I didn’t love the first episode, but I did love the second. The first rattled me, because it began so unconventionally, in medias res (and not the kind where you get the quick 48 hours earlier orientation either). But this episode takes a step back, not in time, but in breathing room. I feel like I have some space to learn who the characters are, which draws me in. I don’t know that the first episode alone would’ve hooked me, but paired with the second, it makes the world feel lived in, and whole. I’ll discuss this further in the comments, along with a note on melodrama as a genre.
Also, is anyone else amazed at how Kim Rae-won went to the army and lost his baby face? I almost didn’t recognize him. I know there’s the old adage of going into the army a boy and coming out a man, but in his case, it’s physical, and not in the abs-sense. It’s crazy.
Today’s Episode 2 came out the ratings leader for Monday/Tuesday dramas: Promise 14.6%, Kye Baek 12.9%, Poseidon 7.4%. Yesterday’s premiere was in 2nd place with 12.8%, but already it looks like Promise is set to climb to a comfortable lead, if Week 1 is already nearing 15%.
EPISODE 2 RECAP
Ji-hyung confesses to Mom that he doesn’t want to go through with the wedding, that he doesn’t love Hyang-gi, that he loves another. It’s probably the first time he’s ever uttered words of defiance in his life, judging from how meekly the words come out of his mouth.
Mom flips out, but in that really scary calm-and-collected-mom way. She decides she’s going to ignore what he just said. He sighs that never expected her to do otherwise. But that doesn’t change the fact that marrying Hyang-gi this way will make him a horrible person – a “con man for life.”
Mom thinks it’s just a matter of him never opening his mouth about it again. Oy. She tells him to clean up his mess, offering semi-threateningly to do it for him if he can’t. All Mom can think of is Hyang-gi and what this’ll do to her, pointing out that he’s the guy who cheated on his fiancée. She’s got you there, buddy.
But he can’t figure out what to do, because no matter what he chooses, he’s the bad guy. While I appreciate the predicament, if this was going to be a sticking point for you, being the bad guy, you should never have cheated, eh?
Mom reminds him of what’s at stake – his father’s position in the hospital (beholden to Hyang-gi’s dad, natch) and their two families. He lets out in a defeated tone, “My happiness was never a concern of yours, was it?” Mom: “This has gotten too big to be concerned with that.”
Oh. Damn. Just like that? Gee Mom, no hugs and a cup of cocoa to go with that?
Meanwhile, Jae-min (the oppa/cousin) goes straight from Ji-hyung’s confession session to go check on Seo-yeon. He comes bearing coffee, one cold, one hot, for her to choose. Um, can I have him?
He tells her that Ji-hyung came to see him, and that he knows everything. Her voice immediately changes – it drops a few octaves and she goes cold, palpably distancing herself. She wonders why he did such a silly thing, trying to downplay the situation.
Jae-min asks why she did it, fishing for evidence of Ji-hyung’s wrongdoing, like making false promises to her about leaving his fiancée. She doesn’t pass off blame, and instead says with an even tone that she decided to be a thief for a little while.
He starts to say, “You’re not that kind of…” and she cuts him off, repeating the phrase, saying she knew, but in the end she didn’t want to just sit there and regret her whole life. He worries about her, thinking she’s putting up a front (he’s clearly not wrong).
But she smiles and says it’s not like the earth is shaking. They simply parted ways, like they had planned to, all along. He asks how she’ll get over it, and she says, “Day by day, I’ll forget him, or day by day, I’ll miss him. It’ll be one or the other.”
Ji-hyung goes to pour himself the tallest glass of scotch ever, and Mom tells him that love is a feeling that fades. “Even boiling water, when the fire is turned off, cools.” Ji-hyung: “It’s still better than water that has never boiled at all.” Oh, you people with your delightful metaphors six drinks in.
Mom asks about the other woman, still curious. He tells her the rough outline (aka what she really wants to know) – that she’s without parents, she has a younger brother, she was raised by an aunt and uncle. Mom hopes she isn’t someone who will “cause trouble,” because that would be the worst. Yes, clearly, disrupting your life would be the worst thing that could possibly happen.
