could do it? You want to be a hero, don’t you? You want to show up with a new yeast and wow everyone, restarting the factory that my uncle stopped, so you can run around bragging to everyone, don’t you? I guess you’re not the hero.” She drives her victory home with pleasure—she scored a buyer with an order so big they don’t have the money to fill it. Eun-jo asks if that’s true. Hyo-sun: “Why? Does it make you angry that I got it done?” Okay, can there be some slapping now?
Meanwhile, Ki-hoon goes to Daddy Hong and asks to borrow some money. Dae-sung announces that he decided to turn the order down, and Ki-hoon tries to intervene that if it’s about the money…but Eun-jo says that it’s too late; she already took the order. Dae-sung tells her he doesn’t have the money to run the factory to fill such a large order, but Eun-jo says she’s amassed almost enough. She went from town elder to elder, and each of them gave her loans wholeheartedly, because of Dae-sung. Dae-sung is speechless, and Eun-jo has saved the day. Turns out you are the hero!
They reopen the factory, and then Eun-jo hits the books back at home. Dae-sung comes by to chat with her, and Eun-jo tries to figure out what went wrong with her yeast experiment. Dae-sung says he honestly doesn’t know. He takes a zen approach:
Dae-sung: “The wind, the water, the rice straws…the night dew does the job, so I really don’t know. But somewhere in the four corners you’re searching, the yeast you’re looking for is there. When you and your mother became my family, the taste of liquor was better. Really. The liquor became…deeper. That’s because of the yeast that followed you here. You and your mother carried the good yeast and brought it to me.”
Eun-jo asks if he means it, the implication that she and her mother were happy additions to this house, and he of course does. He looks at her expectantly and asks if she won’t call him “father,” just once. Oh, just do it, just once! You’re SO not going to, I know, but would it KILL you to throw the old man a bone? I know you want to!
He looks at her, hoping that she’ll open up, but she can’t do it. She says if he keeps asking her, she’ll have to get up and leave. Ha! You are an impenetrable wall of frost, but we’ll wear you down yet. Dae-sung gives up, thinking she doesn’t want to. So far from the truth. She so desperately wants to, to call him Dad and cling to his love and affection to fill her empty, empty soul. But she can’t. She can’t bring herself to bridge that gap because of her endless mother-guilt and fear of abandonment.
Kang-sook goes to meet Jang-sshi ajusshi one last time, to break things off with him for good. He doesn’t accept it at first, since this is hardly the first time she’s broken up with him, but this time she’s cold and calm. She says she’s going to pledge her loyalty to her husband, like a dog. Well THAT’S romantic. She puts the nail in the coffin by placing an envelope in front of him. He protests, but she tells him to wait till she leaves, then count it; if he can turn that amount of money down, then to come after her, and she’ll live with him. Geez, I wonder how much money! She’s not the type of woman to blow smoke up his piehole either, so I bet it’s a crap-ton. When he takes it out, it looks in the vicinity of thirty thousand dollars.
Kang-sook walks outside, then lingers for just a second, maybe hoping against hope that he runs after her…but he doesn’t. The world is as she suspected, and she is satisfied that the deed is done. She walks toward the street, landing right in front of Eun-jo, who is waiting for her. Yikes. The look on her face pretty much says it all:
Kang-sook starts explaining herself, unprompted: “No..no, that’s not it! It’s not!” Heh, guilty people always talk themselves into a corner. Eun-jo: “What isn’t it?” And she storms past Mom, who’s trying to get her to leave…and heads right for the coffee shop where Jang-sshi ajusshi awaits.
This wasn’t the most eventful episode, as it pretty much brought everyone back to an equilibrium after Episode 7’s hullabaloo. (Didn’t envy you this week, javabeans.) These are all pretty much things we knew about each character already, so not much in terms of revelation. That’s not to say each moment between characters isn’t enjoyable: I’d pretty much watch Eun-jo and Jung-woo weave baskets what with all the cuteness, and I’m happy if she’s even speaking to Ki-hoon, whether or not it’s in any way resembling civil.
Here’s the thing though…Dae-sung should have died. I know, it’s sacrilege. He’s the best, the perfect Dad, so pivotal as the one bedrock of sanity in Eun-jo’s life. But all of that dramatic tension that got built up in Episode 7, it just…petered out. And I feel like we’ve mined all the Dad-Eun-jo territory that’s necessary for her to grow up and be a good person. With him still around, it’s almost an excuse to stunt her growth and keep her closed off to the rest of the world. I feel like we need a jolt—something to send these characters off in new directions, otherwise I’m going to get really tired of the same circles we’re spinning, round and round. Either Ki-hoon needs to grow a pair and start his hostile takeover, or someone needs to be caught kissing in the wine cellar…pronto.