In true Seo-yeon fashion, she only lets herself cry when she’s alone. I don’t know why it kills me – her squatting there, doing laundry, and crying silently. She gets a call from Ji-hyung, but ignores it, as promised.
But then Ji-hyung gets a call right back, and answers, “Seo-yeon-ah?” No, it’s Jae-min, calling because it’s keeping him up all night. He tells Ji-hyung that he went to see Seo-yeon, and she put on a brave face, never showed a tear, and said she’d forget him in a few months’ time.
But Jae-min knows what Seo-yeon’s been through, who she is. She’s the girl who learned instinctively to take care of her little brother by the age of six, without ever having to be told. She’s someone to whom putting on a brave face is like breathing – it’s in her bones.
Jae-min: “But I have to say this. You took advantage of Seo-yeon. If she were some important family’s daughter, you couldn’t have done what you did. So no matter what excuses you give, you’re a petty coward. The end.” Wooo! That makes me feel great, just hearing him say the words. I love this guy.
Early the next morning, Hyang-gi comes by with pastries for Ji-hyung’s mom, which is of course a flimsy excuse to see Ji-hyung. But she’s the adorably sweet kind of silly girl, not the annoying bratty kind, so it’s endearing that she tries so hard. It probably helps that he’s the bastard as far as she’s concerned, to help her win some sympathy points off the bat.
She sneaks into his room just to peek at him while he sleeps, and decides to lean in for a kiss. She kisses him again, and this time it half-wakes him, and without opening his eyes, he starts kissing her, landing on top of her.
He finally opens his eyes, comes to his senses, and stops abruptly. Dude, your head is in such a messed up place right now. He gets up angrily and tells her that it’s wrong, which stings her.
She starts to cry as she says it’s been too long. A year in fact, which means in some sense he’s been faithful to his affair, in the physical sense. She asks if it’s wrong that she wants to touch him, and he reminds her that his mom and aunt are sitting in the other room.
But he softens to see her so vulnerable, and apologizes. She stops crying almost as quickly as she began, making him feel even guiltier.
Seo-yeon has another tiny memory lapse that morning, as she tries to remember what she needed – some colored pens for copywriting, which takes her a moment to remember. Moon-kwon promises to bring some home, and once she’s alone, she wonders to herself why she couldn’t think of it right away.
She turns on the stereo while but then immediately shuts it off. It flashes her back to a memory of sitting in the car with Ji-hyung, listening to the same aria from Madame Butterfly.
They had talked about the aria, how sad it made her feel, and he had held her lovingly in his arms as they listened to it, not realizing then how prophetic and tragic that story would be for them.
Back in the present, she sits lost in her thoughts, until her phone rings with a call from her boss, wondering where she is. She’s forgotten another meeting, just entirely forgotten. It shakes her.
She focuses on work for a while, not noticing the kettle that’s been boiling for some time now. She happens upon it later, now burnt black on the outside. She’s so stunned that she grabs it with her bare hand, and then again as she tries to take the lid off.
She gapes at the rising smoke.
But then she does what anyone would do – she scrubs the kettle clean, trying to wash away the evidence. She scrubs furiously, talking it out to herself. How could she forget? She was focusing on work; it happens. But what about the meeting? And the pens? Shouldn’t something have come to her, instead of being a blank slate?
It’s followed by another incident, the next day – Moon-kwon sees her sitting in the kitchen, when she should be at work already. Moon-kwon: “Have you quit your job?” Seo-yeon: “Who works on a Sunday?” Moon-kwon: “It’s Monday!”
Again, panic washes over her face. He tells her to get herself checked out at the hospital, but only in that half-serious way, not legitimately picking up on the extent of it. She rushes to work, so lost in her thoughts that she nearly runs straight into an oncoming car.
At the same time, Hyang-gi tries on her wedding dress. Ji-hyung comes by to get fitted for his tux, and gives a rather telling lukewarm reaction to the whole proceeding. But she breezes that he’s always that way. Or perhaps just where you’re concerned, poor thing.
Seo-yeon manages to get through her morning without further incident, but then at lunch with a few co-workers, she gets into an argument with their waiter, insisting that she ordered something she didn’t.
The co-workers back up the waiter, having heard her order the dish he brought, but she insists she didn’t. It finally dawns on her that she’s having another episode of some sort, and leaves the table abruptly.
I like that she’s both frightened but fighting it with denial. I mean, what kind of smart, independent woman would realistically just allow herself to believe that she’s losing her mind? Especially the kind of girl who’s used to hardship and dealing with it on her own. It’s starting to get bad though, and she feels it, though she can’t face it.
Ji-hyung and Hyang-gi’s families meet to discuss wedding plans, and I just freakin’ LOVE that Lee Mi-sook is playing a plastic-surgery addict, whose introduction last episode was entirely bandage-covered. That cracks me up to no end.
Her husband sits down next to her, joking that this is really the last time she can go under the knife, because next time her eyebrows will end up here *points to forehead*. Hee.
Seo-yeon avoids her coworkers, eating a coffee-and-sandwich lunch, while trying to figure out what’s going on with her. Jae-min calls to check in, and she jokes that she’s going to have to change her number because of him, and not Ji-hyung.
He doesn’t think that’s a bad idea, trying to pre-empt any future calls from the ex. She agrees to do so, probably just to get him off her back.
Ji-hyung zombies his way through the family lunch, eliciting snide remarks from his future shark of a mother-in-law on his dour mood. I don’t understand how Lee Mi-sook does it – she’s got the least screentime of any of the major players, but she’s got more presence than anyone.
He leaves the lunch in a daze, flashing back to happier times spent with Seo-yeon. In one memory they play and make out in a pool, and then in another memory they walk along the shore in each other’s arms.
Ji-hyung: What will we be like, five years from now? In ten years, how will we be? How will our hearts change? What kind of person will you remember me as? When will I be able to let you go? Will I be able to let you go?
Seo-yeon: Five years from now… you’ll be a father. In ten years… you’ll be a 40-year old ajusshi. By then, today will have become like a faded, yellowed old photograph. Without even knowing that you’ve let go, you’ll realize one day that you already have. Days will continue to pile, one atop the other, and then someday I’ll become a fossil from the dinosaur age to you.
He holds her close as the waves crash on the shore.
We cut to Seo-yeon, staring at her computer screen, her desktop background an image of that beach. Perhaps it was her flashback, or a shared one.
She gets a call from a writer when she’s almost home, asking for her edits from the night before. She blames an email glitch, knowing that she sent it last night… but then starts to panic.
She rushes inside, ignoring Moon-kwon’s greeting, as she starts up her computer to check her email. She didn’t send it after all, which she admits to her brother. He blames her painkillers, insisting that they’re the problem. But she knows it’s something else…
Ji-hyung and Hyang-gi pose for their engagement photos, with Hyang-gi’s mom going vogue-nazi on them. Hyang-gi complains that she’s being rude and overbearing, and Mom yells back, “Rudeness is fleeting, but pictures are forever!” HAHAHA.
They finally get rid of her long enough to get some shots. A few are smiley, but damn, that’s a thousand-yard stare if I’ve ever seen one. He heads back to work, still weary and distracted. Hey, when did Alex join this drama? Is it a cameo or is he in this?
Seo-yeon finally decides to go see a doctor. Thank goodness she didn’t have to collapse somewhere first. He does a series of tests on her memory – she falters here and there, and it’s clearly a strain on her.
He tells her that they’ll have to do more tests to be sure, but she guesses that she’s on her way to dementia. He tells her it’ll take more tests, and possibly upwards of a year, to know for sure what it is.
Ji-hyung asks Jae-min to meet him, and passes over an envelope. Oh no you di’n’t just try to buy your forgiveness by proxy! Jae-min looks at it warily, asking what this is. Ji-hyung says he’s always thought that Seo-yeon shouldn’t waste her talents on other people’s work – she should be writing her own stuff.
He says it’s enough for her to live on for a year, so she can focus on her writing. Jae-min calls him out for trying to buy her off, and tells him that he himself has never once offered to pay her way – why? Because she would never take it. “You clearly don’t know Seo-yeon as well as I thought.”
Ji-hyung realizes that he’s being shortsighted. He takes back the envelope, insisting that it was meant with good intentions. Jae-min isn’t so begrudging that he thinks ill of him for his totally misguided attempt to take care of her, after the fact. He admits that he knows Ji-hyung isn’t THAT kind of guy.
Ji-hyung: “How is she?” Jae-min: “She’s well. She’s strong. She’s someone who acts stronger, the harder it is for her.” Ji-hyung: “I know.”
Jae-min asks how he’s holding up, in all this. Ji-hyung: “I’m… being dragged along.” In my mind I’m stabbing you with your salad fork right now.
It’s telling that Ji-hyung spends the whole exchange with his head hanging literally halfway down his chest. He can’t look Jae-min in the eye, which right now is the only thing I like about him.
Seo-yeon stops by her sister’s bakery, where her sister runs the front, her brother-in-law bakes in the back, and her little bro helps out, in one of his many part-time jobs. Brother-in-law fawns over Seo-yeon adorably, while her unni chides her not to get married. I love this family.
Moon-kwon walks her out and asks what she did with the car. The car? He has to remind her that she took the car this morning. She looks up, stunned. He asks if she left it at work and took the bus. “No… I took a cab…”
He cuckolds her, but the way you’d yell at your mom for forgetting where she parked or something. But to Seo-yeon it’s another red flag.
She paces back and forth at home, the fear crawling up until she bursts, screaming in fury as she clutches her head.
Wow, what a stellar performance by Su Ae. I’m more impressed with her in the second episode, where she had less dialogue and many more quiet moments to slowly freak out. While the first episode’s rapid-fire dialogue was impressive, it felt overwritten to me – not the words themselves, but the volume of them, which seemed unrealistic, given the circumstances.
But here everything started to gel together a little more organically. It feels like everything is slowly coming to a boil, like that kettle she put to the side and forgot about. I feel like we’re at a rolling boil, which is a great place to be, dramatically.
A few things to clarify as far as genre goes: A melodrama is something that’s centered on emotions, not necessarily sad ones, though that’s the general way it goes. It also doesn’t necessitate a sad or tragic ending, though of course that’s a common route. This drama is a melo because it’s emotion-centric, that is, stories are drawn for the purpose of eliciting characters’ emotional responses. It’s essentially a character study, which is why javabeans compared it to a stage play.
But being a melo doesn’t mean it’s a makjang, which is a genre classification that sometimes gets muddled. Makjang is a tonal variation, and a conscious choice to use common story elements like amnesia or incest or what have you, to carry the narrative. It’s often looked down on because it’s most commonly used as a crutch, to snag ratings. But lots and lots of dramas, especially the older ones, have elements of these common storylines, without actually being makjang. Another way around it is of course to embrace the makjang head-on, and be meta about it. (See: Flames of Desire.)
It’s just a question that a few people have brought up, so hopefully that helps. I’d put Promise squarely in the non-makjang, full-on melo category. I’d almost call it old-school, except it’s rather experimental in a few ways. I’m most intrigued by the free-flowing use of relative time. I don’t know which flashback belongs to whom, when flashbacks occurred in relation to each other, or even when NOW is. But it almost doesn’t matter, because time is liquid in this drama. It’s fluid and it’s also quite possibly wrong, depending on who’s doing the remembering. How’s that for a mind-bender?
Stylistically it’s also got a great touch in its use of black space and physical distance from characters in long shots, almost making us conscious of their unknowability. I like that I feel both instantly drawn to, but totally distanced from them — the hero, for instance, who is in one sense the most bleeding-heart vulnerable of all the characters, and yet insists on being a spineless jellyfish. It’s that duality in the characters that I think will carry this drama from first to last. Count me in.